One of my first clear memories from early sobriety happened at a commitment when I was in a program. I remember this guy standing up and yelling, “Are you done yet?!” He then went on to explain that if you were not 100% positive that you never wanted to drink or use again in your life that you might as well leave right now. My first thought was, “well I’m not sure if I am done, I am only twenty years old, maybe I should leave.” That thought was quickly followed by, “For the sake of probation, I should probably stay for at least a couple months.” The day I heard this message for the first time, was when I began to question my motives in sobriety and whether or not I was ready.
I ended up staying at the program for about seven months. The “Are you done yet?” guy visited and delivered his message each month like clockwork. As badly as I wanted to drink and use again, being homeless became less and less appealing as time went on. I was grateful to be living indoors, brushing my teeth, showering and eating regularly and was hesitant to go back to sleeping under a bridge. Even though I was staying sober I had this nagging void inside me that I had no idea how to fill except with drugs and alcohol.
Around that seven month mark I transitioned into a sober house. I was in an area where I only knew a few people and was making a lot of new beginnings. I was attending AA meetings pretty regularly because the couple people I knew at the sober house were going to meetings. I had come up with a great plan. I would work long enough to buy a car, get my own apartment and then save up enough money to buy as much heroin as I needed. Perfect, right?
I will never forget the Wednesday night when I went to the meeting that would change the course of my life. This was around the time I had achieved ten consecutive months of sobriety. I still wasn’t sure what I was doing and had not committed to a life of sobriety. This particular night I went to a big book meeting. In this setting they read the book titled, “Alcoholics anonymous.” I had never read it although I had heard of it. I thought it was about a really old guy who was an alcoholic. Boy, was I wrong. At some point during the meeting I heard a women share and I really liked her personality. I don’t remember what she shared, nor do I think it had a profound impact on me. I just really connected to her personality. I remember looking at my friend and saying, ”I like her, she seems feisty.” At the end of the meeting they had people who were willing to sponsor people raise their hands and introduce themselves. That same woman raised her hand. For some reason I decided to go up to her ask her to sponsor me.
From the next week and on, my new sponsor and I sat down and met one time per week and we read from that book together. She read, and did most of the talking, but I listened. I learned many new things that profoundly altered the way I thought about alcoholism in general and my own. Looking back it was really easy to see that the moment I truly decided to go through the steps honestly and thoroughly, my desire to drink and drug went away.
I learned that I have an allergy to alcohol. I remember when I used to hear people in AA say that and I always thought it was an easy way out to refusing a drug. I learned that all an allergy is really just an abnormal reaction to a food drink or substance. I clearly had an allergy to drugs and alcohol. The reaction I had when I put drugs and alcohol in my body was definitely abnormal. The thing that made my allergy different than someone with a peanut allergy was that I continue to drink. Someone who is told they are allergic to peanuts will probably do their best to avoid peanuts from that moment on. I had a mental obsession that didn’t allow me to stay away from drugs or alcohol. I also learned about the phenomenon of craving. This was explained to me as a mental obsession that NEVER happens in a non-alcoholic person. The allergy and the phenomenon of craving never once will happen in a non-alcoholic. That was really life changing information for me. It wasn’t enough to keep me sober in the future, but it really led me to understand that I am truly powerless over alcohol. When I put alcohol or drugs in my body I have no idea what will happen next and it isn’t because I am morally incompetent.
All of these things allowed me to understand step one. I will never be able to escape from the allergy I have. I will never be able to pick up a drink and know for a fact that I will just have one. This is the first part of step one and is instrumental in my sobriety even today. It relieved me somewhat to know that by surrendering to step one I wasn’t committing to never drinking or using again. All I was surrendering to was the face that I am an alcoholic and I will never be able to drink or drug in safety again. That’s it. At twenty-one years old I could wrap my head around and surrender to that idea. Once I did, that obsession and desire to drink and drug went away! It was gone. For the first time in as long as I could remember I wasn’t planning my next high. What a relief this was.
The second part of step one tells me that my life is unmanageable. Looking back at my drinking and using this was very easy to see. I always knew that as soon as I got sober my life would become manageable. Imagine the surprise when it actually got worse. Sure, I was sleeping indoors and not stealing money from my friends and family anymore, but internally things got progressively worse. All the fear, resentment, and pain I buried for so many years was suddenly back and worse than ever. There is this part of the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous” that says, “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.” When I read that I was almost relieved. This is exactly what unmanageability looked like in my life in sobriety. I was relieved because I figured if someone put it in this book, I must not be the only person that felt that way. I learned that I had these “bedevilments” and the solution to them was the steps. I could temporarily mask them with drugs, alcohol, relationships, food, or self-harm, but the steps were the long-term solution to my alcoholism.
Learning these things was a crucial part of my sobriety, but they were essentially a small part. As the big book tells us self-knowledge is never enough. I had to take action and that’s what truly changed my life. I refuse to stop practicing what the steps taught me because I don’t ever want to drink or use again. I don’t ever want the desire to drink and use to return. I want to be happy and free from those bedevilments listed above. In order for those things to be true in my life, I practice the twelve steps on a daily basis.