I have done things while sober that are almost as cringe-worthy as the stuff I did while drunk. Most of these episodes of being a jerk happened due to my naivety or ignorance, but they could still be a source of annoyance for other people. Here are my five tips for how you can stop drinking alcohol without becoming a dick.
1. Don’t Offer Unsolicited Counselling to Your Friends and Family
My family and friends put up with a lot of shit because of me. I was a mess and I blundered from one disaster to another. These people put up with my character flaws, when they could easily have just cut me out of their lives, so it must have come as a shock to them when I’d get sober and start lecturing them on how to they should be living their life.
The process of getting sober does lead to amazing insights, but it is probably best not to be overly enthusiastic about lecturing family and friends. If people see that we are getting our act together, there is nothing to stop them from asking us for advice.
2. Don’t Use Your Sobriety as a Bargaining Chip
I remember when I was in my early twenties, I tried to convince a girlfriend that she was putting my sobriety at risk by arguing with me. I was a jerk, but I’ve heard people who are twenty years sober making similar statements – “she shouldn’t speak to me like that, doesn’t she realize I’m a recovering alcoholic?” I got sober for me, so using my sobriety as a bargaining chip is about as logical as threatening to cut of my own arm.
3. Don’t Expect Special Treatment in Life
Life is hard for everyone. We all have to deal with stress and uncertainty, and we are all going to have times when it feels like the whole universe is against us. The fact that we’ve stopped destroying ourselves with alcohol doesn’t mean we are entitled to a free pass in life. It can also be a mistake to treat the normal ups and downs on life as a special problems only faced by recovering alcoholics – it is the human condition.
4. Don’t Blame All Your Problems on Alcoholism
During my years of addiction, alcohol acted as a handy scapegoat for all of my bad actions – “I’m sorry I treated you so badly, but I’m an alcoholic”. It meant no matter how rotten my behavior, I was always the victim. Even after I got sober, I continued to try to use my ‘alcoholism’ as an excuse for doing wrong. I could only start to improve my life when I took responsibility for my own actions rather than blaming it on my ‘disease’.
5. Don’t Claim to Have Found the Right Way to Quit Addiction
Back the nineties, I gave up alcohol with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to a meeting every day for two years, and I became a bit of a Big Book fanatic. At the time, I was staying in a dry house, and I remember telling the other clients that they were certain to relapse unless they started going to AA meetings. I thought I was being helpful, but I can see now that I was just being a dick – many of these guys remained sober long after I relapsed.
I think it is understandable that we develop a special affection for the recovery solution that works for us, but there is no approach that works for everyone. I think if we want to help people struggling with addiction it should be about what they need and not about what we want to promote.