Some of my favorite sober sayings are those coined by the wonderful people I have met in recovery. One wise friend of mine, for instance, offered the brilliantly simple observation that:
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches us how to behave.
Drunks and druggies are specialists in terrible behavior. When we are deep in our addictions, we fumble and stumble through life, insanely selfish, hurting and endangering other people (and ourselves) with our rage and craziness.
What a tremendous relief it is to enter the rooms of recovery and with the help of AA and the Twelve Steps, learn how to navigate our lives and relationships with intelligence, kindness and humility.
We learn to listen. We learn to cultivate the courage to reach out and help our fellows.
We learn to take care of our own physical and spiritual wellbeing.
We learn the beauty of restraint, progress not perfection, living one day at a time. We experience the true joy of striving for serenity, not the frantic manic happiness of our drinking and drugging days.
We learn to practice acceptance, and reach out to a Higher Power of our own definition for guidance and inspiration.
We learn to let go of self-centered fear.
I have been thinking about the words of my sage acquaintance lately, because in recent days I have started to worry that I am forgetting how to behave. The diabolical pandemic is causing me to lose my recovery compass and my map. And while I have not yet taken a drink, all of the radical life changes that have come with the global health crisis seem to be throwing me off my sobriety game. I am struggling especially with the disappearance of in-person recovery meetings. Indeed the stricture that I must stay away from other humans and somehow figure out a life that does not involve encounters with other people, is depleting me of the emotional and spiritual energy that fuels me. And perhaps because I am a Baby Boomer, not a Millennial, seeing faces on computer screens or tapping texts into my phone does not sustain me emotionally. I need the presence and the touch of other human beings.
In my isolation and loneliness, I am falling into depression, despite powerful psych meds that have previously alleviated my tendency to become blue. My life force and drive are fading. I am losing interest in things that used to give me inspiration and energy. Increasingly, I feel restless, irritable and discontent. I am veering dangerously close to a case of the f-its and a possible relapse.
But wait…there is more. More is always being revealed in recovery, as previously noted in this space. And more means hope.
The epiphany that came to my rescue today was this:
Twelve Step recovery is not a fair-weather way of life.
Even now, with the entire globe in crisis, when I feel personally threatened by a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people my age and is spreading menacingly and mercilessly through my country, the recovery program of AA has wisdom that can shore me up and guide me as always.
And a central piece of that wisdom, which I must put into practice immediately, is that living by sober principles and behaving in sober ways is not just for easy happy days. One of the most famous passages in recovery literature tells us that we must put our precepts into practice “in fair weather or foul…stay sober, keep in emotional balance and live to good purpose under all conditions….”
As I reflect on these hard but life-saving truths, it occurs to me that my behavioral crisis was really an escapist’s search for a way out. I wanted an easy approach to get me off the hook in coping with the terrors and deprivations of the pandemic, a way out of practicing the principles of recovery under challenging circumstances. I was suffering from a terminal case of “stop the world, I want to get off.”
I am sure I am not alone. Millions of people probably wish they could leave the planet for a healthier happier existence somewhere else–or perhaps time-travel to better days.
But as an addict I know where the escapist impulse will lead me–straight into the nightmare of a relapse, which will end my life as surely as any lethal virus. Escape is not an option. Instead I must practice my sober way of living courageously and compassionately, avoiding the traps of resentment and self-pity, and making use of the tools I have to reach out to others and participate in my recovery program.
One of the toughest sober principles is to “live life on life’s terms.” The terms right now are harsh and terrifying. The weather is foul. But I can take heart in remembering that recovery is a source of inspiration and comfort, and a way of life and behavior, for all seasons.