Abstinence vs Recovery

Abby is in her 50’s and small in stature, but her confidence and insouciance quickly captivated the lively crowd at today’s Old Timer’s meeting in West Hollywood.  She first got sober at 22 after years of heavy drinking, during which her cravings were so strong that she had to take drugs just to remain conscious enough to consume enough alcohol to satisfy them.  But still it wasn’t enough.  Then one day she found herself at a detox, and found AA.  She remained abstinent for the next 15 years, but she discovered that abstinence is not the same as recovery.  During this time, her relationships were actually more like hostage situations.  The need for other people was actually an addiction in itself.  She stayed with men even though she knew that they were not interested in commitment, and felt like she was just being used for sex.  It took many years to realize that it was probably wishful thinking to believe that simply by working harder at the Steps you can ‘get’ someone to love you.  Nevertheless, if you wait long enough, you will experience the miracle.  On the other hand, if you don’t attend AA, you will likely become a statistic:  9 in 10 alcoholics will die from their disease.  The key is the spiritual awakening in the steps, which requires trusting your will to a Higher Power of your choice, so if you’re not ready for that then you might as well walk out right now.  In her case it took 20 years, but she finally experienced the miracle.  This is her story.

Abby was born on the East Coast to an alcoholic father who had 9 children, each of whom he abused sexually from an early age.  In fact she recently had hip surgery to repair an injury caused by it.  He died years ago, and she has since forgiven him, and in fact sometimes communes with him as one alcoholic to another.  She has also become more tolerant of the mother who did nothing to stop him other than have more babies.  This is due to the miracle of the Steps: she has learned to ignore her craziness and simply smile when she is annoyed and let things go.  Recently she gave her mother a birthday gift of a heart carved out of pure jade.  Of course her mother interpreted this as a slight, but Abby knows not to take things like that too seriously anymore.  This is the miracle of serenity — but you must stick with the program to experience it.

Abby tried drugs and alcohol as a teenager, and they were fun for about a day, but she got addicted almost immediately.  It was a living hell out of which she could not escape until discovering AA at the age of 22.  Then she got her life back on track and became a high profile journalist who traveled the world by her 30’s.  However, she realized that her son in Florida who was a professional baseball player needed her to be close, so she opened a yoga studio there.  Unfortunately she lost the business due to a hurricane, and this triggered a relapse that ended with her sucking off a woman in the gutter (and she’s not even gay).  But that was 15 years ago, and she’s been in real recovery since.

After her relapse she researched her disease and discovered how cunning and baffling it really is.  The whole time it was just sitting in the back of her brain waiting for an opportunity to pounce.  Using the skills she developed as a journalist, she learned that it is caused by lack of serotonin and dopamine.  Most people have a normal neurology in which serotonin and dopamine kicks in and says, “That’s enough.”  But for the alcoholic, this never happens.  For that reason, they are compelled to keep drinking and drinking.  The only solution is to do service work, because science has shown that this produces dopamine and serotonin.  That’s the neurochemical explanation for addiction, as well as the reason for why AA works.  There really is something physically defective in the brain, and it’s a real disease, and it has nothing to do with childhood sexual abuse or resentment towards one’s parents, although such resentments can stand in the way of recovery of course.  But once you let them go, you lose the cravings to drink.  That can take until middle age, but it’s worth it.

After her relapse in her 40’s, she finally discovered real recovery.  The difference is that now when she is in a relationship with a man, she doesn’t try to use the Steps to ‘get’ him to fall in love.  She simply lets the relationship develop as it will, even if the man is perfectly clear that he is not interested in a commitment.  This is the difference between mere abstinence and true recovery, and is the miracle of AA.  You should stay with the program long enough for this to happen.  She has also learned not to hold people hostage emotionally, as this was just another symptom of her addictive mind.  Her service work has restored the chemical balance in her brain that has allowed her to escape such dysfunctional thinking: she now has 4 beautiful young sponsees whom she is helping to identify their own powerlessness.  If they can stick with the program as she did, then they too will experience the miracle and not be done in by their own deadly cravings.  She is also keeping a close eye on her other son who has undiagnosed OCD, which is a precursor to alcoholism.  The boy takes after her father.  So assuming the disease doesn’t kill him, at least it will provide a handy excuse for mischief, and then he should be ‘happy, joyous and free’ by middle age when he suddenly realizes that his heavy drinking was actually caused by a disease all along just like his mother explained many times, and now he can explain it to hostages — er, sponsees of his own.

3 thoughts on “Abstinence vs Recovery”

  1. I have read through several of your articles and they make me grateful. I am either very very lucky to have stumbled into AA where I am from (Iowa) or very very lucky to not have walked into it where you did. Because your venom comes from somewhere . I have been continuously sober for 1-19 years since my early 20s and while I have met my share of ‘shady’ folks in AA, I have met many many more good ones. I have never slept with a newcomer, but it happens. I sponsor 3 women with over a decade each of sobriety, all who are successful in their own non-welfare or illegal way. I find it interesting that alot of your comments have come out of my own mouth but concerning different organized religions. AAs not perfect, but nothing full of human beings is. I truly believe it works for me and what you think is your business. Hope writing all this helps you, you sure have a gift with words, we all need a purpose.

  2. In my area in central Nj abstinence is definetely getting confused with recovery. “Don’t drink and go to meetings.” To the exclusion of everything else.

    On a personal level I am glad these people aren’t drinking. Drunk driving, stealing, violence and other addictive behavior stops completely or is drastically reduced. So the effect on the community is improved.

    In reality, just ‘not drinking’ doesnt equal recovery. As an analogy. Lets say I had tuberculosis instead of addiction. Because of it I lost my job, my marriage, all my family relationships were damaged, financial ruin and poverty. The doctors cure the TB but I am now broke, alone and physically ripped up.

    saying at that point, “Well I’m ok now.” would be ridiculous. There is tons of work ahead. Physically getting back in shape. Rebuilding a career. Rebuilding and restoring damaged relationships. Of course I could go to a meeting of TB survivors and simultaenously avoid rebuilding my life but that would be foolish.

    As an analogy. Thats what “dont drink and go to meetings” really is. You’ll avoid the disease and feel better but not really live.

    Now! recovery! Recover means to take back or regain. First we eliminate the chemical and switch to a really helpful higher power. Then we fix ourselves, then we repair the damage and finally we help others do the same. We get a life.

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