Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A little bit about abstinence and recovery

A little something about abstinence and GREY'S recovery 

The views expressed here are my own and are not necessarily shared by any employer or educational institution I may be affiliated with...but try not to hold that against them.

I had skipped lunch and instead run three miles on a treadmill. 4:30 PM on the way to my night class at the community college I decided to stop for a burger and a beer. I never got the burger. Sometime after 10:00PM, the details are a little fuzzy, local law enforcement decided it was no longer safe to let me "walk" on public the public sidewalks. I was searched for weapons, poured into a pair of handcuffs and placed I the back of the patrol car. After holding back tears and making sure my voice wouldn't crack I managed to ask "am I going to jail?" They told me no, that they would just take me to "detox" where I could sleep it off for the night. But had this scenario played out a few minutes later their answer, and my life afterwards may have changed dramatically. While my memories of that night are foggy at best I do know one thing. I was on my way to my car. 

February 3rd, 2008, sometime close to midnight my Blood Alcohol Level was around .27 or three times the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle and in my case, a pair of shoes. I count February 4th, 2008 as my "sobriety date" and if I keep going I will soon be able to boast 3000 consecutive days of abstinence from alcohol and any other drugs or alcohol. I'm proud of this. I'm a little ashamed to admit how proud I am. For eight years I've picked up my little gold coins and gave a little speech after my friends in the fellowship called out "tell us how you did it!" It feels good. But this whole thing, even at its hardest, was easier for me than it is for most people and those little gold coins are really just for show. Those coins mark consecutive abstinence, but abstinence is not recovery.

Mistaking abstinence for recovery is like mistaking a hammer for the house it was used to build. It's a mistake I've made, it's a mistake built into the policies of most treatment centers, and it can be a dangerous mistake for those who come to us for help. While a hammer is a useful, maybe even a necessary tool for building a house, it doesn't mean you have to start over just because you lost it for awhile.

I also don't believe that recovery and abstinence necessarily happen simultaneously. For instance, my recovery didn't really begin until I had been abstinent for almost a year, but since becoming a chemical dependency counselor it is quite common for recovery begin long before a client's last use. But whenever it begins it's important to remember that sustained abstinence may goal, but it is not the goal. A carpenter's dream isn't just to own a hammer, it is to build with that hammer.

Until next time.


  1. Ken, for a man of liberal education you sure know a lot about carpenters and drunks. I really appreciated this piece of your work. Hope things are well in your world.

    1. Drunks maybe. A lot of guess work on carpenters. Things are well in my world. If you get the chance give my best to the folks at the detox meeting.

  2. Ken, for a man of liberal education you sure know a lot about carpenters and drunks. I really appreciated this piece of your work. Hope things are well in your world.

  3. Hi Ken!
    Thank you for sharing this story!
    I have been thinking about you are writing as I go to meetings, talk with friends, and think about my own recovery.

    1. I can't say just how big a role dumb luck has had in the amount of days I have been abstinent from intoxicants. I can say, the fact they are consecutive days has a lot to do with luck! I've received great wisdom from people who have minimal consecutive days, and I've been a counselor for people who had more time than I before their relapse.

      Like love, recovery still holds a lot of mysteries.


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