While reading A Walk In His Shoes I did the old, “Don’t open that door!” thing we do during a horror flick while reading about the author’s early recovery. Let’s just say the door was opened more than once which led to quite a bit of calamity. That got me thinking about writing a post that has everything to do with recovery but not a lot to do with Twelve Steps (for those who might be averse). These are some of the other things that make recovery possible. In my experience, one can always tell who will make it and who won’t by whether or not they are willing to do these simple things – in no particular order.
Recoil from drugs and alcohol as if from hot flame. This means exactly what it implies. Alcohol especially, and drugs are everywhere. Hiding, unfortunately, doesn’t work.
Disassociate from wet places and wet faces. We say if you sit in a barber shop long enough and you will get a haircut. Best not to walk into the barbershop in the first place. Old friends and acquaintances have to go. I stopped hanging out with my best friend on the planet since I was five years old when I quit drinking and it was the right thing to do. Same thing with bars. No more. Even now, I have three criteria I have to meet to walk into a place that serves liquor. 1. I have to have a valid, honest reason to be there. 2. I have to have an immediate out (my own car, parked close by with no chance of it being blocked in). If my mind starts getting squirrelly on me, I’m out. And 3. I have to be on solid spiritual footing. That last one is tough to meet, especially early on.
I need a support group that is comprised of sober friends and a sponsor or two who know everything about me. About how I used, about how I manipulate, everything. I even had a sponsor early on who spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with my mother to learn some of my manipulations and conniving ways. Seriously. Dude was a freaking ninja.
Surround yourself with sober/straight people. Even the guys I ride with are sober. Several of them simply don’t drink while a couple have more sobriety than I do – and that was entirely by chance. You attract what you are, to an extent, so because I was healthy and sober, most of the partiers don’t want to have a lot to do with me anymore. Of all of the people close to me, none are practicing addicts or alcoholics (unless I’m helping them to recover).
Fix the wreckage of the past. This is a must. We drink and get high to escape. We have to fix what we want to escape from. Simple as that, and hard as it is. It’s best to have help with this, specifically from someone who knows what they’re doing.
Learn to do the next right thing at any given moment. We also call this “good orderly direction”. This goes back to that escape thing again. If I am constantly doing the next right thing, I won’t have anything to escape from. Eventually.
Continue to assess one’s motives and situation, honestly. Alcoholics and addicts are master manipulators. We simply don’t care about anything but getting our next fix. Well, when you take the drugs and drink away, the manipulator is still left. We like to say, “If you sober up a horse thief, he’s still a horse thief”. In simple terms, we have to fix that horse thief part too.
Finally, there’s the spirituality. While this is certainly not a requirement, I needed all of the help I could get. I came from a Catholic home so I had a fairly good understanding of God but all of the fire and brimstone of the Catholic religion was tough for me to grasp once I decided it was time to quit drinking. First, I was not a good kid. I broke many of the Ten Commandments and here I was asking God for help to get better… Why would He possibly take pity on me after I’d done so much wrong? I know people whose fear runs a lot deeper than mine and sometimes it’s hard to square. Why save me?! My concept of God had to evolve just a little bit. My own father was able to forgive me over time – and that’s the way I started looking at God. Certainly He is greater than my flesh and blood dad. Whatever works, I know people in recovery who believe in their heart that there is no God and they do just fine too. Their guide is more of a “the power of one alcoholic working with another to remain sober”… In the end, it’s whatever works. Including one of my old sponsor’s standby for those who are having a difficult time grasping spirituality: “Just start with believing that I believe”.
And I most certainly do.
ADDENDUM #1: Get Active! I’ve been active, between rollerblading, running and now cycling, for 18 of my 23 years sober (give or take a year) and my active years are vastly more memorable and enjoyable that the inactive years. I started out rollerblading almost immediately after getting my driver’s license back. After a couple of years I went into my inactive phase… I still stayed pretty active, with softball, a little bit of rollerblading and a lot of waterskiing/swimming, but after I got married I slowed down a little bit – and things got a little glum in my recovery. There were other factors, of course, but fitness, or lack thereof, had a lot to do with that. My wife got me into running maybe fourteen or fifteen years ago now and I’ve stayed exceptionally active since… I use my daily bike ride as an escape now. I’m never gone for very long and rather than cause problems, cycling gives me a chance to free my mind so I can better concentrate on the “next right thing” after I’m done. Fitness is an immense part of my happy recovery.
I have been practicing these things consistently for more than two decades. While I learned all of them early in sobriety, it took a while before I finally gave in and did it right. Thankfully I didn’t get drunk in the process. It is normal, early on, to look for the easiest, softest way to get sober. This is it.