Let’s face it: America is drunk. How else can we explain all that has gone on, especially in the political realm, in the past year?
But once we acknowledge that reality, those who are addicts have to ask the question: how can I maintain my sobriety when so much is taking place that makes me so badly want a quick escape? This may not seem like it is something that should be a cause for any extra concern, but it really can be. There are a lot of emotionally charged issues being expressed with increasingly volatile rhetoric. This season can be a trigger for many who are fighting to maintain their sobriety.
First, there is a lot of fear right now. Is our country really not great? Has it ever been? Are we about to lose millions of job? Will our economy fall apart? How many terrorists are coming into our country? How many unhealthy people have access to guns? Can I trust any police officers? Why do people want to keep talking about race and ethnicity? Will we ever be safe?
Fear is a legitimate response to these and other questions. And when you combine the hyped up rhetoric with media coverage vying for ratings and social media noise vying for being the most obnoxious you get a concoction that is stronger than any brew anyone ever drank.
People in recovery need to acknowledge the fear that exists. Because it is not going away anytime soon; at least, the noise that is working to generate the fear isn’t. Fear is a big factor in turning to the drug or behavior of choice. Most of my drinking was driven by fear; especially fear of confrontation.
When fear goes unchecked, unacknowledged, un-dealt with, it can create a sense of imbalance, uncertainty, and agitation. As we continue to hear messages of fear from the mouths of the candidates, the news media talking heads, and our friends on social media, we must be open and find safe places and people to speak to. We must find our meetings, our sponsors, our trusted friends and family members, our spiritual advisors who can listen to us and remind us that when we live in today, nothing is as bad as many make it out to be.
Second, there is a lot of anger. Have you noticed that there is little dialogue? It’s mostly shouting. And it is a lot of all or nothing shouting, at that. “Choose your side.” “Agree with me completely or you’re wrong.” “How could anyone be so stupid?” “If you vote (fill-in-party-name-here) you are not American.”
Anger is a driving force behind addiction. Those in recovery know this. If you are in recovery, you know the acronym HALT. If you are not in recovery, you can ask someone what it means.
(Or I could tell you: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are four indicators that a relapse could happen soon. If an addict is experiencing one, he or she usually sees that as a warning sign. If two or more are present, steps need to be taken quickly—attend a meeting, call a sponsor, etc.)
Between now and November 8, there will be a lot more anger. For a number of reasons, angry rhetoric rules the day in our political discourse. For some, it is an easy decision to just disconnect and not pay attention. But there are those who are truly thirsty for knowledge and information who will be constantly bombarded with messages designed to make you hate “the other.” In order to maintain one’s sobriety, anger needs to be released; because anger is the dubious luxury of the normal person, but for the addict, it is poison.*
So how does one maintain their sobriety in an election year?
The short answer is: “Just like every other day in every other year.” We take our sobriety one day at a time for a reason. When we are focused on staying clean, praying, reaching out to others, and performing acts of service, we will be able to maintain our sobriety even during the most chaotic times.
But some days, we will forget that. Some days we will be scrolling through our social media feeds and find a meme that sparks something down deep inside. Some days a conversation with a friend or family member will really get us going. And on those days, we need to stop and remember:
Anything that threatens our sobriety is not worth spending time on. Do we need to be informed? Do we need to research what each candidate thinks about the issues? Should we vote as responsible citizens? Yes. Yes. And maybe. But we do not need to participate in conversations and social media mudslinging that serve only to make people more emotional and less rational.
*Paraphrase from Alcoholics Anonymous, page 66.