Fine Print

Education is what you get when you read the fine print;
experience is what you get when you don’t.

~ Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger is one of the Grand Old Masters of folk, along with Woodie Guthrie, Buffy St Marie, Bob Dylan in his early days, Joan Baez, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, Odetta, Leo Solieau, The Carter Family, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Harry Belafonte, Dave van Ronk, and a host of others–not forgetting the Folk who carried many of the tunes in their oral traditions and sang them over the centuries before recording technology.  They’ve all contributed more to our culture than we may realize.

Seeger has always sorta been a hero of mine.  In addition to the obvious effect he has had on generations of music aficionados, he influenced major figures in the Civil Rights movement and other movements toward Liberty as did many of his contemporaries. He had a way of expressing himself that was at once deceptively simple and, at the same time, pretty damn deep.  The quote above is a prime example.  When I ran across it recently I was immediately struck by the subtle way in which it relates to my recovery, and maybe yours, too.

For many years, when I thought of “working” the program, I related it to attending meetings, getting a sponsor, developing a support group, doing service, going through the steps, sponsoring, and stuff like that.  Then I’d be sober.  Those things are well and good, and give us a firm foundation for working on our recovery, but I’ve come to realize that they are not all there is: they are tools–tools to effect change.

There is “fine print” in recovery, as well.  It’s between the lines of literature in the various programs, in the wisdom of philosophers and saints, and especially in the examples that those members who are truly in recovery show us all.  Recovery is, in the final analysis, all about change.  If you ain’t changin’ you ain’t recoverin’.  To get sober, we have to change the thinking and behavior of addicts to that of sober people.

We learn that many “outside issues” really aren’t outside at all.  They may not have anything to do with a particular addiction, but lots of them relate strongly to sobriety.  Mental health, “psych” medications, therapy, physical health, solving relationship issues, and similar sorts of things all affect our ability to function well and make good decisions in our personal, social and spiritual lives.

It’s hard to be spiritual when you’re depressed.  It’s hard to be spiritual when you sell crappy used cars to immigrants for a living.  It’s hard to exhibit the characteristics of a truly sober person: patience, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, connection and a loving way of being, when we’ve just traded the addiction that was causing us trouble for one that isn’t–yet, or we’ve hung up our alcoholism while hanging on to our sex addiction, or…  You get the idea.

I’m either sober or I’m not, and it has little to do with abstinence beyond keeping my head on straight so that I can work on my sobriety.  Sober is as sober does.  If we can’t quite fathom what that means, we can imagine going to a meeting and trying to justify ALL of our behaviour, sharing all the secrets in our life, and then explaining to the group why it’s okay for us to behave that way.  Good luck with that!

Either I’m changing, or I’m sliding back.  There are lots of different kinds of “dry drunks.”  They’re the ones who got abstinent but didn’t get sober.  That’s not good enough.  I haven’t been able to decide what’s “good enough” yet, so I’ll keep reading the fine print and practicing what I discover.  Maybe I’ll know it when I see it.


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