Do I Really Have A Sobriety Date?

By T.W. 10/22/15

As I sit here, regardless of the flames of doubt my judgment occasionally lights inside of me, I know one thing – the desire to drink is not present in me today.

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Several years ago, with my life crumbling around me, a well-meaning counselor tagged me with a firm diagnosis.  

“You’re an alcoholic. I would suggest you go to AA. Just try it - one meeting,” he implored. 

I had been seeing this man for over a year in the midst of a deteriorating marriage, career, social life and internal condition. My emotions were like a faulty electrical circuit, crackling and buzzing, sparks flying, seemingly on the verge of bursting into flames. I felt like I was full of frayed and exposed wiring.  

But an alcoholic? Please. Alcohol seemed to douse the heat for a while, allowing me a little time to figure things out. My problems, in order of their depth of affliction were: anxiety; depression; and the fact that I could no longer drink three beers without placing a call to a cocaine dealer. 

“Go to a meeting with the cocaine in mind. Just stay open and listen,” he suggested. 

Some of these people are exceptionally sly. Or maybe it’s just that this condition manifests itself so clearly and predictably that we’re not nearly as unique as we’d like to think we are. 

So I went to a meeting, then another, then another. That was over seven years ago and I’m still going today, for one reason only – it turns out that I fit the criteria for an alcoholic perfectly! 

A week or two after this counseling session, I was able to shed the cocaine problem. The cost—on every level—was too high. The bleak internal state after a binge, the desolation after a sleepless night when the following afternoon was fast approaching, the dwindling white pile on the coffee table…I had hit bottom with the blow. 

But, to my surprise, I was in for several more years of escalated binge-drinking that took me to another bottom. It involved the eventual loss of all the things that I was warned of during those counseling sessions, and of everything we’ve come to expect: home, job, money, marriage, personal relationships and dignity. Alcohol was at the core this entire time, but I couldn’t see it because it was buried under the cocaine use and the emotional upsets that I always felt were the real culprits. 

During this period, I was prescribed medications for anxiety and depression. These are well-known, commonly prescribed medications. I take what is prescribed (or less) and I’ve never received any type of detectable “high.” One of these medications is a narcotic. 

All of this has been occurring while I’ve been involved in the 12-step recovery community. Although I’ve been in-and-out, when I’m in (like now), I’m consistent on meeting attendance, I have a sponsor and a home group and I’m currently on my second run through the steps with my sponsor, “right out of the book.” I’ve been sporadic on taking service commitments, but that’s now evolving as I feel more comfortable and worthy, and because I’ve come to value and appreciate the fellowship more than ever. After completing my most recent fourth and fifth steps, and now on the ninth step (amends), I feel like a genuine part of the community. I’ve attempted to adopt it as a lifestyle and I pursue spiritual and personal growth to the best of my ability.  I often feel good – damn good. Like I’m rediscovering things I had forgotten, or never known—things like who I am.  

But I’m still on the medications. Lurking in the back of my mind is the question: am I really sober? I’ve heard many speakers say, “I was separated from alcohol and drugs on such and such a date and I haven’t found it necessary to take a drink or any type of mood or mind-altering chemical since that date.” I’m very familiar with the view that many in the rooms hold on this topic. I admire some of the people who have this opinion. That contributes to making it such a distressing issue for me and many others I’ve met. 

It’s as though I’m vacillating between placing my life in the hands of an enlightened plumber who can mirror my deepest feelings and experiences, or a respected PhD psychologist. 

What happens when this topic comes up is suddenly the word “fraud” tattoos itself across my consciousness. I discuss it with a few people in the program —people I’m close to. Most advise me to let it go and focus on staying away from the first drink and growing in my recovery, then possibly address the medication issue at a later date. This advice feels sound to me. But then I’ll find myself loaded with spirit and passion. I’ll decide to toss the meds, “turn it over to my higher power,” trust the program and let the psychological chips fall where they may. 

But I never do it. There’s too much fear. Maybe this is my intended path and it will eventually be experience that will benefit others. But for now, it often like feels there’s an asterisk stamped on my sobriety. Right or wrong, it’s a thorny and nagging part of my recovery. 

People I know in the professional community bring me comfort by backing up and viewing it all from the big picture, with a sense of practicality, fortified by what sounds like science. They point out the progress that’s being made. But I know people in the program who have experienced—and actually display—such extraordinary growth that the traditional rules don’t seem to fully explain the drastic internal change that’s occurred in them. 

During this experience, I do take respite in the actual facts of my life. I’m gaining in months of not drinking (my longest previous period was 14 months), my relationships have vastly improved, I’m attempting to practice the 12-step principles and I’m seeing tangible results. I’m connecting with others in the fellowship and I’m getting glimpses of inner peace that had been elusive for so long. I’ve ventured further along the internal terrain of true recovery than I ever have in the past. But for now, in my own personal experience, I have to wrestle with this issue of 12-step recovery and the use of these medications. 

As I listen and take a close look at this journey, it’s a messy affair. At the very core of it is disordered perception, twisted judgment and an often fatal sense of self-loathing and doubt. These are things that block us from truth and authenticity, things that keep us disconnected. There are unhealthy, harmful patterns of thought and behavior that we must address, issues that lie at the very core of recovery. There is fear and chaos we have to sift through. It’s in this mess, these imbedded blockages, which we eventually begin to see a glimmer of light and truth. There appears to be no way around it, only a way straight through it to the other side.  

When I frame this particular challenge in these terms, I’m able to accept (to some extent), that this is one of those core issues in my own personal journey. At times I can dismiss it. At other times it undermines my certainty. 

But some deeper instinct always seems to surface that propels me forward. Often, words of wisdom come to mind, words that help me to keep a proper perspective. 

There’s a Buddhist saying that the ability to live with uncertainty is one of the hallmarks of enlightenment. There are a few others that also bring hope: This too shall pass. More will be revealed. Progress, not perfection. 

As I sit here, regardless of the flames of doubt my judgment occasionally lights inside of me, I know one thing – the desire to drink is not present in me today. 

For now, I’ll gladly take that.

And I will be at a meeting tonight, attempting to grow in recovery, seeking to eventually be shown what we ask for in the final line of the Serenity Prayer – “the wisdom to know the difference."

T.W. is an American writer. This is his first blog with The Fix.  

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