Are They Better Than You?

There’s an adage in 12-step groups that says “principles before personalities,” and it’s a simple reminder that everyone in recovery should worry about the recovery itself and not what other people do or don’t do in the program. It also means that the program should not have leaders, or cultivate any sort of popularity contests, and rate its members by some mysterious hierarchy of how well or badly they “do” sobriety.

I’m mentioning the 12-step model because that’s one place where ego-personality is strongly discouraged, but Sober Giants and Gurus are present everywhere. I’m talking about those people who have lived to tell the tale of trauma or addiction or both, but are now telling it in the way that is not helpful, that is not humble, and that does not take into the account the fact that everyone’s journey is different. They’re telling it like gospel, they’re telling people to get off medication, end relationships, find God, etcetera. Stuff that is simply nobody else’s business. For myself, I know that my diligence and honesty with myself is what keeps me humble and teachable. I know that if I were to ever give myself permission to act as some kind of a well-of-wisdom full-time…. Well, that would be the end of me.

I write these posts and continue to explore my recovery because I consider myself a fellow voyager, not a leader of any kind. I hope that whoever is reading this identifies, but not in the way where they count on my words as some sort of recovery canon. I have a few good suggestions to offer – things that have worked for me here and there – but I don’t have any golden solution or sure answer as to how to recover in the best way, and don’t expect to have one for as long as I live. My way might not be your way. Your way to sobriety might be in the rooms of traditional Alcoholics Anonymous, or your way could be quitting completely on your own and maybe reading some literature about it. You might even find out that unhealthy substance use, as I’ve mentioned in some prior posts, is just a symptom some other mental issue, or trauma, and you might choose to address your recovery via that door.

However you end up doing it, please know that the people who claim to have the answers and who seem a little too shiny might not necessarily be what you need. I remember walking into rooms of AA and seeing and hearing some of the members and just being in awe of their wisdom. I thought they had the key to this mystery that was addiction, I thought they would teach me how to do it right, how to stay sober perfectly. But people are imperfect. Even the most stable, enlightened ones will stumble and disappoint. I’ve heard many stories of AA “rockstars” going out after decades of sobriety and their congregation of sponsees losing their minds because the impossible had happened. I know of groups breaking apart because of personality clashes, people suffering because they had to pick sides… all that nonsense that always obscures the reason why everyone is where they are – which is sobriety and recovery.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

At the end of the day, we are all just human. Nothing more. And even those who seem smarter and are supposedly champions of recovery are people just like you and me. I think it’s always good to listen to the suggestion of others – especially those who have more experience than you and who seem trustworthy – but don’t ever let anyone tell you what to do if it doesn’t seem right. If a sponsor says to get off medication, bad idea (time to get a new sponsor?), if your therapist says to stop going to AA when you do enjoy it and get something from it (time to get a new therapist?), also a bad idea. Use your common sense, stick to those who offer quiet wisdom, who don’t shine so brightly but who are always there, humble and listening with acceptance and understanding.

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