On Sobriety

Yesterday marked 39 years I have been clean and sober. I would like to claim credit for that but I can’t. It is a result of grace, receiving some very good help, and being blessed with supportive family and friends.

Sobriety isn’t so much a thing as it is a process. It is indeed hard work.

When I first confronted my alcoholism, I thought arrogantly that I could do it alone. Thus, the first ten days were ones of white knuckles and strong cravings. Finally, on Day 10 I asked for help and, with the guidance of some sober people, began my own journey.

The obvious question I faced early on was “Why do I drink?” In my high school days, it was because that’s what men do. So if I wanted to be a man, I had to drink. In my Irish Catholic culture, the rite of passage to manhood wasn’t so much a bar mitzvah or even Catholic confirmation. It happened when you were invited to drink with the men. I remember being at a wedding with my family. My uncle asked me to get him a drink at the bar. Then he said “In fact, why don’t you get yourself something like a beer.” This was the rite of passage. As I sat drinking with my father and uncles, I did indeed think “Now I’m a man!”

Later I drank for three reasons: 1. to be more comfortable socially. I am a strong introvert and was shy as well. Drinking helped me feel more relaxed in social situations. 2. To take my mind off my worries. 3. To manage my emotions.

I realized that these were all good goals. The problem was with the means. So part of sobriety would involve me learning other non-destructive ways to meet those goals. I had to find some way to be more sociable without getting buzzed. I had to find better solutions to manage my worries. And I had to learn new ways to face my anger or my sadness or my fear. I even had to find new ways to celebrate!

I don’t know that I’ve done that well with the social part. But I at least no longer judge myself for being an introvert. I came to see that the best approach to managing my worries was spiritual and centered on the Serenity Prayer a copy of which hangs over my work desk. I had to learn to be more open with loved ones about my feelings. Sometimes just acknowledging them was a challenge.

In time I came to see that sobriety was more than the absence of alcohol. It was a different way of living. I had to learn to deal with emotions. I had to learn to be more honest. I had to learn to be more forgiving and to seek forgiveness. I am still learning and still have much to learn.

Finally, I have had to accept that the pit is only one drink away. Do I think about it? Of course! I remember waking up on the day marking 30 years of sobriety and thinking “I haven’t had a drink in 30 years. Surely I could handle one beer!” Thankfully, I was able to shake my head and remind myself “Patterson, when did you ever have just one beer?”

My journey has been blessed with many angels. My family. A friend who helped me get started with getting help. Some wise people in support groups. A very good therapist. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I’d add to that by saying that it also takes a village of helpers and support persons to help an addict get and stay sober.

There are many paths to sobriety. I’ve known folks get sober through Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve known folks who got sober by turning to religion. I’ve known folks who got sober at treatment centers. I’ve known folks who just quit. (How they did that I’ll never know. I tried and failed at that many times). All that I know is that sobriety has been perhaps the finest gift with which I have been blessed. I plan to keep working at becoming sober — one day at a time.

Reflection: 1. What have your experiences been with addiction and sobriety? How have they affected you spiritually?