In a couple of weeks I will be, I hope, celebrating 24 years of continuous sobriety. To the person who does not have the disease of alcoholism, or tends to regard all problems that have been addressed using the 12 Steps developed by Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith (with the contributions of organized religion, evangelical movements and other drunks like them) as 'the same', that probably does not seem like that big a deal. Afterall, common sense tells you that if you discover you are not a successful social drinker of alcohol, or that you cannot imbibe in cocaine or marijuana or heroin or cheesecake or watching pornography without getting arrested, spending the rent money, beating your husband or your kids, becoming numb to sex with real people or otherwise negatively impacting society then you should stop drinking alcohol, doing cocaine, smoking marijuana or shooting/smoking/eating heroin or cheesecake and stop watching pornography. It's a no-brainer, right? if it hurts you or others, then stop doing it.
I have written in the past about the disease of alcohol being something that hits us when we are stone cold sober. I won't revisit my thoughts on that subject here. What I am reflecting on today is a phrase I have used and one I hear often around the tables of the 12 Step program I use to stay sober.
Don't drink no matter what.
I understand the sentiment. I have, as I said, used that phrase myself, but I am uneasy with it and I will tell you why.
I am an alcoholic. I drink no matter what.
Beloved aunt's funeral? I show up on time but hung over and have a drink before the Mass starts to steady my nerves.
My nephew is in ICU after almost losing his life in a car accident? I show up to be supportive of his father - but I have a bottle in my purse and I left the house and drove 80 miles to where they are under the influence.
I have a job interview in three days and it is important that I look fresh and happy and competent? I drink up until 3am of the morning of that interview and get there with dirty shoes and not-quite-combed hair, trying to pull it off as though I am stylishly ragged and too cool for my shoes.
In other words, telling me that something important or wonderful or serious or necessary is happening to me, around me or for me and so I should 'not drink, no matter what' is not the answer. I know when I am not supposed to drink. I understand I am taking my life and the lives of those around me into my unsteady hands when I get behind the wheel of a car but you don't get it - I am not a bad person.
I am an alcoholic and I drink no matter WHAT.
Okay so what should I be saying instead? What wisdom should I be imparting to a newcomer sitting around those same tables or calling me in the middle of the day sobbing that everything sucks, nothing works right and the whole world hates her/him?
I believe with all my heart that Smith and Wilson developed the 12 Steps with the guidance of a loving and merciful God. In the words of Mr. Smith, the program he wrote down was not invented - it grew and it has evolved. What I believe I need to do is to remind the people just starting out (and those who have been here awhile) that those 12 Steps help people like me re-establish (or establish for the first time) a personal and powerful relationship with a Power of the Universe, a loving and merciful God, The Creature, The Alpha and the Omega. It is THAT relationship that gives me the power I do not have to not drink alcohol one day at a time.
Here is what I have to do, no matter what:
1. I must start my day with prayer and meditation.
For me, A Catholic and a Lay Dominican, I have my morning prayer through the Liturgy of the Hours. I must be willing, each morning, to deliberately and intentionally give my life to God and ask Him to do with it what HE wants. I am willing, deliberately and intentionally, to open myself up to the Grace that gives the strength I need to fullfill my purpose.
2. I must stay in service.
No matter what, I have got to be of service to others. I have to be willing to love the unloveable, to counsel the doubtful, to instruct the ignorant. I must be willing to perform the corporal works of mercy under any conditions and no matter how tired, how stressed or how inadequate I may feel at the time the request is made of me. I have to be willing to put God, His Church, my family, my community before me. My very recovery depends upon my constant thought of others. My mantra and prayer must be, "How may I help?".
3. I must attend meetings.
No matter how I feel or how tired I am or how incredibly stupid I might decide a group of people are, I need to shut up, suit up and show up. I need them. I need to hear how it is going in their lives. I need to meet newcomers and support oldtimers. I need to wipe down tables, make coffee and pick up cigaret butts on the sidewalk outside so we are considered good neighbors. I have to be right in the middle of the herd ready to take two or three with me to go rescue a stray one that is limping along behind us. I have to be a member among members.
4. I must keep in contact with the person helping ME.
No matter what, I have got to be willing to tell at least ONE person the complete truth about myself; however I am feeling, how I am doing and WHAT I am doing.
5. I must receive the Sacraments.
As a Catholic, I know the incredible grace that is available to me through a Sacramental and Liturgical life. I MUST take advantage of that - I cannot pretend that doing the minimum is going to be enough for someone like me. I have to remember, no matter what, that Jesus instituted the Sacraments so that I can receive the grace I need, and as an alcoholic I need more grace than the average bear.
There are many other things I have to do in order to stay sober. I know that, to many of you, this might seem to be a matter of semantics. For me, however, remembering that there is a difference between trying to exert my will on my Alcoholism and concentrating on bringing my will into line with the Will of God.
St Thomas Aquinas said for us to approach situations by looking at what we want the result to be - and I want the result in my life to be sobriety.
To that end, this Alcoholic acknowledges that she drinks no matter what - and in order NOT to do that, she stays close to God and His Church.
No Matter What.