“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
Even though there is debate over to whom this quote should be attributed, the quote above plays a large role in my recovery. People say things poorly and leave important context out of the written word with stunning regularity – and I am most definitely not immune (though there is a reason my posts are so long), and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of politics, in which the entire game is as rigged as a Las Vegas slot machine. Speaking of politics, the post you are about to read was written and edited in seething anger over the news that a California family is attempting to sue the sponsors of a man and woman who hooked up within AA, fell in “love” moved in together and relapsed together, after being warned not to begin the relationship in the first place… The end result was that the boyfriend/fiancé, who was ordered by the court to attend AA meetings, murdered the girl (it is my understanding that he received several decades in prison for the murder). The best account I’ve read so far is here. You will see, I hope, why I was angry at the lawsuit against the sponsors but if you don’t get it, here’s the problem: The doors of AA are open to all who want to recover from alcoholism, without prejudice. All. Add to the normal people who decide to walk in the door, the court ordered people (I was one myself – the State of Michigan, the whole State, wanted me to sober up) sentenced to attend, whether they want to or not, and I am put in a position, with absolutely no authority, of making moral judgments on people that professionals who make a living doing so are unable to make reliably. I have seen murderers recover and transform into happy, decent members of society. Who am I to deny them the help that I can offer for fear they might do something bad? We’ve all, everyone who has walked through the doors of AA, done something bad. When we walk through those doors the first time, are sick.
There is another, darker side to this though. Women are vulnerable to the predators amongst our ranks. While there are just as many female predators who are looking for a sugar daddy, the ramifications of getting into a relationship too early with a still sick, newly sober person, as the linked case shows, are far worse for women. I have known of only one of these predators in all of my years and he was never an abuser (always just looking for the next good lay) and he never frequents my normal meetings anymore because we abuse him (and warn off the targets of his attempts). We do (or in his case, did) call them out on this behavior, as was done repeatedly in the case above. In the end though, because we have no authority and will help anyone who is willing to receive it, our hands are tied. We do not have access to databases, to court records, to prior conviction records, to police records… The only thing we get to rely on is observation. So, I will continue to do my very best to ensure that both new men and women understand when they walk in the door, new relationships are to be avoided at all costs for the first year (or more) in recovery because we are simply too sick mentally to make sound decisions in matters of the heart. In the end, that’s about all I can do. With that, my post:
You send us the dregs of society, you send us the troubled ones, the guttered ones and you beg, please fix my son. Fix my daughter. My wife. My husband. My father. My mother. My criminal. Fix them so they can find happiness and I may know peace.
And we do our best to help them mend, help to make them whole and productive and wonderful again, to the best of our limited ability. We give them all of the knowledge we have, all of the support we can. We do this free of charge, without a fancy degree. Armed only with decades of knowledge, a book and the experience of going from being one of the dregs to a productive member of society.
I help others do what I did by offering only my experience, strength and hope (and a breakfast, lunch or dinner now and again). I do what you are unwilling or unable to do and I do so without desire of praise or compensation. I help others because someone helped me.
This thankless job requires that I be part priest, part pacifist, part warrior, part psychologist, part gentleman, part friend and part mentor and believe me, if it were easy you would already be doing it. I do get something in return for my effort, though not material. I get a daily reprieve from being like those you send me for help, for it is by helping another to recover from a hopeless state of being that I may continue to live the happy, free and productive life that I have grown to love.
This doesn’t require your participation or even that you believe in what we do or why we do it. Certainly, we aren’t for everyone. The truth is though, what we do works. We are millions strong yet we are quiet and respectful of the second (often, third, fourth or fifth) chance we’ve been given.
Now, this free service also comes with a cost to you, the masses, who wish happiness for the drunk in your life and peace in yours…
You will let me do my work without regulation, without governance, without leaders. This is how we do what we do and there is no bargaining this away. You will not bully us into uselessness with silly lawsuits. You will not sit from on high and dictate who I will or will not help. You will not craft legislation with the goal of forcing us to desist in our one purpose: to help others recover from alcoholism, you would have better luck outlawing coffee makers and friendship. You will not turn us into your unpaid police force or your snitches. You will accept, from time to time, that unseemly things will happen within our rabble and you will accept that we cannot fix someone who is unwilling to fix themselves, no matter how much you want us to. You will accept that attendance does not equate to progress because it most certainly does not (though it doesn’t hurt). Above all, you will accept that we are not your son’s, daughter’s, husband’s, wife’s, father’s, mother’s, grandfather’s or grandmother’s babysitter. It is not our fault they come to us wrecked, it’s the nature of the disease.
This will be a bitter pill to swallow, admittedly. However if you think you can do better, free of charge, there is nothing between you and getting it done but air and opportunity. Here’s an easy way to look at this; when you get that pompous, egotistical idea that forcing us to follow a few silly rules will mean we should be able to cease all bad things happening the other 23 hours of the day, when you wonder “Why couldn’t they stop “x” from happening, where were they?” Before you ask that question, ask where were you. Where were you when your piece of shit son got the bright idea, “if you can’t fuck it, kill it”? Where were you when your daughter learned she could fuck to get what she wanted materially without working for it? Where was the legal system that is equipped and has the authority to handle these problems? Where were the shrinks and doctors? Oh, you’ll let me shovel your kid’s shit but that does not give you the ground to provide instructions on how I do it or to tell me where I may bury it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been turning shit into sunshine for more than two decades. You think you want to sue a sponsor simply because he tried to help a bad apple? Sue me. You can have every dime I’ve ever made from the service of trying to make this world a better place, one recovering drunk at a time. You owe me about $10,000. Better yet, donate it. I don’t want your filthy money.
In part one of this little mini-drama, I started to look into some changes in thinking (as it pertains to recovery from alcoholism) that have snuck up while I wasn’t paying attention… Or more aptly stated, while I was doing the more important task of working to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
When I sobered up in ’92 it was Gospel that alcoholism was a “disease”. Most of us have understood that the term disease should be used lightly, that alcoholism wasn’t exactly like cancer or kidney disease, but that genetics did play a role and that we had something akin to an alcohol allergy. The Mayo Clinic still classifies alcoholism as a disease as do many others. One important factor that I think tends to get lost is that alcoholism is not an excuse. We are well aware of this fact. It is not a disease that you can blame ignorant or stupid behavior on. Example: “Well, officer, of course I’m driving drunk, I’m an alcoholic”. While comedic when put this way, it’s not so when your loved one is laying on a slab in a morgue because the drunk chose to drive in that state. And if that isn’t bad enough, it’s almost always the drunk who lives through those accidents because they don’t stiffen up on impact. God knows, it should be the other way around.
One thing that I’ve never seen denied is the fact that genetics are involved in alcoholism. The degree of influence pertaining to genetics is likely debatable but that’s a different matter. As far as my opinion goes, for what it’s worth, I view the genetics of alcoholism in the same light as fitness genes. The genes for a great body may be there, but if I don’t move my butt they won’t do me any good. Conversely, the genes for a rotund body may be there but if I stay fit and eat right, they won’t present a problem either.
With that said, I also believe in varying degrees of alcoholism itself. I am, without a doubt, one of the bad cases. My first (and only, thank God) stint in treatment was in the toughest program in our State. My first day I was hung over to beat the band and shoveling pig shit on a working farm. It was most decidedly not excellent. I am one of the helpless few who absolutely cannot drink successfully. No matter how many different ways I tried to limit my drinking, I always got worse. I tried: Only beer, only liquor, beer and liquor, beer on odd days, liquor on even days, wine coolers, beer on sad days and liquor on happy days and beer on weekdays, liquor on weekends… It was all crap. I even tried abstinence during the week but the shakes got so bad after 24 hours, I’d have to have a couple of beers (at least) just to calm my hands down. On the other hand, they say there are other types of alcoholics who aren’t as bad as I was.
This is all grand. What makes me nervous is when I see reports that say alcoholics can recover from alcoholism and still drink in moderation. Now that’s not fair! Believe me when I tell you folks, I wish with every fiber in my being that I could be one of those… Of course, that wish alone means that I am one who must abstain completely. The idea that some can still drink moderately, and this is the important part, comes from a survey of 43,000 adults (18 and older). The study found:
One-quarter (25.0 percent) of individuals with alcohol dependence that began more than one year ago now are still dependent and 27.3 percent are in partial remission (that is, exhibit some symptoms of alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse). About twelve percent (11.8%) are drinkers with no symptoms but whose consumption increases their chances of relapse (for men, more than 14 drinks per week or more than four drinks on any day; for women, more than 7 drinks per week or more than three drinks on any day).
What that means, technically, is that 17.7% recover and become low-risk drinkers, 27.3% become partial remission drinkers and 18.8% are abstainers (like me).
Here’s the problem: They should have asked the wives, husbands and parents the same questions of those people… Not just the alcoholic themselves. Put simply, before I sobered up, I was interviewed about my drinking by no fewer than three doctors, two shrinks, two probation officers, five abuse counselors and a police officer. I never once told the truth about how much I drank, not even when I was going through the DT’s in treatment was I honest. When asked, I never had a problem, only drank a few beers on weekend nights and a nice party on the weekend. If I had taken that survey, every single author of the report would have put me in the partial remission, asymptomatic risk drinker or low-risk drinker categories when I fully belonged in the “Still Dependent” category. It was only after I recovered that I began telling the whole truth about just how far down the scale I’d gone. The truth was closer to a minimum of ten, but regularly up to 24 beers (or the liquor equivalent), each and every night of the week.
This is the worrisome nature of alcoholism study of late. When studying alcoholism, it would be wise for those conducting the study to remember that drinking is but a symptom of alcoholism, many of us were liars long before we picked up that first drink that started us on the path to oblivion… And those few of us who weren’t before, became so once drinking did become a problem.