“Sobriety Sampling” is a Slippery Slope
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“Sobriety Sampling” is a Slippery Slope


This post was originally published on September 26, 2014.

Addiction is tough and sometimes I think it’s harder for the people trying to help the addict than it is for the addicts themselves. There are schools of thought when it comes to trying to get someone in the throes of their addition to see the light and make the shift towards recovery. Some believe in tough love, others in hand-holding—but a post in the Vancouver Sun by Michael Pond, a Vancouver-based therapist, introduces a method he calls “Sobriety Sampling,” where people attempt sobriety in small increments rather than making a grand declaration to swear off booze for good. Fair enough, I suppose, and not that far off from the One Day At A Time philosophy or the concept of telling newcomers who are not convinced they are alcoholic to go back and do more “research.” But it still feels like a slippery slope to me.

I am well aware of the fact that there isn’t a one-size fits all method of recovery from addiction—meaning, approaching recovery in one way isn’t going to work for everyone but the program of getting sober can be the same. To explain further: the same 12 steps have worked for thousands of people but not everyone likes a co-ed 12-step meeting or having a same-sex sponsor. Some people need to journal and meditate every morning, some don’t. I know for me, when I got sober, I hated my sponsor and the people in the meetings I was going to. They were AA hard-asses and I couldn’t get on board with the scolding I got when I was five minutes late to a meeting and how I was “going to get loaded.” If I hadn’t started going to other meetings and found people I clicked with in the program, I never would have stuck around. I don’t think we should baby anyone but I also don’t think shaming is the right approach either.

That being said, encouraging someone to white knuckle it through two weeks of “sobriety” and leading them to believe it’s progress towards bettering their lives seems slightly unethical. There are plenty of people who sobriety sample already—they are called chronic relapsers and some of them make it but many of them don’t. Sure, it takes what it takes to get sober but Pond—who is a recovering addict himself—should know that if the overall commitment to get and stay clean isn’t there, the only thing you are sampling is the discomfort of early sobriety.

Despite consuming two bottles of wine a day, the subject of the article, a woman named Sue, isn’t comfortable with the label “alcoholic” as her kids told her they don’t want to think of her as a drunk. Since Pond is her therapist and not her sponsor, he probably can’t really say, “Well, Sue, if you want to stop hating yourself and destroying your body, thems the brakes, kid” no matter how much he may want to. But there is something to be said for the old school do-you-want-help-or-not attitude. Alcoholics and addicts are notoriously rebellious; if you give them the power of free will and flimsy, non-committal options they may well take them, get on their victim-y high horses and ride away.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.