Living Sober – Chapter 25 Getting Out Of The If Trap

Emotional entanglements with people are not the only way we can get our sobriety dangerously hooked to something extraneous . Some of us have a tendency to put other conditions on our sobriety , without intending to .

One A.A . member says , “ We drunks * are very ‘ iffy ’ people . During our drinking days , we were often full of ifs , as well as liquor . A lot of our daydreams started out , ‘ If only … ’ And we were continually saying to ourselves that we wouldn’t have gotten drunk if something or other hadn’t happened , or that we wouldn’t have any drinking problem at all if only … ”

We all followed up that last “ if ” with our own explanations ( excuses ? ) for our drinking . Each of us thought : I wouldn’t be drinking this way … If it wasn’t for my wife ( or husband or lover ) … if I just had more money and not so many debts … if it wasn’t for all these family problems … if I wasn’t under so much pressure … if I had a better job or a better place to live … if people understood me … if the state of the world wasn’t so lousy … if human beings were kinder , more considerate , more honest … if everybody else didn’t expect me to drink … if it wasn’t for the war ( any war ) … and on and on and on .

Looking back at this kind of thinking and our resultant behavior , we see now that we were really letting circumstances outside ourselves control much of our lives .

When we first stop drinking , a lot of those circumstances recede to their proper places in our minds . At the personal level , many of them really clear up as soon as we start staying sober , and we begin to see what we may be able to do about the others some day . Meanwhile , our life is much , much better sober , no matter what else may be going on .

But then , after a sober while , for some of us there comes a time when — plop ! — a new discovery slaps us in the face . That same old “ iffy ” thinking habit of our drinking days has , without our seeing it , attached itself to not drinking . Unconsciously , we have placed conditions on our sobriety . We have begun to think sobriety is just fine — if everything goes well , or if nothing goes wrong .

In effect , we are ignoring the biochemical , unchangeable nature of our ailment . Alcoholism respects no ifs . It does not go away , not for a week , for a day , or even for an hour , leaving us nonalcoholic and able to drink again on some special occasion or for some extraordinary reason — not even if it is a once – in – a – lifetime celebration , or if a big sorrow hits us , or if it rains in Spain or the stars fall on Alabama . Alcoholism is for us unconditional , with no dispensations available at any price .

It may take a little while to get that knowledge into the marrow of our bones . And we sometimes do not recognize the conditions we have unconsciously attached to our recovery until something goes wrong through no fault of ours . Then — whammy ! — there it is . We had not counted on this happening . The thought of a drink is natural in the face of a shocking disappointment . If we don’t get the raise , promotion , or job we counted on , or if our love life goes awry , or if somebody mistreats us , then we can see that maybe all along we have been banking on circumstances to help us want to stay sober . Somewhere , buried in a hidden convolution of our gray matter , we had a tiny reservation — a condition on our sobriety . And it was just waiting to pounce . We were going along thinking , “ Yep , sobriety is great , and I intend to keep at it . ” We didn’t even hear the whispered reservation : “ That is , if everything goes my way . ” Those ifs we cannot afford . We have to stay sober no matter how life treats us , no matter whether nonalcoholics appreciate our sobriety or not . We have to keep our sobriety independent of everything else , not entangled with any people , and not hedged in by any possible cop – outs or conditions .

Over and over , we have found we cannot stay sober long just for the sake of wife , husband , children , lover , parents , other relative , or friend , nor for the sake of a job , nor to please a boss ( or doctor or judge or creditor ) — not for anyone other than ourselves .

Tying up our sobriety to any person ( even another recovered alcoholic ) or to any circumstance is foolish and dangerous . When we think , “ I’ll stay sober if — ” or “ I won’t drink because of — ” ( fill in any circumstance other than our own desire to be well , for health’s own sake ) , we unwittingly set ourselves up to drink when the condition or person or circumstance changes . And any of these may change at any moment .

Independent , unaffiliated with anything else , our sobriety can grow strong enough to enable us to cope with anything — and everybody . And , as you’ll see , we start liking that feeling , too .

* Some of us A.A . ’ s refer to ourselves as “ drunks , ” no matter how long we have been sober . Others prefer “ alcoholics . ” There are good reasons for both terms . “ Drunks ” is lighthearted , tends to keep the ego down to size , and reminds us of our proneness to drinking . “ Alcoholics ” is equally honest , but more dignified and more in keeping with the now widely accepted idea that alcoholism is a perfectly respectable illness , not just willful self – indulgence .

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