Sober is “But a Beginning”?

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Sober is “But a Beginning”?

He is straining every nerve to make up for lost time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation and feels he is doing very well.

Sometimes mother and children don’t think so. Having been neglected and misused in the past, they think father owes them more than they are getting. They want him to make a fuss over them. They expect him to give them the nice times they used to have before he drank so much, and to show his contrition for what they suffered. But dad doesn’t give freely of himself. Resentment grows. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126)

This all describes a normal part of the family recovery process while also revealing some other aspects of the problem that may not be dealt with directly in recovery.  By family recovery process, I mean what the entire family experiences when an individual in that family is working through the process of recovery.   This example is specific in using the husband/father as the person in recovery, but the results are often similar with any family member.

But, let’s not focus on the other family members (in this description the wife and children), let’s focus on the trouble facing the person working recovery and what problems he/she may have that abstinence in and of itself may not fix.

What I am talking about are problems that the person in recovery may have had long before recovery and possibly even before using.

If a person has a collection of bad habits that existed prior to or outside of his/her using, it is possible that the bad habits are a separate set of problems from the using  (although they may contribute to one another).   In other words: If you had the problems before using alcohol/drugs or when without alcohol/drugs then simply going without alcohol/drugs, logically speaking, will not solve those problems.  ABSTINENCE WILL NOT SOLVE PROBLEMS THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE HAD WHEN ABSTINENT IN THE PAST.

One of the reasons for the entire chapter that the passage above is in (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126 – The Family Afterward) is to help both the family and the person understand the fact that there is a lot work necessary for that person’s recovery and for the sanity of everyone in the family as part of the recovery process.  Abstinence is not the end all, be all of recovery.

We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

Many people get frustrated with the feeling of doing everything he/she can to be functional and abstinent because people around them seem to still not be satisfied.   It is awesome that you may feel like you are doing everything you can to fix everything, but even if you do not get the reception you think you deserve, there is no excuse for running back to dysfunction.  Recovery is about change and if you are not getting better, then you are staying the same and you should expect the same.  By the same I am describing the expectation that if you have not change you are still in your alcoholism/addiction.

In the example we started with, getting the wrong response was a trigger to resentment for the man in the story.  The expectation of a certain response was not met, leading to frustration and eventually leading to deeperand far more self-destructive feelings.  Ponder this thought:

First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

This man in the first story’s response to what he saw as his family’s inability to look at the efforts he is making and leave him alone (in other words, for them to bow down in worship of how awesome he is now) could be considered alcoholic/addict suicide.   I mean, after all, if the recovery information states that something destroys more alcoholics than anything else, it is assumed that you will do your best to avoid that something.   That something is having resentment and this guy’s expectation (unrealistic expectation) led to frustration and then to this destroyer that has the possibility of eating his recovery alive and in the end, eating his life up too.

Now here is a huge thought: a lot of people always think that their friends and family are not being fair to them because they keep focusing on the past.

The truth is: If the problems are not resolved for everyone involved, whatever problems you are talking about are not the past.  If those problems are things that are not resolved with someone in your home; that goes double!   If it something you have done, been doing, or did two minutes, two days, two weeks, two years or two decades ago is still bothering someone around you it cannot be called the past; it is a problem for them NOW!  If it creates a problem in the present, then it is a present problem not a past problem!

Let’s put this idea into family perspective:

The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over-concentration on financial success. Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded.

Since the home has suffered more than anything else, it is well that a man exert himself there. He is not likely to get far in any direction if he fails to show unselfishness and love under his own roof. We know there are difficult wives and families, but the man who is getting over alcoholism must remember he did much to make them so. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 127)

We all have our shortcomings and once a person begins to use heavily, those problems are multiplied exponentially.  This brings us back to the key change necessary for each of us to have any hope:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Self-focus is the enemy.  The idea that these problems are the past is based on the fact that you simply don’t want to deal with those things or to discus those things.  If they are coming up the people around you feel differently about those things.  They want to make some attempt to deal with those issues that they have right now that may have to do with things from the past.  Ignoring these things is to say that you would like to ignore dealing with the things they want to deal with and that you do not care if they work through the things that they are going through simply because their desired topics make you uncomfortable.  Your comfort is far more important to you than their resolution of the problem they have right now (at least in your mind that is true).

That can only lead to disaster and that kind of selfishness is recovery poison.  It is a wholesale plunge into the fiery abyss that is the root of our troubles:  Selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let’s look at another side of the problem the guy in the story had.  Another problem he has is this idea that that focus on recovering fortune and reputation were good enough focuses to say he was doing all he could.  The truth is, if a person is truly trying to repair the damage of the past with the family start by looking at what they would like you to do to repair the damage done and not just on what you feel like doing for them or what you think is enough.

If they are not onboard with the plan to fix everything that you have is it really a plan to fix everything or just to make you feel good about yourself.  Isn’t this man’s plans described as a desire to feel responsible and respected.  Not evil things in and of themselves, but if there is no balance of efforts to repair the damage done in the home, you are failing in some pretty serious recovery tasks (such as Steps Eight and Nine for example).

I do also understand that some people are unreasonable etc. (and that may go double for some of our family members) , but as a person recovering from alcohol/drug abuse, you have to constantly remind yourself that it is not okay for you to allow other people’s crazy to be contagious.  We do not have such luxuries as building resentment or being crazy because my family is being crazy.   Those are high dive plunges into the fiery abyss of misery and possible relapse.

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book described the proper attitude for dealing with all of this as part of the latter stages of the recovery process (particularly at the point of working Step 10 but also parts of Steps Eight, Nine and Four) starting with:

Love and tolerance of others is our code.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

This is your response no matter how they are acting.  This is our code, not theirs.

There are actually some instructions for the families, but there is no guarantee that they will follow these instructions:

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

If you are the one of the family members, it is important to consider the incredibly positive or incredibly negative role you can play in this person’s recovery.  Everyone plays a part in the growth and change, it is just that an unselfish and not dysfunctional environment is key.  The challenge for everyone involved is to not slip into a self focus which then is converted into the “What have you done for me lately” mindset or into resentments.  If you are the family member, please do not transform into a relapse generating machine as soon as we start trying to change!

There is much more to all of this  and I could go on and on, but remember this (which is not just about a husband, but anyone in recovery can be substituted:

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

Reality is reality and it a much easier pill to swallow if you are realistic with yourself and with others. There is a great hope of freedom, but just being abstinent, although a very hard point to get to, is not enough. There is so much more to recovery and in knowing that there is so much more, there is so much more hope.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

3 thoughts on “Sober is “But a Beginning”?”

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