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Key Specifics

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In all my seventeen years in OA, I’ve regarded “abstinence” as an ambiguous term—and I’ve blamed that ambiguity for my relapses. Focusing on ambiguity made it easy for me to erode my abstinence. My epiphany occurred when my sponsor, who has forty-two years of abstinence, said, “Abstinence doesn’t have to be ambiguous.” That gave me pause for thought. The pause turned into weeks, during which I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications of what she’d said. Abstinence doesn’t have to be ambiguous.

I came to realize that I had defined my abstinence, and for some reason, I’d defined it ambiguously. Ambiguity isn’t inherent in the term—I’d put it there! But if I’d put it there, I could take it away too; I could define my abstinence specifically.

To a degree, I had begun making it less ambiguous already. My abstinence included a plan of eating that is three meals a day with nothing in between. That’s specific: no ambiguity there. I knew what sized portions I could eat and listed the foods on my plan. I started writing everything I ate in my food diary. By adding how much and when I ate, I could increase my honesty and make my concept of abstinence even less ambiguous.

Then I saw it: my problem was honesty, not ambiguity! By making my abstinence definition specific and recording my eating, I was putting myself in a position to increase my honesty. In “How It Works,” the Big Book says that those who do not recover are people who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 58). My relapses, which I had blamed on the erosion of my program, were self inflicted. I had set myself up to fail by being nonspecific about abstinence. I could convince myself that I wasn’t breaking my abstinence (though I really was) because my ambiguity blocked me from an honest awareness of myself.

When I started recording in my food diary what I’d eaten for each meal of the day, I also marked the end of that meal, so I could no longer kid myself that the fruit I ate three hours after my lunch was just a dessert I’d forgotten to have. I was, in fact, eating all day long while saying I was eating only three (long) meals a day. Likewise, until I started recording in my diary the amounts of the food I ate, I could pretend my serving sizes were not creeping up, even though they were. I saw that for me, specificity was the key to honesty. And honesty was the key to abstinence.

Jerry A., Beaverton, Oregon USA 

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