“HOW can I give up alcohol and drugs?”
The New York Times recently reported that so many people give up drinking alcohol as a New Year’s resolution that numerous Big Apple restaurants in the month of January are featuring “mocktails” on their menus – alcohol free cocktails. Millions of Americans feel they have a health concern with regards to their use of alcohol and drugs, however for most this motivation for change often fades with time along with most other resolutions.
There is a difference between feeling that we abuse alcohol and that we are becoming dependent on happy hour to “take the edge off.” Dependence on alcohol or drugs is medically understood as a disease of the brain related to one’s emotional life and mood regulation. Thus, seeking a change in our dependence on alcohol or drugs is a resolution that entails much more than simply adding a walk around the block or passing on cake and ice cream. Here we are called to appreciate that in addiction we face a power much greater than our own.
In the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous popular speakers offered their witness and basic advice. One of the popular lessons was HOW to get and stay sober. “HOW” stood simply for “Honesty” – “Open Mindedness” and “Willing.” AA’s Big Book states in its Second Appendix: “Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.”
A healthy recovery from substance addiction requires not honesty, but rigorous honesty. When facing the great powers of addiction we can’t just be honest most of the time with the smaller daily challenges we normally face, we need to go much deeper and “push” ourselves to be more honest with our shortcomings, prejudice, false selves, traumas and gifts. To recover from alcohol or drug dependency we need to “go the extra mile” with an honest sharing of who we are and not who we would like to be. This means an end to our social and emotional isolation that we have found oddly comforting as well as painful.
When active in addiction, we knew an answer to our problems: when bothered, joyed, or simply bored - drink and drug! “I had a bad day, boy do I need a drink!” For at least a time, we felt like we had the answer to our needs, but with time we discovered drinking and drugging weren’t the answer we hoped for. The emotional use of substances eventually included negative consequences that grew more and more unacceptable. Thus, now in recovery we must strive to be open minded to other possible answers to our needs. This open mindedness allows us to engage life in a whole new way and discover the hallmark of sobriety: humility. We become in time what the AA program calls “right sized” not going after things too great or extreme, but focusing on “one day at a time” keeping a balanced perspective.
Finally, a healthy recovery demands that we become completely willing to do “whatever it takes” to maintain chemical and emotional sobriety. The Hebrew Scriptures teach us that the human heart is the unique human faculty of motivation, thus we can understand willingness as part of our heart’s great desire. Thus with sincere willingness, our hearts face the question: “Am I willing to follow the suggestions of a recovery program?” It’s either yes or no. Either I am motivated for change or I’m not ready to change the people, places and things related to my addiction.
If we are able and willing, we finally recognize that we are not the problem, it’s our dependence on alcohol and drugs that has disrupted our families and general sense of happiness. Here we find the seed of hope that marks the commencement of our new start in recovery… “All I need to do is not drink or drug.”
With “HOW” we can come to know our new selves, our sober life blossoms into a greater understanding of our own inborn gifts and talents. Life, free of addiction, offers daily opportunities to seek happiness in formerly neglected relationships, under appreciated sunsets and uncelebrated loves. While most New Year’s resolutions veer off into resignation, sobriety and health are possible with our rigorous honesty, open mindedness and willingness to make changes. We can do this!