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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Perils of 'White-Knuckling' Sobriety

The danger with "white-knuckling it" in recovery - whether this consists of perpetually putting off working the 12 Steps (typically resulting from 4th Step fear), or in becoming complacent, slacking off meetings and ceasing to do the daily work that is necessary to maintain healthy sobriety - is that very, very quickly and subtly one is back running the show, managing one's life, and stepping all over the toes of people who insist on running theirs. Within days, one may be drunk, or worse. At best, one may find oneself all alone and facing the dreaded "Four Horsemen" of "Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration and Despair" without the luxury of being able to take a drink, or to lighten the load by sharing one's fears and frustrations with someone who can understand you in the depth of your being. Remember, "the problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body." [Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 23.]

"Now and then," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, "I don't miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time." As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn't happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to manage life either with alcohol or without it. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 152-153.]
The usual result of "white-knuckling" sobriety is thus, usually, relapse with all the suffering that causes. Hopefully, but far from certainly, that may mean a lesson learned and the "white- knuckling" alcoholic addict will return to the fellowship of A.A. (or a sister organization) and begin working the 12 Steps anew, this time being "fearless and thorough from the very start." Unfortunately, that is the best scenario.

There are a certain number of "white-knucklers" who find themselves "at the jumping-off place" and do, in fact, jump. They may do so either after drinking some more or, shockingly, even in sobriety. Of the "Four Horsemen" Bill describes, "Despair" can be the most deadly. Ask any old-timer whether they have known anyone with long-term sobriety who, having failed to take the 12 Steps or haing drifted away from the fellowship and work of A.A., has taken their life, and chances are he or she will probably be able to tell you the story of some deceased friend.

There is, of course, a whole further class of "white-knucklers" who learn to stoically absorb the suffering of recovery without relief. Opinionated, angry, disputatious, gruff and unhappy, it is not hard to pick them out, if they still go to meetings at all. Twenty or thirty years later they are still going on about their drinking days and their character defects seem to be getting worse not better. Taking a mental rather than moral inventory, they have decided that they are not all that bad after all, particularly since they no longer drink. Thus, year after year they do not change as, after all, their life has become quite manageable - thank you very much - since they quit drinking.

Let's face it. None of us is, or will be perfect. But if we do not do the work that is suggested, or if having gone once through the Steps we fail to do the daily work that is required for the maintenance of our spiritual condition, we will inevitably fall into one of these groups. None is safe, all are deadly. Only the amount of suffering and pain absorbed and inflicted varies from case to case.

How to avoid these perils? "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of the past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit. . . May God bless you and keep you - until then."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 164.]

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