Becoming an Ambassador for SobrietyAnna Ciulla
“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” –The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 12
New converts to any cause, from fundamentalism to veganism to sobriety, tend to be the most zealous advocates for that cause. Often, they’re also the most annoying: the ones who gain a reputation for threatening everyone they can corner with hellfire and brimstone, or, in the case of newly sober addicts, with total ruin to anyone who persists in even occasional and limited drinking.
Besides driving away those they mean to help, those who take such an approach endanger themselves by letting their zeal outstrip their experience:
- They may stunt their own growth and become unwilling to learn more than the initial sobering-up taught them.
- They may neglect their own health and best interests through preoccupation with “saving” everyone else.
- They may interpret others’ negative reactions to their overenthusiasm as pigheaded or even evil.
- They may develop “I’m the martyr and persecution from all sides is the cross I must bear” attitudes, learning to look at others with condescension and contempt.
- Worst of all, they may become overwhelmed to the point of deciding this whole sobriety thing is too much trouble, and return to the addicted life.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can become an effective ambassador for sobriety without burning yourself out or alienating others.
WATCH THAT “TOP OF THE WORLD” FEELING
When you’re first released from detox treatment, it’s tempting to think all your problems are solved and you’re ready for anything. Trust me, you aren’t. The absolute worst thing you can do (and it does happen) is charge back into the old bar among your old drinking buddies, charged up to convince them to put down their glasses forever. More likely, the smell and atmosphere will lure you back into joining them.
Get advice from therapists and sobriety mentors on what you can handle. Have a solid relapse prevention plan and support network in place. Take good care of your emotional and physical health at all times.
GET ADVICE FROM YOUR PEERS
Stay in regular interaction with others who have been sober longer than you. Listen to their experiences of what others respond to, what they wish they’d done differently, how they coped with rejection and ridicule. If you want to be a sobriety ambassador in the sense of promoting a program or speaking directly to people who are still addicted, do it as part of a team. You need the support and the strength-in-numbers effect.
CONSIDER OTHERS’ POINTS OF VIEW
Chances are that while you were still actively addicted, people nagged, complained and threatened in an effort to get you to stop. Did that make you want to please them or to admit you had a problem? More likely, it exacerbated your stubbornness and self-pity. So why should you expect that people who still have addiction problems will react any differently if you bombard them with prophecies of dire consequences? They have fears, struggles and stresses driving their addictions, and they want to feel someone understands those before they consider alternate solutions.
Remember also that it’s not your place to turn everyone you meet into a teetotaler. There are people who drink (or take prescription meds) responsibly and never have any problems. However desirable a completely drug-free world might be, non-addicted people don’t appreciate assumptions that they can’t be trusted to know their own limits.
And if someone speaks about getting drunk as though it were a joke, or denigrates the whole idea of sobriety programs? Before you react defensively, remember that this is a human being like yourself, someone with pride, feelings and good intentions. Speak up, but speak up with respect and in the attitude of bringing new perspective to the situation. You can educate people best when you let them save face.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
There’s a saying: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Often, responsibly living out your sobriety is the most effective influence you could have on anybody. You don’t have to hide your addiction disorder as though it were a military secret, but you don’t have to tattoo the AA logo on your forehead either. Just let people get to know you as a confident, self-assured, happy person who doesn’t drink or use drugs. If they ask why you never take a drink, tell them what sobriety has done for you in the same enthusiastic-but-not-fanatic way you would talk about any activity you love. You just might spur someone who’s been masking a problem of their own to make the decision for sobriety!