I have heard this wishful thinking many times over the past three years, since I came to work at The Retreat full time in May 2014. Many people who are sober in AA have a sense that their program isn’t all that it could be. They want more, but aren’t sure how to get it. Our Big Book says that it is easy to be vague about the matter of prayer and meditation, and then it goes on to make some “definite and valuable suggestions.” (page 86). The Retreat is all about those “definite and valuable suggestions” that we find in the Big Book.
We all know that addiction, whether to alcohol or other drugs, is brutal. Not everyone is sure that, in recovery, we get better. I believe that we can all get better in recovery. Life gets better for the alcoholic and addict who embraces Twelve Step recovery. Life also gets better for those who leave behind the alcoholic and addict who chooses not to recover, and seeks their own recovery.
This simple phrase I’ve been hearing since I walked into the rooms of recovery. Today I realize it means just as much to me now as it did when I couldn't stop obsessing over a drink.
Growing up, I wanted people to like me. I considered it a personal challenge to win people over. And I wanted to feel connected to those people. I was intrigued by spirituality, and how it might make me feel connected, so I would “meditate.” But really I was just getting high, contemplating not my place in the vast continuum, but rather how a fish might have a swordfight with a bee.
On July 18th, I received my 27 year AA medallion at the Summit Hill AA meeting in Saint Paul. It’s a big meeting, about 150 people, but I’ve been there most Monday nights since moving to Saint Paul in 2004. Staying sober over the long term is mostly a matter of relapse prevention, because for us, relapse is natural.
Tomorrow I’m flying to Grand Rapids, Michigan and driving an hour north to the town of Greenville. It used to be prosperous when there was an Electrolux vacuum cleaner factory there, but the factory moved to Mexico in 2006. 2700 people lost their jobs, and the economy has not recovered. The town is 90% white, and many people drive an hour into Grand Rapids for jobs. There are no treatment opportunities in the county.
My disease does a great impression of my voice. It’s spot on. It perfectly recreates the long, nasally vowels of my Chicago upbringing, the enthusiastic delivery, the volume, and the cadence.
This masquerade, this dubious transgression of my mind, leads to fear mongering. For me, recovery is no longer about slapping my hand away from the drink or the baggie.
Last month we discussed a new series of articles focusing on the tools to build recovery capital by addressing some of the common struggles, questions, and successes that can present challenges to our mind, body and soul, even while sober. Building recovery capital means just that, building up enough resources, tools, and community inside the rooms of recovery and during the recovery process to rely on when things are difficult - when life asks us who we are. This “recovery capital” will help guide us through the rough times, to grow and adapt to life’s challenges to eventually come out the other end with new meaning and purpose.
All of us, or nearly all of us, are sober when we read this essay. For us, getting sober is no longer the issue. Staying sober is. Alcoholism and addiction are chronic illnesses, and relapses are common. Staying clean and sober requires an ongoing participation in recovery. The best recovery is in Twelve Step programs. Meetings are good. Step work is better. Working with other alcoholics to help them get sober is best. A.A.’s “Big Book”says "Nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” (p.89) I know that this is true for me.