For the last few weeks now, I’ve been relying on support from my A.A. friends as I go through an embarrassing and awkward separation and eminent divorce. I am grateful to have that support, but I am frustrated by how much more I need to change. It is like having the imposter inside exposed for the ruse that he is, and I must confess that I have let my life get away from me. Not by drinking or drugging, but by failing to handle my affairs the way sober people ought to, with honor and integrity.
I think we alcoholics are guilty sometimes of calling ourselves ‘works in progress’ as a way of justifying the slowness or lack of change. We don’t consider that stupid and hurtful actions on our part can cut to the quick in moments and take years to heal. We are surprised that our apologies can be brushed aside by angry recipients tired of waiting on us to grow the hell up and we don’t consider the fact that, damn it, our actions do affect others in very real and painful ways. We want justice when others’ actions damage us, and we have the gall to want mercy when we screw up.
The condition that I am dealing with is one many other alcoholics and addicts go through at one time or another. It is a condition known as “dry drunk”. We are in dry drunk mode when we compulsively use things other than alcohol or drugs to appease our selfishness or our fears and we revert to the same behavior – lying, justifying, rationalizing – to explain ourselves. In short, we are just like we were when we were using except that we aren’t using. And it is not pretty to see because it often means that relapse is on the horizon.
That’s some scary stuff, huh? In 2008 that was the kind of behavior pattern I’d been in for months and it resulted in a five-year drunk that I barely survived and that I am still working my way out of. And it’s the kind of behavior that chokes out a great deal of spiritual energy in favor of effort wasted on foolish actions that bear fruitless outcomes.
So now it’s time to get down to causes and conditions. This is the kind of self-examination that makes recovery happen. It’s the hard stuff, and if we want to live contented lives there is no way around this kind of work. It must be uncompromising (not my strong suit), it must be brutally honest (ditto), and it must involve action (Gee, look at the time…).
We dry drunk alcoholics don’t like looking objectively at ourselves. We more prefer either beating ourselves up or playing the victim. We’re like Bill O’Reilly – even when we say we’re in the No Spin Zone, we know better. And in recovery we have to work with someone else to make sure the spin is neutralized. That’s why our fifth step tells us we admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." That’s a Bible thing too (James 5:16). Confession is good for the soul. It’s the controlled burn of the spirit realm, clearing away the undergrowth of wreckage we so effortlessly create in dry drunk mode. So I have some intense work with a sponsor ahead. One friend has reminded me that now would be a good time to focus more on tomorrow and what I want it to be as opposed to looking back at yesterday and letting it define me. I think that’s valid advice too.
So for now, I’ll get used to having coffee in my new apartment. I’ll hit lots of meetings. I’ll try to get in the habit of hitting my knees in the morning. I’ll try to not let loneliness drive me to places I don’t need to go. And I’ll slog my way through this next chapter of my sobriety. I already know the work will be done begrudgingly at times. I also know that when I whine too much someone at a meeting will give me a Jethro Gibbs-style smack on the back of the head and remind me to shut up and be grateful for the grace I have received because it is a grace that I don’t deserve. It’s also a grace I had damn well better not waste.