Staying sober during the holidays can be a challenge. Alcohol permeates so many traditions associated with this time-of-year. From baking recipes that call for alcohol, to festive holiday drinks that are spiked, to toasts at the end of year, all of these traditions seem to revolve around alcohol. However, now that your life no longer revolves around alcohol, perhaps its time to make some new holiday traditions.
When I first came into the program I stumbled upon a few formulas for sobriety. Now I’m not a numbers guy and I’m really quite math-phobic, but this was simple math that made sense to me. My first formula was - put as much time into your recovery as you did into your addiction.
I have had a misunderstanding about Bill Wilson’s “White Light” experience in Towns Hospital in 1934. I got my impression of that evening from watching a movie with an actor portraying Bill W’s experience. In the movie there is a supernatural experience, complete with a blinding white light and a rushing wind, a combination of a science fiction movie and a horror movie in its special effects.
I always learned that the cure for any hurdle was to “try harder.” Struck out in Little League? TRY HARDER next at bat. Low grade on a test? STUDY HARDER next exam. Didn’t close the sale at work? TRY HARDER next customer. The message was to keep doing what you’re doing…but TRY HARDER! Can’t stop drinking? TRY HARDER. When I tried as hard as I could to stop drinking and using drugs and found that I could not on my own will, I tried harder in other areas of my life. Surely success in those areas would offset my utter failure to control and enjoy my drinking! That logic seemed unbeatable. But experience taught I am not. And thus the great paradox of recovery reared its beautiful head in my life. To make progress, to find sobriety, to find happiness, I had to STOP TRYING. (WHAT??)
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes promises on pages 83 and 84. At the New Year, let’s see how these promises are coming true. We can all take inventory of these promises.
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.
In 2013, my wife Priscilla persuaded me to write a book, that I called “Being Sober and Becoming Happy.” I had worked at the Hazelden treatment center for 19 years, as Director of Spiritual Guidance. I did a lot of patient lectures, and had developed a long list of lectures. Priscilla kept saying “You have to write these things down.” I said, “I’m a talker, not a writer.” She kept after me. After about a year, she said “You’re getting old. Eventually you’ll die. All the lectures will be lost. You should write this stuff down.” So, I agreed.
Sobriety makes everything different, but it takes more than just the passage of sober days to bring about change. The idea behind my book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy” is that first we take the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to get our drinking to stop. Then, if we keep taking those same Twelve Steps, in sobriety, and apply them to everything we do, we end up happy. I’ve had enough time to try this theory out, and to measure the results.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, I attended open AA meetings for 13 years without figuring out that I was an alcoholic. This was odd, because I seemed to have a natural affinity for alcoholics and other addicts. As a pastor, I had conducted more interventions than anyone else in my town. Many evenings, I brought people to detox, and then sat up late at night learning about this disease. I taught college and graduate school courses on addiction without figuring out that I was an alcoholic and addict. I went to twelve step meetings because I really wanted to be with the people. My home group tolerated me well, because it was an open meeting. Occasionally I’d overhear someone whispering “He almost admitted it,” but I never did.