My Problem is My Problem.
Even though I’ve been sober for a few days now (2,237 to be precise), I still can be known to look longingly at a beverage from time to time. Sunday, after hours of driving through torrents of rain, moving in frigid cold, and then walking through sleet and ice for half an hour, I could have used a beer. I didn’t obsess about it. I didn’t crave it. But there was that part of my mind that, in those situations, remembers how good a drink tasted at those times. Like all such ideation, it was transient and mild.
So it didn’t bother me when my partner had a (half) glass of wine with dinner. Well, beyond my standard incredulity that anyone is able to drink a half a glass of wine and not, say, several bottles. I glanced a little longingly at it for a moment, perhaps. And I know for 100% certain that if I had felt funny about it that I could have asked her not to drink it, and she wouldn’t have. But in the context of our relationship, her having that wine was the right thing to do.
Why? Because she felt like having a glass of wine. And my condition shouldn’t impact how she lives her life. My problem is my problem. Not hers, and no one else’s. It’s my responsibility to look after my own condition. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous to make sure that my life is not all about alcohol. When I drink, my life becomes consumed by the acquisition and consumption of alcohol. Now that I don’t drink, despite the fact that I do a lot of talking and thinking and writing about my disease, my life is in fact not very much about alcohol at all. Huge swathes of time go by where I don’t think about it. I don’t have to avoid anything I want to do because there might be alcohol there. And I don’t have to try to control the lives of others.
When I drank, I was constantly trying to control others. I tried to get people drunk, so my own drunkenness was less noticeable. It’s a grim and depressing way to live, cloaked in manic insistence on joviality. I tried to manipulate people’s opinion of me in order to make sure that my inebriation didn’t factor. My entire life centered on managing my alcohol and people’s perception of my relationship to it. And I failed, spectacularly. Because the person trying to do the managing was constantly drunk.
I have a number of friends who drink, and who know I’m and alcoholic, and drink around me. And they should; at least they should do whatever they’re comfortable with. My problem is my problem. Others are not bound by my needs. If I am uncomfortable around alcohol, I’m the one that needs to make a change.
Embracing recovery from alcohol is not about moral fortitude, but it does require doing work. Just like there’s no shortcut to cardiovascular health. Those who want to be fit and healthy need to eat well and exercise. Genetics, of course, powerfully influence how effective those efforts are, but fitness requires behavioral interventions. The same is true for addiction and alcoholism. We don’t condemn someone for being an addict. But in order to be in recovery, addicts like me do have to make specific, universal behavioral choices.
Those choices are difficult. And the program of AA makes them less difficult, by focusing on and understanding the root causes of our drinking. Recognizing that our disease and our personality combine to make us powerless over alcohol. Laying out a series of steps which, if taken, will result in freedom from our addictive behaviors. I fully recognize that AA is not for everyone, not even for every addict, I suppose.
But having recently read yet another article from a supposed addiction-specialist physician about how AA doesn’t work, I lament the pathetic state of understanding about what AA is, what alcoholism is, and how AA is intended to work. AA is not a medical treatment. AA does not cure alcoholism. AA doesn’t “work”, the way we would like medicine to cure disease. That’s not what we do.
AA lays out a program which, if followed, allows freedom from addictive behaviors, and provides a framework from which we can rebuild our lives. We make no claim that those who follow it are stronger, or better, or smarter. Only that, for those who choose to participate, if they follow the steps, they rarely fail. Not everyone will choose to do so. That’s their right and their privilege. Physicians seek interventions which cure disease. Then claim that AA doesn’t work, because you can’t send someone to AA and trust they’ll get sober, with any kind of reliability.
And you can’t. Persons sent to AA are not particularly likely to get sober, in my experience. The cohort that seem to recover in AA are those who seek us out of their own accord because they can no longer tolerate, in themselves, how they are living as alcoholics and addicts. That is the cohort that AA can work for. Complaining that AA doesn’t work because people who don’t want to stop drinking sometimes go to AA and then don’t stop drinking is like complaining that palliative care doesn’t cure death. It’s not designed to.
AA can’t make anyone want to stop drinking. All we can do it provide the framework that guides those who have exhausted all other options from active addiction into sobriety. And the very first thing, step zero, is deciding that my problem is my problem. No one else’s. Not my partner’s. Not my friends’. And not my physician’s. Mine. No one can cure me. And I cannot recover alone, either. What I can do is walk the road others have walked, sometimes carried, sometimes bearing others on my back. And change. Not who I am, or that I’m an alcoholic. But how I choose to confront the world.