Although I’ve come to accept that relapse has been an integral part of my recovery, it certainly never had to be. From the first time I walked into an AA meeting in 1983, I’ve battled pride, fear and denial in varying degrees. Though I’ve not wanted to admit it, certainly not at the time I was headed for relapse, I’ve been plagued with all of the four evils that led me to that inevitable outcome: over-confidence, control issues, fear of feeling, and secrets.
Over-confidence has hit me several times. I’ve come back to AA with my tail tucked between my legs, and before I knew it, I was on what some call a “pink cloud”. I was sure I would never drink again, because I didn’t want a drink that day. And because I didn’t want that drink today, why ask for guidance for tomorrow? That left me many times with no sponsor, poor listening skills, and at times, doing too little too late and expecting magic results. It also meant, I chose how to do the steps Ð obviously, not always the right way.
Control issues have always been a thorn in my side, too. Especially since I was great at pointing out other people’s control issues while in total denial of my own. While I haven’t had the greatest release from reciting the serenity prayer when issues that I can’t or shouldn’t control arise, it still symbolizes a great piece of advice, and the prayer I do occasionally use: Let go, let God. Fortunately, one of the few sponsors I’ve had in all of my attempts at sobriety taught me early on that the first step was more than being powerless over alcohol; it was, and is, being powerless over an entire host of situations that often led me to drink when I wasn’t willing to accept them. Unfortunately, I let those situations control me way too many times, certain I was the one controlling them… as I was headed to the bar in all of my self-righteous glory.
Fear of feeling is a big one for me. Hell, fear period is a bitch. The whole idea of drinking, for me, was to alter or obliterate feelings and avoid my obvious need for depression counselling. Whether it was for courage to meet someone in a bar or to obliterate pain, whether it was a shot or a fifth, it seldom worked out the way it was supposed to, since the feelings ultimately ran the show. Sure I could pick someone up in a bar, but it usually was someone I wouldn’t have chosen sober. And I always had to wake up with the same pain of sadness, guilt or whatever, this time compounded by a hangover, and several calls to “Ralph on the Big White Phone”. It also left me very vulnerable since I never took the time to deal with those issues. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring habit of mine in sobriety. My biggest addiction is to avoidance, alcohol is a catalyst, but in its absence, I’ve found a myriad of replacement addictions, avoided healthy steps toward dealing with these issues and ultimately returned to my favorite addiction, alcohol.
Finally, there are secrets…all kinds of secrets. For me, those usually revolve around guilt once they come to light. It takes awhile for me to come out of my stupor. Sometimes it takes months before I can do an honest inventory of how much I’ve screwed up my own life and the lives of others. And then the tendency is to keep it all in my head where I can suffer more. Somehow, putting it down on paper makes it all too real, and while I know the 4th and 5th steps serve their purpose, so many times I’ve been determined to hold on to my misery for just a bit longer. Unfortunately, this has a lot to do with pride. In some cases, it even reveals the extent to which I want to return to drinking – that as long as I don’t admit the things I’ve done as a drunk, that alcohol really hasn’t affected my life that poorly. The flip side of that is “accepting” that I really am a bad person in spite of alcohol. That kind of reasoning ultimately leads me back to the liquor store. Which usually isn’t too long after I make the decision to be dishonest with myself and either choose to hedge on my 4th step to save face during the 5th –or to just avoid it altogether.
When all is done and said, pride and fear seem pretty unreliable companions. I don’t have anything to be proud about when it comes to my addiction. It’s led me to think that I was the one solely responsible for my sobriety, that I could and should control the show around me, that working steps were suggestions (not necessities), and that hiding feelings and the events that aroused them was a healthy option to keep me from drinking (after all, if I don’t deal with issues, they go away and I won’t drink over them, right?). And fear, that’s the granddaddy of my driest drunks. It stymies growth and keeps me from asking for help when I finally realize I need it. I use it to lie and hide, and the funny thing is, I’m only fooling myself, but doing such a damned good job of it that I can’t fathom anyone else seeing through the facade.
The bottom line for me is that I don’t have to drink today, but more importantly, I don’t have to live a miserable, dull life without that drink, either. It boils down to how badly I want sobriety, and at the risk of being cliche, going to any lengths to achieve sobriety.