sobriety

Sobriety Got Me Though One Heck Of A Week

Occasionally in life we have periods that just plain suck. As a sponsor of mine was fond of saying, “When I got sober, life didn’t get better right away, but it got real clear!” The difference is, in sobriety we're able to feel our pain, work our way through it, and come out the other side in a healthy way, instead of stuffing all those feelings and having to deal with them later when they start squishing through the cracks in our mental armor.

One of my oldest friends passed away last Friday. I’ve known Ed since I was about 10 years old. He was one of the first kids I met when I moved to a new town, and his friendship made a huge difference in my adjustment to an environment that I was in no way prepared to deal with. Over the next six or so years we weren’t inseparable, by any means, but most of the time each knew where the other was and pretty much what he was doing.

Ed and I studied, worried about the things teenage boys do, hung out, camped and hunted, and did all the usual high school stuff — most of it together. We even had a singing act that we were known to inflict on folks occasionally. (Neither of us ended up in show biz.) Along with a couple of other guys, we almost literally dragged each other out of the confusion of adolescence into whatever state you’re in when you graduate from high school. My girlfriend and I set him up on a double-date with Judy, the girl he was eventually married to for nearly 50 years. Ed and I were tight.

After high school and college we had only occasional contact for the next thirty years or so. I, of course, became a drunk — some other things, true, but still a drunk and addict. About to get drafted into the Army after college, Ed joined the Air Force instead. In typical all-or-nothing fashion, he went on to become a highly-decorated officer. As head of the White House communications unit, he accompanied Presidents Ford and Carter everywhere they went. As a lieutenant colonel, he headed the communications team that travels with Delta Force. As a full colonel he was boss of an outfit so secret I don’t even know what it was. Then, although he was being groomed for general, he retired. He told me he did so because he decided his family needed some stability after being dragged all over the world. So he put down the sword and took up the plow as a teacher, dean, contributor to the community we grew up in, and as a man of god.

To say that I “miss” Ed would devalue our relationship, which was the kind where you just take up the conversation you didn’t finish the last time you were together — however many years ago that may have been. I didn’t have to be around him during those years. I just knew that he was wherever, and I was wherever, that our friendship stretched between, and I had faith that it might stretch but that it would never break.

If I'd still been drinking and drugging I would have missed the last years of that friendship, of getting to know Ed as “elder statesman.” I would have missed the bittersweet pleasure of meeting his grown kids and grandkids this week. I would have missed the grace and poise of the Colonel’s Lady, putting guests and old friends at ease while her heart was breaking. I would have missed my own grief, and my appreciation for the man Ed was and for what he gave to his country, his god, the thousands of other friends he accumulated over his nearly 69 years — and to me.

Ed’s life reminded me, once again, that it ain’t over until it’s over. If I’d ended mine with booze and drugs all those years ago, there’s so much I would have missed, a lot more than just Ed. I would have accomplished virtually none of the things that I consider important in my own life. I wouldn’t be writing this, and I think the message is pretty important:

Sobriety is worth a little pain now and then.

So are you.

Denial on the street: “But officer, I slowed way down!”

There's an old cop joke about the guy who rolled through a stop sign, then complained to the officer who stopped him, “Hey, I slowed way down, what's the difference?” Supposedly the officer says to the guy, “OK, fine. I’m going to take this flashlight and hit you on the head. When you want me to slow down, say ‘Slow down!’, and when you want me to stop, say ‘Stop!’”

I answer a couple of dozen emails and blog comments a week, dealing with various aspects of addiction and recovery. Every now and then it becomes clear that someone wants me to cosign a desire to experiment with using again. Most often it’s folks who want to know if I think it would be OK for them to have a glass of wine at dinner occasionally, or folks who have stopped using some drugs but want to go on using another (usually marijuana). So I think it’s time to write a few words about this particular form of denial.

Of course it’s denial! Here’s someone who has had enough problems in their life from using alcohol or other drugs that they have quit, or are trying to. In most cases it is safe to assume it hasn't been the easiest thing that they’ve ever done. Presumably they went through that for a reason. Yet they come to a website that is obviously about encouraging recovery, and inquire if I think it’s OK for them to mess around with their recovery.

Sure, it’s OK, because there’s no recovery involved. If we aren't convinced that we need to remain clean and concentrate on learning to live in such a way that our desire to use is minimized and hopefully eliminated, then we aren't in recovery — whether or not we’re clean. It’s that simple. No such thing as partial pregnancy, and no such thing as being partially in recovery. It’s quite possible that we don’t need to be in recovery. But, if that’s the case, why did we come to the site?

If you think you have a problem, do whatever you can to solve it. Don’t mess around. If you don’t think you have a problem, then live it up. Eventually things will become clear, one way or another.

But don't tell this old cop that you want to slow down.

A Brief Outline Of The 12 Steps — Step 10

This is the tenth in a series of posts in which we hope to acquaint our readers with some of the details surrounding the programs that we recommend. There are a variety of other programs, but because we and most other facilities shape our treatment plans around the 12 Step fellowships, those are the ones on which we will concentrate.

Step 10 reads: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

The principle behind Step 10 is perseverance.

Scan of original image, (C) DigitalZen

Addiction is more than the compulsion to use alcohol and other drugs.  Over time, we adjust our thoughts, our ethics, our relationships, and our ways of looking at the world in order to accommodate the necessity of getting high.  Recovery is about changing those things.  During the first nine Steps, we dealt with the reality of our past and its effects on ourselves and others.  We worked hard on our recovery, traveled a long path, and — except for one thing — the hardest parts are behind us.  That one thing is making sure that we don’t fall back into our old ways of thinking and behaving.

In AA, they have a saying: “When you sober up a horse thief, all you get is a better horse thief.”  Unless we have progressed through the steps, genuinely and carefully, we run the risk of either losing their benefits or simply avoiding many of them in the first place.  Only after sobriety has become a habit do we really gain all of its gifts.  Only then are we truly “happy, joyous and free.”

Step 10 is about turning sobriety into a habit and keeping it that way.  To begin with, many of us sat down at the end of the day and actually wrote out a brief inventory of the day, perhaps in our journal.  We listed both the skillful and unskillful ways that we handled situations, and considered our part in any controversy and how we might have handled things better.  

We might have fallen back into an arrogant attitude at work, might have avoided responsibilities, might have had an argument with a spouse or co-worker, might have been unkind or thoughtless when dealing with a child.  Whatever it is, we look honestly at our part in it, and we do what we have to do — we make it right.  We make these little amends sincerely, and we do it before the situation worsens.  That avoids developing resentments, which are much harder to deal with.

If we carry out these little exercises consistently, we find that being honest with ourselves and admitting our mistakes becomes easier.  After a time, we find that we apply our new personal standards to things before they happen.  We think about better ways to handle situations, instead of just reacting with our old addict instincts

Finally, over time, our new ways of dealing with life become new instincts, and we move out of the world of early recovery into the realm of genuine sobriety.