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.