Do Teetotalers Have the Cheat Code for Life or Is the Key to Sobriety to Become a Pompous Know-It-All?
A unique aspect to recovery from the disease of addiction is how it forces you to dissect the problems in your life incessantly.
You can’t sweep them under the rug like you used to, in fact you threw all your rugs away. They were most likely covered in puke (among other things) anyway. Instead, you are forced to face all your challenges and character flaws head on, or else you put yourself at risk of relapsing again. In other words, to recover from your disease you must relentlessly aim to be better than yesterday and strive to be a more complete person.
You become obsessive about your life. You’ve taken inventory, you’ve taken names and you’re going to knock this dilapidated old house down and build a new one. It feels self-indulgent sometimes, but you can’t help it. The inner work has become your new fix.
It might sound like excess emotional labor but living in active addiction is labor, too. It’s labor with no rewards and tons of drama, so you keep doing the work. That’s why so many people in recovery are “fanatics”. They are exercise fiends, crazy for caffeine or totally bananas about making their own granola. They love knitting and over therapizing their friends. They keep a food journal, a dream journal, and a journal of wrongdoings. The list of ways to get better never ends.
That said, they want you to feel better too.
They say in recovery, you must be of service to others. To help and encourage others to stay sober is truly the best way to stay sober yourself. However, the recipients need to express interest in being served. Not everyone is like us and not everyone has a desire to completely uproot their life. This is how recovering alcoholics can get a reputation for being pompous do-gooders that think they can tell others how to live.
They’ve figured out the code to making their own life manageable (most days) and they’re trying to share it with everyone else. Yet not so long ago they were falling off countertops at the corporate holiday party and now they are here to spread the gospel of recovery. It might seem like it’s all they can talk about and for some that’s true. It might even come across as hypocritical, but they mean well. They undeniably want everyone else to experience the same impassioned gratitude for life as they do. They have more love than they ever had before and they’re going to give it away to everyone regardless of if they want it. Sobriety becomes a religion, and everyone must be saved!
I am forever trying to find the right way to give solicited advice without coming across as a know-it-all jackass. I know that I know nothing. But I do know a lot about messing up. Most of the time, I feel like a young child with an alcohol problem trapped inside some tired woman’s body. Yet, I talk too much about sobriety to anyone that gives me an inch and it’s pretty annoying. That should be the AA program you graduate to after your first year sober.
“Hi! My name is LC, and I can’t stop talking about teetotaling!”
Every time I reply to someone messaging me for advice or encouragement, I feel like an imposter. “You can’t tell someone how to live a fulfilling life, you fell asleep on the side of a highway once walking home from a strip club. AT 2PM!” I personally think that must be a qualification for something, although for what I’m not sure.
Every time a person entices me with “I think I want to quit drinking” my knees begin to tremble because I know remarkable things are on the horizon that they can’t see yet. Then I must refrain from telling them what to do and how to do it. Recovery isn’t one size fits all. I can make suggestions and try to uplift them; I can be a shoulder to dig nails into when the cravings strike. However, I can’t insert myself into someone else’s recovery. A big turn-off when I was trying out programs for myself was how many people were ready to give me rules without knowing me at all. It made me haul ass out of rooms, rarely to return.
I think there can be freedom and space in this process, that there’s eight million ways to make this work. I know it can be done with love and without control or punishment. You must keep trying different things until something feels good, until something clicks, and you don’t want to stop. I think all former hellions in recovery have a duty to give back in whatever style they communicate. A duty to give grace and walk beside each other without judging the ways in which we got here. So maybe, being of service is the only way to break away from our own self-analysis. The only way to make our own pain worthwhile is to see if we can ease someone else’s and know addicts didn’t suffer for nothing.