Getting sober is a wonderful thing. You’re no longer in the throes of addiction and you can get on with your life and do something productive in the place of all those wasteful hours of drinking, hangovers, missing work, making family members miserable, apologizing, and then doing it all over again… you know the cycle that I’m talking about. I’ve been there and you can read it all about that part of my life in my book, although that’s not at all what my book is about. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There are thousands of addiction memoirs out there and they often follow the tried and true arch where an addict starts soft, goes hard, ends in some kind of spectacular rock bottom, but then recovers—almost always at the end of the story. We finish on a hopeful note and we come away satisfied that the hero/ heroine of the story is now all better and that life is good again. That’s what we like about stories—we like happy endings. (And if we’re talking about addiction memoirs, most publishers prefer books with the beginning, middle and the end that can be neatly tied up in a bow.)
Life, of course, doesn’t work that way. And especially when it comes to addiction. The ending—sobriety—might be happy but it is not the end—it is just the beginning. I am not talking about relapses—although those could be a part of this discussion—but I am talking about recovery. You see, after we, people with addictions, beat the addiction and get sober, we still have a lot of work to do. In fact, we have more work to do than ever before. This is the part where the tellers of addiction stories might lose their audience—after all, witnessing a car crash is much more exciting than following the victims stuck in rehabilitation of months or years. But is the car crash really more exciting?
I propose that we start challenging ourselves to pay attention to the stories of recovery because they are just as fascinating and complicated as those of active addiction. It’s not about a bunch of people sitting in a circle of chairs, nor is it about attending various therapies to deal with underlying problems that contributed to the addiction in the first place – but at the same time it is exactly about that. It is about digging deeper into addiction itself; it is about learning about addiction and it is about using that knowledge to stay recovered. It is about finding self. And what could be greater than finding your self? Sobriety doesn’t guarantee that—recovery does.
Sober is just not drinking or using drugs. Recovery means not drinking or using, but also learning, evolving, becoming truly whole, and it’s an on-going process. Recovery means being always diligent about staying sober by doing things that keep one on the beam—this might mean meetings and therapy and other sources of support, but it also means rigorous self-examination. I will dare to say, it can also mean building character.
In my case ( David’s Story ) you’ll find that my story doesn’t end with me riding off into the sunset after I sobered up—it is only during the phase of my recovery (on-going) that I find meaning and identity where there was none before. It is during my recovery that I discover what prevented me from getting sober in the first place—lack of understanding of Reality.
As much as I value the fascinating, grim stories of addiction, I know that getting sober is merely the first step. So, that fascinating memoir you’ve just finished reading? It’s only a prologue to the actual thing. My suggestion to you—or someone you love who struggles with addiction or has just gotten sober—is to give recovery stories a chance, to educate yourself about the process of it, to immerse yourself in it.
Plato said that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and that might apply to addiction as well—unexamined addiction will remain a mystery, it will not bring you to reality; it will puzzle you even if you white-knuckle through it until the end of your days and stay “sober.”