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A friend was telling me yesterday about the vital role marijuana played in his abstinence from booze.
We’re both recovering alcoholics, so I was interested. “It’s all about harm reduction,” he explained. “Alcohol was tearing me up inside.” Now that we’ve decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms here in Denver, he’s a proponent of micro-dosing ‘shrooms to relieve anxiety. “I smoke a lot less weed now that I can take mushrooms,” he continued.
I get the principle of harm reduction. It’s been preached in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and by addiction counselors for the better part of a century now. A therapist friend of mine used to tell clients to go the Dairy Queen and order a Blizzard when the cravings for alcohol grew intense (until he learned how dangerous sugar is for alcoholics).
I understand the concept. But I have a disease with an astronomical relapse rate, and rather than helping people heal, we are teaching them to be just a little less wounded.
Harm reduction. Stay broken, just use a different crutch.
When I first got sober, I took some pride in the fact that I had beaten my disease. I was still ashamed of my alcoholism, and I was jealous of people who could drink responsibly, but I was proud to have conquered the beast of addiction.
Now that I have learned about neurotransmitters and our subconscious mind, and I can finally accept the fact that alcohol is a poison that damages our bodies in any quantity consumed, I’m not jealous anymore. In fact, I feel sorry for the moderate drinkers who chip away at their brain function and life expectancy with pride because they can control their self-poisoning. Whoever coined the phrase, ignorance is bliss, must have been talking about moderate drinkers.
My pride in sobriety isn’t because I beat alcoholism. What I feel in sobriety is relief more than pride. It is relief because I’m letting life be hard when it’s supposed to be hard, stressful when it’s supposed to be stressful, depressing when it’s supposed to be depressing, and joyful when it’s supposed to be joyful. No crutch. No alcohol, no weed, no mushrooms, and no Blizzard.
I’m not very good at it yet. I’m only in my third year of sobriety, and I’ve got a long way to go to master rolling with my emotions. But I’m learning. I feel however I feel, even when I don’t see the negative feelings coming. I grit my teeth, hold my breath, and wait for it to pass. It does pass. It might take a while sometimes, but it will always pass. No crutch.
In recovery circles, people who stop drinking but do no work on personal growth are called dry drunks. Their sobriety is tenuous at best because they make no attempt to fix what’s broken.
I agree with my AA friends that recovery from addiction requires work. I just think the 12 steps are the wrong work. I don’t think recovery is about inventory or powerlessness or amends. I’m a devout, practicing Christian, and I don’t think recovery is about God, either.
I think it’s about human connection. I think the reason AA has the success they have is because of the sponsor relationships and the people sitting in the folding chairs in church basements. I think recovery comes from two or five or 100 people sharing their experiences, terrors, successes, failures, and goals. Recovery is about compassion and empathy, not apologies and fears.
In fact, let’s expand that last statement. Life is about compassion and empathy. When that’s missing, we become broken in one of a million ways possible for humans to be broken, and we need a crutch. Maybe overeating or undereating is your jam. Maybe you base your self-worth on your net worth. Maybe you watch too much TV or waste too much time on politics or scroll on your phone for hours every day. It’s all devoid of meaningful human interaction, and it’s killing us all.
There are plenty of crutches for us to hobble on since we don’t seem the least bit interested in fixing what’s broken.
Last week, there was a minor car accident in front of my house while I was on my porch writing. No one was hurt, and I offered the drivers some water while they waited for the police. They both declined, but one of them said she’d take a glass of wine if I had one.
She was joking around, and I smiled. But the truth is, she would have been overjoyed with a liquid crutch to relieve her stress at that moment. No one would have accused her of alcoholism, and she would have considered her wine to be an acceptable potion for much deserved relaxation.
And that’s how we treat alcohol and our other crutches. We need a crutch to handle work stress and a crutch to handle parenting. We need a crutch when someone dies and a crutch in times of celebration. Even when we share our crutches with others, we are numbing our ability to feel the human emotions of camaraderie or mourning. We can’t connect with each other when we erect barriers to our feelings.
Why do you think we engage in meaningless sex that we don’t even enjoy after drinking too much? Why do you think we claim we need alcohol as a social lubricant when in a room full of strangers? Why do we drink when we are bored, tired, or sad? It’s because the alcohol builds a wall between us and our true desires, we anticipate conversation with strangers to be grueling, and alcohol numbs the bored, tired, and sad.
And when we drink to get through all of that—when we drink to get through life—we recognize our brokenness, then ask a poison for help.
But when we seek human connection—the real kind that we have to work for that requires unimaginable vulnerability—we start to heal what’s broken.
I’m happy to be a recovering alcoholic, but not because I slayed a beast. I’m happy because I healed my wounds through connection to other humans, and fixed that which was broken.
Sometimes I need someone to lean on. Sometimes I need an arm around my shoulders or a hand to hold. Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going and can’t seem to walk straight. But I never need a crutch.
If you are tired of depending on your crutch and want to heal the parts that are broken, please read my free ebook, Guide to Early Sobriety.