Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ten years of sobriety

Today I am ten years old.

My first step to a recovered life was taken ten years ago today on December 20, 2001. It was perhaps the best decision of my life. I had spent most of my adult life lost in a haze of alcohol. There had been the usual attempts to quit, but of course they failed. How do you just quit? Someone on the outside of the disease would not be able to fathom the idea that you can not just quit. Not after you become a full fledged member of the kingdom of Lord Bacchus. I know I most certainly was.

I am grateful that I came into the program of Alcoholics Anonymous when I did. I was on the cusp of the last real old timers. These guys didn't play. They knew what it was like to be a bottom drunk, and dealt with you accordingly. For that I am grateful. Today way to many "high bottoms" and treatment center quick fixes have entered the groups. In my opinion this has diluted and distorted the message. That may anger some folks, but I do not care. I am a fully recovered alkie. I got that from following the program as it is laid out in the Big Book. Not by following the party line of some treatment center, and not by having run scared of the bottle. My Big Book still states on the first page that "This is the story of how one hundred men and women recovered from alcoholism." Emphasis is added on purpose.

My drinking took it all. I sacrificed every good thing in my life to it. When I came to the program there was nothing left but jails, institutions, or death. I was hoping for the latter to honest. My resume has more than enough jobs to supply several lifetimes. I could never stay employed for very long. The myth that is often times repeated around meetings that drunks make good employees because they need the pay check to supply their habit had no apparent effect on my life. It was not uncommon to wake up in the morning fully intending to go to work only to find a left over brew in the frig and then ........

I wandered into the noon meeting at the Central Carolina group. I couldn't share much more than my name. Don't remember what they talked about. But after that meeting a couple of members took me to a small diner and gave me my first hot meal in a good long while. Bless them. I still offer to feed any one that is hungry, even those whom I do not have any particular liking for. My gratitude will never cease till my last breath.

From there it was a pain filled journey. A twelve hour night shift job did a lot to help me. You learn that you have to internalize the message and the meeting in order to go through long and lonely hours without any way of contacting others. I also found out just how immature and ugly some so called members in good standing could be. That is part of the learning curve. Not every one that goes each day without a drink is sober, even if it is for a long stretches of time. I have witnessed many unscrupulous sponsors. I have seen the results. But they are offset more than enough by those who truly have a newcomer's best interests at heart. Maybe you get what you need, even if it leads you down a wrong path. And relationships in AA are to be avoided if possible. Two sickies can't make a well. I know from experience!

Do the steps. They are there for a reason. I can't tell you just how many people have prolonged their misery because of inept sponsorship and a vague fear of working the fourth and fifth steps. I now believe that some folks enjoy being miserable and sitting on the pity pot. I thought only the normal people did that! A careful reading of the basic text will show you that the third step prayer has no "amen" at the ending. The seventh step prayer does. My sponsor, a wise and gruff gentleman from NYC, explained to me that this was because the next steps were to be done immediately after the third step without any flinching or hesitation until one finished at the seventh. No truer advice has ever been given. The feeling of freedom is no exaggeration.  It is immediate and life giving.

Almost two years in to my sobriety and I found myself on the eleventh step. I started doing some simple meditation. The effect was electric. I had experienced a number of "phenomena" before this time, but had passed them off as an after effect. It takes at least eighteen months for the booze to leave the spinal column. But what happened after I began this simple meditation program defies proper description. Suffice it to say that my life began to take a different path at that moment, but I was unable to see it at the time.

After my mind blowing "spiritual experience", I had a second life changing event. I woke up to an on coming heart attack. The story of how I managed to make it to the hospital and all the rest is so full of the miraculous that I have not the space to do it justice here. It would take too many posts to sufficiently cover it all. I will say that on the day of this event I did physically die. I was summarily brought back and after having a stent procedure I was sent home to finish healing. I survived but something within me had taken a severe blow. I spiraled into a depression.

 I went through a lot of hard times after my recovery from the heart attack, including a second stent procedure to redo the originals. I found myself unable to perform the job I was accustomed to. A final bad marriage and the loss of my remaining possessions only added to my problems. Through it all I have never wanted or desired a drink. Which is something that I would like to hammer home to any one who is wanting sobriety. You know you have it when there is no desire anywhere at any time under any circumstances no matter what. This is not dryness. This is sobriety. It is not some mystical state, or psychological phenomena, it is simply what you are: fully recovered. There is no fight, no exercising of that will power you never had to begin with. It is a true miracle in every sense of the word.

It might surprise some folks to think that I would still be sober after having gone through all the crap that life has dealt right up and into the present day. But the fact of the matter is that I do not desire a prop of any kind and in fact I very much enjoy my life just as it is. Because it is life. I get to feel, to be myself, to learn, to continue on the rocky narrow trail to whatever lies before me, and I get to fully experience each moment of it. No running away. I think that's a hoot. I chose life and that more abundantly when I dropped the bottle.

Who'd of thunk it that I, at the tender age of 51, would pursue on a journey that is normally the realm of the younger generation. Move over young'ns. I stepped out to the shoulder of the road, stuck my thumb out, and embarked on an adventure that has not stopped yet. That is what sobriety is all about. "We believe that our Creator wants us to be happy, joyous, and free." Amen. You may have an entirely different understanding of that quote from the Big Book, but to me it is a license to be myself. To enjoy myself. To live as fully and as completely as I dare myself to. I am grateful to be here and now, today. It just keeps getting better. It works if you work it!

For another take on life lived fully check out my friend Niall Doherty's latest musings. It is well worth your time.

Travel in peace.

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