The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve (Photo credit: volantwish)

Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever. If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol.  (Alcoholics anonymous pg. 33)

Here we are, it’s almost New Years Eve.  If you are reading this, you have survived the Mayan calendar end of the world, Y2K, the 1999 end of the world, the cold war and if you are in the United States you might be bracing yourself t go over a “fiscal cliff”, yet you are a survivor.

If you are recovering from alcohol or drug use however, you need to know that these things are not your biggest concern.  Your end of the world can be summed up in seven letters:  R-E-L-A-P-S-E.

As the world prepares for the new beginning that is signified in a new year one of the biggest dangers to people in recovery looms on the horizon:  New Year’s Eve.

That night in many places is a time of celebration that is unmatched throughout the rest of the year.  For many of us in recovery, that same night might contain danger that is unmatched throughout the year.  How many people in my life (some well meaning, some for some evil reason and some just not caring or paying attention) have tried to offer me alcohol and drugs on New Year’s Eve?  Some have gone so far as to apply peer pressure and the power of public humiliation to attempt to nudge me into the direction of relapse and inevitable self-destruction.

Conversations about why this or that substance or this time doesn’t count. Why champagne does not count or why New Year’s Eve is somehow a magic time where using will not affect my recovery.  Why the New Year’s Eve celebration is somehow a safe environment to use and on and on.

Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

There is no safe reason for or safe place for a person in recovery to use.  ANY USE AT ALL IS A RELAPSE NO MATTER WHERE OR WHEN IT IS.  YOU ARE EITHER SOBER OR NOT!  Any hiding place you find that you think makes it safe for you to use is only a hiding place from reality.  Any magic formula you find to use safely is only a formula for foolishness.

But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Any reason for using (even on New Year’s Day) is “insanely insufficient” in light of the reasons you are in recovery in the first place.  There is no magic minute, hour, day, place or group of people that makes it safe for an alcoholic/addict to use again once in recovery.

Every use in the life of a person in advanced alcoholism/addiction comes with the probability of unleashing a tornado of chaos in the lives of every person who’s life has any contact with the person (including that person himself/herself) that may end with the absolute annihilation of any environment this person comes into contact with.  RELAPSE IS OUR END OF THE WORLD.

Once a person is in recovery, that person is on a path that is founded on two basic thoughts:

  1. Using intoxicating substances is absolutely destructive to my life and the lives of those around me.
  2. I must stop using intoxicating substances at all costs to be free.

Any reason you have for using or for feeling it is safe to use is an “insanely trivial excuse” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37).

No matter what you hear, where you are at, what everyone else is doing, how miserable or happy you may be at the time:

The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

There may be champagne drinking, drug using people who appear just fine by the next day and seem to move on with life.  That I of no matter to those of us in recovery simply because:  WE ARE NOT THEM!

There have been people who have jumped off of bridges and lived, should I go and do it too and expect to be fine.  There have been people that have been shot in the head and lived, should I shoot myself in the head.

The question is not if other people can or cannot use safely.  The question for those of us in recovery is if I have accepted that I can never use alcohol/drugs safely.

If you have not fully accepted this then New Year’s parties are among the worst places on earth for you to be.  If you have accepted this then keep in mind that New Year’s parties are still one of the most dangerous places on earth for you to be.  Even in these cases you may find temptation so great that you have to excuse yourself, make your way to an exit and run for dear life as fast as you can.

If these facts bother you (as it does most of us at some point) look at these words from founding member Dr. Bob had to say about those feelings:

I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181 – Dr. Bob’s Nightmare)

No matter what we were like before or how well others seem to handle it, we can never safely use again period.  Any of us who do not completely get this must not risk such events or gatherings.  It would be far better to spend New Year’s Eve with others in recovery and around strong support to carry us through this challenge.

If you have accepted this, it is still important to have people in place wherever you are that know if you are struggling and are strong enough to stop you if you begin to walk down the road to the stupidity of relapse.

One important point to remember also is that no matter if you decide it is safe to go out on New Year’s Eve or not, you must be willing to be a support for others in recovery also:

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Sober Christmas, Sober Holidays, and Sober New Year’s…

Stay Sober My Friends…

 

Wade H.

Holiday Gatherings: Explain or Avoid

Holiday Gatherings:  Explain or Avoid

Why sit with a

Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New ...
Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New Orleans. Shown are Clive Wilson, trumpet; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Seva Venet, guitar, and Lawrence Batiste, drum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

long face in places where there is drinking,

sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)

This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day.  This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.

This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.

If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place.  On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit.  If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.

Either way, openness and honesty are a must!  Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with.  This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.

If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings.   If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop:  PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.

The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not.  If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.

Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat.  It is dangerous, but can be managed.

  • If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
  • If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea.  Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip:  “but, only a little one.”
  • If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
  • If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.

I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t.  The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.

The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little.  That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.

The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction.  That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.

The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them.  That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs.  There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while.  If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off.  In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.

The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.

To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc.  But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).

So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.

You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101 – 102)

An important final note from this passage:  If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun.  Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done.  The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable.  More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink. Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.

In some circumstances we have gone out deliberately to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Let’s talk about the “insanely trivial excuse” described above.  But before we go into that let me answer the big question:  Why?  Those of us who are around others in recovery regularly, often hear a whole lot of these “insanely trivial excuses” in early January from a bunch of people who relapsed or those who relapse and are trying to explain to the rest of us some “insanely trivial excuse” for why the relapse at New Years does not count as an actual relapse.

Here is the truth about this “insanely trivial excuse”.  It is the excuse we arrive at to use at all, Not the excuse to get intoxicated, high, mess up our life, etc.  It is the excuse we arrive at to tell ourselves and others that any amount (even the tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit) is going to be safe for me.  That means ignoring the truth that we have all heard repeatedly:  You can never use intoxicating substances safely again.

These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc an alcoholic’s drinking bout creates. They sound like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beats himself on the head with a hammer so that he can’t feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 23)

If you are an addict or an alcoholic then the fact is that intoxicating substances make you self-destructively stupid.  With the use of even the tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit comes the risk of absolute destruction of yourself, of everyone and everything you care about, of those that care about you, and the real possibility of seriously hurting or killing yourself or others.  In other words there is no excuse even close to big enough to carry more weight than the potential pain, agony, and destruction that will result from a relapse.  In light of this fact, any excuse is not only “insanely trivial” but is also insanely stupid.  Using anything in any amount is a relapse period.  A sip of a beer, a sip of champagne, a quick hit of a joint, just a little, whatever; it is still a relapse and the penalty is way, way too great.  That is why any excuse; no matter how convincing it may sound is just like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to make your headache go away. 

My goal here is not to make anyone feel bad or guilty etc., the goal is to make clear the idea that there is no reason that you can come up with that is a good reason for you to use.  If you come up with a reason it is simply a way of lying to yourself that you have found that will work to trick you into destroying yourself. 

During the holidays it is not uncommon to find other people trying to make these excuses for you.  They are trying to convince you that champagne does not count or that marijuana is not a drug, or that blah-blah-blah is not your “drug of choice” so it does not count. 

Let’s just put it plainly:  Your problem is getting high and your uncontrollable desire to get high.  Yes most of us who are addicts and alcoholics have a high we most definitely prefer, but we use because we like being high.  If I use something that can make me high if I continue to use it, I am probably going to have a strong urge to keep using it or to go and use whatever it is that I prefer to use to get high.  Whatever the reason and no matter who is giving it to me THERE IS SIMPLY WAY TO MUCH RISK AND FAR, FAR TOO LITTLE TO GAIN!

A person or group of people that chose to try to force you to do something that you do not want to do and that has the potential to absolutely destroy you is probably someone you might consider not spending time with. 

If you had an unexplainable urge to hurt yourself such as an uncontrollable urge to stab yourself in the head with a knife, we would keep you away from knives.  Any excuse you came up with for having a knife would be considered unreasonable and we would find a way around it (such as cutting your food for you etc.).  It is also probable that we would not give you other sharp objects either even though your obsession seems to be with knives.  Scissors, pencils, ice picks, etc. would have to also be out of the question.

Now let’s say that you get to a relatively stable state and can be in public but still have to just avoid sharp objects in case you might trigger something that makes you suddenly do the same thing again.  You go to a gathering of your friends and they entertain themselves by trying to make you play with sharp objects.  They keep telling you, “It will be okay,” “Maybe if you just touch a few sharp objects with us here to protect you, you will get over it completely,” “Your problem is with knives, not these.  You’ll be fine,” “Nobody ever kills themselves with pencils,” and similar statements. 

Are these people really safe for you at that point?  Can these people really say they have your best interests in mind or honestly say that they care about you?   Aren’t these people simply entertaining themselves by risking your life?

All over the world on New Year’s Eve, there will be similar conversations.  “It will be okay, because_____” “Maybe if you just use a little with us here to protect you,” “Your problem is with _______, not _____.   You’ll be fine,” “Nobody ever kills themselves with _______.  It will be fine”  The same questions apply:

  • ·         Are these people really safe for you at that point? 
  • ·         Can these people really say they have your best interests in mind or honestly say that they care about you? 
  • ·          Aren’t these people simply entertaining themselves by risking your life?

All of this falls under these “insanely trivial excuses” we have been talking about. 

In the “To Wives” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (written to non-alcoholic wives of severely alcoholic men specifically but actually true information for anyone dealing with any addict/alcoholic:  as well as being true and deep information for those of us who are the addicts/alcoholics) there is some basic information that can help in dealing with others and in weeding out the people who are not safe for you:

We find that most of this embarrassment is unnecessary. While you need not discuss your husband at length, you can quietly let your friends know the nature of his illness. But you must be on guard not to embarrass or harm your husband.

When you have carefully explained to such people that he is a sick person, you will have created a new atmosphere. Barriers which have sprung up between you and your friends will disappear with the growth of sympathetic understanding. You will no longer be self-conscious or feel that you must apologize as though your husband were a weak character. He may be anything but that. Your new courage, good nature and lack of self-consciousness will do wonders for you socially.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

Like I said it was written “To Wives” but is a truth on several different levels.  Be open about your problems to the people you will be around.  If you are an addict let them know you are an addict working through sobriety.  If you are an alcoholic do the same.  Be humbly open.

Will you be uncomfortable; absolutely.  Will some people treat you differently; yes absolutely.  But, that is way better than destruction, horror and remorse of a relapse. 

Any person who you share this with who cannot handle the information, or who in spite of this information feels the need try and gets you to use or uses this information to somehow hurt/annoy you:  THAT PERSON IS NOT SAFE FOR YOU TO BE AROUND ESPECIALLY DURING HOLIDAY GATHERINGS!

Openness and honesty can add to your defenses.  Part of those explanations you give to these people should include the fact that you cannot safely use any intoxicating substances whatsoever and your sincerely asking them to help you not do so.  This is an added level of defense against your “insanely trivial excuses”, but all of this assumes that you are far enough along in your recovery to attend such gatherings. 

This may take consultation with sponsors, mentors, counselors etc. as you might not be the best person to make this judgment call, but some of us are simply not ready for these sorts of events.  If that is true, then it is a fact.  If you have an idea that you are not or may not be ready and you start looking for reasons to convince yourself that you are ready, you have again begun the search for “insanely trivial excuses”.    If you are not ready, spend the time working on becoming ready for future gatherings.  Find a recovery meeting or event.  Have a recovery gathering of your own with others in the same boat.  Work on steps with your sponsor while everyone else is getting drunk and arrested.

The bottom line is take whatever drastic measures are necessary to remain sober through the holidays even if it means missing them all together.  Remember, whatever reason you (or anyone else) can come up with to use ANYTHING is an “insanely trivial excuse” and is “insanely STUPID.” 

Remember also that the “insanely trivial excuse” as stated in the passage at the beginning, is an “insanely trivial excuse” to take the first drink, hit, puff etc.   It is the first little that is the relapse because in truth there is no tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit.  IT IS EITHER YOU DO ABSOLUTELY NONE OR IT IS A RELAPSE.

Stay Sober my Friends…

Wade H.