If you have assumed a character above your strength, you have both acted in this matter in an unbecoming way, and you have neglected that which you might have fulfilled.
Epictetus, Encheiridion, XXXVII
This may be the last time I get sober, but it surely wasn’t the first. I would be interested in viewing statistics on the number of people that truly quit on their first attempt. I am currently trying to quit chewing tobacco as well, for the umpteenth time. I gave myself a grace period after I quit drinking alcohol. Nicotine is a real hard demon to get off your back. And from an earlier experience, quitting both at the same time is nightmarish.
A couple of years ago, I achieved a successful and fairly long-lived quit. One day, I woke up and decided I had had enough. I put down the alcohol and cigarettes on the same day and walked away. The next week was one of the most physically painful weeks of my life. It made my body hurt so bad. My brain felt as if it was barely functioning, wrapped in a fog of incoherence. I found myself constantly looking at online “quit timelines”, making sure that the sensations I was feeling were normal and trying to calculate when they would end.
One side effect that was not described anywhere in the medical information I found was an increased sense of sanctimony and self-righteousness. I had developed this “holier-than-thou” attitude over time towards anyone who drank. I seriously thought that I was stronger than them, better than them, cleaner than them. In retrospect, I was probably a deplorable drag to be around for a period of time.
Soapboxes are portable platforms that public speakers use to elevate themselves above the crowd. Before the advent of corrugated cardboard, many trade products like vegetables or fruits were packed into wooden boxes for the shipment of wholesale merchandise to retail establishments. These wooden boxes were chosen as mobile platforms for impromptu speeches, oftentimes for a political or spiritual purpose. In America, the period after World War I was considered the heyday of soapboxing. There was very little money in circulation for a majority of the population so these “soapbox preachers” served as cheap entertainment. Often, unrest would result between these amassed crowds and local authorities because the crowds would block walkaways or disturb vehicular traffic. There were cases of local law enforcement attempting to disband “street meetings” out of fear of social unrest and the possibility of an outbreak of violent protesting.
Between 1907 and 1916, street oratory was widely practiced amongst members of the International Workers of the World, a union and labor movement based on socialist and communist policies. Many members of the socialist movement used the soapbox method to hone and sharpen their political acumen, in many cases to spearhead the cause of free speech brought on by attempted censure by local governments.
I have been guilty of soapboxing my sobriety. My attitude about being sober was to the point of irritating zealotry. One of the goals of the AA program is to help and give back, to turn from selfish behaviors and attempt to help those that need it. By looking down my nose at those who drank alcohol, the only thing I accomplished was disenfranchizing everyone around me. I had become just as irritating sober as I had been when I was drunk.
This time, with the help of AA and the true and heartfelt willingness to better myself and change, I have kept my teetotalling attitude in check, or at least internal. I can not look you in the eye and admit that I haven’t had moments where the old attitude has crawled into my head. Fortunately, I am honing my ability to examine my sentiments and dissect why I am having those feelings and thoughts in the first place. Admittedly, it is often because I am jealous of those who can moderate. I find those thoughts happening less and less, but they still exist on occasion.
I have consciously and actively reframed how and if I even speak about my sobriety. First of all, I don’t go around and talk about my sobriety to just anyone who will listen or has a pair of ears; they don’t hear it whether they want to or not. If people ask about it, my goal is not to tell them that quitting is best and they should because of reasons x,y, and z. Rather, I describe how it has enriched my life, made me a better person, more cognizant of my actions and how I have really begun to find the real me through self-realization. I want to be the person that is here to help and listen to someone who believes that they have had a problem, not the person who preaches to those who may not have a problem in the first place. I have come to see that there is a vast difference between drinking alcohol and being a true alcoholic. It is not my job to regulate those who can moderate. My job is to regulate myself and live my best life so I can be of the best use for those who need help.
I have placed my soapbox in the darkest corner of my closet to collect dust. My object is to be the best me I can, to lead by example and lend a helping hand. As classic Roman philosopher Cicero stated, “men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good”.