Learning to Live Sober

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A hand locked to glass of alcoholI see them every first and third Tuesday evening. Same meeting, different faces … with the exception of an occasional retread.

My wife and I take a Twelve Step meeting into a local detox. Though we are there every other week the residents are only there for five days. Since the faces are typically new–the occasional retread not withstanding–we can tell our stories over and over with minor variations.

The variations come from our discussions on the way home about what we shared, what questions we got and how we can do better next time. Gradual evolution in search of an effective share.

The focus is typically on breaking the cycle of relapse. When asked, almost all the residents indicate that they have been to Twelve Step meetings outside of detox. This isn’t their first rodeo.

My wife and I know relapse. I was in and out of the rooms of recovery for fourteen years before my permanent sobriety. My wife tried countless rehabs, got dry for ten years and then went out over a broken heart because she had no Twelve Step foundation and no spiritual foundation. We are all too familiar with relapse.

Usually the questions are of the basic Twelve Step variety, questions we have heard dozens of times before. But then there was Joe’s question. I not sure his name was Joe, the names blur together. But his question stood out.

“So you are saying I drink and use because there is something inherently wrong with my makeup.” His downcast eyes looked up and begged for an answer.

The question caught me off guard. I didn’t remember saying anything like that. Except I did. I had shared that during my years of regular relapse I didn’t like how sober felt. I wasn’t at ease in my own skin when I wasn’t anesthetizing with alcohol.

Joe’s interest was piqued. Maybe the problem wasn’t the drink or the drug. Maybe it was something internal.

For all our analysis of what we should share to those in detox my wife and I had missed making one thing clear. It’s not that addicts can’t stop. We stop all the time. But sadly we don’t know how to stay stopped. We don’t know how to live sober.

Restless, irritable, discontent. That is our state when not drinking or using but not working a program.

Yes Joe, there is something inherently wrong with our makeup. We should have pointed it out. It’s not some great mystery. It is at the core of recovery.

Joe, it may seem a little harsh to tell you this. But we speak from experience. We tell you this with compassion and love. Joe, you are self-centered and fearful to the extreme. We all are. Our thoughts are almost invariably focused exclusively on ourselves. Twenty-four seven we focused on what we fear losing or fear never getting. That fear expresses itself as anger, pride, lust, envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, and so many other self-destructive ways.

The antidote is simple, but so elusive. We need to seek out a Power greater than ourselves and say with conviction, “Thy will, not mine be done.” We then need to work the action steps to clear away the garbage so we can hear the will of the Divine.

Many hear this instruction and look for a grand revelation. Early on I thought: “A Power great than myself has willed my purpose.” Self-centered as I am I suppose it to be something grand. Perhaps it should be engraved in stone. Perhaps the Heavens should open and a chorus or angels should announce my purpose.

Yeah, that’s that pesky ego talking.

The will of the Universe for addicts, and aren’t we all addicts in one form or another, is simple–trust God, clean house and serve others. Help heal the world.

Joe, you need to clean up your side of the street. Inventory your life, share it with another, forgive where needed and make amends. Along the way you might want to ask whatever you call Divine for some assistance in overcoming character defects.

And then get into service. Not for a few months. Not until you have “got it all together.” But for a lifetime.

Joe, your purpose is the same purpose we all have. Help heal the world by serving others. It needn’t be anything grand. Show up at a meeting early and make the coffee. I despise the taste of coffee but have brewed plenty of pots.

Or maybe you can offer a kind word to people who are new to a meeting or anyone in or out of a meeting who looks like they need a kind word. So you are a little shy huh? That’s ok, we self-centered folk tend to think about ourselves a lot. That can lead to fear of rejection and shyness. The best way to combat that destructive soul sickness is to put yourself out there and interact with others.

Ever notice that the trash cans are filling up at the meetings you attend? Oh, you didn’t notice that Joe? Maybe you should. Pay a little attention and you’ll see that the same people are emptying the trash after meetings. People who are staying sober. Offer them a hand, it will do wonders.

Better yet. Do you see a piece of trash on the restroom floor that isn’t yours? Throw it away. There’s a sink in there, you can wash your hands if you touch something moist.

Service, the kind of service that breaks down self-centeredness, doesn’t need to be flashy or showy. In fact it shouldn’t be. How many newcomers have gone out because they got an ego-rush chairing a meeting too early on? Stick to the small stuff. Make it a lifetime habit.

Joe, I can promise you this. That massive kink in your makeup that led you to use and abuse will straighten out if you bombard it with regular acts of service.

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