I had my last drink on September 14th, 1989, at about noon. At the end of the month, I’ll go to an anniversary meeting and pick up a coin stamped XXVI to denote my 26 years of “sobriety.” I’m not braggin’, I’m just sayin’.
Don’t get me wrong: if I hadn’t become abstinent from alcohol and drugs, I’d be dead now instead of approaching my 71st birthday. There is absolutely no question about that, and I am extremely grateful for the 12-step fellowships that supported me during those years and that continue to support me today. I owe the past 26 years of life to the people and the institutions that blazed the trail to abstinence. I take nothing away from that.
On the face of it, twenty-six years of abstinence is pretty impressive; but was I really sober?
Our 12th Step reads, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message…and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Regardless of the definition that we put on “spiritual awakening” and “all our affairs,” there can be no doubt about those principles. They are, in order:
- Brotherly Love
- Spiritual Awareness, and
The principles define what we refer to — rather cavalierly, at times — as “sobriety.” Sobriety isn’t just abstinence from alcohol, drugs, massage parlors or what have you, it’s practicing these principles in all our affairs.
So, was I honest? No; I was shockingly otherwise. Did I show integrity? See “honest.” Was I humble? Hell, no! I acted as if I knew it all. Did I show courage? Not in any sense that counted. Brotherly love? When it suited me, and I got to choose to whom. Discipline? Ha! And so on…
How can I claim to be sober if I’m cheating on my partner — not necessarily by being sexual with someone else, but perhaps by being sexual without him or her. How can I claim to be sober if I’m selling used cars under the banner of “buyer beware?” How can I claim to be practicing Brotherly love when I discriminate — covertly or overtly — against people who don’t meet my standards of worthiness? How can I claim to have integrity if I don’t stand up and speak against my peers when they discriminate? How can I claim willingness when I give up one vice but hang on to others, telling myself that they’re okay because “at least I’m not drinking?”
Our step work is supposed to root out this stuff, but it is totally contingent on our being honest with ourselves. And that’s what addicts have been avoiding, in many cases, for all our lives. Did we DIG during that 4th Step — dig until it hurt, and keep digging until it didn’t? Did we seek outside help when it was needed? Did we get really honest with our fifth step? Were we diligent with 7, 8, and 9? Did we make all of those amends, or did we find excuses to avoid the ones that were uncomfortable? Do we take that daily personal inventory, promptly admitting when we’re wrong?
Can we truthfully say that we’re not doing anything that we wouldn’t admit to our sponsor, our pastor, our wife, our parents — the world — if the occasion arose? Are we hanging on to character defects because they “have nothing to do with sobriety?” Did we “do the steps” and then go on with business as usual, thus proving the adage that sobering up a horse thief simply results in a more efficient horse thief?
A couple of weeks ago, I posed the question “Where’s Your Stash.” Another way of putting it is, what am I hanging on to that allows me to continue functioning the same old ways, saying the same old things, judging others by my standards, fantasizing about porn for hours a day, cheating others, lying by omission if not commission, spreading grandiosity far and wide, and so on and so forth.
Just how sober am I after 26 years? Well, I’ve really only just begun. I’m thankful for the twenty-odd years of life that my abstinence gave me, but only recently have I begun to know in my heart of hearts that I’m really succeeding — to some degree — in practicing those principles in all my affairs, some of the time.
How are you doing? Really.
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