I get this feedback all the time. Sometimes it is polite but dismissive, like this: “I have trouble paying attention to the opinion of someone with just four years of sobriety. Talk to me in a decade or so.” Other times, it is downright mean: “Shut up and get to a meeting, asshole!” Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, but some people really should consider a little less caffeine or maybe doing something about the constipation that’s putting built up pressure on the old kindness gland.
I’m sober. I’m fully and completely sober. I feel like I need the coroner of the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz to declare about my active alcoholism, “She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.” (Now you’ve got that voice and that song stuck in your head, don’t you. Go ahead and Google that scene and watch it on YouTube – I did.)
The point is, one of the things most broken about our alcoholism recovery system that allows over 15 million alcoholics to fester in misery in this country (more than suffer from cancer) is that we look at time in sobriety like some kind of ranking system or certificate of intelligence. If it takes a person seven years to get an undergraduate bachelor’s degree, we don’t think of them as extra smart for the extended time they spent in college. Life-long racists commit a lot of years to demoralizing and denigrating people of color, and years of ignorance doesn’t make their message any less despicable. I’m sure glad no one told Bill Gates to shut up about his computer ramblings and come back when he had some gray in his whiskers.
I’m not comparing myself to Bill Gates. I’m not nearly as socially awkward as he is. What I’m saying is that I’m sober, and I’m passionate about building a better mousetrap. Just like Bill didn’t think we had solved all of earth’s problems with the invention of the calculator, I don’t think we should accept the status quo that churns out alcoholics with such efficiency.
I’m sober. I refuse to wait to talk about my ideas until I’m soberer.
Our passion for an experience, positive or negative, is never stronger than when it first takes place. Emotions drive action if we let them. I could have kept my mouth shut, worked on my recovery, and waited until I couldn’t even remember why I drank to try to lead a revolution. I’m not sure serene, peaceful contentment-mongers make for effective revolutionaries. Look, I’m 47 right now, and I’m trying to get the next generation to listen to me about the dangers of drinking a poison. I’m not exactly cool. Do you think that when I’m 57, and somehow soberer, I’m going to be coolerer than I am right now? Maybe if I use words like teetotaler and talk about falling off the wagon the millennials will be hip to my jive (once someone explains to them what hip and jive mean).
Do you think the MADD mothers waited until their anger about losing their children to drunk drivers simmered down before they led that revolution? No. They pushed for reform driven by their pain and hatred. That passion is what’s missing in the recovery community today. We have grown numb to the epidemic that kills over three million people a year worldwide. If you come into the rooms, there is help for you. But the rooms will never come to you teaching you about the lurking danger that is eager to swallow you up. Do you think people stopped smoking cigarettes because Philip Morris told them about the cancer? No. Activists educated. The Tobacco Anonymous cult didn’t wait for people to bring their lung x-rays into church basements.
In recent years and decades, celebrities have grown far more vocal about sobriety. Let’s face it – star power sells. Being a celebrity has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence and enlightenment. Still, we glom onto things promoted by people we admire. It’s human nature. I don’t think Matthew McConaughey is really an expert on mid range luxury cars, but Lincoln sure pays him like he is. Likewise, I don’t think Brad Pitt’s sobriety should be more valuable than my nephew’s. But somehow, it is.
I’ve learned a lot about the stories of Bradley Cooper, Robert Downey Jr., Elton John, Rob Lowe and Jason Bateman. Their careers have not just survived their sobriety. They have all reached new heights and accomplished things in sobriety they never could have until they left the alcohol behind. And they all talk openly about their struggles. They are inspiring. Yet, we still have 15 million American alcoholics and climbing.
Talking about struggles is not enough, no matter how famous you are. We need to change the conversation. Maybe we shouldn’t glamorize a brain-warping lifestyle to begin with.
Part of the Alcoholics Anonymous code is that celebrities are discouraged from specifically mentioning AA in their recovery in case they relapse. The fear is that the AA reputation will be smudged should a well-known person tout AA, and then relapse. I’ve got news for Alcoholics Anonymous. Their reputation isn’t exactly smudge-free to begin with.
The point is, we need celebrities to talk more, not less, about their recoveries. When they relapse, they just confirm their humanhood. Why is relapse considered a smudge? The road to success is paved with failure, right? Tom Brady was the backup quarterback on his high school freshman football team when they went 0-8. He wasn’t even good enough to start among a bunch of losers. Now, he’s widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time. If only he’d have let failure crush him, the Broncos might have a couple of more trips to the Super Bowl. When he asked his coaches what he could do to get better, if only they had told him to shut up and wait ten years to start making an effort.
If you are new in sobriety, and you started reading my ramblings because you resonated with my questions about how drinking was impacting your life, you might be wondering how the bigger picture about which I preach will help you get sober right here and right now. I’ll tell you how. The bigger picture is huge for you.
We need more talk about the freedom and enlightenment of sobriety – with or without alcoholism as a motivating factor. We need living without a brain toxin to be as admirable as living without the leading cause of lung cancer. We need people to pity drinkers for being ignorant just like we pity cigarette smokers. We need celebrities to talk more, not less. I don’t want to hear stories of surviving struggle. I want to hear about Robert Downey Jr. becoming a mega-star once he stopped depending on externals to medicate his internals. I want to hear more from Bradley Cooper about how he couldn’t possibly do his job without the magic of a functional head and clear focus. Let’s stop fixating on the struggles Elton John overcame and admire the longevity of a man who is still making music because his sober life is more enjoyable and productive than the party ever was.
Let’s stop glorifying alcohol, and start glorifying the people who are smart enough not to drink.
If you are new at this, don’t look at your diagnosis of alcoholism as a life sentence. Look at it as a full pardon from the incarceration of intoxication. Don’t fight for your sobriety because you have to. Fight for your sobriety because you get to live in independent glory.
The old message is wrong. But we’ll get there. Alcohol’s ingrained stigma is a little more entrenched than that of big tobacco. So we’ll just have to dig a lot deeper.
If you’ve got 30 years of sobriety, and you still share your message in the rooms of AA, I applaud you for helping people, one person and one day at a time. Keep going. You are making a difference. But don’t get in my way, because I’m not as satisfied with the status quo as you seem to be. I won’t shut up and get to a meeting. I’m going to keep shouting until you really hear and understand what I’m saying.
The next generation can’t wait to find the rooms and ask for help. They should know the truth before they waste decades wasted. This isn’t about tradition. It’s about a soberevolution.
If you think I should shut up, I’ve got nothing for you. But if you’re even a little bit hip to this jive, I hope you’ll preorder our book, soberevolution, that will be released next week. Join our book launch team today, and we’ll send you an advance copy so you can start reading right now. Click the button below for details.
If you’d like to join the soberevolution by becoming part of our SHOUT Sobriety program for people in early recovery, click the button below. There is lots of information about our scientific approach to this neurological disease, and we hope you’ll enroll if you are comfortable with our ideas.