How I Stopped Drowning in Drink

Not me, of course. Paul Carr. I know I promised to write about marriage counseling, when enough is enough, but then this came along and I'm such a sucker for variations on the 12 Steps.

Paul Carr stopped drinking, on his own. No 12-Step program, no mindfulness, no CBT.

Wait a minute, actually his program has elements of all three: (1) the addict (Mr. Carr) is working 12 steps;  (2) he's mindful of his experience, his past, reasons he drinks, and how being in the moment affects his decisions; (3) he is working to change his behavior by being cognizant of its effects. A writer, not a psychologist, he's either brilliant, or bumbling around drunk for so long, has finally stumbled upon a few of the very ingredients that make any good sobriety program work.

Carr, a comedian, has a website that boasts about his book, Sober is My New Drunk (costs only $1.99,  less than a drink in most clubs):

The bestselling humor writer and notorious tech blogger describes how social media helped solve his drinking problem—and explains how Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet can be more useful than AA when it comes to remaining clean and sober.

Let's take a peak, a critical look, because even though it is in jest, many a truth, you know, is said in jest. Remember, he's not going to meetings, and that his program runs contrary to what addiction therapists generally recommend.  (We tend to suggest hobnobbing with fellow addicts, all of whom have been driven to ruin and despair, then recovery, the tried and true kind, tantamount to surrender to God, peer counseling, and a mishmash of cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation.)

The steps below are excerpted from How I Stopped Drowning in Drink.  (WSJ) The commentary is mine.

Step One: Ask Yourself, "Do I Really Have a Problem?" 

Mr. Carr believes that if none of your friends have taken you aside to say that you seem to have a problem, you probably don't,  unless your friends are all alcoholics, in which case they won't.

He's right to qualify because alcoholics are like birds, they flock together.

But millions more are dependent in secret, drink alone, and have no friends, no people to gently remind them of their illness.

Mr. Carr is suggesting that everyone who drinks to excess should simply chip away at their denial, take a closer look.

But seriously, who does that?  Those who abuse and depend upon substances wrap cars around trees, wake up with strangers, lose their jobs and live to drink again.  No problem.

Step Two: Quit Publicly

This, of course, I love. If you tell everyone that matters to you that you have a problem with booze, because they care, they will work your program for you, praise your integrity, your mission to take back your life, and encourage you to rock on-- without the ale. Mr. Carr suggests posts on Facebook and Twitter, and personal emails to those who will lend support, not undermine sobriety.

But what about those who wouldn't tweet to save their lives, who eschew social networking altogether, yet pound back the drinks with the best of them? And seriously, is the type of support and caring Mr. Carr seems to have at his fingertips, something the average Joe can rally?  A good alcoholic encourages another to make a le'chaim, not to abstain.  Am I missing something? Cheers.

Step Three: Don't Fear Failure

Of course you'll slip, it is inevitable for most, and Mr. Carr acknowledges this, says don't sweat the failure.  Expect it and allow yourself one foolish fling with booze in the process of getting better.  Then get back on the wagon.

One?  Recidivism with alcohol is the rule, not the exception. Every slip is cause to restart the program, no matter which program.

 Give yourself as many slips as you need. They might become annoying after awhile.  Then you'll join a program that works.

Step Four: Pull Yourself Together

Meaning, as long as you're not drinking, get a little exercise and lose some weight. Although being British, Mr. Carr didn't seem to go for the former. What he discovered, however, is that alcohol is loaded with calories, so he lost a lot of weight getting sober and there's nothing more awesome than that.

Step Five: Stop Lying

Mr. Carr's love affair with the truth started with his public confession, telling the world that he had a serious problem with alcohol. Sober, he's finding that people really enjoy a straight man, an honest, reliable person.  It's an ah, ha moment for most alcoholics in recovery, finding they don't have to lie anymore.

Those who don't drink, who never did, find liars emotionally draining, wish they didn't have to associate with them.  They confuse us so. Wouldn't it be great if those noses really could grew when they tell a whopper?

Honesty is a huge piece of the 12-Step program.  Nice that it's making a come back in the general public, that place people pay attention, the entertainment industry.

Step Six: Stop Apologizing

Mr. Carr suggests that in the original 12 Step Program, AA, that as soon as people get sober, they run up to everyone they have hurt or disappointed and begin to apologize for the times their past behavior, forgetting responsibilities, arguing, lying, making a public nuisance of themselves. It is ridiculous to apologize because people assume the alcoholic will do it all again, that sobriety won't take. So what if today you're sorry. Tomorrow you'll be drunk.

The apology step of AA is not a first, second or third step.  It's somewhere in the middle, well into the program.  Nobody does it without thinking, and it's never easy doing it right.

Make no mistake about it.  Alcoholics do need to apologize.  Ask their partners, their parents, ask their kids for confirmation of that.  Sobriety might suffice for some, but for others, nothing is more convincing than real remorse.  Show me the tears.

Step Seven: Rediscover Dating

Alcoholics tend to have trouble dating without liquid courage. So Mr. Carr suggests, Do it anyway.  Be honest about your sobriety because people find it sexy..

Because sex and drink run together, some professionals advise the newly sober to wait a year to date. Dating is likely to trigger drinking, the two used to go hand in hand.  Who needs the trigger?

The take on this blog is that the reason dating is so hard, can be so emotional, is that it is so likely to conclude in rejection.  Most of us never get used to that.  The attachment part is tricky, too.  Sex messes with us because it has to be perfect, and it is so mandatory in our day and age.

Does it really have to be one without the other?  Is abstinence such a crazy idea in the first year of sobriety? Apparently.

Step Eight: Replace our Ridiculous Drunken Stories With Ridiculous Sober Ones

Mr. Carr suggests that the sober wannabe take some time to plan a sober adventure.  This way he'll have what to talk about (a Yiddishism).  Friends want to hear about his past craziness.

Actually, they don't.  Those who don't have a problem with alcohol have been doing this their whole lives, living without the drama, planning fairly sober adventures. And they aren't bragging about their drama free adventures.  They will, however, show you the slides, email you videos upon request.

Change this step to: Shut Up ad Listen to Other People's Stories.

Step Nine: Spend Money On Stuff You Won't Lose

Carr is referring to buying something to remind you that you're sober, like an expensive pen, in his case. It is good, being sober, better and cheaper than being a drunk, but nice to be reminded by something concrete.

AA hands out actual tokens, rewards, coins, positive reinforcement for staying sober for long stretches at a time. I love the idea that someone gives it to you and others clap and congratulate. That intimacy thing.

Step Ten: Take a Difficult Test

An HIV test, one that many are terribly afraid they'll fail.
That sex-booze association is difficult, almost impossible for an addict to get around, can't escape it.  Date? sure.  It can't possibly hurt to get back in the saddle.

Step Eleven: Work Nicer, Not Just Harder and Smarter

Whatever that means. Guess you have to read the book.

Step Twelve: Forget Everything You Just Read

Because it works for him, but likely won't work for you.

It's funny, and honestly, the real active ingredient in Mr. Carr's twelve steps is that he uses his people, his community to keep him on track. Once everyone expects us to be straight, how can we disappoint?  How do we face others drunk at a wedding, having made such a big stink on Facebook and Twitter about our sobriety?  And what about that mass email to the entire spam folder?

Living in a glass house, nothing to hide. We're in awe of you, Mr. Carr.

A pity you don't go to meetings.  They would love you.  And you, them.  Should you slip once more, think of  AA or therapy, or both, as an adventure.



From failure is where we start to learn.
Nick Mitchell said…
the 12 steps if great, if your in need of other online recovery resources check out Alcoholism Aftercare Programs.
John Harper said…
thanks for sharing. just wonderful information. sending all the best.