Happy, Joyous, and Free

Sobriety isn’t just about not getting drunk and high. It’s also not about sitting in church basements. Sobriety is about enjoying life.

READ MORE: Happy, Joyous, and Free

I wanted to start a blog about recovery for two reasons: 1) I love being sober and fully believe that AA saved my life and at the same time find a lot that I disagree with among many of its members and much of the culture of AA. I wanted to engage with AA from a position of love combined with a critical consciousness. 2) I’m currently unemployed and living halfway across the world from my home and I need something to do.

If you read my story you know that I had for some time been planning on moving to Indonesia for 8 months to accompany my wife, who is doing research in Java. That happened, and I’ve been here for a month now. I’m having an amazing experience so far and I absolutely love it here. I hasten to reiterate that we are in Java, not Bali, and I am not writing this from a beach resort while sipping from a coconut (although we did go to a beach earlier in the week, which was astonishingly beautiful and I did in fact drink coconut water out of a fresh coconut, which was delicious). We just moved from Yogyakarta to Solo, both of which are crowded, loud, big cities in a developing country. The point being that the experience is not awesome because I’m being pampered in luxury in a tropical paradise; it’s awesome because I’m cruising around with my wife on a motor bike, eating food I’ve never eaten before, hearing music I’ve never heard before, surrounded by people speaking languages I don’t know (yet), learning and trying not to violate unfamiliar customs. My mind is opening up in new ways. Life is asserting itself in all its inexhaustible richness, its irreducible wildness. And for me, this experience is entirely, absolutely, 100% conditioned on being sober. None of this could have happened for me without it.

That is how I experience sobriety, how I think about and want to think about sobriety.

There aren’t any AA meetings in Yogya and I haven’t been to an in-person meeting in over a month. I have no desire to drink. I don’t feel, you know, all crazy, and am so far defying the stereotypes recovering alcoholics make for themselves and each other about how we supposedly get when we haven’t been to a meeting in a while. I have listened to several online speaker recordings and attended one random Zoom meeting of people I’d never met before. I have also engaged with some other sobriety related stuff online that I found mostly to be pretty weird and which I plan on writing about another time. To be honest, the zoom meeting was just okay and I’ve found myself disagreeing with a lot of what I heard from the speakers I listened to. On the other hand, I really miss seeing my friends at meetings and the conversations I have with them. I am reminded of what a gift it is to have the kind of intimate friendships that invariably form when one is active in AA. Such friendships are rare, especially for adult men. The other thing I’m pretty sure I would be feeling crazy without is a regular practice of prayer and meditation.

I wanted to cite the section of the Big Book that refers to recovering alcoholics as “happy, joyous, and free” and was disappointed to be reminded that the phrase is part of a passage about what God wants for us (ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, p. 133). I’m not a big fan of talk about what God wants, for me, for us, or in general. That’s just not how I think about God. But I am quite certain that a life that is happy, joyous, and free is both desirable and as entirely possible in recovery as it is unimaginable in the depths of active addiction.

The other day I considered a hypothetical step 0, something to the effect of ‘had an inkling that a happy life without alcohol or drugs might be possible’, the idea being that it is psychologically very difficult for an addict to admit they are powerless over the substance they are addicted to without first believing that they might be able to live a not-miserable life without it. We often hear people in AA share about the perils of “romanticizing the drink”, of fantasizing about the glamour and fun of drinking and leaving out all the pain and suffering that it ultimately led to. I myself have so thoroughly resisted such romanticization that I rarely acknowledge ever enjoying alcohol at all. Which is of course not true. Every addict at one time thought the world of their drug of choice. And then their world became very small. The promise of sobriety is that our worlds can become big again – vast, strange, exotic, thrilling.

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