I had a super interesting experience last night. As part of my recovery, I sometimes chair a local AA meeting. It’s a great experience because I get to be help others like me; but it’s also a humbling ride, because I realize how immense and beautiful the process of recovery is. It shows me how much I have yet to learn, even 8 years into my journey.
The meeting is an extremely small one, with only 10 people or so. My friend Jill and I are only women there – the others are young men from a sober house who arrive in a couple of cars and fill up the all the seats. Some of them painfully young, showing that this illness does not discriminate. Its hard for me, having a 16 year old son, to see an 18 year old in our AA rooms. And at the same time, I am grateful that they are there, addressing this deadly issue instead of waiting until their life falls into pieces; or instead of being another sad statistic reality check about another college kid dying of alcohol poisoning over a weekend binge.
At the meeting tonight, we were studying page 66 of the AA Big Book (if you don’t have one, download it here). We were talking about resentments, staying connected to the sunlight of the spirit, and the overall result of spiritual transformation when working the program.
At some point I said: “We have to understand that in reality, the main goal of this program is NOT for us to stop drinking. The main goal of this program is to get you to an internal transformation which connects you to a completely different way of going through life. Not drinking is a great result of this new life. In other words not drinking - sobriety - is a bi-product of working the steps and getting connected to a higher power – not the main goal”.
The 18-year old and the other youngsters looked incredibly confused. I think this boy literally scratched his head. I could tell that my statement had made no sense to him at all.
Had he not been told that an AA meeting would help him to stay away from drinking? And was recovery and sobriety simply defined as not drinking? Well… yes, and no.
Sobriety is about not drinking, of course. Just like running a marathon is about exercise, for example. But there is so much more to sobriety. At least the type of sobriety that we aim to get in true recovery – not the “day by day, white-knuckling-it” dry-sobriety – which only aims at keeping you away from the bar.
The sobriety that I am talking about makes a person emotionally grounded, connected to a different way of thinking and reacting, and free of the insanity that used to drive our thinking, our words and our actions. This sobriety lets you access a different way of navigating through life and reacting to people, places and things – and of course, one of the “consequences” of this life is that you can navigate it without drinking. This is the kind of sobriety that happens when we recover.
Still scratching your head? Let’s imagine for a second that we delve in the example of a marathon-runner for comparison (I have found that its easier when we take my own alcoholic-thinking out of the context and compare to other real-life scenarios). A marathon runner is a person who we naturally connect with fitness, health, and a way of life that is overall about high-level personal choices. We assume that this person has made a commitment to lifestyle that others (like me) don’t naturally have: long hours training, discipline, eating well, making good choices for themselves, etc. Now think for a minute: can you imagine a marathon runner being the person who loses his/her temper at the bank cashier and goes into a mad, screaming fit? Can you imagine this marathon runner being the person who orders 3 Big Macs, a Big Gulp and a side of fries any given day? Would it be possible to have this marathon runner be the drunken person dancing on top of tables at your local Irish Pub every Friday night?
Maybe. Sure. All of those could actually happen. But for the odds of that are low. For the most part, the marathon runner leads a lifestyle aligned with the values and mentality brought upon by exercising, training for a specific goal, and the type of thinking that gets you there. This thinking is not in alignment with any of the insanity I mentioned above. And yes, the “consequence” of his/her lifestyle is exercise and probably a badass body – but the way of living, thinking and processing life is different than other people’s, and that way of living probably brings a lot more to this person than rock-hard legs. This person probably has a better feeling navigating through life, because his/her mentality has a different focus, priorities, and overall view of the world around them.
This is exactly what happens in recovery– at least for me. Recovery (and the sobriety that comes with it) becomes a way of navigating life with emotional freedom; a way of processing everything through a different filter. Recovery allows for life to happen in whatever way (beautiful or shitty), without me having to react to it driven by my instincts, or running to hide in a bottle of wine (or five).
Recovery is about the serenity to recognize the facts from the stories in my head, and not get lost in the resentments or the fears. It's about personal accountability and easy access to making amends to others when I mess up. It is about laughing when the shit hits the fan, instead of smearing it all over myself and others – then drinking about it.
Recovery is about being in alignment with life, instead of arguing with it constantly. Sobriety is part of the freedom that it brings.
By just “not drinking”, I don’t achieve true sobriety; not the kind that carries me through life sane, and keeps me full of possibilities and Grace. And did I mention that there is no way in hell that I can achieve this sobriety by myself? It is absolutely given to me by my higher power, through working the steps that get me to that connection – and the spiritual transformation of the “filter” through which I see/do Life.
So in a sentence: Recovery brings sobriety, which is only one part of the much bigger picture of living a recovered life. Not drinking is a result of getting recovered, but not the only goal of it.
And those who just stop drinking with no program to support their sobriety, may be missing out on the gift of transformation in Recovery.
Getting off my soap-box now.
Pamela is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach & Educator. She has been in recovery since 2009, and is a passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding addiction. Please share this post via the channels below or anyone in your life who may benefit from a little information about drinking and recovery.