Recovering from alcoholism is not a joke. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t emotionally lovely… And it almost never happens in a country club setting (though it would have been nice if the State of Michigan would have sprung for that instead of shoveling pig shit on a working farm, but whatever – at least I made it, eh?). Recovery from alcohol a scary, ugly, messy process, at least in the beginning. The nice touchy-feely shit you see in the movies only comes later. In the beginning, it’s tears and snot, shaking and puking, sunken eyes and a lot of ugliness. It’s usually gnarly enough that you can’t put lipstick on that pig. There is a rare high-bottom recovery that sticks but those are almost as rare as unicorns.
When I first got sober I didn’t fight the process too much and I was told to do some pretty weird stuff. For instance, I had a new sponsor ask me (on the night I asked him to help me navigate through the “program”) if, when I parked my car if I pulled in nose first or if I backed into a parking space. I looked at him with a twisted, confused “Huh”? He repeated the question. Now, rather than fight it, I answered the question – I pull into a space nose first. His response was odd. He said, “Okay, for the next month I want you to back into every parking spot that you reasonably can. At the end of the month I’ll tell you why, and I promise you will see how this little exercise will help you get sober”. I didn’t say so, but I thought he was freaking nuts. Even so I did exactly that, for one month. We didn’t talk about the parking spot thing again until I brought it up the day after my month was up. Here’s how the exchange went:
Me: Tom, do you know what today is?
Me: I’ve backed into every stinking parking spot that I could for the last month and I still don’t know why.
Tom: Really? You actually stuck to it for a full month?
Tom: Nice. So you would like to know why I had you parking differently.
Me: Yes I would.
Tom: Pay attention, because this is important. I wanted to see how far you were willing to go to get sober. If you’re not willing to do something as silly as backing into a parking spot, how are you possibly going to be willing to do what it really takes to get over drinking? How would you be willing to do the messy work?
I understood immediately.
I tried this same exercise with a new kid I was sponsoring years later. Here’s how that went:
Me: Okay Wayne, I’ll sponsor you, but I want you to do something for me. When you park your car, do you pull into the parking spot nose first or do you back in?
Wayne: I don’t have a car.
Me: That’s fine, but when you drive, do you pull in or back into a spot?
Wayne: I ride a bike, my mom gives me rides to meetings.
Me: Hmmm. Which leg to you put into your pants first?
Wayne: I don’t wear pants, I wear shorts.
Me: Crime in Italy Wayne, do you wear freaking underwear?
Me: Good! Which damn leg do you put into your freaking underwear first?
Wayne: I don’t know.
Me: Think about it for a minute.
Wayne: Uh, right leg
Me: Fine, for the next month I want you to put your left leg in first.
Wayne (interrupting): But that’s stupid, why would I do that…
Wayne did eventually make it, but he went back out a lot before he finally got it. I did work with him, as best I could, too. As a casual reader, are you surprised he had a tough time? You shouldn’t be. If I was told, in the beginning, that standing on my head would keep me sober, I’d have been one standing on my head idiot. I’d have absolutely thought it was weird as hell, but I didn’t care. I needed the pain to stop and stop now. Wayne, on the other hand, was thinking too much. He was looking for the angle. He wanted to do the math in his head rather than stand on it. In short, this is the “surrender”, or cease fighting to win part of getting sober. I surrendered, Wayne kept fighting.
It is through this filter that I view fitness and weight loss. When I started running more than a decade ago now, I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground when it came to losing weight, my diet, or running – I just knew I didn’t want to be heavy anymore so I ceased fighting. The excuses stopped, the looking for an easier, softer way stopped. I strapped on a pair of running shoes, with the help of some good friends and I literally ran my ass off. Eventually I got to a point where I could pass what I’d learned on to others – or maybe it would be better to say that I got to a point where I had something of value to pass along – to give freely that which was given to me.
In the end, in both recovery and fitness, I had to be willing to be teachable. I had to cease fighting the notion that I could get better. I had to surrender to win – and win I have.