“As rain falls equally on the just and the unjust do not burden your heart with judgment but rain your kindness equally on all.”
When I first came into the rooms, I was emotionally shattered, unsure of myself, unsure if I was in the right place, and frankly scared out of my wits. Like many people, I found that I was warmly welcomed by a group of strangers who had been exactly where I was each in their own way. After asking for help, I was given a list of names and numbers on the back of a piece of paper printed with the prayer of Saint Francis. “Welcome Home” was written at the top and I was told, “we’ll love you until you love yourself, keep coming back.” I felt absolutely no judgement from the group and for that I was thankful.
I’d read much of the Big Book prior to coming into the rooms and understood a lot about the program. I was uncomfortable with what I saw as overtly evangelical religious language in the steps but chose to ignore this and to “take what I like and leave the rest.” There were other things that I was uncomfortable with in the rooms, mostly the trite little sayings…
one day at a time
keep coming back
you’re only as sick as your secrets
let go and let god
just for today
I know it’s the first drink that gets me drunk
Over time, I became more comfortable with these little catch phrases, and I’ve been adopted some of them myself, because I now have a better understanding of just what they mean, even if I may think that they are overly simplistic in nature. I mean, lets face it, telling myself that I’m not going to drink just for today when I know damn well that I need to make sure I don’t drink for the rest of my life is a little mind game that I play with myself. And I’m okay with that. But there’s one turn of phrase that I hear in the rooms that really sticks in my crawl.
He’s a Dry Drunk!
People in the rooms use this particularly derogatory phrase to describe behavior that can better be described as acting like an asshole.
One of the problems I have with the term dry drunk lies in the fact that the phrase is an oxymoron. The idea that you can be abstinent (i.e., dry) and drunk (i.e., intoxicated) at the same time is absurd. Drunkenness is the result of drinking alcohol. (I know, the 12 Step Taliban will come out in droves against this post and I’m sure that I’ll get attacked for my stance. I will probably lose subscribers to this blog and Twitter followers over this. That’s fine.)
Now, I suspect that if you are in recovery you may be thinking a variation of one of these thoughts…
yes, but I drank to shut down those emotions
yes, but you’re not looking at the whole picture
yes, but there’s more to sobriety than abstinence
I don’t necessarily disagree with the intention behind these thoughts. Recovery is about much more than abstinence. It’s about becoming our best selves and part of that is working on our defects, behaviors, and interactions with our fellow human beings — without a doubt. But sobriety, well sobriety is about not getting drunk.
There is a lot of talk in the rooms about emotional sobriety which is basically being a decent human being and not acting like a complete asshole in your dealings with other people. It seems to me, that somehow over the years, the notion that bad behavior is limited to drunks has crept into the 12 Step psyche and lexicon. There’s a great deal of talk in the rooms about alcoholic thinking or alcoholic behavior that seems to center on very human tendencies such as comparing oneself to others, judgement of others, and feelings of inadequacy to name only a few.
Here’s a news flash: These are part of the human condition. Substance abuse is not a prerequisite for these feelings and actions. You don’t have to be drunk to have difficulty containing your emotions. You don’t have to be a drunk to act out. You don’t have to be a drunk to be an asshole.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a hall pass for those of us in recovery to ignore these important aspects of becoming our best selves. Quite the contrary, we need to focus on our emotional sobriety because failure to do so is inherently dangerous to us. For many of us, our emotions are the triggers that once tripped lead to the drink or the drug. Failure to address these triggers often leads to a slip or a relapse. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that these tendencies are in any way unique to alcoholics or addicts.
Still, this is not the worst of it for me. What really niggles me about the term dry drunk is the judgement that it carries. Now, if you want to judge yourself, I suspect that’s your prerogative, however I have found that approaching myself in a nonjudgmental way leads to a greater sense of serenity in my life.
Judgement of others is dangerous. Judgement of others puts us in a place of authority. Judgement of others makes us feel superior. Judgement of others leads to the very opposite of emotional sobriety. Judgement of others can lead to a relapse.
When someone uses the term dry drunk in reference to another person, they are undeniably making a judgement of the other person’s sobriety. This is not, sweeping my own side of the street. We do have the right to express our opinions about another person’s behaviors and actions, but no one has the right to question the worthiness of another person’s recovery. I think we’d do well to remove this pejorative term from our collective lexicon.