Close to thirty years ago I checked into treatment for my alcoholism and addictions to other drugs. It was a terrific relief.
I’d known for a long time that I was an alcoholic. I was essentially unaware of AA and its purpose, and that there were effective treatments for addictive disease. I wasn’t entirely unaware, because I’d been dealing with drunks and addicts for years as a police officer. It had simply managed to escape me that AA and other programs were anything other than a place to dump problems that turned up back on the street later anyway.
By the time my boss more-or-less forced me into treatment, I’d had most of the jackpots: divorce, foreclosures, evictions, loss of other people’s money as well as tons of my own, estrangement from relatives — all the fun things that we addicts collect along the way to perdition. My denial about my surface problems was pretty weak, and it didn’t take much for me to become accepting about treatment, then hopeful, and then enthusiastic. I ended up damned grateful to the Chief of Police and whoever advised him about how he should deal with his relatively high-ranking and increasingly visible problem.
So I got sober and became a credit to my mother, my school, my family, my country and all that good stuff. I worked in the recovery field. I talked recovery. I even became a bit of a recovery guru, writing about addiction on my own and for treatment facilities that needed a down-to-earth approach to some of their material. But to a great degree I was a fraud, and I didn’t even know it myself.
Secondary addictions and replacement addictions are so common in recovery that it’s easy to blow them off with a “Well, at least I’m not drinking or drugging (or whatever!), and many of our 12-step fellowships don’t help, some even refusing to talk about so-called outside issues. I find it impossible to understand how anything related to any kind of sobriety is an outside issue, but there it is. Fortunately, slowly but surely, that seems to be changing, and it hasn’t destroyed any fellowships yet.
Some in the fellowships might not like to think about it, but Bill Wilson, one of AA’s co-founders, was quite open about the need for addressing other issues when necessary. Unfortunately, even as open-minded as he was, he failed to practice what he preached and suffered from an untreated nicotine addiction that ended up killing him, along with sex addiction issues that were well-known at the time but swept under the rug by adoring fans and biographers until recently. Dr. Bob Smith was also open about his addiction to things other than alcohol. In those days, exclusivity was thought to be essential to keep from giving the recovering drunks of AA a bad name. The irony is astounding.
Alcoholics and other addicts are people who have difficulty facing life on life’s terms. We all know that in our heads, but too often it fails to make it into our hearts. Our members, while “sober” in a technical sense based on AA’s “singleness of purpose”, are no different than any other addicts. We are prone to having or developing other addictions that help us hide from the issues that caused us to want to turn off our brains to begin with. All of that stuff is scary, and we’re masters of avoidance and denial.
In my own case, getting sober was a walk in the park — to the point that I was almost embarrassed about it. There was a simple reason for that: I wasn’t really sober. I was abstinent from alcohol and other drugs, I gave plenty of lip service to recovery, and I even thought I was in recovery. When I quit smoking three years after getting dry, I thought I’d knocked all the monkeys off my back, but I had held on to a process addiction that has been a part of me for many years longer than my chemical addictions. I simply accelerated the other addiction, and hardly even noticed the loss of the alcohol, nicotine and other drugs.
I was totally unaware of what I was doing. I saw no connection between my behavior and addiction, and so I failed to mention it on any number of occasions (including my 4th and 5th Steps) where it might have been addressed at least in part. I continued on my way, oblivious for many years to the fact that my real addiction was pretty much stifling my recovery. Hell, I’d even quit smoking, hadn’t I? I was sober, dude, and I didn’t let you forget it.
At about 18 or 20 years “sober” I began to realize I had outside issues — big time outsite issues. For quite a while I managed to mostly ignore the signs that were popping up all around me: things not accomplished, complaints from family about my attitude and behavior. I was a classic “dry drunk.” Eventually my issues were brought to my attention in a manner I couldn’t ignore and it became clear that I needed to start dealing with them — not just immediately, but instantly.
As a direct result, I lost work, a lot of money, the respect of my wife of (at that time) 32 years, and a huge chunk of denial. I began attending another fellowship, found a therapist, and started the first real battle of my life.
Like any good addict I started trying to do it my way again. After about six months it became clear that I wasn’t progressing much, and I sought treatment again — twenty-three years after I first got “clean and sober”, and technically without having relapsed since I was still abstinent from alcohol and other external drugs.
Treatment wasn’t a magic bullet, but it did create a tiny bit of humility. I’ve been trying to nurture the humility, listen to other folks, and use the tools of recovery: reading, meditation, phone calls, building a support system, phone calls, working the steps, service, phone calls, and the other well-known tools that are often neglected due to ego and hubris. I hit plenty of meetings, got a sponsor and really worked on the steps.
I seem to be getting better, slowly. I’m still active in that program and, peripherally, in AA. As of this date in 2019, I have almost 30 years “sober” in AA and NA, but I consider myself to be something like three to three and a half years really sober. I don’t actually have a sobriety date, since the nature of acting out in the addiction I’m working on today varies, depending on understanding and one’s degree of dedication to the concept of sobriety in all things. Some days are better than others.
Other stuff’s getting better too. My marriage, now approaching its 40th year, is better than it has ever been. My relationships with other people are real, because I’m no longer afraid to let them know who I really am. People seek me out because — gee, I guess they want what I have! Lord knows what that is, but I seem to have them fooled, or maybe I just can’t believe that I’m beginning to become the person I always wanted to be.
Anyway, I’m grateful for everything that got me where I am today. I’m truly sorry that I had to drag anyone else through the mud along with me. Perhaps they gained something from it too. That’s none of my business, and I’m still sorry. My business is trying to live the Steps and principles, especially Ten and Eleven. I try to remember always that I’m just another bozo crawling out from under the bus.
If I have a message, it’s this: don’t fool yourself like I did. You’re not really sober until you’re really sober, and “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over”. Don’t wait to hear any ladies sing — plump or otherwise.