Many therapies, recovery centers, and programs believe that getting sober is the measuring stick for success. Once you get the patient sober, they consider it a great success.
And it is a success. With insurance companies only paying for a small amount of treatment in the USA, sobriety is the best outcome we can hope for. There’s not much time to build more on that, and they let the patient go.
Twelve-step programs, however, consider abstinence the starting point. Of course, you have to be sober because not much else can be built in an alcoholic’s life while they’re drinking.
Sobriety isn’t enough to bring about a sufficient change of personality that makes abstinence an enjoyable experience for real alcoholics.
We’ll look at what 12-step programs and the Book suggest should also be done to build a life worth living sober.
A Period of Reconstruction is Ahead
The Big Book uses many analogies to building and construction for explanations. It portrays the alcoholic’s life as down-and-out rubble until they achieve sobriety. In that light, getting sober is the foundation to rebuilding a life.
As page 83 of the book states:
Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness, and love.
The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it. Unless one’s family expresses a desire to live upon spiritual principles, we think we ought not to urge them. We should not talk incessantly to them about spiritual matters. They will change in time. Our behavior will convince them more than our words. We must remember that ten or twenty years of drunkenness would make a skeptic out of anyone.
As this passage suggests, there’s a period of rebuilding ahead. It’s not enough to simply stop drinking and hope for the best. It takes action to reconstruct the future we want.
When we’ve destroyed so many relationships, they will take mending to get back, if they come back at all. We may have stressed our family ties to the brink from our drinking. So we have to make amends and live each day responsibly. It may take a long time before people change their minds about us.
Making amends may be the first step, but we’ve probably apologized countless times before to those we love. We have to change the way we live and keep it that way for a while before people see that we’ve turned a corner. They have probably seen us try for a while and return to our old selves. It takes time day by day to prove we’ve become a new person.
We’ve stayed sober for periods before but returned to drink.
Many of us can stay sober for extended periods, likely due to a repercussion from our drinking. We have periods of building up good things in our lives and then tearing them down by a series of binges.
So those around us become skeptical when we say we’re going back on the wagon. Sobriety doesn’t mean what it used to when it’s become a way we escape the major scrapes of our past before.
As Chapter 2 of the Big Book states:
We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs.
As the passage suggests, we have to bring the principles to all of our activities rather than sit in meetings and call it enough.
In the sense of the twelve steps, sobriety means a complete rearrangement of lifestyle. The successful rearrangement means that we react to life differently than we did in the past. We bring more patience and tolerance to our relationships with others. We keep the responsibilities we promised others. We become adults often for the first time in our lives.
These new behaviors reflect to others that we’ve changed, rather than white-knuckling some time sober without changing how we live. They start to suspect we’re doing something different besides creating a short time of sobriety that tries to prove we can live like ordinary people. We’re no longer justifying our drinking by stopping for a period to build up and then tear back down again.
It can be frustrating when our associates and family still don’t trust us despite sober time and a change of personality. However, it takes time. We’ve abused them for years or decades, so the reconstruction has to take time before they change their minds about us.
Staying sober no matter what anyone says or does, through thick and thin
Another aspect of solid recovery is that we get through everyday problems with grace. Like a change of personality suggests, we react to difficulties less often with the toxic behaviors we did before.
We don’t lash out against someone who has said or written something that attacks us personally. We try to understand where they’re coming from and accept that they may be a sick person as well; in other words, showing tolerance.
Learning new reactions to life is part of the long reconstruction period ahead. However, it makes daily living more comfortable and serene. We have to accept that our old ways of handling people, career issues, and difficulties no longer work.
We learn the skills through keeping in touch with other alcoholics, working the steps, and of course, staying sober. There’s little chance we could muster the will to change and reach out without foundational sobriety.
So sobriety is the admission ticket for a new life that takes work. It’s not the final destination because we still have much to learn and rebuild.
Summary: Sobriety isn’t enough, but it’s a perfect start
While initial treatment and therapies separate you from drinking, getting involved in a 12 step program helps you rebuild all the good things drinking destroyed. This means mending relationships, staying sober long term, and handling life with new skills that don’t lead to more problems.
It takes a long time before people accept us as becoming a fully recovered person and not just taking a break from drinking to avoid consequences. When we stop the lies and try to live differently, they eventually come around.
Sobriety alone isn’t enough to remain happy. It’s the start of a new life.