Recovery vs. Sobriety
The question proposed is one I’ve thought about quite a bit; what I’m going to share is based on my own experience.
To share my feelings about the question, I’ll start with a few questions:
Why does the White Book say, “Without sobriety we have nothing to offer anyone.” (p. 185)
What does the statement – “Half measures availed us nothing,” mean in the Big Book?
Are these statements just cliche or are they really things I should be taking to heart?
Can someone be “recovered” or “in recovery” or “working recovery” if they aren’t sober from acting out?
Sober is Not Well – My Story
On page 130 of the White Book one of the titles says “Sober is Not Well.”
As I think about how that relates to my life as an addict, it’s way too familiar.
When I first started attending recovery meetings I felt it went really well. I found a sponsor who could help me work the steps, and I was consistent at attending one meeting a week.
My sponsor and I met frequently, he had me email him my Step work daily, and I felt like I was making progress. I even got a little bit of sobriety, at least from acting out with porn and masturbation. (Lust was not even something I addressed unfortunately.)
I got through Step 8 with my sponsor and began working on Step 9. Some of the amends were easy, some were uncomfortable, and some I wasn’t going to touch with a 10-foot poll. “I will get to them eventually,” I’d tell myself again and again.
At around this same time our family schedule changed and the meeting I had been attending was no longer possible. Guess what I did?
I stopped going to meetings altogether.
After all, I’d gotten this far, I was “sober,” and I’d made progress farther than any other addict I knew at the meeting I was attending (a common denial statement). These were the lies I was telling myself and believing whole-heartedly. I was comparing myself to others and feeling pretty proud of my “accomplishments…”
So I stopped going to meetings, I stopped connecting with my sponsor, and I stopped working the Steps.
I was “good.” I had “arrived.”
Why Sobriety Wasn’t Enough for Me
I believe this was the end of 2011, start of 2012. To make a long story short, by 2013 I was in a worse spot than I’d ever been: the lust had always been there in one form or another, I had lost all sobriety, and I had had an online affair – my life was definitely the most unmanageable it had ever been. I felt like it was going to end.
Had sobriety been enough?
Was sobriety the end? The cure? The arrival?
Unfortunately no, no it wasn’t…
Recovery is an Ongoing Process!
In Step 10 of the White Book, it states:
“It is possible that, once relieved of the compulsion to act out our habit, we may feel cured and start coasting along with our tank on EMPTY. But the same personality defects that energized our addiction are still with us and, unattended, will take their toll again, sooner or later. Why are they still with us? Because they are us. Progressive victory over these defects, not their eradication, is the power of God at work in us. What we really do battle against is not other people but our old natures, the negative force within us we can obey anytime we wish, the force that is always willing and able to wrong another. This is why our program must come to fruition in our daily living or there is no recovery.” ( p. 131)
There are a couple things that stick out to me in this quote:
2. Daily Living
I’ve heard from one fellow in meetings that “the only way to coast is downhill.” If I’m coasting along, doing little or nothing, I’m progressively getting farther and farther away from recovery and healing.
- working the Steps with a sponsor
- attending meetings
- reaching out to others and God through phone calls, writing and prayer
has to be a part of my daily living.
Recovery has to become like brushing my teeth: if I don’t do it, it’s going to hurt me and others more than I even realize. And I probably won’t recognize this until it’s too late…
When Does Recovery Start?
From my experience, recovery doesn’t even start until I’m sober. Sobriety is the first step.
For me, real recovery didn’t start until I had about 2 1/2 years of sobriety, both from acting out in addiction and working on progressive victory over lust.
Does it have to take this long for everyone? I don’t really know. Maybe not.
But I have been an addict for over 30 years so thinking that recovery would come after my first meeting or a few days of not acting out was a lie I told myself over and over again.
Real recovery also started via full disclosure with a qualified therapist where I was able to be fully honest about my sexual history, both with him, my wife and myself.
Real recovery also began as I was able to finally take full responsibility for all the pain and trauma I’d caused my wife and family. Her feelings of worthlessness and nothingness were my fault – my horrific actions and manipulations were to blame.
Is there a difference, then, between sobriety and recovery?
Is the statement that says that “without sobriety we have nothing to offer anyone” a valid one?
An Outside Perspective on Recovery vs. Sobriety
I feel this man’s experience provides another perspective:
“When Alcoholics Anonymous first started up, in the 1930’s, before it had even adopted that name, they were not about “getting sober” or “stopping drinking”. It was about recovering from the life-threatening malady of alcoholism…The Big Book doesn’t talk much about sobriety or getting sober – it talks about recovery from alcoholism. It talks about the necessity of having a spiritual experience in order to achieve sustainable recovery from alcoholism.
“There became two types of alcoholic in AA. There was the “sober” alcoholic, who was able to maintain “sobriety” by going to meetings regularly, and didn’t really need to have the spiritual “recovery.” Then there was the “recovered” alcoholic, who went through the 12 Step process, as outlined in the Big Book, usually with the guidance of a group or a sponsor. There were a few who would have an almost instantaneous “awakening,” where the realization that a power greater than themselves could heal their problem would occur, but these were the exception. Most experienced the recovery process gradually, as they progressed through the Steps.
“Sobriety means nothing to me. It’s empty, it’s a date, it represents 17 jobs in 4 years, loneliness, depression, quiet desperation. Recovery means life, abundance, as the Big Book puts it, being ‘rocketed into a 4th dimension of existence, beyond our wildest dreams.’ That is where I live today, each day.”
As you can hopefully see from my experience, sobriety is only the start. “White knuckling” it was what I was doing, and you can see how that worked out for me.
Unfortunately, sobriety doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in recovery at all.
If I’m not sober, “recovery” is a foreign language, something I can’t really even recognize or feel.
If I’m not sober, I can’t help others work their recovery because I’m still living my addict life.
If I’m not sober, my connection with God and others is shaded at best, but most likely quite a bit off track.
Based on my experience, sobriety is not enough. “Without sobriety I have nothing to offer anyone.”
I look forward to your thoughts on this topic.