There’s a common expression: “AA is for people who want it, not for people who need it.” That’s missing a vital ingredient: The people who take action get sober.
It has been heartbreaking to see so many successful, wealthy, and with solid families unable to get sober. I feel like they deserve sobriety more than me because I still don’t have much materially to show for all of my years sober. Those otherwise normal people with a drinking problem, I think to myself, could contribute much more to society than I ever will if they sober up. They already have proven they can do so much despite their alcoholism.
I’ve discovered one thing that separates the people who get and stay sober despite their lot in life: They take action recommended by AA. The action I’m referring to is not the opinions you hear in AA, but the action described in the literature and by oldtimers who have figured out how to stay sober and happy.
Many people want to recover
A lot of people show up to AA wanting to change. They know they have a drinking or using problem and want to stop or moderate somehow. They understand that it’s negatively affecting them, and that’s an excellent first step.
However, they must follow up with action in the 12 steps. The steps describe a way to stay sober without it feeling like torture. Staying dry without a program to be content is complete torture for an alcoholic. That’s because drinking is our solution to life, and it makes life bearable. You’re a fish out of the water when you take alcohol away, and life is just plain painful without the crutch.
Something has to take the place of drinking, and the steps are a way to do that. It connects us spiritually and emotionally to something we can latch onto as a way of living life. When we’re dry, we are likely to think life isn’t worth living because we suspect we’re unhappy drinking and, worse, we’re unhappy sober. It feels like a trap we cannot spring.
Willingness Is Essential
So the new folks show up, hear the message, understand how hopeless the condition is. Many fall under the belief that they can sit in meetings and pick up sobriety through osmosis. And for many people, that works. But for most, taking action is crucial.
This means getting a sponsor and working the steps. It means setting aside time in your day for calling the sponsor and sitting down with them to do the steps. It means growing a network of contacts and doing things that aren’t comfortable, such as showing up to meetings early.
These actions are probably very different than what we’re accustomed to. We’re used to seeing what we can get out of something and then leave. We want to put the least amount of effort for the most gains. So the actions that are asked of us are pretty drastic.
These acts, however, form the basis of a new life. We can’t stay sober by doing the things we’ve always done. The benefits of taking these steps also begin to show up quickly, and we can see them working in our lives.
The main thing is that we start thinking about ourselves less. When we’re in our face all the time, we lose sight of the world around us, and that makes for more drinking. We lose less energy by exhausting ourselves on whatever our little plan for the day is and what we can gain from it. We see that there’s a possibility for a new life. The less we fight ourselves, the more success comes our way. Our fears begin to fade, and we build the confidence that we can face what each day throws our way.
The success that comes from the work and losing our ego is the idea of “getting out of our own way.” When we remove ourselves from problems, they have a way of working out.
Without the initial discomfort of changing our usual behavior, we cannot start building the foundation of recovery.
Wanting and needing sobriety is Not the Full Picture
A lot of people need sobriety. Some countless addicts and alcoholics are desperate to stop their habit, and many do not find recovery.
But the expression “recovery is for people who want it, not people who need it” is missing the critical ingredient of action. Many people want recovery but don’t take action to get it.
The 12 steps offer a “program of action.” This means something you can actively apply for every problem in life. It is different from most therapy because it doesn’t care about why you became an alcoholic, only what you can do about it now.
Therapy tries to get down to what made you an addict, usually by looking at your childhood, family upbringing, trauma, and environment. This is helpful to an extent, but it doesn’t give you the tools for learning to stay sober in the present time.
Staying sober now is the matter at hand, not what happened to you that may have caused you to become a problem drinker. Knowing the cause doesn’t keep you sober.
There’s more to getting sober than just “wanting” it. It takes effort to learn the steps and apply them in your life. People who are not as bad off may think they need to put in less effort, but it is false comfort to rely on material things. Accumulating stuff doesn’t confer the protection that implies the program will work better and easier.
No matter how far down the scale you’ve gone, you’ll need the willingness to do the work.