Idle Hands and Early Recovery; Don’t Get Lost in the Weeds, Get Busy. The Path to Sobriety has No Familiar Faces on It.
I’m working with a new, young fella in recovery. His story is next-level tragic next to mine. In fact, I have what some call a high bottom. The depth isn’t important, though. What is important is that I was ready to stop digging.
So my new kid is fresh off a relapse. He texted me Sunday (oh, how I love recovery by text message…) that he’d been on a bender and wanted to know if we could meet up. I explained that he should probably sleep it off rather than trying to drive stoned. Then he wanted to know if we should talk. I explained we should wait till he was straight as I don’t waste time on counseling whilst wasted.
I texted him on Monday and asked if he was ready to talk and caught him at the perfect time.
The conversation was good and productive, and once we got through the pleasantries of his relapse, we got to its cause: down time. Thankfully, I just happen to be a master at managing down time. Unfortunately, I only know one way to manage said down time, and it takes effort and sacrifice.
Those two things aren’t popular.
First, to those not in recovery, this information will be invaluable to you if you know someone in recovery (or who needs recovery). Second, for those in recovery, I’m about to share the only way I know to make recovery work in a world where alcohol and drugs are everywhere. You may disagree or have a different way. I am okay with you doing your recovery how you see fit. I’m also definitely okay with how I do mine.
Down time, the time not spent in a meeting, is the enemy of recovery. Simply put, we relapse when we lose an argument that happens in our head. Sadly, in the beginning if we have the argument, we lose the argument. It’s hard to have the argument sitting in a roomful of recovering people. It’s hard to have the argument when you’re actively working the steps or studying the Big Book.
Let’s look at when it’s not difficult to have the argument:
- Sitting around doing nothing
- Hanging out with using friends
- Sitting in a bar
- Sitting in the dope dealer’s livingroom
- You get the frickin’ idea
- This isn’t rocket science
- If you sit in a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get your hair cut.
- Don’t sit in the barbershop
In 26 years of continuous sobriety, I’ve been to five bars. Total. I should add here, I was a drinker. I liked my drugs, too, but they scared me a lot. I didn’t handle drinking very well so I wasn’t too adventurous with anything else, lest I really mess myself up.
Anyway, the first bar I walked into at six months sober. I wanted to live vicariously, so I went into my old dive to have a chat with the owner… who lamented having not seen me for so long, followed by trying to convince me that I couldn’t possibly be an alcoholic because I’d never been kicked out of his bar. It opened my eyes. I walked out still sober, but what I’d done was the opposite of smart.
That was the second stupidest thing I ever did sober.
The first was going into a bar with an old using buddy of mine at six months and a week of sobriety, for his Birthday. I had a near beer and a half. Even with that infinitesimal amount of alcohol in “non-alcoholic beer”, my body and brain remembered. I was as close as one gets to a relapse without actually relapsing. I found out the hard way, “non-alcoholic” means “not for alcoholics”. I made my apologies and left.
It was immediately after that last trip to the bar that I took my program seriously. I swore off every old friend I had – meaning, when they came around or called, I actually told them I would never be able to hang with them again, effective immediately, because I had no control over what I would do when we were together. This included my best friend in the whole world since my parents moved us to Michigan when I was five years-old. I cut my old life off completely. That’s the sacrifice.
I had to make a decision; sober life and a chance at happiness, or misery. I was out of options with drinking and I was quite tired of misery.
From that day forward, I surrounded myself with people in the program. Sober friends only. For more than a decade I chose only recovering friends.
Then came my third trip to a bar. I was with the woman that is now my wife and we went out dancing at a huge place called “Industry”… Think N.I.N, Ministry, etc.
- I had a valid reason to be there (other than wanting to get drunk or live vicariously through someone else getting drunk).
- I was on solid ground with my sobriety and working diligently on productive recovery. I was spiritually fit.
- I had an easy way out if I started to get squirrelly.
The only way I will walk into an establishment that serves alcohol is to have those three items satisfied. If one is off, I won’t go. Period, end of sentence.
The fourth time I walked into a bar was for a business lunch. The three items were checked and I even spoke with a sober friend before. This was only, ten or eleven years ago.
The last several bar trips were to see one-time huge national bands at The Machine Shop with my wife. It’s a bar that seats 300 or so. We saw Scott Weiland, Stephen Pearcy of Ratt, Spacehog, and a couple of others that my wife likes… Again, all three items on the checklist were met – if I can’t meet all three items, I go to a meeting instead, until I’m in a position to meet the three items.
When my recovery is on solid ground, the argument in my head is impossible to lose. Not only have I been able to handle situations which used to baffle me, I’ve grown enough to be able to shut down and win the argument in my head. This was once impossible.
My friends, that’s how it worked for me. I would advise, though, skipping the near misses. I barely made it through them. It could be said that I got lucky. It could also be said that God helped me through them. I choose the latter, but whatever works.