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!
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 12 step, 12 step program, 12 steps, AA, Addiction, Alcohol, Alcoholic Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, God, Meeting, Mental Health, Miracle, Monday, Recovery, Religion & Spirituality, Religion and Spirituality, self-development, Self-Help, Sobriety, Support group, Twelve-Step Program. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.