So today marks 40 days of sobriety.  And, indeed, I do see clouds parting and the audible flap of a bird’s wing (perhaps a labored one, heavy with its olive branched burden).  They have not always been an easy 40 days–especially the last 10 or so.  My obsession came back ferociously around Day 30, which I’m told is not uncommon. One day, one week, thirty days, sixty days, ninety days, one year… these are “anniversaries” celebrated in AA with little coins bearing the number of sober days one has achieved.  Apparently, some of us get squirrely around these notable dates.  I am not immune.

The past 10 days have been pockmarked with desperate moments of alcoholic obsession.   It reminds me painfully of a tragic little crush I had on a student of mine some years ago.  (Please, no rolling of the eyes at this dreadful cliche.  When Sting sang about it, you ate it up and suckled the spoon afterward.  And this one was a legal 23 years old, thank you very much.)  It wouldn’t have been so awful had the crush not been returned and had the opportunities to have pursued this passion been so damned numerous.  Ethics of all sorts were not merely observed but put into painful,  self-abnegating practice for the span of about 3 1/2 months.  Happily, and unspectacularly, my relationship to inappropriate peccadilloes places me archetypally alongside  the Jimmy Carters of the world and not the Bill Clintons.  I only sinned in my heart (and sometimes with my right hand… but you can’t blame a girl, right?)

Just so:  I have romanced this phantom bottle for almost two weeks.  Like my student, that bottle always seems to be showing up–quite physically.  Not as a pair of brown eyes gazing adoringly at me from across a desk, but at any party I attend, any grocery I frequent, even in my house (when some folks took advantage of the BYOB on the invitation).  Tantalizingly out of reach, of course, only because of my ethics.  What is the harm?  Surely one drink–maybe just two–could not hurt.  Think about how good it would feel, smell, taste–and, ah!, the thrill of getting away with it!

Play the tape to the end, I tell myself.  Look at the consequences.

With these temptations around me and the complacence that sometimes follows a mile-stone like the 30-day marker, surely I’d envy the enforced de-tox of Noah’s experience?  No liquor stores to tempt me there.  Every partygoer’s six pack would be under hundreds of cubits of God’s deluvian wrath.  But, no thanks, anyway.  I’d take some temptation over that period of time packed in with thousands of smelly animals and, worse, all the members of my extended family.  A tee-totaler might be tempted to ferment the first fruit dry ground offered after that experience.

We think of Noah’s forty days and forty nights as that period of prolonged terror mixed with faith.  The Bible reads like a Weather Channel account, of course, and no word is spared for what Noah et al. enduring spiritually during the trial.  Faith that the waters would recede was all anyone had.  The narrative is silent about the difficult, resentful prayers that might have been on the survivor’s lips, the gallows humor that might have abounded, the petty spats, and the sleepless nights.  But forty days doesn’t sound like all that much; Chilean miners have endured more.

But it wasn’t forty days, as our amnesiac Sunday School-trained minds will misremember.  Those were only the days of rain.  The Almighty’s watery fury takes a long time to abate.  If Genesis is to be believed:  it takes exactly a year.  And if you’re Noah, you’re grateful for the initial reprieve, but you spend the next eight and a half months sending out ravens and doves in the hope of discovering dry land.  Forty days is the time of terror and half-certainty of death:  the months after are the long, bitter battle with and for hope.

To read the passage of Genesis describing Noah’s post-forty-day experience is to confront a certain resentful weariness with the process of trusting God’s will.  “And God remembered Noah, and every living thing . . . and the waters were asswaged” (8: 1).  Remembered?  Seriously?  Was Our Lord off playing golf or out moonlighting in some other universe?  Noah is cautious in his approach to what’s going on outside the ark.  The dove brings back the olive branch?  He still stays.  The dove doesn’t come back at all?  He still stays.  It’s dangerous out there, and God doesn’t seem in such a hurry to “remember” Noah.

I won’t get into what happens afterward.  God decides flooding isn’t in His best interest from now on, but we still get bad human behavior in the form of hubris and the tower of Babel hard on the heels of Noah’s holy fidelity.  But like most things in the Bible, I’m usually more interested in what is NOT said than what is.  For instance, what happened to the Ark?  It was not merely home for a year; it was the physical vessel of salvation.  It was most certainly a mess, however.  C’mon:   “every beast after his kind, and every cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth… every fowl… every bird” are going to make for a Biblical manure heap after 365 days.  (Of course, creationists have some pretty interesting theories about this.  If I didn’t have to pay, I’d like to see The Creation Museum’s exhibit on this one.)

My analogy with my recovery goes only so far here, I know.  But all that animal dung and mess reminds me of my past–the pain I’ve felt and cause, the ugliness of addiction, and the smell and wreck that still clings to my present life.  The Ark got Noah through the rain and the flood’s aftermath, but what does he do with the wreckage?

What would an AA member do?  I tell you exactly what she’d do:  she’d take an inventory.  She’d catalog all the scat, every last bit of it, then humbly ask God to help her get rid of it.  If she’d hurt some people in the Ark, she’d apologize and do her best to make amends.   An AA-attending Noah would sweep that Ark out and make it useful or maybe turn it into a museum for generations to come.  It would be a monument to salvation.  This is the untold AA-inspired narrative of Noah’s adventures post-Ark.

Now, if we’re following Women for Sobriety founder Jean Kirkpatrick’s program, we get a different story.  St. Jean isn’t much for inventory taking; it was one of the ways WFS broke definitively from Alcoholics Anonymous.  Of steps Four and Five Dr. Kirpatrick had this to say:  “I began to wonder why I was feeling guilt and atonement for my physical disease.  Was I so immoral that I had to make this searching and fearless moral inventory?  …. I began to see that my problem was the lack  of self-confidence, a lack of self-esteem.  I didn’t need the heaviness of all this moral atonement, not now anyway, not if I were going to stay sober.” (102)   The WFS statement #9 most clearly articulates this position:  “The past is gone forever.”  Kirkpatrick was roundly criticized for this position, but defended herself with the simple statement that she did not “see any value to be had from a constant reiteration of past misdeeds and misconduct.  I do not have to talk about my past continualy to know it is there.” (154)

A Noah–or let’s say Noah’s wife-would look at the Ark, be grateful for the safe passage it wrought, and either sink it in what was left of the oceans or turn it into kindling or break it up for building materials.  There would be no lingering over the remains.  Noah always struck me as being more or less pragmatic, and one can’t help thinking that the immediate needs for warmth and shelter after the deluge would prompt such exigent use of resources.

These analogies do some epistemological violence to both AA and WFS–neither of which in practice either enshrine and endlessly rehearse the past on the one hand or bury it like an inconvenient corpse on the other.  But they do offer different paths for dealing with the wreckage of the past–even, in my case, just the recent past.  Do I search endlessly for the triggers that prompted the return of my obsession?  Do I firmly close the door on this uncomfortable hiccup and walk away with only the gratitude that the episode is over?  Are those who do not master and inventory the details of their personal history doomed to repeat it?  Or do those who continually inventory their pasts (distant and recent) only live in it?

I raise these questions with the most genuine of rhetorical motives.  However I deal with the frightening, if now receded, return of my drinking obsession, I am at least grateful for the momentary reprieve–a lull in the rain that can make the space for asking such questions possible.


Kirkpatrick, Jean.  Turnabout:  New Help for the Woman Alcoholic.  New York:  Bantam/Madrona.  1977/1990.

  1. Katie says:

    I’ve been giving sobriety a fighting chance since May 5, and the “phantom bottle” has unfortunately won more times than I’d like to admit. Let me just say, I’ve had a few hiccups. (The word “relapse” gives me the heeby-jeebies, so I give my many downfalls pet names). First, after 21 days. I swear, the first 20 days were like Easter (pastels, chocolate-centers). I was on the proverbial “pink cloud.” But damnit! I get only 20 days on the pink cloud?! Many of my booze-hound pals were getting 40-50 days on this cloud, but me? I start having dreams completely drenched in absolut citron (my fave).
    I continued on like this, a summer full of jumping on and off the wagon. Fatefully, I’m working on about two months now, and I wish someone would tell me that “it’s going to get easier,” but I think that would be a fib.
    I’m rooting for you– I don’t necessarily speak from experience, but it has to be downhill from here…right? We’ll just keep telling ourselves that 🙂

    • soberfornow says:

      I hate the “white knuckle” days as well. They make it particularly difficult to believe those with years of sobriety who say “It gets easier.”

      As I have pursued my sobriety and, in part from having written this blog, I’ve met or re-met a shocking number of people for whom addiction is a part of life. Some are not addicted necessarily to any chemical, but to, for instance, just chaos. Some are addicted (of course) to people with addictions. I’m more and more surprised that more people are NOT in a recovery program of some ilk. More and more, I look at my addiction as an opportunity to live the examined life I always imagined I could live. Even desert hermits claim(ed) to wrestle with terrible demons: my little bottle seems positively benign next to armies of tempting djinn!

      A friend of mine with several years of sobriety has told me to welcome the drinking dreams. (I presaged that advice in my little piece “But O how glad I wak’d.”) The bad ones can be warnings, the “good” ones consequence free indulgences. She also told me that I could expect to have them during the first year of sobriety quite frequently–and when I needed them. She also said that in her experience, the period between 30-90 days was the most difficult, because the physical addiction has all but vanished, but the psychological obsession is still very much in tact.

      Good luck, my friend. And thanks for reading today and keeping me sober today.

  2. Jo Lynn says:

    Wow! Not only is your blog funny, intellectual and insightful, this latest post compels me to comment on your amazing ability to share your experiences in the context of AA, WFS and no less, Noah! Been catching your updates the last month and really enjoy them all 🙂

    Sitting at the brink of 40 days sober, I have had no phantom bottles in my daily life (yet). And the yet is what I fear. I keep waiting for the flood of relief to be over (the relief that I no longer imbibe daily). I ‘refuse’ to relapse, attempt trial and error or allow myself to go back into my past addiction. I know I won’t come back to this place of calm I feel now.

    Since I am working the AA Steps and have yet to research or learn WFS, I do find the conflicts / contrasts of the two groups in Steps 4 and 5 very interesting! I struggling to go there. So I leave this post with your compromised thoughts on Noah for now:

    But all that animal dung and mess reminds me of my past–the pain I’ve felt and cause, the ugliness of addiction, and the smell and wreck that still clings to my present life.

    While it is not necessarily a motivational statement to keep me sober – it is the one that reminds me I don’t want to go back… Thanks for giving me something to consider For Today!

  3. Chaz says:


    Obsession can happen anytime, anywhere. I would not put too much expecation in the suggested intervals. Just stay sober a day at a time. That is all any of us do.

    Glad to hear things are going well.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s