I quit drinking when I was twenty-two. Technically, twenty-two years four months eleven days. Barely old enough to legally get hammered in the first place. I started early, of course, but at the ripe age of sixteen I still started older than many other recovering folks I know. Most people make a thirty-year career out of it before they’re deep enough to want to change. I managed to pack a lot of “deep enough” into six years. In fact, many moons ago after talking about my short stint in a bottle at a meeting, one of the old, grumpy guys said, “Son, I spilled more than you ever drank”. I was prepared, of course. I knew I belonged, “Well if you hadn’t spilled so much, maybe you’d have gotten here sooner”. All of that spillage is true alcohol abuse, don’t ya know?
As the courts continue to swell our ranks through sentencing, it is my responsibility to help any young man* I can to find the happiness I’ve found – or at least as much happiness as they’re willing to work for.
When I first sobered up, I didn’t have a very bright future. A truckload of legal trouble to pay the piper for, a year and a half’s worth of a college education (a dismal failure, I think they actually asked me to not come back), no money and slim prospects for rectifying that. My last job before sobriety was as a victual transportation specialist… I delivered pizza, and I didn’t do all that great a job at it.
Fortunately, I had great mentors who taught me to take things one day at a time, to concentrate on the next task at hand rather than the nebulous outcome. In time I would come to learn that even if I could do something about outcomes, if I had the power to draw everything up the way I thought it should go, I’d have sold myself woefully short. Today I’m infinitely happier and more prosperous than I thought possible back then.
I met the woman who would become my wife shortly before my third sober anniversary. We had grand visions of living a life of hard work, forsaking having children, to accumulate wealth, travel and retire early. I grew steadily in recovery and learned a lot about good, clean living. At ten years sober, five years married and seven “with” my wife, we decided to have kids. We were at a tumultuous period in our marriage but we both vehemently agreed that it would be a great idea. Two months later my wife began her first trimester. We were already both heavily into running, in fact the decision to have kids was made at the finish line of a popular Fourth of July 10k. The next years proved difficult and shortly after the arrival of my second daughter, we were seriously contemplating divorce (my wife reminded me that we were close even at three years married, when we first saw a marriage counselor – I’d completely forgotten, though that first trouble spot was short-lived). In the end, after many years, a lot of hard work and dedication we finally found a way to live together in happiness and harmony. It’s not always perfect but our marriage is very good.
Work is work, of course, but it’s plentiful and pays the bills and I am blessed enough to enjoy what I do.
The beauty of recovering early is that, at 22 years sober, I still have half of my life to look forward to and I already can’t imagine life any better or more enjoyable than it already is. See, while a few hate them, Twelve Step programs are like a fully legal way of “cheating” at the game of “How to Enjoy Life”. They teach all of the best human traits to live by: reliance and reliability, honor, integrity, honesty, decency, helping others freely, reliance on a power greater than self… I could go on and on with the list, it’s too extensive.
The greatest thing I’ve learned (and begun to master) is how my mind works. How thoughts form, how I react or take action accordingly, which thoughts to entertain, which to go with and which to discard on the trash heap – and as long as I continue with my growth and sobriety, I’m only seeing the tip of one very big iceberg… My potential is so huge, I can’t even begin to contemplate how happy I can be because I’m limited by perceptions, dictated by my past experience. Because I chose to begin this journey so early in life, because I have so much life left, there is no end to the great things I can do.
Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball. This could be my last day on the right side of the grass, pumping air. Such is life, but I won’t bother waiting around watching the paint dry to see if that light at the end of the tunnel is a train, only to remain stagnant, stuck in fear, to find out at the last minute before the locomotive strikes me in the forehead that the light, for years and years was the end of the tunnel – the train was just the first to run the line in decades. That had I walked a few hundred yards, years or even decades earlier, I’d have been basking in the glorious sunshine.
*I only work with men, on sobriety. This can tend to upset a segment of women who have absolutely no clue what they’re griping about but men and women handle recovery differently. There are also questions of sex, manipulation and emotional attachment that a married man has no business getting crossed up with. This is not to say I ignore women, I offer whatever simple advice and encouragement I can, but it’s always at an arm’s length. If this bothers you personally, allow me to apologize in advance and feel free to comment below… Let me know your angst. It won’t change anything and I promise, I’ll get over it.