The other night I received my 21 year coin – clean and sober for 21 years. Two other people celebrated anniversaries that night – a two and a four month. Back when I got straight we celebrated the quarters for the first year and we got grief for that from some of the old-timers. They used to complain that a recovering drunk shouldn’t be rewarded that early on. Well today we’re celebrating the first six months, one at a time and then nine months and a year. This makes no never mind to me – I say we need something to celebrate when we first come in, might as well be with a coin and a chuck on the shoulder.
The big story though, was a friend of mine who has been around for a long time. About the same amount of time as I’ve got. When he first got sober, this friend of mine was bat-shit crazy. I mean gnawing on a dog’s leg crazy, I’m not using the term “crazy” artistically. He liked to think of himself, back then, as a tough guy. I used to hear his stories and rather than roll my eyes, though I did do that on occasion, I set about trying to help the brother in what little capacity I could. Here we are coming up on two decades later and he still likes to tell the story of the day I offered him the chance to look at things from a different perspective…
At the time, hell more than a decade later, I didn’t think what I said was such a big deal, but he talks about that day often. He’d gone through one of his usual rants about the fact that he was doing everything the way he should but it wasn’t working. He wasn’t getting any better. After most of the crowd had left for home I walked up to him and said something to the effect of: Look, have you ever considered the idea that you’re not doing this right?
He talks about that challenge today as if I were taking my own life in my hands, and I may have been – there’s no strong like crazy… But the reality is this: “If I didn’t give a shit I’d have kept my mouth shut, brother”.
Today this man is square. He’s married and has built a good life for himself, but he still deals with negativity poorly. Unlike most drunks, myself included, who are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes, he skips the egomaniac part – he only has the inferiority complex. He comes at life through the lens that he’s a worthless piece of shit and unworthy of saving. Where I have to take an inventory of what’s spoiled “on my shelf”, he is acutely aware at every moment of what’s wrong with him… His inventory had to look more closely at what was good.
To make a very long story readable, he has to come at sobriety from a very rare angle – so rare that I’d never have been able to help him get to where he is today (he asked me just the other day if I thought I could have and I had to answer no – back then I just didn’t have the grasp that I do today). He stuck with it though. He dealt with shrinks and sponsors and steps and through all that he did wrong in muddling through it, he did one thing perfectly: He kept coming back and didn’t quit quitting. So we’re talking the other night about his self-worth issue and I asked him if he realized what a blessing he’d been given… Now here’s the perspective and I may have missed it had I not written a post just twelve hours earlier about helping others (funny how that works).
My once bat-shit crazy friend learned a completely different way to get sober because his needs were different than most. I explained, “Brother, one of these days a complete nut is going to walk through those doors and you’re going to help save his life, you’re going to be his wrench. That is your gift”.
The difficult part in recognizing this, of course, is that when we’re sitting in our own stew it’s difficult to see something like struggling like hell as a gift. A gift it is, nonetheless.
There’s so much more though. Seeing this guy normal now , and knowing that I was able to play a very small but important part in it, simply by being myself and telling it like I saw it rather than pussyfooting around a tough subject with a tougher person is a huge blessing.
The trick, of course, was keeping my mouth shut until I could approach the brother because I cared about him. I must be mindful of my motives.