I started the process of recovery from alcoholism last March, and it’s been a wild rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, which is always a good thing.
One thing I’ve noticed in the past eight months (and this is something my roommate called to my attention): drunk people who get sober (from this point on they will be referred to as “ex-drunks”) kind of suck at apologizing. For whatever reason – whether that is a truly arrogant sense of entitlement, or simply that they don’t realize when we’ve done something wrong – it seems to happen less and less.
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When a person is boozing, they can do some truly heinous things to the ones they love. Heaven knows I’m guilty of it. Often we apologize profusely, to the point where the phrase “I’m sorry” loses all meaning and importance. If a person’s apology is followed by doing something stupid or terrible, what point was there in even offering it up? You start to wonder if they’re saying it to get off the hook, and not to prove they care.
In my defence, I still apologize when I screw up. Always have, even when I don’t know what I’m apologizing for. And, even before my roommate brought it to my attention, I had a sinking feeling that ex-drunks just don’t apologize when they’ve done something wrong.
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Why is this, though? Why is it so difficult for people to own up to mistakes? There’s a line that reads “it’s not up to you to decide if you’ve hurt someone.” And often the same people espousing this viewpoint are the same people who won’t apologize for hurtful things they’ve done sober if they drink.
Perhaps it has something to do with one of the Twelve Steps: making amends with those you’ve hurt. For those who don’t know, the Twelve Steps are a guide for active recovery. They’re meant to help you keep up and on top of the process of permanent abstinence from alcohol.
It seems like, for some people, doing this step means never having to make amends during sobriety. I could be wrong here, of course, but some folks capitalize on their sobriety and use it as a way to make excuses for toxic behaviour. “I’m sober,” they think. “Isn’t that good enough? Am I not a better person because of this?”
Obviously, there’s no way to prove this with ultimate certainty. We can’t read minds or know a person’s intentions, at least not yet. But, given all the people I know with substance abuse issues, this may well be the case. They get sober and give up on self-improvement.
Another thing I’ve found that’s pretty common among the sober community is this holier-than-thou attitude toward people who drink or struggle with controlling their intake (but aren’t ready to commit to total sobriety). This idea that if you aren’t working the steps, you’re bound to fail. No hope for the ones who aren’t sold on the AA philosophy. No other programs work, it’s the only one that does – despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary.
It’s this elitist attitude that pushes people like me away. You’re not better than people who fail for whatever reason or don’t like the style of a program. I’m well aware this isn’t the attitude of everyone who quits drinking or using drugs (nor is it necessarily an attitude they’re consciously projecting), but you can’t help but wonder if that’s what’s going on in so many of their minds.
I, for one, hope I never get this way. For one thing, it’s a sort of mindset that scares people away. Took me a while to decide to attend an AA meeting (truth be told, I didn’t want to and it was at my roommate’s urging that I went in the first place), and this mindset was a major reason why.
This isn’t something someone should feel better than anyone else over. If addiction is indeed a disease and not a moral failing, how is looking down on others a sign of being better? Should cancer survivors judge those who haven’t beaten cancer?
Some might take all this to be my own form of judgment. I won’t lie. It is. But with this judgment comes a nugget of hope. The dream that addicts won’t move on to their own idiosyncratic style of toxicity. And the desire for us all to make amends whenever needed, not just when we’ve been awful to friends or former friends.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.