"We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people..." -- 'We Agnostics', "Alcoholics Anonymous" (The Big Book) pg. 52
Oh, man, now that's a pretty picture.
Taken out of context this could be a description for what's happening on any given season of "The Real World," but it is in fact a frighteningly accurate picture of untreated alcoholism. (The passage above goes on to suggest the importance of finding a basic solution to these "bedevilments," prompting some folks to actually call this "The Bedevilments!" So if you hear someone in a meeting say that, they're not going all Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments" on you, it's shorthand for that paragraph.)
As I've shared with you kids before, Mr. SponsorPants's preferred treatment for my alcoholism is, in fact, alcohol. Unfortunately, that's no longer an option, what with the blacking out, the arrest(s), the pathetic whining, the disgusting behavior -- and that's just what happens before lunch.
So since I can't treat my alcoholism with alcohol <sob!> I had to find another way to treat it. And that other way was AA.
I treat the physical aspect of my alcoholism (the overwhelming cravings for more more more that occur when I take a drink -- see 'The Doctor's Opinion' in "The Big Book" for the basics on that) by not picking up the first drink, and I treat the mental and spiritual aspects (the mental part meaning that despite all the things that have happened to me when I drink, it still seems like a good idea sometimes; and the spiritual aspect of course being the warped ego, the profound self involvement, the crippled self esteem and the twisted self obsession that usually characterizes any addict -- 'More About Alcoholism' in "The Big Book" is a good place to start to read about that) through the 12 Steps and the overall principles of AA as a whole.
So... what do you get when you have an alcoholic who is without alcohol and without AA? Ah ... that, kids, is an excellent question, and brings us to today's Cage Match:
Dry vs. Sober!
Now, regular blog readers will know that Mr. SponsorPants is a really big fan of "The Big Book." (How big a fan? If it were a celebrity I would stalk it!) So this next bit is not a criticism, it is an observation -- with maybe a little teeny historical context around the edges.
In my opinion, The Big Book uses the words "dry" and "sober" pretty much interchangeably. I think this was because A) they were trying to write in a manner that was both interesting and readable, and B) the idea that there might be a real and substantive difference between those two states had not really gelled yet.
13 years later, when "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" was written, there is a much deeper exploration of the idea that sobriety consists of something more than just freedom from alcohol and recreational chemical use.
Yes, being free from alcohol (and pretty much anything that effects you from the neck up, with the obvious exception to that being the appropriate use of doctor-prescribed medication) is the starting place for sobriety.
But to just be free of alcohol, if you have an alcoholic mind is ... well, I think I can use the word "torture" here and not be too far off base.
Crappy relationships? Check!
Misery's plaything? Check!
Depression's bitch? Check!
Feeling useless? Afraid? Unhappy? Check, check, check!
And to escape that torture, an alcoholic usually ... anyone? Anyone? Beuller?
In my humble experience, the alcoholic mind, without the tools of recovery and the support of people in AA, begins to turn on itself. It's like watching Smeagle turn into Gollum. (Man, in the past several posts I've had a couple of "Star Wars" references, and now I'm all "Lord of the Rings". So I guess it's safe to say that I'm an alcoholic and a nerd. Terrific.)
Put another way, I can be under the influence of alcoholism even though I'm not under the influence of alcohol.
And if I am, in fact, under the influence of alcoholism but not under the influence of alcohol, that, kids, is, in my humble opinion, Dry.
Sober is the state that for me includes a core of peace and good feelings. I've always pictured it in my mind like the ocean -- the surface may be storm-tossed, but regardless of that the depths remain tranquil. When I'm spiritually fit, when I'm sober, more than just dry, that's an apt description for how I feel.
But sober isn't, for me, something that once I "get there" I can relax.
It is a state I must work to keep -- just like when someone gets physically fit they can't stop working out and paying attention to what they eat if they want to stay physically fit -- so too, once I get sober, I must do my spiritual exercises (AA, for the most part) to remain spiritually fit (sober).
I've got to stop coming up with exercise and nutrition analogies.
It's really a buzzkill for my snack time.