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A Recovery Story: The Measure of Success

One of the turning points in my thirty-five years of sobriety occurred in 1972 when I chose to lament on the shoulders of my good friend, S. Pretlowe Winborune.

Mr. Winbourne is a friend of mine and a friend of attorneys everywhere.  I had been working diligently with five attorneys and two of them were the epitome of success; however, the other three made one slip after another and it seemed that these three were lost.  While I was lamenting on this circumstance, the Judge listened intently for several minutes and then in his own inimitable way sarcastically said: “ye of little faith, don’t you know that if you save one out of ten you are being successful?  Think of the side effects in one recovery and then you will never be discouraged again.”

With the full realization that success is not measured on one hundred percent success, or in relative numbers, I began to think about the effects of sobriety, of recovery and of a new life.  The results are really too numerous to mention but here are a few.

In terms of lives saved, we are not talking about years or longevity, but in terms of life itself, of joyous living, of being of service to others, of being a pillar in the community and, yes of attaining a high position in your chosen professional and in political life.  I remember that one of the attorneys with whom I advised, gave consultation and encouragement, went on to attain a high position, one of power and respect, simply because he took the program seriously and remained sober.

It has been said by an old timer who had experienced years of trauma as a practicing alcoholic that one year of complete sobriety, and all its benefits, was better and more joyful than living ten years under the shroud of alcoholism.  So when we talk about lives saved, we are not so much talking about years so much as real productive living.

The second and especially important aspect of sobriety is that of the elimination of pain – physical pain, as well as mental pain.  The physical pain is usually inflicted on the practicing alcoholic himself.  However, in his lucid moments doubtlessly he suffers deep mental pain.  This is usually doused with alcohol, but his or her relatives constantly suffer all sorts of untold mental pain – of anxiety, of worry, of depression and all such attendant ills.  The very thoughts of the suffering resulting from one practicing alcoholism are mind-boggling.  How often have we seen a wife, a husband, a son or a daughter change from a haggard depressed and sarcastic to being one of exuberance and happiness as a result of loved one’s becoming sober and staying sober.

The side effects of pain and suffering, be it physical or mental, also has a tremendous economic effect.  The loss of income for the practicing alcoholic, as well as the time lost by relatives and loved ones is staggering.  This applies not only to time actually lost, but time effectively lost, that is being on the job, being in the office, or loafing on the job, but not being able to give it “for all, your best.”  This can result from a hangover, as well as depression, on part of others who are also effected.

Sometime it is easy to forget or push into the background the tremendous costs of treatment and hospitalization or mental health treatment.  These costs have to be borne by someone, and most of the time that is someone who is sober.  By eliminating these costs, sobriety benefits so much from this negative gone as well as the benefit of having the recovering alcoholic’s useful service.

While we have touched upon the benefits of sobriety, there is another angle which should be considered and which we usually don’t think about too much.  We have a duty to ourselves and our Creator to stay sober, not to let alcohol control our lives.  If we arrived at that point, we need to try to do something about it.  While it is not my aim to espouse the cause of any one religion, I certainly believe, as a layperson, that a relationship to the Deity has an important relationship to our continued sobriety.  This is hard to do without a well-grounded faith and a belief in a Supreme Creator.  If our purpose is to glorify our Creator, we must remain sober to do so.

So Judge Winbourne was so correct when he gave me his dry and sarcastic encouragement.  It has caused me to ponder on the myriad effects of complete sobriety, the easing of physical and mental suffering, and the numerous benefits to society.  May we all be encouraged, as well as realistic in helping the suffering alcoholics and keeping him or her sober.

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