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Simple concepts, actions outline path to sobriety

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Getting sober isn’t really complex. It has more, in the beginning, to do with readiness and willingness than with anything deeply psychological.

Many people ask how long it will take for someone to be ready and willing. My answer is usually, “can you predict an avalanche?” Avalanches occur because of weather conditions and internal pressure over time, none of which is controllable. You can increase the pressure from the outside, which might have a little impact, but the rest is geological.

The simple concept here is “Are you ready to take some simple instructions and follow them, leaving out the “yeah, buts?”

Another very simple concept is the need to change priorities. If a job, money in the bank, friendships or even marriages are more important than getting sober, then sobriety will be shaky at best because it will be based on external events. The thinking will always be, “I can’t do that now because I have to blah, blah blah.” Something else is always more important than activities required to stay sober. Then when the crash comes, it’s always because of the externals, such as a big fight, getting disciplined at work, back pain, etc. The concept is: Sobriety First. Don’t drink even if your butt’s on fire.”

The third of the concepts I have heard is, “Always watch their feet,” (and not their mouths). Sobriety requires actions more than words or ideas. I have been told that in the 12-step tradition, there are very clearly orderly steps to be taken, people called sponsors to help someone with those steps, and meetings that support the implementation of those steps into daily living. If someone is busy getting well, they are usually too busy to stay sick. The to-do list should look something like this: call AA, go to meetings, get sponsor, work steps.

A lot of the complex stuff will solve itself over time in sobriety, and what’s left is the material upon which you can work with your program, your sponsor and if necessary a professional. I guess that’s the last simple principle: Put sobriety first and do the rest patiently, one thing at a time.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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