The other day, my husband, stepson and I were in the car, coming home from shopping, and we were having a discussion about why we each behave the way we do. I’m not sure how exactly we got on this subject, but that often seems to be the way that important conversations start. My stepson, whose intellect is far beyond his eleven years (even though his behavior and emotional age are happily in line with his chronological age), spoke of a situation in which he acted in a less than favorable way. He said, “I know myself, I knew what was going to happen.” He went on to say that knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t always stop his bad behavior.
Isn’t that the truth? An eleven year old just summed up my whole drinking career in one sentence! Knowing what was going to happen when I drank, no matter bad, didn’t stop me from doing it. I would like to say that when I drank I was in denial about the negative consequences, that I really thought that each time I took that first sip of booze that, “this time will be different.” But I wasn’t in denial, I was in my right mind enough to know exactly what would happen – I would drink, I would do and say bad things, I might punch someone, wreck a car, or get arrested. And yet, I drank.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says,
“The actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.”
Big Book, Fourth Edition; Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 39
So, clearly Bill and Bob knew that self-knowledge wasn’t enough to help the alcoholic get and stay sober, and I agree. It wasn’t for me. For me it took treatment (twice!), completely removing myself from my regular life, removing triggers and access to booze, to get sober. And then it took a lot of work – the steps with a sponsor, learning honesty, acceptance, and forgiveness – to stay sober. You know what else it took? Yep, you guessed it. Self-knowledge.
Isn’t it funny how that works? The very thing that wasn’t ever going to get me sober is the very thing that I need to stay sober. I had to delve into those parts of me that I didn’t want to know and get acquainted. I had to look closely and carefully at my motivations for just about everything. I had to learn what made me tick. At times, it felt like I was meeting someone new, a stranger who I needed to get to know. Sometimes it was scary and sometimes it was comforting, but getting to know myself was the key to being able to change those parts of me that needed changing to be able to live a life that is happy, joyous, and free.
These days, I feel like I know myself pretty well. The things that I say and do and feel no longer surprise me. That isn’t to say that I don’t screw things up from time to time, I do. The difference now is that I am usually able to understand why I screwed up, and I am quick to try to fix it, and learn from it, so that when a similar situation comes up again – and it will – that I have enough awareness to react differently.
So no, self-knowledge may not be enough to get an alcoholic sober, but it is just what I need to stay sober and be happy.
I’m not sure that my stepson realized how insightful he was about knowing himself, but not really knowing what to do with the knowledge. What I do know, is that I will be there to help him figure it out along the way. And I can do that because I know me.
3 thoughts on “Know Thyself – But Is It Enough?”
Great post. It’s funny how something your stepson probably thought was a simple statement is a concept that many people don’t truly GET unless they learn it the hard way. For me, I think I have a good grasp on why I behave the way I do, but I am struggling with the subsequent self-compassion. I do the “ahh, that’s your passive aggressive character defect at play,” and instead of saying “you must be doing this because you don’t know how else to communicate you are in pain” I’ll often say “stop acting like that!!!” and then snap defensively. It’s all good–one day at a time:)
Very true! I never thought of it that way. Self-realization and knowledge is very handy for me in my recovery – I get down to what I am doing and more importantly – WHY I am doing it. And I get to at least examine myself and make choices. Now, I don’t always do the *right* thing – ego and pride are crusty and persistent buggers – but at least I can learn from it and try to not repeat it.
And yes, self-knowledge can also be dangerous! Especially when you’re an arrogant drunk like myself, back in the day! I have met too many people who understood everything about their alcoholism but still drank. They were intellectualizing it. It was the great leap of faith into faith that brought me change.
Thanks for this – loved it. I have missed your writing!
For me the big difference was acknowledging my self knowledge but ignoring my stupid self reliance when I needed to and still need to