Tuesday, August 02, 2011

IF you are an alcoholic

You may not get a chance to come back and raise your hand. That is just the truth. AA detractors call that hyperbole. OK. I have been to enough funerals to know it is not. You will note that there is a very important caveat there - IF you are alcoholic. Which, unfortunately, I think is only about 50% of the people regularly attending AA meetings.

When I got sober, I was 32 years old and in pretty good health, except for the damage done by excessive drinking - and a world class case of depression. When they said "to drink is to die," I thought that was a bit of an overstatement, because I was not dying. It took me a while to realize I WAS dying. I was seriously suicidal a LOT of the time. I drove a car drunk every single day of my life. I was doing other things that could easily have gotten me killed. My life was very dangerous and I didn't even know it. A good friend told me that alcoholics of our age were probably not in much danger of dying of cirrhosis, but we were in danger of dying from cars, guns, knives, husbands, wives, etc.

Over the years, I have seen alcoholic friends die of cars, guns, knives, husbands, wives, etc. Plus some pretty obscure physical conditions that would likely not have killed a healthy person. This has given me a pretty healthy respect for the disease of alcoholism. And a sincere desire to do what I can to recover, and to help others to recover from alcoholism.

I hear the cute phrase "we don't shoot our wounded" when a person returns from drinking. That's great. I don't think we should shoot our wounded. But, more importantly, don't you think as a fellowship we should do what we can to prevent our fellows from getting wounded? It may feel good to welcome them back so lovingly... but what are we doing to help them from getting into that position in the first place? And what is the message we are carrying? Keep coming back. Great. Then what? There is NO recovery in keeping coming back. It is meaningless.

IF you are alcoholic, you will likely need to do some stuff to stay sober. It is all detailed in the first 164 pages of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. A sponsor can help you with it. It WILL keep you sober IF you do it. Not READ it, DO it!

If you are not alcoholic, you can do whatever the hell you want. You can get away with it. You do not have the sword of Damocles hanging over your head like we do. I would ask you to please not "help" real alcoholics though. You do a lot of damage with your watered down program. It does not work for real alcoholics. If someone is telling you that you can customize the program to fit your needs or your beliefs or lack of beliefs, they are lying to you.

Our entire program is summed up nicely in this paragraph on p. 164 of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous:
"Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

May God bless you and keep you -- until then."


Lou said...

The sword of Damocles indeed! I feel the same about addiction. There is a drug habit..and then there are dope fiends. You unfortunately know this well yourself. And I found out, a dope fiend will almost always be alcoholic too if their drug of choice is taken away. They are just people who do everything to damaging excess.

I hadn't heard the raise your hand saying before. We all know of some who didn't get the chance to "try the program again." A moment of silence at my end...

dAAve said...

Personally, I'm glad I kept coming back so when it was time, I knew what to do.

Someone in the morning meeting shared today that he didn't think he should have to do this and that to be in AA. I told him later he didn't have to do anything -- unless he wanted to remain sober.

Anonymous said...

Perfectly true!!

Syd said...

I am grateful for AA and that several people I love have found their way there, worked the steps, and have not had a drink since they began. That is not due to any human influence but God's influence. I need to remember that each day.

Jeremy said...

THANK YOU! I've been sitting in a lot of meeting lately listening to relapsers & people that still use and am shocked at their flippancy about it all.

This is life or death with me and I'm shocked by those that don't feel the same.

I think you are right, it is summed up exactly as the book states and above we all we have to WORK it. Thank you for speaking the words in my heart

Ms Jones said...

Well put!!!

Annette said...

A life surrendered to our Higher Power and whatever process He takes us through. Yes. Amen MC.

Steve E said...

I heard this morning (again!) "Take what you want, and leave the rest!" I became angered (not like me). But how WRONG can that be? What kind of heresy is being spread. And if nobody becomes "angry" about it, or stands up to defend THE program...where is it going to go!

And WHO will be left to flush...

August said...
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August said...
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Mary Christine said...

August, if that person asked me to share my experience, strength, and hope - that is exactly what I would share. I don't have anything other than that.

Going to meetings and reading the big book will not keep someone sober. Doing what the big book says will keep a person sober.

Anonymous said...

Just counting I figure relapse is like playing Russian roulette with two six shooters. Twelve shots and eleven bullets. For every twelve that relapse one comes back. My sponsor always told me you can kill a drunk with hope. Better to remind him he has a hopeless condition if he tales that first drink. If he is to have any hope at all it will be because he worked the steps and lived the program.

Pammie said...

I've come back to this post several times to write something but you know we are of the same mind.
You have a great ability to spell it out.

shadowlands said...

"There is NO recovery in keeping coming back. It is meaningless."

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

If the higher power has led a person back to a meeting, even if it's the seventh or seventy seventh time that day, no-one, has the right to say that their return is meaningless.

I just worry that a newcomer or regular relapser in a paranoid withdrawing state might read this post and feel utterly hopeless.
Becoming sober, even for a relatively short time, (as I am) it's easy to forget the small threads of hope we cling on to in the early days, such as a warm word or smile, it being impossible to look further than a day ahead, because if one does, the future IS meaningless and suicidal thoughts can ensue.

I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings with this comment, I make it for any desperate chronic relapser who may have felt a door slam.
It didn't. Get your butt into a meeting, if the desire is there within you.

This is the first day, of the rest of your life!

AA was given to all, by God. Only God can take our chances/moments of clarity away and if you have a desire to stop drinking, then He hasn't taken them away yet.....

We can't help having opinions and it's no wonder hard working sponsors get infuriated, also very understandable.

As I say, I only post this comment for the suffering alcoholic. I don't want to get into any swapping of opinions with anyone.


Mary Christine said...

I hate to come back because I feel like I am arguing... but... I feel this post has been so misunderstood.

What I am saying is telling someone to come back to a meeting is not particularly helpful. When someone is newly sober, particularly if they have been in and out, they need a LOT more than a cheerful "keep coming back!" They need HELP. We ought to be there for that.

I sincerely hope that someone who wants to get sober will come to a meeting... and once there will hear something meaningful. What good is it to hear "keep coming back," when there is no one to stick out their hand, give a phone number, and sit down and help a person work the steps.

I repeat, it is utterly meaningless.

shadowlands said...

Mary C, my comment was aimed at the still suffering alcoholic. Your message was maybe more directed at long term sober AA people offering soundbites of serenity dressed up as solid sponsorship. I just didn't want already confused minds getting more confused! ;)

I can remember a day, when I was in a particularly deep pit, I found a comment from you that made me sense God was still with me, I truly believe now, that He inspired you to stop by. Thankyou for that availability and response to the suffering person that you give. It may have saved my life that day.

Anonymous said...

AA is the biggest bunch of hypocrites that God ever put on the Earth. I went for a year and quit. I've been sober for 27 years. Without AA I might add. I believe I could have done it on my own and been beter off.

Mary Christine said...

Good for you anonymous, good for you.

Lulu said...

This is such an old post that I don't know if you'll even get this comment--but I don't see any email info on your blog...so we'll see I guess. I have a question--what did you mean by this:

You will note that there is a very important caveat there - IF you are alcoholic. Which, unfortunately, I think is only about 50% of the people regularly attending AA meetings. ???

Lulu said...

This is such an old post that I don't know if you'll even get this comment--but I don't see any email info on your blog...so we'll see I guess. I have a question--what did you mean by this:

You will note that there is a very important caveat there - IF you are alcoholic. Which, unfortunately, I think is only about 50% of the people regularly attending AA meetings. ???

Mary Christine said...

Lulu, it is my opinion that many people in AA are not alcoholics. There are people who may have been heavy drinkers, drug addicts, people with eating disorders, etc. AA literature clearly defines what constitutes alcoholism, so if you wonder what I mean, I would refer you there.

Lulu said...

Ah...that's kinda what I thought you meant and it bums me out, to be honest. See, I'm probably what you'd classify as a "heavy drinker" rather than an "real" alcoholic. Certainly looking at the Big Book which mostly talks about pretty low-bottom alcoholics it seems to me...I probably don't qualify.

I was a mess in my head...I had the sneaking, the lying, the obsessing. However, on the outside I still had it together. I tried for years to learn how to moderate my drinking but it slowly got worse and worse. I could see where I was headed--of that I was certain--so I quit using an on-line support group, rather than rehab or AA. Sure I felt like shit for a couple weeks (headaches-some shakes etc), but I had no terrible physical w/d.

The thing is...I've heard stories like mine at AA meetings--and it's the first part of some other person's story. You know the one...where he/she talks about quitting for a year or two when things first started to be a problem. But then, because there were no dire consequences from their drinking... after awhile they convinced themselves that they could control it now, so they went back out.

That's followed by 2 or 5 or 10 years of slowly destroying their lives and then finally they found their way back to AA. Now they "qualify" where as before--according to some people--they probably didn't because they hadn't really screwed up their lives yet.

But I'm scared, Christine...I've had a year sober and it's been a great year...but I'm afraid that without going to AA meetings, that I'll forget where I was headed--that I'll fool myself into thinking that just because it didn't get that bad, that just because some people don't think I'm a "real" alcoholic, that I can drink again.

But then when I hear things like what you said in that post--that it's a shame that "heavy drinkers" are in AA meetings, that (and i'm extrapolating here) only "real" alcoholics should go to meetings, I feel so discouraged. I mean, I already feel a little weird at AA meetings with this high a bottom, but I also know that I'm not normal when it comes to alcohol and going back to drinking would be terrible for me.

So, what's your advice for someone like me? Someone with an escalating drinking problem, yet who still sort of had their alcoholic training-wheels on. Am I doing AA a disservice by going to meetings? Should I just suck it up and continue to fly on my own and hope that I don't drink again? Surely nobody wants me to have to live through all the misery that I have waiting for me if I go back to drinking...yet, if I'm not supposed to go to AA for help, what are my options?

In no way do I mean this question to be attacking you or AA...I've read your blog off and on for the past year and I think it's a great blog. I love your take on things and am honestly interested in what you have to say about this.

Tonight is the "birthday" party where I'll be receiving my one-year chip. I'm both looking forward to that and dreading it...because I'll have to stand up and tell my story (Briefly, I'm sure--there are lots of December "birthdays" it seems to be a popular month to quit drinking-ha!) I'm worried there will be people there who feel like I think you do--that I shouldn't be there, and that really makes me feel crappy and anxious about the whole thing. Sigh.

Mary Christine said...

Lulu, it sounds like you are looking for an excuse to drink. Just from your comment, you sound like a "real " alcoholic. If, when you start to drink you have no control over how much you drink, you are one of us. It doesn't matter how much or how long you drank. Telling your story might be good for you - to remember what it was really like. Please hang in there. Go celebrate your birthday! And may I be the first to congratulate you!

Lulu said...

Ha! I promise I'm not looking for an excuse to drink (right now anyway). What I am is scared shitless that I will start looking for one in the future which is why I've started going to AA meetings (and have finally gotten a sponsor. :-)) I'm a flake and I know it--so I need to take this not-drinking thing seriously.

Blogs like yours, that show someone handling the ups and downs of life with such grace, are one of the things that made AA finally feel approachable to me... thank you for that.

And thanks for the good wishes. I have had to share a couple of times in meetings--when the power of invisibility I was trying to project wasn't working--haha. But somehow this feels scarier. Oh well. Nobody every died from public speaking. I'll be fine. :-)

Steve E said...

Lulu, Keep Up The Good Work (KUTGW!)

Sounds to me also that you are "one of us" in the real sense.

Please, if you do not have one already, grab a woman sponsor...after a year, you may have an idea who you can trust. Then take you problems to her, face-to-face.

Also, keep reading Mary C blog. I have been in AA and alcohol-free
37 years, and say you will not find better, wiser AA stuff, than right here on "BEING SOBER"...OK?

One more thing, please don't listen to what "they say", whether you do or do not suffer from the disease, alcoholism. In the end, deep down, only YOU know the truth of that!

God Luck.

Mary Christine said...

Lulu, I hope your birthday was wonderful. And I hope your telling your story answered some of your questions.

The first time I was asked to speak, I told the guy I didn't have a story! I actually believed that - until I told my story. I actually thought I was a "lightweight" but that was my disease that was out to get me.

Don't let yours get you!

Lulu said...

Thanks Steve and MC,
I did get a sponsor--like two weeks ago. The funny thing is, it happened because of this upcoming birthday party. See, I went to a meeting on my 1 year ann. because I really wanted people who "got it" to clap for me and give me some atta-girls. And I did get that, but they don't give out chips for yearly ann. at the regular meetings, they have these birthday parties (which I didn't know). So everybody "made" me go put my name on the board for the party.
Then, I find out that someone needs to introduce the birthday-people...and I'd been hiding so effectively at meetings that I didn't KNOW anybody. Hahaha! So, I started going to meetings and went out to lunch with a lady that I sorta knew and trusted and ended up asking her to be my sponsor (and introduce me at that dumb party I signed up for-ha!!)

Anyway, the party was great, and I got up and talked and it was all okay. Everybody was very nice and I got a bunch of "please keep coming" comments with hugs after the party was over. You're right--it didn't matter to them that I hadn't screwed my life up yet. Because they all understood that once it had taken over my head it was only a matter of time before it started messing up my life. I still count myself lucky and blessed to have somehow understood where I was headed and stepped off that downward path.

I'm determined to do whatever I need to do to stay sober--and if that's do AA...then that's what I'll do. This past year has been such a gift

Thanks for the support y'all.