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13 August 2012

I have to accept that there are a lot of things about being a sober person that most normal people don’t understand. Whether it’s scientists who study addiction being unable to connect with the disease at the root level, or friends who can’t appreciate that prolonged abstinence isn’t the same as being cured, or people who don’t understand that processing my needs and responsibilities and obligations through my sponsor isn’t a judgement on their importance and influence upon me, I am met with resistance to my sobriety in many ways, often from unexpected angles. I grew up without a stable frame. I bungled my way through young adulthood by doing what I thought was best, most of the time, despite being a drunk. Sometimes it worked, usually it didn’t.

Now, I have built a framework for living that allows me to be healthy, more often than not. I remain mentally ill. But I have a consistent and robust scaffold upon which can be hung the trappings of life, of progress. I know what I need, most of the time, to do in order to proceed in a healthy way. And the real key of this system is that it provides for me, not rules for knowing the right thing to do, but guidelines for when I don’t know what the right thing is. That generally starts with my sponsor. When paths are unclear to me, I go to my sponsor to help determine what the right thing to do is. When a path seems too clear, I go to my sponsor to make sure I’m not missing some obvious pitfall.

There have been people who have taken exception to this behavior. I’ve been told it’s insulting to consider my sponsor’s advice when someone wants me to take a particular action, and I hesitate. Some people assume it means that I trust my sponsor more than I trust them. But that’s not what it means. It means I trust my sponsor to have additional and meaningful perspective to contribute over what I am capable of seeing by myself. But I know sometimes, people will not accept that explanation. And so I have to accept that they will not understand me.

One thing I have learned in sobriety is to stay out of fights that are not mine. I just generally have nothing to contribute, and my interference will make things worse rather than better. In general, unless I have a personal stake in something, I will not get involved unless asked by a person who does have a personal stake. And even then, I may not. It will depend why I’m being asked, and what outcome they can expect me to help them achieve. When I was a child, hell, when I was an adult, I was always wedging my nose into other people’s business. My mother’s constant refrain to me was “MYOB”. Mind your own business. I’ve finally learned to do that reasonably well. And yet, I’ve found resistance to that. Many people often try to ensnare me in things which are not my business. When I refrain, there are often hurt feelings.

I just have to accept that. I have learned that even how people think of me is not my business. People have their own reasons for their feelings. All I can do is act in a way that I believe I can live with. While informed by the best possible advice from people who give me advice not because of who I am, but because of who they are. My sponsor advises me not because he cares for me and wants me to be happy (though he does), but because it is part of the program of sobriety that he works, that allows him to live the best possible life of his own.

The same is true in dating. I have been rejected by women when they discover I’m in recovery. I’ve seen women (and presumably there are men too… I haven’t looked for them.) who will simply not consider anyone in recovery. That hurts me. A lot, actually. If I were the same person I was born, but had never gone through the annealing of alcoholism and recovery, I would be a far, far worse potential companion than I am. I needed a brutal, excoriating crisis to temper me, and teach me how to interact with other real humans.

But I have to apply acceptance here too. Other people are allowed to make their own decisions in life. And if I think those decisions are foolish, destructive, unfair, cruel, or simply wrong, it is not my business to repair them. Because I can be wrong too. It’s nothing but arrogance to assume that my way is the best way. And it’s only going to bring me grief to rail against someone else’s decisions for themselves. People get to make their own decisions. And they don’t need to hear me tell them I think they’re wrong. No good is served that way.

Being my own person, being honest about who I am, what I need, what I can do and what I can’t, and letting other people be their own people, and make their own mistakes and decisions, is bound to ruffle feathers sometimes. Usually mine, sometimes theirs. I hate it when people are unhappy with me. I have been trained from birth to try to please people. But in the program, I have come to understand that sometimes, that’s what’s going to happen. I have to accept it. And I cannot succeed in life if I surrender my own autonomy and my own agency to cater to people who may never be pleased with my efforts.

People are how people are. In my experience, people rarely change. I know that most alcoholics don’t. But I believe that I have. I have been changed, from without, but engaging with something bigger and more powerful than me. From within, by working as hard as I know how to be different. By recognizing that that means lifelong investment, not transient effort. And it means accepting both that some people will not believe I have changed, and others will not like the ways I have done. Both of those are painful. But they simply are.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mona permalink
    13 August 2012 10:40

    Interesting post. I think people *can* change, only if they truly see things about themselves that they want to change. But even then it’s not always easy and doesn’t always follow through. You’re totally right about MYOB, but dammit it’s difficult…

  2. 13 August 2012 12:13

    Pay no heed to those sounds,
    piercing the woods, hitting leaves–
    why should it stop me from whistling or chanting
    and walking slowly along?
    With my bamboo cane and sandals of straw
    I move more free than on horse.
    Who’s afraid?
    Let my life be spent with a raincoat
    in the misty rain.

    A biting chill in the spring breeze
    blows me sober from wine.
    A bit cold,
    but the wunshine that sinks on the hilltop
    comes back to welcome me.
    Turn your head to where you just were,
    where the winds were howling,
    go back–
    on the one hand, it’s not a storm;
    on the other, no clear skies.
    (By Su Shi (1037-1101), trans. Stephen Owen)

  3. 13 August 2012 12:15

    typo. wunshine=sunshine

  4. 16 August 2012 06:10

    It is hard to have a relationship with others and especially hard to have one with an alcoholic, recovery or not. For me, it’s because I have lived for so long with active alcoholism. So in this case, it’s not as much about the alcoholic as it is about my reactions. Perhaps that is the case with those who don’t want to date someone in recovery….

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