Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

I got an email from an old college friend today, expressing concern for a relative who has just gotten sober. It sounds like his was a hard fall to bottom, involving demotions at work and an impending divorce. And it won't be easy for him to right his boat and get it sailing forward again.

A knee-jerk reaction is to just chuck it. Sometimes, when we're using, we do so much damage to our reputations and to our friends and loved ones that it seems impossible to repair it all. It especially seems this way when these same people have seen us fall off the wagon, repeatedly, after promising not to. They've lost faith in us. It feels like no matter how much time may pass--years, even--they will never learn to trust us again. They're always going to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So starting over, starting fresh, seems the most logical thing to do. Go somewhere where they don't know us. Go somewhere where we won't be running unexpectedly into someone we once hurt, angered, or embarrassed. Go somewhere that's a total change of scene: we've never been in those bars, we'd need to make totally new friends, we won't be exposed to the same old haunts and temptations that led us astray before.

The problem is, this is the same kind of "geographical cure" thinking every alcoholic or addict thinks will save them. We're nothing if not impulsive. Stop drinking, change your address, problem solved, right?

Wrong. Stopping drinking is just the tip of the iceberg. It's the necessary first step. Sometimes I think it's the easiest step. Because the second step in the process of staying sober is a harder one. It's this: now change pretty much everything about yourself. You can move all you like, but you can't move away from yourself. No matter where you go, there you are.

After you stop drinking, you then have to tackle all the reasons--the ways of thinking, the habits of being, the destructive beliefs, etc--that led to your abusing a substance in the first place. You have to grow up. You have to seek forgiveness, make amends, seek serenity, pursue rigorous self-honesty, face some ugly heinous humiliating things about yourself, let go of resentments, learn courage in the face of paralyzing fear, but most of all, learn to love yourself. You do this through your step work, but step work never ends. It's like peeling away the layers of an onion. You peel one layer back, only to discover there are more of them.

Some days you will feel like Sisyphus, rolling and re-rolling that boulder back up that damn hill.

Changing your address isn't going to change a thing.

In the case of my friend's relative, he hasn't lost his job. So it seems wise to me to keep it. He may have lost his wife and most of his friends, but the truth is, they liked him and loved him once upon a time. All is not lost. Things may never be the same, but as I told my friend, when people really get it that you're sober--that you mean it this time--that you are fighting for your sobriety--and that you are transforming, and they can see this for themselves rather than listening to empty promises--most people are amazingly forgiving. They may never forget, but neither should you. Salvage what you can, and learn from your mistakes. Don't expect miracles, but a few will undoubtedly come.

One thing's for sure: miracles won't ever come if you run, because running away is what alcoholics and addicts do.


Kristin H. said...

I have always found that the serenity of sobriety shines brightest through the eyes of those who have been kicked around a bit.

I pray that he gets it. It's worth it.

Joyce said...

Amen to that!