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Dealing with Sobriety

The following was read from a copy of the AA Grapevine at a meeting. It was something I needed to hear today.

It was also something I believe Emmett needed to hear too, back in the day.

You see, Emmett knew he had to stop drinking. It wasn’t just his physician or his friends, or his father (also a physician) telling him: Emmett knew he couldn’t handle it.

Unfortunately, Emmett also couldn’t handle sobriety. He didn’t know how to live with sobriety. Most of us in recovery can’t, and that is what drives us back to drink.

For what it is worth, here’s today’s reading.


God willing, we may never again have to deal with drinking, but we do have to deal with sobriety every day.

The idea is not new. I first heard it a dozen years ago from a speaker who was then an old-timer in AA. But I’ve been giving it a lot of thought recently, because it is an important concept. I know it is not understood outside our Fellowship, and I suspect it is not too well recognized inside, either.

The old-timer said, “AA does not teach us how to handle our drinking; it teaches us how to handle sobriety.”

He went on to explain: “AA doesn’t teach us how to handle our drinking. Most alcoholics know, long before they come through the doors of their first meeting, that the way to handle their drinking is to quit. People have told them so. And almost every alcoholic I know has stopped drinking at one time or another – maybe dozens of times! – when he went on the wagon, or took a pledge, or perhaps when he was hospitalized or jailed. So it’s no trick to stop drinking; the trick is to stay stopped.

“No, AA doesn’t teach us how to handle our drinking. It teaches us how to handle sobriety – which is what none of us could handle in the first place, and that’s why we drank.”

What a simple idea! But what a marvelous expression of the way AA works! It has so many advantages and clears up so much misunderstanding about our Society of recovered drunks.

First of all, it explains the need for a continuing program of recovery. One of the commonest questions we get from nonalcoholic friends is “You haven’t had a drink in ‘X’ years, so why do you still have to go to meetings?” In my own case, it’s true that I haven’t had the slightest desire for a drink in many years. And the reason is that my continuing, regular attendance at AA meetings and my effort “to practice these principles” in all my affairs teach me how to live comfortably, productively, happily – without seeking these attributes in a bottle.

This concept also explains the puzzling and paradoxical fact that the halls of AA are crowded, not with shivering wrecks fighting off the craving for a belt of booze, but with healthy, clear-eyed, smiling people. On Twelfth Step calls, I’ve had prospects ask, “I’ve stopped drinking, so why should I go to AA?”

I reply, “I have also stopped drinking – long ago – and so have other members of AA. We find it essential to attend meetings to improve ourselves, to improve our relations with other people, and to learn to practice a better way of life. That’s the only way we can be sure we won’t slip into drinking again.”

Indeed, this concept of learning how to handle sobriety is useful in explaining the need for what we in AA often refer to as our “way of life.” To the newcomer, as well as to the outsider, this phrase often sounds pompous or supercilious. But a new way of life is what we must find if we are to handle sobriety successfully.

Bob P. (CT)
AA Grapevine, March 1975, “Learning to Handle Sobriety”

Categories: Addiction

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