Sunday, January 22, 2012

Recovery is a Decision, Not a Negotiation

A counselor said, in a treatment meeting, “I’ll have to see what my patient is willing to do.” I replied, abruptly, “No. Recovery is a decision, not a negotiation. You don’t negotiate with this disease, you either recover from it or you don’t.”
This is important.
Each morning I think: “Good morning, John. You are an alcoholic. Pay attention.” The first and most fundamental fact about my life is that I am an alcoholic and the first priority is my sobriety. If my sobriety slips to number two in my life, I will probably lose it.
First, I choose to be sober TODAY, and then I find out, as the day goes on, what the price of that choice will be. I don’t negotiate a price in advance.
On good days, the price turns out to be low. It is sunny and pleasant, and everyone I meet seems to agree with me. Sobriety is easy. On bad days, it is 100 degrees and humid, and people seem to annoy me. Sobriety is harder and it’s price is higher. No matter what, I make the decision for sobriety first, without knowing today’s price.
If I try to negotiate sobriety, and set a limit on the price I will pay, I will lose my sobriety. If I say I will go to meetings only when it is convenient, or only if no one offends me, or only if I get to keep my favorite character defects, I will drink again.
On page 58 of the book, the following invitation is offered: “If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it–then you are ready to take certain steps.”
That means, unless we are willing to go to any lengths, ready to stop negotiating our recovery, we are not ready to recover.
We avoid recovery by studying recovery instead of recovering. We cannot recover from a disease by studying it. We recover from a disease by treating it. I got a phone call from someone who wanted a scientific book on alcoholism for a friend. The friend had a drinking problem, and didn’t want “any of this spiritual stuff”, but preferred something scientific. I did as I was asked, and gave the name of a good book of science. I then said, “Giving this book will not help. We can no more recover from alcoholism by reading a scholarly book on alcoholism than we can recover from cancer by reading a scholarly book on cancer.”
Another version of negotiating with alcoholism is by negotiating for a lower level of activity than is necessary for recovery. Here we want what the program has, but are not willing to go to any lengths to get it. My first sponsor was blunt. He opened the book in front of me and said, “Here is the book. It’s in black & white. There are no grey areas. Read the black part. If you will read chapter 5 & 6, ‘How It Works’ and ‘Into Action’, and do what they say, you will never drink or use again.”
I have read it, and done it to the best of my ability every day so far, and I have confidence, not in myself, but in this program.
One more thing about this decision: It expires in exactly 24 hours. Every day, I need to make this decision over again. With the Grace of God and the fellowship of the program, I will keep making the right decision, without any negotiations.

John MacDougall, D.Min., is the director of Spiritual Guidance at Hazelden in Center City, MN. He welcomes your comments at

Published in the Voice, Fall 2011

My addiction counselor read this to me and gave me a copy and I found it to be incredibly profound and thought I would share it with everyone. Sorry it’s so long, but length, in my opinion, doesn’t matter much when the content could save a struggling alcoholic’s life.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend and I hope to write more soon :)

Guest Posting for Emily


  1. I really enjoyed reading this - thanks for posting! I agree with him that sobriety has to be number one in your life - it doesn't work if you don't have your sobriety as the number one priority. We certainly made our addictions our number one priority...we have to go to the same lengths in recovery that we went to in our addictions. And my sponsor has said over and over to people who want "what we have" but aren't willing to "go to any length to get it" - "This is NOT easy. If you want what we have, you have to be willing to go to the lengths that we go to. If it was EASY all the time, everyone would do it and stick with it." So true. I'm babbling...but I really did enjoy this :)

  2. I'm glad someone enjoyed it and commented :) I was beginning to wonder..."is anyone out there" from some song - haha!

    Let's hear from everyone - I know you're out there somewhere :)

    Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone! I have my first ARU meeting tonite since I've gotten outta rehab and am a little nervous, but my sponsor says I'll be fine and that they will be able to better identify with me since I've just been sober for 57 days. Anyway, I'll let y'all know how it goes!