by Eric Robert H.
For someone who felt incredibly lonely prior to treating my alcoholism and addiction, I came to find out that I had more friends than I thought. It’s funny how people come out the woodwork when you first get sober. They may not have called you routinely or even invited you to their wedding, but boy are they interested in you now! Author Robert Greene refers to LAW 17 of his book The 48 Laws of Power as “Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability: Keep Others In Suspended Terror”. Now, bringing literature such as this may be considered controversial and even irrelevant but I’m not here to deliver a message you’ve already heard. The fact of the matter is that when you stopped taking your regular seat at the dive bar, declining invites to happy hour and started some form of treating your addiction, people noticed.
I picked up Greene’s book on power when I was a sophomore in high school. I was class president two years in a row and would fulfill the commitment all the way thru senior serving as Class President all four years of high school. I was looking to not only understand why I was entrusted with social and civic power as well as know how to control others with it and produce more of it. Yes, I was a little sadistic House of Cards character in the making but in enthralled me to learn about what motivates people to trust me and why they reacted to my campaigning as they did. The knowledge I gained from studying and functioning within the laws of power is now something I use for good rather than evil.
“Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control.” (https://medium.com/@asandalis/law-17-cultivate-an-air-of-unpredictability-6d95d596cd3f)
With that, it’s no wonder your change in routine and socializing over drinks has drawn so much unexpected attention. In my experience, alcohol controlled the course of my friendships. If we were not drinking together, we probably were not friends. Alcohol was my first priority, so excuse me but you’re in the way of my bottle and I. Alcohol helped me talk and speak more, so no you probably are not that funny outside of this party. Alcohol was my best friend, so you can definitely be my friend but don’t get it twisted on who I’m leaving with tonight. So when the alcohol is taken out of the equation we alter the familiarity that acquaintances were so accustomed to. We take back our power and manifest control of our lives and the relationships therein.
My alcoholism was validated by the social bonds it helped me cultivate. Unfortunately, that trained my mind to think that friendships were nonexistent without the booze. As many memories I’m lucky enough to remember from life after high school, I confess alcohol is present in nearly all of them. If we weren’t drinking when we were together, I definitely pre-gamed before the meeting. Thus, most of us are left with a rolodex of contacts in our cell phone contacts that we simply cannot relate to anymore. It may be the case that just the sound of their name triggers us to drink. Maybe it’s them who don’t respond to our texts because we’re no fun anymore. In any case, there are those fraternal bonds that stand the test of time: healthy or not.
I’m not suggesting anyone assume a state of sober isolation or ignore people who are near and dear to them but I would recommend analyzing who and what have your best interest in mind. Research led by Michael A. Sayette, a professor of psychology at University of Pittsburgh’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences “concluded that alcohol stimulates social bonding, increases the amount of time people spend talking to one another, and reduces displays of negative emotions.” (www.psychologicalscience.org, 2012) This study is unique in that it examined moderate doses of alcohol in social settings rather than isolation. The observations made by Sayette and fellow researchers shows the benefits of alcohol but fails to analyze whether the social bonding and reduction in negative emotions are actually healthy. I would argue that such a setting where moderate doses of alcohol are being consumed quickly turns into a life or death situation when the alcoholic is not considered nor identified as one of the attendees.
With that, if someone like me, an alcoholic of the educational variety were in attendance partaking in moderate drinking, that moderation would quickly be dismissed. The amount of time people spend talking to me would surely increase, but what would those conversations be about? And the reduction of negative emotions, is a prime breeding ground for peer pressure. Having been a resident of Southern California for near ten years, it’s clear to me that where there is alcohol, there are surely drugs. Thus as an untreated alcoholic I am alcohol dependent, which suggests I’m an individual who “continues to drink despite experiencing significant alcohol-related problems”. As a recovering alcoholic, if I’m drinking at all I am practicing alcohol abuse making me a problem drinker whose “alcohol problems do not stem from compulsive alcohol seeking, but often are the direct result of intoxication ( “Alcohol Problems in Intimate Relationships: Identification and Intervention, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Feb 2003). Hence, why I am powerless over that first drink.
That first drink leads to me embarrassing myself in front of my boss. The second drink leads into the bathroom where I’m bumping cocaine off the nearest level surface which is probably not the most sanitary. The third drink gets me outside the establishment and bumming cigarettes, or was that the cocaine? Either way drinks four and five have me calling out of work the next morning or missing that league game I was so stoked about all week.
Going forward it’d be my objective to observe the context of which drinkers are speaking while developing these social bonds. Though more time is spent talking, how much of that time translates to risk-taking behavior such as unprotected sex, drug use and criminal activity? In my personal experience, social bonding has taken the form of styrofoam cups at meetings rather than glass tumblers on mahogany bars. I’m ok with that because even though the social bonding may be short lived before and after the meetings, they are every week at the same times and places. Some of these connections turn into daily phone calls and my risk of isolating in minimized significantly which has truly been a dream come true. The next time you make your daily round of phone calls that help you stay sober take a look at how much small talk is made. Are you commenting on the weather? Are you gossiping about celebrities? Or are you talking about God, sustaining life as best possible and how much you cherish the support of one another? I hope it’s the latter.
The new friendships that blossom in the rooms of AA and recovery programs at large might seem new at first but surely when those smiling faces see you take your cake, year after year, they will surely grow old. And as we know, old friendships die hard. It’s just a matter of which friendships, which social bonds, which conversations we are growing. Kind of hard to kill something that’s healthy. Then again, all it takes is that first drink.