M(3), 9/29: How Big of a Deal is an Alcoholic Slip?


Polarized would be the word I choose to describe this morning’s meeting, and never before have I had a chance to do that!

This being the fifth Monday in the month of September, I did a little research and came up with an unusual article to use as this morning’s reading selection.  Originally published in 1947 in the AA magazine Grapevine, “Slips” was written by Dr. William D. Silkworth, an American medical doctor who was tremendously influential in the founding of the 12-step program Alcoholics Anonymous.  Silkworth’s position in this article is that a relapse, or “slip,” to an alcoholic can be compared to the cardiac patient who, after time spent abiding by the rules of his condition, slowly but surely reverts to his old lifestyle that caused the heart attack.  In other words:  alcoholics are human beings first and foremost, and the poor decisions made by an alcoholic are often the result of flawed humanity, rather than by the condition of alcoholism.

I picked this reading because of its provocative nature.  The 12-step program to which I am accustomed tends to teach a bit opposite this idea, and yet one of the players instrumental in the development of this very program is stating otherwise.  Parts of the reading that spoke to me personally is the idea that alcoholism is a disease, but one that does not define me as a person:

Both in professional and lay circles there is a tendency to label everything than an alcoholic may do as “alcoholic behavior.”  The truth is it is simply human nature.  It is very wrong to consider many of the personality traits observed in liquor addicts as peculiar to the alcoholic.  Emotional and mental quirks are classified as symptoms of alcoholism merely because alcoholics have them, yet these same quirks can be found among non-alcoholic also.  Actually they are symptoms of mankind, ORDINARY PEOPLE.

-Silkworth, “Slips,” Grapevine magazine

This part made sense to me, especially as I mature a bit in sobriety.  As I observe the world and the people around me with the clarity of sober eyes, I realize that my character defects are common to those around me, whether they are alcoholic or not.  Remembering that to err is human calms the perfectionistic thinker who dwells within.

And yet, I had the vague sense that a critical something was off in this article, but, truth be told, I just figured my comrades on Monday morning would help me figure it out, so I put it aside until today.  And my friends did not disappoint!

The first several to share their opinion on the article viewed it favorably.  They liked the idea that we are human first, alcoholic second.  And each of the people who enjoyed the article emphasized the importance of remembering that relapses, or slips, happen long before the first drink or drug in ingested.  A relapse starts the moment we begin sliding back into old ways of thinking and acting.  If we continue down that path, the return to alcohol is inevitable.

The next group of people to share had a different opinion.  And while they used words like feeling “ambiguous” and “ambivalent” about the article, it was clear to me that they in fact disagreed with Silkworth’s opinion.  As one attendee put it, Silkworth is a doctor and therefore looks at it from a physical point of view.  Alcoholism, however, is a three-pronged disease:  physical, mental, spiritual.  When you consider the totality of the condition, alcoholism, and the effects of a relapse, are quite different that a cardiac patient who reverts to his previous unhealthy lifestyle.

The next attendee to share had even stronger feelings about it:  the article completely disregards the foundation of the AA program; namely, the need to discover and rely upon a power greater than oneself.  In no way does this correlate to a cardiac patient.  In addition, there is simply no comparison to the repercussions of an alcoholic “slip” and that of a cardiac one.  A cardiac patient can smoke one cigarette with minimal consequences, but there is no telling what may happen when a recovered alcoholic takes that first drink.

There was also an animated discussion on the use of the word “slip” when describing an alcoholic relapse.  On this point everyone seemed to agree:  a slip implies something accidental, whereas a person with sober time who chooses to drink does so with absolute premeditation.

There was a lively debate back and forth about some of the semantics of the article, but everyone seemed to enjoy reading it and, more importantly, considering his or her own feeling on the subject.  Another general consensus reached is that a healthy fear of picking up a drink is not a bad thing, in the same way that a healthy fear of getting burned by a stove, or being hit by erratic drivers is not a bad thing; both keep us safe.

I encourage readers who are in recovery to take a second a read Silkworth’s article… I would love to know your thoughts on the subject!

Today’s Miracle:

Participating in such a lively discussion, and taking that energy with me as I continue my day!

Posted on September 29, 2014, in Monday Meeting Miracles, Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Oh Josie, I wish it worked out in distance and schedule that I could attend your group. I would so go and look forward to it, too. Love this article! It always bothered me when others categorized what I view as normal human traits as something unique to alcoholics. I like the comparisons between tuberculosis and heart patients and recovering alcoholics in this instance. If taken literally, then yes, a drink is more harmful to us than a cigarette to them, but I see the comparisons as more figurative. The most crucial thing I took from this article is how important it is to remember and truly believe that nothing has changed about how our body, mind and spirit react to alcohol, no matter how good and strong we feel. This is the thing I hope to always keep! Great read, J!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would a grand day indeed for you to visit my meeting, I hope you will consider making a plan to do so just once. I just need to know in advance, so I can have the trumpets and the red carpet ready to go 🙂

      I am more in your way of thinking, and so were several others… that it was more a metaphor than a direct comparison, and I think as a metaphor it is a sound one. Plus the idea that one drink does not necessarily land you in the gutter, but the idea that you have one, “get away with it” so to speak, which gives you the confidence to do it again, then before you know it you were worse off than before. That’s the part that spoke most directly to me, because I have lived it!

      Thanks for the comment, and let’s get that Monday date on the books!


  2. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post and the link to Silkworth’s article! Amateur philosophers that we are on Sunday mornings, these are just the sort of things that get our wheels turning, so I’ll tip my hand by linking to your post. 🙂 Glad your presentation went so well. Would have loved to have been there.


  3. Reblogged this on club east: indianapolis and commented:
    Josie at themiracleisaroundthecorner posted a very thoughtful piece on Dr. Silkworth’s discussion of an alcoholic “slip” that appeared in the January 1947 AA Grapevine. I strongly encourage you to read on, particularly if you’re not planning to slip” or anything.


  4. I have been thinking about what Silkworth says a lot (which means only 5 or 6 weeks by now :-)). A smoker that quits smoking will never be questioned about his addicton for years to come while and will not be called a smokoholic or be stigmatized for the rest of his life. While EVERYTHING an alcoholic says and does will be distrusted by EVERYONE from the moment they know about the drinking history. It goes very far which is why I don’t tell anybody. What about this one with GP2;
    ‘I am very happy that I quit and proud of it.’
    ‘Well, that is dangerous, because being happy will make you overly confident and will get back on alcohol in no time’.
    Yeah, right. I’ll be depressed then. Or not proud of myself. Duh?!

    Then again, I had a close encounter with ‘drinking again’ last night and it was horrible. I had actually not drank but drinking and sugar overdose are very closely related to people with my physical constitution so because I accidently (?) overdosed on sugar, I woke up thinking that I had drunk and was so depressed, I was in a dark, dark place. I could not get out of this mindset for minutes and every single aspect of the darkness I was in when drinking came right back at me, including suicide thoughts. I am not suicidal, today, I am happy, yesterday, I was very happy. One dose of sugar and wham! Of the planet depressed. So yes, I know now, I should not drink, ever. And go back to 100% no sugar.

    I guess what Silkworth does not take into consideration is the fact that alcohol is very addictive. What people that are not addicted do not realise is the trap for alcohol closed at the first glass one likes. The rest after that is just, well, wait and see WHEN it happens, hardly ever if. Given time and opportunity a whole lot of people would get addicted, in fact, a whole lot of people already are, even when ‘moderating’.

    I know for me now that I should not drink again, or eat sugar. From what I feel in my body I would say that alcohol is a physical disease with mental and spiritual consequences and should therefore be treated in all 3 of the area’s of which I focus on the physical first now. Just to get a basis to actually build anything mental and spiritual on. Having said that, alcohol addiction comes easily to people with hypoglecemia (unstable blood sugar levels) AND an unstable background AND those lacking spiritual alternatives to drinking. So it can only be treated while keeping all 3 aspects in mind AND the connection between them.

    Concerning relying on a greater power; a docter in the USA (www.healthrecovery.com) only treats the physical side in about 6 weeks and says to have a 74% succes rate (and no cravings), compared to greater power based institutes of 22% (with cravings) So I am guessing if you add the two you’d be up to 96% ;-). I’m reading the book now, it’s good stuff.

    Hangoverfreelife has done a post on the putting emphasis on the ‘never drink again! Or you will lapse, relapse and collapse thought’. It has been researched and it seems to be counter active, iow; it steers people to relapse and collapse. I assume that is because this ‘method’ does not teach how to deal with lapses and puts a lot of fear on the subject so in itself it is creating a trap. It is like putting a death penalty on child abuse: abusers will only kill more kids because they already have the death penalty on the abuse, might as well get rid of the evidence. Well, bad example, but along the same lines when living in the ‘lapse leads to relapse concept’ I would not drink one if I lapsed, I would binge, gone of the wagon anyhow, so why not do it well? (Now there IS an addict thought if you want one ;-))

    Well, somewhere a few weeks ago I promised I was going to reply short things. Did not work again. (Which step deals with the ego stuff again?)

    Hope this added a little to your miracle of today. happy that you shared it. Happy that I quit, happy that you quit too! And proud of it! 🙂


    • It certainly did add a miracle, Feeling, this comment sums up the arguments way better than my post did! And I love that you are using personal experiences to do so. I hope everyone takes the time to read this! It really is not a black or white issue, which was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Love hearing all the comments, thanks so much, I appreciate the time you took to respond!


      • 🙂 Thank you. Happy that you can appreciate it, I appreciate your blog and how you approach things. For me your blog is a way to have a sneak peak into a world that I am not familiar with and see what I can learn. Because obviously I have gone of a path somewhere in my life and in finding a new one I might as well check out paths that are totally unexplored to me, like AA and religion. You never know what miracle is around the corner. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Josie!
    I always love what you have to say and I learn so much.
    As I’ve shared before, much of what I understand about addiction has been learned by reading folks like you, Christy, Kristen, Paul and Michele. So many times I’ve thought, “Well…that actually sounds like a human trait I have and certainly not reserved for addictive behavior” Then, the next thought would pop into my head, “Well, maybe I’m just an addict waiting to happen?” Entirely possible.

    I also love how you were energized by a debate like this. It’s what you’ve been called to do and so many people are blessed by it. I’m afraid I may have crawled into a hole because debate makes me all wiggly. Feel like sending me any of your brave vibes? 🙂


    • Oh, Michelle, believe me, I am exactly like you, it was a completely good-natured debate; otherwise I would have been hiding under the desk!

      You hit upon what touched me the most about the article… we are all human beings, prone to error. Stop thinking you are an alien from another planet just because you are an alcoholic (this last comment directed towards myself, of course).

      I read your comment and think to myself… get your head out of your you-know-where, and carve some time out for WordPress, because I miss you! I will hopefully be back to reading and commenting later this afternoon!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Josie, I totally agree with the thrust of the Silkworth article – I don’t think we are born alcoholic or that there is anything peculiarly weird about the alcoholic mind. We have the same problems, imperfections and fallibilities of all people… but somehow along the way, alcohol became our chosen path (or one of them) of screwing up. I grew up in in a society, culture and family where drinking alcohol was the norm, so in many ways it’s not surprising, and I do often think that if it wasn’t booze it would have been something else. Listening to a Bubble Hour episode recently – sister addictions: food and alcohol – there were women discussing their problem relationships with food and how to go about addressing them, and honestly, you could have just replaced the word food with alcohol in so many of the discussions and it would have made the same sense. The distorted emotions and behaviours were basically the same – I haven’t ever really struggled with food (till I quit drinking anyway!), and yet I recognised every word that these women were saying.
    Regarding what one of your attendees said, “A cardiac patient can smoke one cigarette with minimal consequences…” I disagree completely with this! One cigarette can get you back smoking again, which puts you at risk of an early death, whether or not you are a cardiac patient. As someone who gave up smoking successfully 13 years ago, I understood then and do now that the only way that was going to work was to never ever pick up another cigarette again, and I haven’t. Because the times when I quit and then “still had the odd one” – then I would just start up again. Because it’s an addiction. And no – smoking doesn’t define me, I’m not addicted now, and it doesn’t loom terrifyingly over me, I just don’t smoke. I might well have one cigarette and be fine now. I might not. I’m not going to try. I may well have one glass of wine in a few years time and be fine. I might not. I’m not going to try. It’s not a sure thing – if you take one sip it will not necessarily send you over the edge – it’s just that it’s taking a big risk. Personally, I’m not willing to take that risk.
    Ooh, I’ve written an essay. Not concise. Sorry! xx


    • Please never apologize for long comments, I can’t express how much I enjoy reading them! As someone who does understand food addictions, I need to listen to that Bubble Hour podcast! I have actually ruffled some feathers in AA by stating outright… a substance is a substance is a substance. One guy got seriously annoyed, but as someone who has “chosen several wrong paths,” I can say definitively the feelings are exactly the same.

      Thanks for this comment, MTM, I truly appreciate it!


  7. Oh, i just love this! Of course this is a debate for the ages, as many are in recovery! I love all the comments and all the point of views, all very good and thought provoking. For me, I know hat some of my traits are just human. But there are some that seems to just be alcoholic. They way I think about alcohol is totally different than “normal” people. And I know that for sure. Normal people do not agonize about drinking, wanting to drink, not wanting to drink, how to drink, how not to drink and on and on and on. That’s a part of my disease for sure.

    Anyway. Love it. Thank you so much for sharing! One day I will make it to your meeting, I swear! 🙂 HUGS!


  8. Someone made a comment on my blog today about how these things that I (and you and the other sober bloggers who discuss spiritual matters) talk about are really human things. And I have always staunchly defended how we alcoholics think, etc. But I am coming to a place now where I see we all have it. Our self-will and char defects are like others, but ours manifest in a different way perhaps. I think we are more aware of them and discuss them more openly because we are fully aware of where those things lead us. Not necessarily to the drink (but can), but to the old stinkin’ thinkin’. So I apt to agree that we are all in the realm of human-ness, but we have a remarked highlighter on them because we understand the causes and conditions they are attached to.

    As for the slip – I beleive (and I have to check this out – I am currently waiting to hear back from my online AA hardcore pals) either Dr. Bob or Bill W. mentioned slip in the regards to “slipping from the grace of God”. So it wasn’t a soft euphemism, but a harder definition that takes us from an “oops” to a full on blocked from the sunlight of the spirit.

    But that’s just this alkie’s opinion 😉

    Great post, great discussion.



    • Oooh, LOVE THIS!!! Please let me know once you check in with the “AA Eggheads!” That makes a lot of sense, and reminds me of the line “trudging the road of happy destiny,” where “trudge” and “happy seem incongruous, but in fact trudge means to walk with purpose, so it fits well.

      This makes so much sense to me, and I really wish you were in my meeting last week to offer up this information!

      Thanks Paul!


  1. Pingback: repost: how big of a deal is an alcoholic slip? | club east: indianapolis

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