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Location: Northern California

Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Saturday, June 02, 2007


When the worst that could happen is nothing at all

The other day I was sitting in a recovery meeting that focuses on relapse prevention. About twenty of us were sitting in a circle and one by one, each of us told the group our name, our drug of choice, how long we had been sober, and the negative repercussions we would face if we were to use drugs or alcohol again. What was the worst that could happen?

I told my story and gave my reasons why I don't want to drink (or anything else) anymore: My marriage could fail. I could get into trouble or kill somebody from driving drunk. My kids would never know a mom whose moods were genuine and not induced by alcohol or being hungover. I would never know the reason why I like to self-medicate and have done so for most of my life. Nobody (including myself) would ever know the real me.

If you've ever been in recovery--of any kind, for any reason--or to an AA meeting, you know that you can always find somebody whose story is worse than yours. They've been drinking for fifty years; you haven't been on the planet that long. They would binge drink for days on end; you would always stop drinking sometime around 2:00 AM and rarely missed a day of work, even when you were totally hungover. They no long have a driver's license because they got three DUIs; you were never pulled over for drunk driving. They went to jail; you've never been to jail. They cared so much about getting high that they lost everything they had: the job, the house, the kids, the husband; most people were surprised when you told them you had a drinking problem because they never thought of you as an alcoholic.

But when you're honest with yourself that alcohol, drugs, binge eating, gambling, whatever is a problem in your life, then you no longer compare your story with other people's. You no longer say to yourself things like, I'm not an alcoholic because I don't drink during the day. That falling down drunk on the corner is an alcoholic; I'm not like him. Some nights I don't drink at all, which proves I can stop whenever I want. or Look how great my life is. Why admit that I have a problem when it's possible that if I never say anything, nobody would ever know?

I can't say that sobriety is easy. It's actually quite painful and horrible a lot of the time. One thing I've learned from my recovery program and from self introspection is that my drinking and using drugs has stunted my emotional growth so that emotionally I'm closer to the age I was when I started using, which means that I'm probably about fourteen years old right now. Great.

Driving home from that meeting, I realized that despite what I said to the group, the worst consequence if I started drinking again would be nothing. It's possible that nothing bad would happen if I started drinking again. I wouldn't lose my family or friends. I wouldn't lose my kids or house. Life would go on exactly as it had before.

And yet I also wouldn't gain anything. I wouldn't know how wonderful my life could be when I no longer wake up feeling the shame from getting too drunk the night before and wondering what I said or did. I wouldn't know if my feelings for someone were real and deep or shallow and the result of alcohol-induced joy. I wouldn't know if I was being the best mom I could be or the best wife I could be. I wouldn't know if I was living up to my creative potential or being true to myself. I wouldn't know what it means to be truly alive.

I might lose nothing if I started drinking again except all that I stand to gain. And that's a lot.