The Easier, Softer Way.
I have found that the only path to freedom from addiction is in embracing it. That’s not to nullify others’ experiences, everyone is welcome to their own. But my experience, and that of many others that I know who have recovered by taking the same path I have, is that the only true release from alcoholism is to acknowledge and accept that I am an alcoholic. That I will never be cured. That I cannot fight it. That the only relief is through total abstinence. And that alone, I have no hope of recovery. Alcohol is bigger than I am, and more powerful. And finally, that alcohol itself is really only a symptom of my problem. As long as I focus on alcohol as the source of my miseries, I am neglecting my recovery.
In the third chapter of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”, there is a discussion of how we approached treating our alcoholism prior to recovery. It talks about how we may have tried switching beer for wine or liquor. Tried to drink only at home, or only at bars, etc.. All the things we tried to do to manage our drinking and assert power over alcohol. And then, in the fifth chapter, it names this behavior: we tried to find an easier, softer way. We seek to find the way to live in the world and still do what we want. But it doesn’t work. Because what we want, usually, is to emotionally isolate ourselves and drink to insensibility. From there, we become hazards.
And so, when finally ready, many of us are willing to abandon the easier, softer ways that don’t work for us and embark upon the steps. And when we do that earnestly and thoroughly, most of us recover, we’ve found. I have.
This is a long-winded way to coming round to homeopathy, and similar “miracle cures”. I was reading the Science Based Medicine blog, exposing more quackery and pseudoscience in health care today. (And I’m sure they have serious problems with AA, because it isn’t an “evidence-based treatment*” according to their narrow definitions of evidence. But where we know how to measure, we ought to be applying evidence.) I think people are always looking for the easier, softer way. It’s not unique to alcoholics.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if Vitamin C cured cancer? This person who puts letters after their name says it does. Give it a try! Wouldn’t it be great if water that once had a little bit of sulfur in it cured allergies? This person wearing a lab coat says it does. Give it a try. And because of placebo effects, people are likely to feel better, at least transiently, and believe it works. But these methods not only have no evidence, there’s powerful evidence against them. They are proven to fail.
And yet we consume them. Because medicine is expensive, and may have side-effects. And treating disease with the things that work best is often invasive and unpleasant. And even then, we often die. Inevitably we die. It would be fantastic if an eyedropper of water negated the need to have a colonoscopy. But there’s no easier, softer way. There’s just sedation and a camera that goes up your butt in a room full of strangers.
Science is hard. Medicine is hard. Human health and wellness is bafflingly complex and subject to peculiar vagaries we are – in many ways – just beginning to understand. My health starts with not drinking. But it doesn’t end there. Because my sobriety, my quality of life, requires that I also examine how I live. My relationship with the truth. My willingness to accept things I don’t enjoy and don’t like. My understanding of my alcoholism and how my mind will occasionally turn against me. How my emotions can be brittle and quixotic.
I know that not everyone looks for shortcuts. Some people are invested, seemingly from birth, in doing things the right way. Indeed, some people make things deliberately difficult for themselves. I find myself searching for easier, softer ways. But I have to recognize that that’s a character flaw. Doing things cheaply means doing them badly, for the most part. And when it comes to medicine, and ethics, and science, there are no shortcuts. There are no miracles. There’s only taking the right road. One step at a time.
I don’t believe my recovery from alcoholism is a miracle. I believe it happened because I somehow found the willingness to recognize my disease and work a program, buoyed by others as part of a community and network of people in recovery, that allowed me to abandon fighting alcohol and surrender to it. I stopped fighting, so the war ended. But why that happened, why I was able to find recovery and others – better souls than mine – don’t? That still falls into a realm of ignorance. We don’t know. We may never know. But I know this: there’s no easy, soft way out of hell and up into the light.
*And as soon as anyone learns how to meaningfully measure sobriety, I’ll be happy to review, consider, and comment upon evidence-based treatments for addiction. Until then, people who criticize AA for lack of evidence should come to open meetings and see all the changed lives.