Twelve-step programs are full of slogans meant to help people get and stay sober. When I first started going to meetings, I rolled my eyes at some of them: “Live and Let Live.” “Easy Does It.” “First Things First.” What? I thought. I just wanted to stop drinking and using cocaine. What did any of those slogans have to do with it?
Then, one of them stuck. For some reason, I decided to try staying sober “one day at a time.” Promising that I’d never drink again scared me. I didn’t know if I’d end up drinking the next week. But the idea of taking that decision on a daily basis, not a permanent one, was appealing.
Eleven years later, it’s still the same for me. I don’t think about never drinking again. I don’t say I’ll never drink again. I just focus on today. I find that if I do the right things on a given day, I choose not to pick up. I don’t have to worry about tomorrow; it will take care of itself.
While I have ended up finding most 12-step slogans helpful, if it were up to me, I might add a few more. Here are three of them:
“Just Don’t Be a Jerk.”
I heard this said years ago at a meeting and it stayed with me. The phrase is applicable in so many ways and in so many situations. I can think about it through working the steps. In step 3, for example, when faced with a difficult circumstance or person, I need to take the next right action and let go of the results. But what is the next right action? To get an idea, I can try to better understand my higher power’s will for me (step 11). Of course, I can’t know exactly what that will is, but I can take a pretty good guess at what it’s not – being a jerk to other people. If I follow that thought, even if things don’t turn out the way I’d hoped, the fact that I behaved in a sober way is something I can feel good about.
“Laugh and Let Laugh.”
People in 12-step meetings share a lot of stories about things that happened to them, both when they were drinking or drugging and after they got sober. At first, I was amazed to hear some of the wildly embarrassing things people were willing to reveal. I was even more amazed to hear entire rooms break out in laughter in response to these stories — the storyteller included. At the heart of reveling in the dark humor gleaned from addiction, I believe, is empathy. I have never related to the words, “There but for the grace of God go I,” more than in 12-step meetings. I could have been the guy snorting coke off someone’s ass when his mother walked in. I could have been the girl who stumbled into her own surprise party having just wet her pants because she couldn’t make it to the bathroom. And I was the girl who packed high heels and push-up bras to go to a locked-down city detox because I thought I might seduce a celebrity there. It’s as if telling these stories — and being willing to laugh at them — takes away their power to shame us. Of course, many stories from our past are not funny. Tragedies and grief are certainly accorded the somberness they deserve in meetings. But if we couldn’t find humor in the situations that ultimately brought us to a place of humility, and if we couldn’t laugh with other people in the world who have been there, too, it would be a lot tougher to keep coming back.
“Never Say Never.”
Before I got sober, I said I would “never” to a lot of things. Quitting drinking was at the top of that list. I assumed that if I didn’t drink, I would have to leave behind an entire litany of activities I enjoyed doing, but believed I only could do under the influence. Listening to music in clubs, taking a beach vacation, visiting Paris, attending parties and celebrating holidays would clearly be out because they mandated drinking. If I absolutely had to quit drinking at some point, I would become a hermit with activities limited to “Law & Order” marathons with my two friends, Ben & Jerry. Then I got sober. In time, I realized that almost all of these things not only could be done without booze, but many were better that way because they didn’t end in the shame, regret and scattershot memories that accompanied them when I drank. I admit that I still don’t love all of them. Parties aren’t my favorite things. But good times, like seeing a sober musician friend perform in an East Village club without feeling like I want to drink, far outweigh the bad. Then there are the things I do now that I couldn’t even imagine doing when I was drinking and drugging. I’ve hiked on glaciers in Patagonia, attended family Thanksgivings without embarrassing myself, made it past the 40th birthday I thought I’d never see and got married. And I write this blog. I will never say never again.