Dr. Cali Estes - The Addiction Coach ®

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I Do Not Take Credit or Blame for Someone Else’s Sobriety. I am only the Messenger.



I learned early on in recovery, after I started working with newcomers, that I can’t keep anyone sober.  I can’t make anyone drink and I can’t keep anyone sober.

All I can do is offer the suggestions that I was given.

It was frustrating at first, when people would go back out and drink or use again and I felt inadequate.  I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I met Lisa at a Starbucks on an early Tuesday morning.

“This is so weird,” she said, as soon as she walked in the door, still ten or fifteen feet from me.

She was a petite, little thing, no taller than five feet, and because it was chilly and she was shivering or maybe because she was trying to disappear inside her leather jacket, she seemed even smaller.

I smiled and said hello.

“This is so weird,” she repeated, almost whispering this time.

“Let’s go grab a seat over there in the corner, so we can have some privacy.” I said.

As soon as we sat down I looked at her and asked her the same thing I was asked after my last drink, my head still reeling from a vicious tequila hangover.

“Are you done?”

She hesitated and had yet to make eye contact.

Her chin quivered and I could see her fighting the tears.

She lost the battle.

“Yeah,” she gasped.  “I have to be.”

“Okay,” I said, “Tell me what’s going on.”

She didn’t answer and I knew she needed to compose herself so I got up to get my tea and some napkins.

I should’ve been ready.  Tissues were always a given.  I forgot to grab my stash from the center console in my car.

I put a sizable stack of napkins in front of Lisa and said, “Just in case.”

I asked her again what was going on and if there was a catalyst that had started her downward spiral.  She told me no, nothing that she could think of.  I suggested a sudden change, something dramatic, a break-up or death.

She said she had just gotten out of a relationship with an abusive man.

Normally that was all it took.  Usually once the flood gates were open, all I had to do was sit back and listen.

Lisa was different.

She was nervous and fidgety and made very little eye contact, but they all did that.  Christ, I did that for the first year in sobriety.

But Lisa was quiet, extremely so.

I sat silent for a minute.

It probably seemed like an eternity to her, but I’ve grown accustom to silences.  I didn’t need (or like) to fill them with idle chitchat anymore.  I used to be that way, severely self-conscious of filling the void with anything other than silence.  I’d talk about the Red Sox (and I’m not a sports guy) or the weather (is there anything more boring?).  If I couldn’t think of something to talk about, I’d fiddle with my lips or scratch an itch that wasn’t there.  The worst was when I whistled, like a little boy lost in the dark who needs to hear the sound of his own voice to keep the monsters at bay and the shadows a little less deep and dark.

Another minute passed.

When she remained silent, I told her about my experience with alcohol.  She listened intently and I paused every few minutes to let her talk, but still nothing.

I offered her a few suggestions that had worked for me and she warmed up a little, glancing in my direction once in a while.

I told her that she could always feel safe talking to another alcoholic and that she never had to feel alone again.

I think that helped.

When she finally opened up I expected her to say she was embarrassed because of something she had done or because she had gotten arrested for driving drunk.

But she told me that it was so hard to talk about because, by talking to me, now it was out in the open.  Now it was real.  And if it was real, then she’d have to do something about it.

I hid my drinking (and hid it extremely well) for over twenty years.

I knew I had a problem for the last five of those years but was horrified to admit it for the same reason as Lisa.  I didn’t want to admit that it was real, because then I might have to stop.  And that scared the hell out of me.

So just like that, two alcoholics who had never met and had only spoken during a few simple texts, could suddenly identify with one another.

Three days later I met Lisa near her house and we went to a meeting together.  I wanted her to get her 24-hour chip and to hopefully meet a few women.

When chip time came I suggested she get hers.

As we watched people claim theirs, I could see how nervous she was.

I didn’t push.  I didn’t ask a second time, and when she stood and walked to the podium, briefly turning around and mouthing to me that she wasn’t going to hug the guy up there, I remembered exactly what she was going through.

I’m so done with this.  I never want to drink again.  I don’t know how I’m going to get through the rest of my life but I know I’m not going to drink today.  Maybe this little silver chip in my hand will be enough to make it until midnight.

Thankfully, gratefully, it was.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for Lisa

She texted me a few days later and told me she was drinking again.

Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, sponsored over three hundred men in his first three years of sobriety.

Every single one of them went back out and drank.

Just when Bill was about to give up and drink again himself, his wife reminded him that he had stayed sober during that time.  He had stayed sober by helping other alcoholics.

When I heard that story, I held on to it.  I held on to it and knew that all I could do to help another alcoholic was offer them the suggestions I had been given.

I had to accept what happened beyond that was completely out of my control.  I couldn’t take credit for someone remaining sober and I couldn’t be to blame if they drank again.


Jay Keefe,  Staff Writer at The Addictions Academy

National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

Published Author of “And Drink I Did”

Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1MBF5fo

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