I spend a lot of time with people like me, who want to stay sober one day at a time, and nearly every day I’m reminded of just how defective our perceptions and judgments are.
For example, a while ago a young man trying to stay sober called me from another city and told me he was calling to “tell on himself,” meaning he needed to tell someone he was thinking of doing something he knew wasn’t in his best interests.
“What’s up?” I said.
“I’m waiting for a friend to go out to dinner, she’ll be here in about half an hour, and I’m going to wait in a bar.”
“Why on earth would you do that?”
“I want to watch the baseball game.”
“So, you, a self-admitted alcoholic with barely three months sober, and some considerable legal problems to sort out, think it’s a good idea to spend half an hour, not going for a walk, not going to a bookstore, not sitting on a bench and watching the whole wonderful world go by, but sitting in a bar. That makes sense to you. Do I have it right?”
“I really want to see part of the game.”
“More than you want to stay sober?”
“I’m not going to drink,” he said, rather peevishly. “I’m just going to have a soda.”
“Well, since you’ve called me, I’m going to suggest you NOT go into that bar. Don’t go anywhere near that bar. Bars are not safe places for recovering alcoholics, no matter how we justify it to ourselves. If you don’t want to get wet, it’s best to stay out of the swimming pool.”
“Lauren, I don’t get what the big deal is. I did tell on myself.” Now he was downright ticked off.
“That doesn’t give you immunity from alcohol, it just draws attention to how sick you still are.”
The telephone line was deafeningly quiet. One thing I know about alcoholics is that we are defiant, want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it sorts of people, and we generally think we know better than anyone else what’s best for us, even when our best thinking has led us into all sorts of appalling, shameful, situations.
“Look,” I said, “you called me for a reason, and I’m giving you my advice, but I know you’re going to do precisely what you want to do, and that’s entirely your right. Still, it’s my responsibility to tell you I think it’s a hideous idea.”
“Okay,” my friend say. “Thanks.”
I suspect he went into the bar anyway. That’s his choice. And maybe he didn’t drink. I hope he didn’t. But either way, he’s complicated his life In the first place, he may very well have had a drink and even if he only had one, because he’s an alcoholic it won’t be just one for long… because he’s an alcoholic that first drink will lead, immediately or in an alarmingly short period of time, to many more drinks, and he will repeat of the sort of behavior that made him want to stop drinking in the first place. In the second place, if he didn’t have a drink, now he has a precedent. “See”, he says to himself, “I can go into bars and not drink.” Thus, bars become safe places, and one day he may very well be in a bar just at that moment when a drink seems like a very good idea indeed, and then we’re back in the first scenario.
Wouldn’t it have been easier just to go for a walk in the park? But we are the defiant ones, I’m afraid, and defiance, at least in my case, is liable to kill me. I have learned, the hard way, that there is in fact no allure in the sparkly bar sign. There is this:
Or, as in the case of both my brothers,
And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, drunks tend to take hostages and create collateral damage.
So, as a staying-sober-one-day-at-a-time alcoholic, I’m happy to jettison my defiance, and happy to stay out of the bars. How about you?