During the drinking years alcoholics leave a wave of destruction in their path. The damage done others may be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. More often than not, it is a combination of many forms of destruction. Even the alcoholics who maintained their positions at work, were financially responsible for the well being of their family by providing them with all the necessities and many of the luxuries of life created havoc in the family during the drinking years. Very few alcoholics were emotionally available during their drinking years. Many promises were made and just as many were broken. Approaching recovery and hearing about cleaning up the unhealthy choices, the neglect, the inappropriate behaviors and the seeming lack of concern for the well being of anyone in their live may look like an overwhelming proposition to the newly sober alcoholic.
Universally the sober alcoholic is filled with the guilt, shame and remorse although he may not be able to verbalize those feelings. The alcoholic may describe sobriety as “looking through a magnifying glass”. Focused on certain behaviors and consequences he has a feeling of unease and maybe even anxiety. Prior to recovery, the alcoholic would use alcohol to quiet these feelings. Sober now, there has to be another solution presented to him. Without an adequate substitute, he will drink again. His broken promises to “never do it again” of the past are validation of this fact.
The good news is, there is a solution to these feelings. There is a method for making things right with family members, friends, associates, everyone who has been affected by the alcoholics drinking and behaviors.
Notice the word “method”? It’s not just a series of “I am sorry”. The method is a series of actions resulting in a change in behavior.
Those familiar with the 12 Step Recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous will refer to this “method” as steps 8 and 9 and they would be partially correct. Often the new person in Alcoholics Anonymous, once he has determined he is going to give it a try, will rush home after his third or fourth meeting and tell his family what he is doing and assure them that he has found a solution to his problem. He is confident that he will never drink again and they will begin to enjoy life in a different way. She returns home from a meeting and tells her children she will never oversleep again and they will arrive at school on time. He comes in and promises his mother he will never take the car again without asking her first. Again, although made with confidence, it is doubtful the alcoholic will be able to honor these promises any more than they were able to honor the countless ones they have made previously.
Then why go to Alcoholics Anonymous?
Recovery from alcoholism is more than not drinking and steps 8 and 9.
What often happens in early recovery is men and women look for instant relief. Alcohol quells feelings of unease, feelings of guilt and remorse and feelings of shame instantly. If a man drank on Wednesday and didn’t feel the effects until Saturday, he probably would not continue to drink. For the alcoholic, the sense of ease and comfort often comes from just knowing he is going to begin drinking. He takes a drink and he exhales. He takes another drink and he feels confident. He takes another drink and another and another and when the spree ends, there is more destruction, more broken hearts and more negative consequences. That same sense of ease and comfort is what the alcoholic gets every time he makes promises to family and friends to “be different”. If not followed by more action, that sense of well being is not maintained and the alcoholic drinks again in spite of his promises and good intentions.
If the radiator on your car overheats, you can pull off to the side of the road. Let it cool a minute and then open the cap to let off some steam. Replace the cap and you can drive several more miles before it overheats again. Pull over, let it cool, release some steam and this time add a little water. Replace the cap and drive a few more miles until it overheats again. Do this until eventually it doesn’t work anymore.
The alcoholic comes to AA. Feeling uneasy, he rushes home after his third meeting and makes amends to his wife by saying he’s sorry and promising to be a better husband. He continues to go to AA meetings and listen. One day a couple weeks later, at work, he is starting to feel a little anxious. He takes one of his co-workers to lunch and, at lunch, talks to him about sometimes working at less than 100% in the past and assuring him those days are over. He feels better. Two or three days later he’s edgy and he apologizes to his kids for not being available emotionally to them during his drinking. The alcoholic is living his life like the radiator that continues to overheat. He can get a little relief by making amends but the feelings continue to return. The radiator continues to overheat.
Eventually, with the radiator, it has to be completely drained, repaired and refilled. The same is true with the alcoholic. The unstructured apologies, although a good beginning, are not enough. The “method” begins with the alcoholic looking at the mistakes he has made in his life. Mistakes that have followed him through his life and 10, 20, 30, 40 years later continue to dictate how he will live and react to other people and situations. In the 12 step process this is step 4.
There are no short cuts to “making it right”. Until the alcoholic goes through a process of looking at himself, he cannot be certain of what has to be made right. The alcoholic knows that while drinking he may have behaved badly but alcoholism is so much more than how a man behaves while under the influence of alcohol. The alcoholics relationship when he is not drinking causes as much damage as his behaviors while under the influence of alcohol. Restless, irritable and discontent until he has another opportunity to drink, the alcoholic may be mean, short tempered or sullen and scornful. His personality may not fit well with others and he may begin to isolate. Families and friendships are damaged even when the alcoholic is not drinking.
Many alcoholics need a medical detox when they are going to quit drinking. Alcohol withdrawal is serious and should not be handled lightly. Men and women will need an environment free of the ability to access alcohol for a few weeks up to several months. If residential treatment is available it should be utilized for short term stabilization. Persons should transition to a Transitional Living Program, if available. At the end of whatever residential treatments are available, all alcoholics should transition to a sober living environment and participate in a structured outpatient program.
What does this have to do with Step 4?
From day 1 at detox, the alcoholic is surrounded by other alcoholics. Each person, in his own way is seeking a solution to a sense of unease and discontentment. Step 4 is the beginning, for each alcoholic, to see his story. Rationalization, justification and denial have prevented the alcoholic from seeing his story if he had ever tried to look. In early recovery, talking with one another through the physical distress of detox, the early awarenesses in rehabilitation, the awarenesses as the alcoholic learns simple living strategies as a sober person, telling stories at the dinner table in a residential treatment environment or sober living and learning about the disease in outpatient group settings, all combine to help the alcoholic put on paper the things asked in step 4 of the 12 step process.
Research has shown the longer a person is in structured treatment or support, the greater his chances of long term sobriety, peace of mind, serenity and physically, emotionally and spiritually bonding with other human beings. A recipe for success would include: sober living for as long as possible, completion of all levels of care (detox, partial hospitalization, transitional living and outpatient programs) and alumni participation. A series of safe, structured environments where alcoholics are supported through the 12 step process in conjunction with clinical treatment will allow the alcoholic to safely uncover the truth about themselves and gather spiritual tools for successfully “making it right”.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: email@example.com and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.