When I got sober I was living in a residential treatment facility and my life wasn’t going so great. I didn’t grow up with aspirations to one day call a program my home. As a matter of fact, I didn’t grow up with many aspirations at all. I grew up in a city and remember feeling like I didn’t want to be there from a young age. I would isolate and only let a few people in behind my mask. I found alcohol and drugs at the beginning of my teenage years and it was like I found the answer to my isolation. I became the egomaniac with an inferiority complex that I hear about in meetings today. I no longer isolated because I thought that I was better than everyone else and had to show the world that I was important. I now know today that everyone is equal – no one is better than or less than anyone else.
My drinking career started innocently enough at a holiday party surrounded by family. I remember sneaking downstairs to pour a beer into a soda can. I did this for a couple of reasons. One being that no one at this party would let a twelve-year-old drink a beer. The second, and more important to me, was that I wanted the thrill of getting over on these people by drinking out of this “soda” can out in the open. That one day established patterns in my life that would dictate how my using career would escalate out of control years later.
One of those patterns was discovered by the fact that I didn’t like to be told what to do by anyone. What do you do when you don’t like authority? Simple, run away from it. I spent years blaming other people for my problems and running away from them. Now I realize that this is called the geographical cure – and that it doesn’t work. I remember moving out of my parent’s house at fourteen and living with other family members. When things didn’t work out there (because I was the problem) I moved back in with my parents. When things didn’t work out in this state, I went to another one. And when the same problems started happening fifteen hundred miles away, I came back here. Basically, the saying “everywhere I went, there I was” summed up this portion of my life.
One of the ways this authority problem affected my life was the fact that I was getting in trouble a lot. It started with my parents trying to help me change my behavior. Then it gradually got worse until the police were a regular part of my life. I got arrested often in my using days; even a half dozen times over one summer. I would wear this like a badge of honor of how tough I was. I once had a lawyer tell me that I was doing “life on the instalment plan.” All told, I spent two years of my life incarcerated. I describe it as being forced to live in a bathroom with a stranger. It was not a preferred way to live and today I enjoy helping others in recovery out of that way of life into a much more satisfying one.
Another pattern that I established was the searching for solutions to my life’s problems in relationships. I changed relationships almost as often as I did zip codes. It was always the same story, things would start out promising and end up in shambles. Again, little did I realize that I was the common denominator in these problems! I had no clue that I was trying to fill the God-sized hole in my heart with anything I could; whether it was substances or relationships.
So here I am at the rehab facility and in walks a commitment from an AA Big Book Workshop. I knew next to nothing about the textbook of Alcoholics Anonymous. I asked one of the commitment members to be my sponsor and he walked me through the clear-cut directions for the twelve steps found in the Big Book. I had my very first spiritual experience during this time. There wasn’t a bright light and I didn’t hear any voice that wasn’t mine but it was a much welcomed change of pace from the way my life had been going. Slowly, the way that I lived for over twenty years was disappearing and I was learning a new way of life.
During this time a local church came into the facility and held weekly Spirituality meetings. I liked the music and eventually started attending the church on Sunday mornings. What had initially attracted me was their “come as you are” mantra. Little did I know that it would awaken my faith that I had long abandoned from childhood. But something was different this time, I had personal investment in this faith journey. I wasn’t that child that was forced to attend church. I met a group of people that invested time, energy and help in my sobriety.
There is a line in a song called Uncomfortable that goes like this, “If you want to live a comfortable life, make sure you never love anybody, be selfish, and never sacrifice.” This is a clear picture of what my life was like when I was using. I didn’t care about other people or their needs. This was my “comfort zone.” I was familiar with looking out for number one. Recovery has taught me to step out of my comfort zone and get uncomfortable. The Big Book describes the program as altruistic. My sponsor defined that as selfless giving as a group. I no longer look out for number one today, because my Higher Power has that job. I simply ask for direction to be of service to others and somehow my needs stay constantly met.
One more pattern that I realized I had was the need for instant gratification. Whether it was a drug, alcohol, or relationships, I craved the most intense feelings as soon as possible. Once leaving that program, I was forced to break this pattern by taking baby steps in my early recovery. I had done a great deal of emotional damage to my family and loved ones. They weren’t exactly “all in” on this new version of me and had their reservations about how much I really changed. However, through Step Nine amends people soon realized that I was serious about this “recovery thing.”
I always thought that success was measured by material possessions and bank account statements. That was the lie that I chose to believe from a very young age because we didn’t have much growing up. We learned to live with less and I looked to others that had more as being “rich.” I so desperately craved to say those lines out of Bill’s Story in the Big Book, “For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had arrived.” Today, I realized that my worth really has little to do with material wealth. True wealth is measured by undeserved love and grace from others around me. I value the friendships that I have formed with others in recovery; true friendships devoid of any masks or pretending to be something I’m not.
Someone once told me at a meeting that “there was no such thing as a coincidence, it’s God’s way of staying anonymous.” Looking at life through this new way of thinking helped me realize all the ways that God has protected me until this point in my life. Even when I didn’t notice these things, my Higher Power was there looking out for me. Again, by thinking of others’ needs before my own, I am always taking care of. Things just have a way of working out. I’m not sure exactly how it works but I am certain that if I constantly think of how I can be of service, I will be taken care of in my own life.
Six years sober today; I still attend this church and regular AA meetings. It works for my connection to my Higher Power and keeps me grounded in sobriety one day at a time. What I have found is that there is a life worth living out there for me and many others that have dealt with substance abuse in their lives. That child that grew up without many aspirations and isolated is now a man of purpose and direction. There are still wrong turns in this journey, but there is a network of sober men and women that I can consult as needed.
Taking this new lease on life slowly and one baby step in front of another has resulted in a content and fulfilling way of living. Drugs and alcohol were a solution to a purpose problem. Have no purpose? Take a drink. Still have no purpose? Get high. Today this program has given life purpose and meaning. No longer is an outside substance needed for direction or purpose in life. Walking on this path of recovery one day at a time is guided by a Higher Power that I keep in daily contact with. If there is a question of direction or purpose, prayer is the first step to finding an answer. After prayer, there is a conversation with my sponsor who knows every single thing about me. No crevice or dark alley in life has gone unmentioned. This helps greatly because there is nothing that is hidden – everything is in the light.
The motivation to get up every day and do this thing called recovery is pretty simple. Witnessing miracles all around me has been the drive for continued recovery. I used to think as a miracle as a major life change or super religious thing. Today, a miracle can be something as simple as a conversation with someone in my network that bears fruit for one of us on our journeys. The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous has the ability to mass-produce these miracles.