I consider myself a very blessed man because I was able to embrace recovery from alcoholism while I was still incredibly young. Notice I did not use the words “lucky or fortunate”. I was probably a little bit of both of those as well – let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of recovering folk who can quit at 22 and make it beyond twenty years without looking back or turning back to getting drunk. The good part of this story is that twenty years of making good decisions, opposed to the opposite had I continued drinking (and assuming that I didn’t die in that process – which was far more likely), is that I have become a contributing member of society – a good guy.
Now, I could have, and prior to my decision to recover – did, use excuses to stay drunk. After all, unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that alcoholism is, in part, genetic. Drinking to oblivion is what drunks do. I could hardly be blamed for acting on my genetic makeup, could I? Worse still, it’s also well-known that an alcoholic’s brain reacts to the induction of alcohol to the system differently. Put simply, when a normal person gets a little tipsy their brain says it’s time to quit – mine says, “that’s good and if some is good, more is better”. How could I possibly be expected fight what my brain makes me do? I could fill up an entire post with why I was meant to be relegated to the gutter, under the “care” of the government, sucking social security when I was perfectly capable of a good life.
There is a better way…
The toughest question I’ve ever had to answer was, “Do I want to get better, or not?” Recovering was a choice that, in my case at least, required a little intervention from God. At the last floor of my “bottom”, laying on the top bunk at a treatment center, in the middle of full-blown DT’s (Delirium Tremens), I asked God for a deal. I’d give everything I had to quitting if he’d help me by taking away my obsession. You see, with an alcoholic, as with most activities indulged in that are detrimental to society, it’s not the caboose that killed me, it was the freaking engine. The second that alcohol passed my lips I was doomed, I had absolutely no control over what happened next. The first thing that had to change was that first drink, it had to go. This worked for about a year and I was fantastically happy, but things changed. Simply not drinking was no longer “enough”. What most “normal” people don’t know, but all recovering alcoholics come to understand, drinking – or to cast a broader net, activity that has a negative impact on one’s life or on society as a whole, was only a symptom of a much larger problem. Rather than get to what that larger problem was (look at my recovery page, I go into great detail over a dozen or so posts describing the larger problem over about 10,000-15,000 words), I’ll keep it simple and just say that the larger problem, what goes on in my melon, had to be fixed. In short, not only did I have to quit drinking, I had to change everything that made up who I am, including how I thought. Think about that for just a second… I had to change how I thought. Over the next four to ten years I had to change how my mind took in and processed information. I had to change how my brain worked.
Unfortunately, changing how the brain works, how it processes stimuli, is not easy. It takes a ton of practice. A rollercoaster is the perfect metaphor – the Blue Streak at Cedar Point would be a great one. Mentally, you go up really slow, then you shoot down the first hill. You spend a short time at the bottom before turning skyward again, then up and down, up and down, a quick turn and then several rollers… The desire is, through working a series of steps and attempting to simply “do the next right thing at any given moment”, to change the rollercoaster. I sought to stretch the ride out so the highs weren’t so high and the lows weren’t so low. I sought and attained a more relaxed and balanced ride through life.
Now, here’s where this gets hard… Recovering from alcoholism, even though it is partially a mental and genetic disease is a choice that requires a few things. Arguably most important is rigorous honesty. We all know what honesty is, but the adjective is everything: The definition of rigorous is; “extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate”. In simple words, I had to check my bullshit at the door. Amongst this checked “bullshit” were the excuses and the notion that I was special or different. Excuses are the lies I tell myself and others so that I can stay sick, so I can stay drunk. I am just like any other drunk that walked through the door that separates bondage from freedom. My story is no more (or less) salacious than any other drunk’s. I had to accept that what happened to me was no worse or no better, that my story was no better or worse than anyone else’s. I also had to come to grips with the truth: That I was worth saving and that I could be saved, even if I didn’t know why (though that has become apparent many times over since those first few years).
To borrow a quote, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path [ED. I’ve never seen one, ever]. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average [ED. Remember, average is rarely have we seen a person fail…]. There are those too who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.” (the Big Book, page 58)
Though that quote was designed for alcoholics and those about to recover from alcoholism (and arguably those who continue to recover or have recovered), it works for anything that ails a person – if that person can be honest.
This is not an easy path to walk. Honesty is tricky, but in the end, those who seek to manipulate honesty for their own benefit are only hurting themselves. So the question I pose to those who may have something to recover from, whether it be something, anything from alcoholism to low self-esteem: Do you want to get better, or not?
Just remember, honesty is the best policy.