Mr. Atwater: I’ve tried to get sober for many years. I really want to be able to sustain sobriety, but the more times I try and fail, the less hope I have of ever making it. I’m sick of promising my wife, my parents and frankly myself I’ll never drink again. Nobody believes me at this point, and I don’t believe me, either.
It seems like I can get a few months, and twice in the past 10 years I’ve had six months clean. I always start to think I’ve got it figured out “this time,” and it always ends badly. I’m not unemployed or living under a bridge by a long shot, so I always question whether I’ve hit bottom.
My wife wants assurances, and despite being clean now for three months and doing much better this time, I have none to give her. What can I tell her?
Dear Reader: Here’s the deal as I understand it. You get a daily reprieve based on your spiritual condition. You don’t get assurances nor do you get to make promises. Recovery starts with the admission of powerlessness and unmanageability. Simply put, under your own steam, you’re doomed to repeat the cycle.
It’s very difficult for people who haven’t experienced powerlessness or who are unaware of their own to understand this admission is where strength begins. So give your wife a break; she’s been through a lot and will be slow to trust.
The only promise I would advise you make is that you will continue to do what is required of you to stay sober: remain teachable, open, honest and willing. If you do these things, continue to work through your program with guidance and avoid fear-driven or prideful actions, your behavior will begin to look radically different, and you will be so busy getting well that you will have little time to stay sick.
Be patient with yourself and be patient with your family.
Tell your wife you understand her lack of trust and that you are learning your own limitations in this area. Tell her it really isn’t trust you’re headed for but faith, and not the same old faith in yourself or the bottle, but something bigger. Tell her eventually she’ll experience your faith and you hope she can find some of her own.
In the meantime, remember miracles happen every day, and watch closely for when they start to happen in your family.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.