In meetings, we’re careful not to take credit for our sobriety. Newcomers thank their higher power for however many days they’ve cobbled together and old-timers stress a one-day-at-a-time reprieve from alcohol, nevermind if those days number in the tens of thousands. Our sobriety is always a gift.
If anyone is thinking “I resisted the urge to drink for the last six months because I am a strong person,” a meeting is not the place to share that. It’s not particularly helpful because it hoists responsibility back on me and I didn’t do so good with alcohol before. If both my arms are broken, isn’t it wise to let someone else do the driving?
So why do some people “get” sobriety right off the bat while it takes others years to string together a year of sobriety? Why do some people never call themselves alcoholics despite DUIs and health problems? Why do some people acknowledge a problem but continue to struggle until they die?
I find myself thinking about this a lot lately. Recently someone who attended meetings in my area died from alcohol-related complications. From what I’ve pieced together, he used to belong to my home group and he was a chronic relapser, but his name doesn’t ring a bell. It bothers me that my home group is suddenly packed with people paying respects to a man who hadn’t been to meetings in some time and never found what he needed there anyway. One mourner was missing teeth and kept having distracting side-conversations with another oddball and I kept thinking I don’t want what he has and If I start drinking again, maybe I will lose teeth and my mind.
Meetings are like that, a mix of people I look up to and cautionary tales. What difference is there between a chronic relapser and someone whose grandchildren (or children!) have never seen them take a drink?
Is it intelligence or education? Absolutely not. I have a close family member I’m sure has at least a 15 IQ points on me, and he can’t seem to stay sober.
Is it self-awareness, then? Is it self-discipline, which is another word for willpower, which makes me think of the dreaded self-will (see second paragraph)?
Does recovery depend on your threshold for pain? I wanted to stop for my children and long-term health, but wicked hangovers with nausea and emotional blackness pushed me to stop before I suffered any real consequences. Were my hangovers the real gift?
What if your sober support network is weak? What if you attend meetings but are more withdrawn than involved? What if your friends and family drink but you swear it doesn’t really bother you? Asking for a friend, of course.
What else affects sobriety? Oh yeah. Spirituality. This is the only factor that feels weightier than the rest. If my heart is anchored in something bigger and better than me, that feels more useful than how much I know about addiction or how sober my spouse or parents are. But how do affirmed atheists stay sober and happy? Because I know they do.
I don’t think there’s any pat answer here, by the way. The formula that works for me might not work for the 20-something black guy I sat next to at a meeting last night. When we held hands at the end and recited the lord’s prayer, he knew the words and I did not (except for the part about trespassing…always dug that part). Hopefully recovery is not dependent on the ability to memorize prayers.
I choose to view my sobriety as a gift because one day I decided it was easier not to drink anymore and I hadn’t woken up in jail or a hospital and the sun was shining exactly as it had the day before. It was a gift I hadn’t asked for and I don’t know where it came from, but it’s up to me what I do with it. I wonder why other people don’t get this gift or why they get it and throw it away, but right now I try not to think about how fragile I know it to be and just hold tight.