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I Am the Defeated.

10 December 2017

As I’m approaching ten years of sobriety I find myself thinking about all the cautionary tales I’ve been told. Go sit in the rooms and there aren’t too many people who have my length of sobriety. Seems like fewer people have 8-16 years of sobriety than have 20+ years. There’s a lot of attrition in the rooms as time goes on, but two groups you see the most of are the newcomers and the old-timers.

This is all anecdote, of course. I don’t have any idea what the numbers would show. But the conventional wisdom about the phenomenon is that there are specific times that large numbers of people tend to go out and drink again. One year. Eight to twelve years. In each case, the thinking goes that these are the times that people seem to think they have the disease beat.

At a year, a large number of people think, “I proved I can go a year without drinking. I can do this any time. I can have a drink and then do it again.” These people tend to disappear and not come back. Lots of them die. If they do come back, it tends to be years later, after a horrifying excavation of a deeper trough into which they fell.

The people who go out after 8-10 years tend to have a different story. “It snuck up on me,” they say. “I stopped going to meetings, I stopped reading, stopped writing. I thought I was in the clear and life got messy and I stopped doing the work.” A lot of these people disappear or die too. Often by suicide. But I’d say that more of them come back than the other group. I know a lot of people on their second time around after 8-12 years of sobriety.

And of course, a lot of people just die. But the time someone has 10 years of sobriety, they are often 40-60 years old and usually lived a hard life prior to sobering up. Cigarettes, labor, sedentism and indolence. We are not, generally, a group that inspires with our long history of clean living and commitment to health. People in the program die sober of the same diseases that kill a lot of people in their 40s-60s. Heart disease, COPD, stroke, and even the fatalities of despair. I’ve known plenty of sober suicides.

But the group of us who persist, having dodged the siege machinery and learned to love the sloughs and swamps of life and the relentless trudge through mire and wetland, will keep showing up into the rooms. So there’s a large cohort of old-timers who show the way to the younger group. That’s the group I’m looking to find a way to join, as time goes by.

I understand the seduction of indolence. I don’t go to a huge number of meetings any more. Three to four a month, usually. Though with some upcoming life changes I’m looking forward to shifting back to a twice-a-week schedule. And perhaps, in the short term, every day. Big life changes require extra grounding.

The key to staying sober, to staying in the program, in my understanding, is to stay humble and stay teachable. I didn’t get myself sober. I didn’t earn this. I am not the author of my sobriety, but I am its steward. Without the constant tending of it, it will dry up, wither, and fail.

I am lucky to be sober, but I need to always remember: I can’t be sober without being an addict. That’s the first part. I am an alcoholic blood and bone. Everything I have, everything I’ve done, everything I am, everything I can become, is predicated on understanding that I live at the mercy of a terminal disease. Today, by fortune, force, and faith, I am sober.

I am not strong. But I have been given strength. I am not brave. But I have been given courage. I cannot fight. But in surrender there is understanding, and freedom. I will never know victory in this. I am not the champion in the story of my recovery. I am the defeated.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Meg and Jay Nichols permalink
    19 September 2021 11:28

    My husband and I celebrated 33 & 35 years of continuous sobriety and we just both really appreciate your writings! We read “The Long Slow Road” today in answer to a discussion we’d been having in our meeting, thanks so much for your clarity and ES&H!! ❤️

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