“You’re awful proud of yourself,” he scoffed. “I’ll save a seat for you at a meeting for when you relapse.” I’d just met this AA lifer at a church service that catered to people suffering from addiction. He had asked me how I got sober. When I told him Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t part of my solution, I guess he didn’t like my answer.
I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve heard that pride leads to relapse. From the best I can surmise, the idea that “pride is dangerous” is a foundational tenet of twelve-step philosophy. There’s just one problem.
The concept is total bullshit.
I am extremely proud of my sobriety. I’m proud of the family my wife and I are raising. I am proud of the career we have pieced together for ourselves. I’m proud of our one-story bungalow that we’ll have paid off in a few more years. I’m proud of my sense of humor and that I’ve learned to be a damn good listener (and not just an incessantly bloviating talker). I am proud that I yanked my life out of a death spiral before it was too late, and I’m proud of all I’ve learned about growing into emotional, spiritual and relational maturity.
And I’m ridiculously proud to be among the enlightened minority who understands that alcohol is not meant for human consumption, and it causes a myriad of issues no matter how little or how much we rely on it. I’m proud of my work to turn that minority into a majority.
My AA friend didn’t think I was humble and repentant enough. He’s right. I no longer spend any time feeling ashamed of my alcoholic behavior and apologizing for the sins of my past. There is absolutely nothing more important to my sobriety and my mental health than a significant dose of self-esteem.
Shame can’t coexist with self-esteem, so I can’t afford to be ashamed. Shame threatens my sobriety. I am Sober and Unashamed because the two declarations of my status are inextricably linked.
I’m bursting with pride about it.
I get that to which my old AA friend is alluding. If I think I am stronger than alcohol, I’ll decide I can control it, and I’ll start drinking again. But that thinking is insulting to my intelligence. I understand the brain disease of addiction. I know I can’t drink moderately. More importantly, I am smart enough to know I don’t want to drink moderately. Alcohol is poison, and I don’t want to reintroduce it into my life. It’s like thinking I could stand in the street and stop a speeding bus from pulverizing me by using the force. I know I can’t do that. But more importantly, I know I don’t want that power anyway. I’ll just stay happily on the sidewalk with the other smart people.
I can’t stop a bus, and I can’t control alcohol, and I’m damned proud to admit it.
Saturday night, my wife, my kids and I enjoyed our last campfire at the end of a week of camping. I used the peace and serenity of the flickering flames to serve as the backdrop for a conversation that had been building in me. I felt my kids were picking on each other too much. A week of tent camping will bring anyone’s raw nerves to the surface, so I understood the bickering. But I want my family to be a source of strength, comfort and security for each of us. I want us to build each other up, not tear each other down. Sure, some good-natured teasing is healthy, fun and funny. After a week in the woods in unavoidably close contact, the teasing was all that was happening, and I was concerned.
So we talked about it. Hurt feelings were revealed, frustrations were processed and love was overwhelmingly expressed. If I had plucked it from my chest and tossed it into the campfire, my heart could not possibly have been warmed like it was by that family conversation. I am tearing up a bit just writing about it.
That conversation was made possible by my pride in my sobriety.
Drinking around a campfire used to be one of my very favorite things. If I was still drinking, I would not have had the mental capacity to engage my family in that conversation. Even had I stumbled into yelling about the subject, they would not have trusted me enough to be honest and vulnerable.
Even in sobriety, had I been stuck in shame and remorse, I would never have opened up that conversation. I would not have thought myself worthy of leading by example. If I still held onto blaming myself for my drinking, my inner dialogue would probably have been something like this: I fucked up my life, so who am I to tell my kids how to navigate theirs. Besides, their bickering is probably my fault, anyway. With a drunk for a father, how would you expect the kids to behave? Or something like that.
But neither of those scenarios are what happened. I didn’t drink around the campfire on Saturday night. I didn’t wallow in shame from past transgressions. I boldly initiated a conversation that required all of my listening skills and humility about my role in all the family teasing. Had I not been so completely proud of myself and the man I have grown into, in that moment, one of the instant-classic life experiences that I’ll forever cherish would never have happened.
Pride is a super power.
No matter what my old AA friend and his indoctrinated brethren think, pride and self-esteem are the epicenter of my permanent sobriety, and my bravery to take on the emotional challenges of life.
I’m a hard-working, actively listening husband.
I’m an encouraging and loving father.
I’m awfully proud of that.
If you’d like to explore how the power of pride can strengthen your quest for sobriety from high-functioning alcoholism, we hope you’ll consider joining us in SHOUT Sobriety. Click the button below for more details.