What was it that kept you sober in early sobriety? Sometimes I am awed by the fact that any of us get even one day clean and sober. The habit of drinking and using combined with the powerful pull in our brains towards addiction create a compelling case for making a quick stop at the liquor store. I talked to a newcomer Saturday night who described having to change the way he drives home from work so as not to pass a particular store. He had 5 days and was literally shaking with fear.
That’s powerful. At 11 years, it’s been a long time since I shook with fear trying to figure out how I was going to avoid taking a drink. But to see him, and talk to him, and listen to his story, was to be immediately transported back to those early days in sobriety when everyone in my life drank and used like I did.
We drink because we like the effect alcohol produces. A sensation “so elusive, that while (we) admit it is injurious, we cannot after a time differentiate between true and false.” That means we have no idea what the reality of our situation is. To us, the alcoholic life seems the only normal one.
So it’s a tall order to be asked to begin a new life. We may be restless, irritable and discontent since we are without the ease and comfort that comes from taking a few drinks. And this restlessness, pacing the floor, wringing our hands, crawling out of our skin, can send us packing right back to the middle of our disease.
Someone told me when I was new to make a long list of things I could do when I wanted a drink. Take a walk. Spend 5 minutes focussing on my breath. Eat something. Make a phone call. Go to a meeting. Find someone who needed my help. I remember thinking, what a crock! How is this possibly going to fix all the stuff that’s wrong in my life? There just didn’t seem to be a connection between giving someone a ride to a meeting and getting my car unimpounded and registered.
Lack of power is my problem. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tells me that. And because it is my problem, it is always (even to this day) the main focus of the insanity in my head. If I can just manage it (my disease, my feelings, my circumstances…fill in the blank) all will be well. But the dilemma of our disease is that there is no managing alcoholism. It’s cunning, baffling, and powerful.
Bill Wilson, in his story in the Big Book, talks of having a moment of clarity. “I woke up. This had to be stopped.” But in the blink of an eye, he was drunk again. He describes that in spite of knowing the severity of his problem, in spite of the incredible demoralization of being alcoholic, there was no fight in him against a drink. He wonders, “Am I crazy?” And this went on for him for two more years.
I never EVER want to be new again. I’ve had more than enough of those moments where I wasn’t sure how I was going to avoid a drink. Sometimes I avoided it by just doing the things they told me to do. Going to meetings. Taking commitments. Reading the book. Working the steps. Sometimes it was an act of God or luck that kept me sober. People just showing up where they said they would be as I was about to head off and get loaded.
JM often says something I love about the idea of drinking or using again. He says, “I’d so much rather be in a meeting thinking about a drink than drinking, thinking about how I need to go to a meeting.” I love that because I identify. The shame of drinking while your head is screaming at you to be sober is so much more painful than the restlessness that sometimes suggests a path back to our addiction.
Lots of love today for those just getting a hold of this thing. Just stay!