Now the Real Work Begins

Note:  This is a rant.  If you don’t want to read a rant, you might want to move on.

The recovery community, especially the 12 Step community, has many little sayings. Some are helpful, sort of, some are downright insulting.

One Day at a Time
Just for Today
Let go and let god
Live and let live
More will be revealed
Stay in the middle of the herd
You’re only as sick as your secrets

And my personal favorite:

Now the real work starts

Stop. Just stop with the backhanded judgment. Think about that little saying. Think hard about it. What do you hear when you say it to yourself? When do you say it to someone else? What does it actually mean?

It gets said a lot around important milestones. Most often at one year of sobriety. Almost invariably at a one year anniversary, some jackass will say something along the lines of “You’ve done a fantastic job and one year is a great achievement, but now the real work starts.” I’ve heard it said to people at six months, at three months, and after they’ve completed the steps.

Lets break this down. What it’s saying is that it’s all good that you stopped drinking or drugging…That you’ve stopped doing something that was surely going to kill you in the end…That you’ve stopped doing something that was going to destroy not only you, but your relationships with the people who love you and who you love…that you’ve reached an important milestone in your sobriety…but really, you ain’t done shit. You don’t know what the “real work” is yet because you haven’t gotten to it.

What? Seriously, this is supposed to be somehow encouraging to the person who just picked up a chip or a key chain? Really?

Are you out of your fucking mind?

Yes, there is a lot to be said for there being more to sobriety than simply putting down the drink or the drug. Yes, there are people who act like assholes who don’t drink or drug. That’s probably because they are assholes — rather than dry drunks.  Yes, there is such a thing as emotional sobriety.

But, who the fuck are you to judge someone’s sobriety? Really, who the fuck are you?

Just because you have more time, doesn’t mean you have better sobriety. Just because you found god, doesn’t mean that you’re more sober than the person who doesn’t believe. Just because you’ve worked the steps doesn’t make you’re sobriety better or more real than another person’s.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that they haven’t done real work.

So stop.

Think about whether you’re saying something to encourage someone or whether you intend to belittle them. Because that’s what these words do. They belittle the achievement.

I think if you really think it through, you’ll probably find that the sentence, “now the real work begins” is offensive — you probably found it offensive when it was first said to you by some well meaning member of your fellowship. Maybe you think it’s just being straight with someone. Maybe it is.

But here’s some more straight talk.

Sobriety is hard work. It’s hard work from the time you make the decision to quit until the day you die. It’s real work from the very first day and it will be real work until you die. It doesn’t get a whole lot more real than those first few raw months. If you’re lucky, it doesn’t get harder than those first few months and if you’re really lucky, it might actually get easier.

Telling someone who’s just reached a milestone, “now the real work begins” is basically telling them that what they’ve accomplished isn’t real and as hard as it was, it wasn’t that hard.

And you know what? fuck that. It was hard. It was real. And you have no fucking right to tell someone it wasn’t.

16 responses to “Now the Real Work Begins”

  1. I hear ya man. I saw that same tweet and had a similar, though far less passionate, thought. I’ve been following this couple’s journey: they’ve worked their asses off to this point! At the same time, I’m willing to believe that sometimes people just say stuff, and that this is especially true of “slogany” people. You are a very thoughtful (and thinking) person, Damien. I think most people have good intentions, and I therefore TRY to receive slogans like that in that spirit. Just another perspective on it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What we should always remember, that you have pointed out here Damien, is the power of language and the words we use. I think the “slogans” can help with communicating ideas in an accessible way to groups of people, but what happens is people start to use them in a very automatic and seemingly reactionary/reflexive way. When that happens, the thoughtfulness of our language and the meaning we may want to express can get lost. Great post as always Damien!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I haven’t heard that slogan before in my group.
    You are so very right that just getting sober is such hard work and a huge accomplishment.
    I think people sometimes say things they have been told, and just pass it along without thinking much about it. (As you just said.)
    I never heard of the “herd” one, either.
    That came out funny!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When one looks only for fault, one is sure to find it. If you truly wish to understand the rest of the meaning behind those statements, I’ll explain them. If you’d rather just complain, I’ll let you do that too.

    I hope your anger subsides sometime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trust me, man, I find a lot of good things in the program. And I understand the meaning of the slogans. But I’m someone who thinks a great deal and when I see something that looks and smells like bullshit, I call it for what I believe it is. If blind faith is a requirement in someone’s version of the program then we see things differently. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get it or that I’m not sober enough or that I am only looking for faults, it means that I don’t accept dogma.

      Liked by 1 person

      • However, in the case of “now the real work starts”, that was spot on for me and everyone I know…. Hell, over in this neck of the woods they throw in an extra “the first year was a gift” beforehand. First time I heard it my jaw dropped. Of course six months later I knew exactly what they were talking about. The idea was that once I learned how to recoil from alcohol (the symptom), THEN I had to learn how to fix the cause. That work is ongoing. 24 years later. It doesn’t get any easier, either.

        The statement isn’t dogma, it certainly isn’t bullshit, and you left the important half out of your rant. It is, however, exceptionally cheesy. I’ll give you that.


      • I’m fairly confident I acknowledged some of what you said when I wrote the following:

        “Sobriety is hard work. It’s hard work from the time you make the decision to quit until the day you die. It’s real work from the very first day and it will be real work until you die.”

        Liked by 2 people

  5. You are absolutely spot on here. Everything I’ve done to put the vodka down for more than five minutes, living through the withdrawals without picking back up, fighting through the damage I’ve done to my relationships and doing it sober was REAL WORK. I have no doubt the real work continues with every milestone, but it sure as hell started the day I put the bottle down, and has yet to stop. So thank you for this.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I get it, Damien. It’s like getting some generic Hallmark greeting called to support someone with real struggles. I like what HD said. Most people are just trying to do their best. This slogan definitely has a little bit of “holier than thou” ring to it. And that is a place nobody should be coming from in the rooms.

    See you Saturday!

    Liked by 3 people

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