Sober Vacations

Well, I'm back in harness (boy, am I ever!) after a wonderful vacation.  My wife, 9-year-old granddaughter and I flew out to Denver to visit with number-one daughter and her husband, and do some tourist stuff.  I'd never been to that part of the country, and Michele hadn't been there for about 40 years.  We did the Pike's Peak thing, Garden of the Gods, visited with wolves and bison, toured the Nebraska sandhills, saw old friends, and Shel found the house in Colorado Springs where she lived as a young hippie.  She had to fly back early because of commitments to her therapy groups, but Selina and I stayed another week.  We all had a wonderful visit, and hated to see it end.

Colorado Springs from the top of Pike's Peak - 14,410' above sea level

It was the first real vacation we've had since we got sober.  We're most thankful to the combination of people and events that made it possible.  Previous vacation destinations had been dictated by the health of elderly relatives and so forth, and this was our first chance to really bust loose and do it for ourselves.

I can't help but contrast this trip with those we made during our active addictions.  Those were mostly built around the availability of alcohol and other drugs, and usually involved plans that allowed a lot of time for eating and drinking in large quantities.  We chose vacation sites like the Florida Keys, where boozing it up is a way of life and we fit in perfectly.  When we went elsewhere, there was always a question of where and how we could continue to feed the monkeys on our backs.

I remember quite clearly one desperate evening in South Carolina, when we discovered blue laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays.  As I recall we got through the drought with pills, but that part's mighty vague.  Then there was the trip down the St. John's River in a houseboat, which should have been an idyllic three days but was turned by alcohol and drugs into a miserable experience that still makes us both cringe 25 years later.  I won't even go into the many ways our addictions must have affected the experiences of our kids on those drunken expeditions.

So this trip was, in addition to being a lot of fun with loved ones, a testament to the power of no longer being powerless, of living lives that are no longer unmanageable.  We didn't embarrass ourselves or anyone else.  We have photographs and memories.  We look back on the past two weeks with clear heads, and forward to the possibility of doing something similar again.  We arrived back in Florida feeling renewed, not abused.

Damn, it's great to be clean and sober!

Strength? We don’t need no stinkin’ strength!

Nowadays I hear a lot of folks saying (to recovering people) things like “You’re so strong!” and “Be strong!”  I hear newcomers say “I pray for the strength to beat my addiction,” and other stuff like that.  While I understand the thinking behind such remarks (all too well), there are a few comments I’d like to make.

One of the first things we need to learn in recovery is our powerlessness.  We are powerless when it comes to our addictions as long as we are using our drugs of choice, and for some time afterward. If this were not true, we’d simply quit and no one would ever relapse.  The only strength we need is the strength to admit that unpleasant fact, accept it, and listen to people who know what they’re talking about — since we obviously don’t.

That does require a certain amount of guts.  We addicts and codependents hate to admit that we aren’t in control. In fact, though, weren’t most of our problems based on our illusions of control:  controlling our drinking or other drugging; controlling our addicts; controlling our kids; getting everything just right and then having it welded, as a friend of mine used to say?  (He was talking about tuning his 12-string, but the remark is so addict!)

When we have the strength to admit that we’ve lost control, that we’re whipped, that we can’t go on, then we have finally reached the point where recovery is possible. Without that realization of powerlessness, recovery is unlikely, if not impossible.  That’s why I worry when I hear folks speaking in terms of “strength.”  When we think that way, we are in danger of becoming convinced that we are no longer powerless, that we can control our using and keep it “social” this time, that he really isn’t a  rotten wife-beating s.o.b. when he’s drinking, that if we just took Muffy in off the street and give her a clean place to sleep, she’ll realize that she’s much better off and will quit using those nasty drugs.

In early recovery we don’t have much power, if any. We don’t need strength, we need the humility to learn from others the things that we were unable to learn on our own: how to handle our urges, our relationships, our jobs, our spiritual growth — in short, how to live lives of sobriety.  Then, after we’ve gone a good distance in that direction and our bodies and minds have begun to recover from the beating we gave them for all those months or years — at that point we begin having some power over our addictions.  As long as we don’t use.

Addiction is like a rattlesnake.  I can pick it up and haul it around wherever I please — all day long, if I like.  That’s strength.  But if I get careless, that’s when I find out what powerlessness is all about.

A Guide To The Safe Use Of Pain Medication – FDA

Addiction to pain medication is the fastest-growing segment of the addiction field.  There are a variety of reasons, ranging from doctors who do not understand the potential of addiction, to drug companies who underplay the dangers of their products, to unscrupulous doctors and importers who provide a smörgåsbord of drugs to their “patients” on demand.

The Food and Drug Administration has published an excellent rundown on the safe use of pain medication, from aspirin to opioid drugs.  We recommend it highly.

A Guide To The Safe Use Of Pain Medication