A story about caution, comfort, and the safety of AA
I've read recently that alcoholics who can’t or won’t stop drinking should be schooled in practices that reduce the harm they may cause, such as giving their car keys to a friend before drinking.
It’s a good idea, and I’d be happy to hold car keys for anybody who plans to get drunk. But instead, I prefer to advocate the harm avoidance I’ve found in the AA program. Rather than reduce harm, I want to avoid it---completely if possible.
I learned about avoiding harm twenty-one years ago, after taking a routine psychology test. The psychologist told me that I had a very high level of harm avoidance, a new term for me. He said I wasn’t the kind of a guy who would be a skydiver or a motorcycle racer, to say nothing of other hazardous pursuits. This diagnosis left me feeling glum and unmanly. In my fantasies, I was John Wayne charging an enemy-held beach or Gary Cooper shooting it out with the bad guys in “High Noon.” Now it was obvious that I would never be in that league. As I told a friend, “I got to be sixty years old only to learn that I’m a wimp.”
My friend saw it differently. “Maybe that’s how you got to be sixty years old!” he said. That was some consolation. It helped even more when I could reflect that a strong desire to avoid harm may have helped keep me in AA for so many years.
When drinking I had sometimes taken daredevil actions that made me shudder after I sobered up. Such actions go along with drinking, but, in sobriety, I have always displayed caution and prudence. I can’t even stand to look at skydivers performing, and I wouldn’t even be a spectator at a motorcycle race, let alone a participant. (After all, motorcycles can get out of control and come over the fence at you!)
So, staying completely sober also meant avoiding the terrible risks that seemed to go along with drinking. One example: It’s been more than sixty years since I tried to punch out a cop, and I hope to go another fifty years without doing it.
I’m now eighty-two and have added another twenty-one years to the sobriety I had when I first learned I was a wimp who avoided harm. I’ll still try to reduce the harm for anyone still drinking, even though it’s risky to take car keys away from a drunk. But I would also ask, “Why risk any harm at all if it can be avoided by staying sober?”
Fortunately, though outed as a wimp, I can still keep my fantasies. That’s because I have my own copy of “High Noon.”