Surviving Hell on Earth was a Lesson in Perspective. At the Time It Sucked, but It Turned Out to Be the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.
Nowadays we sell struggle. And pain. And blood and guts. We sell anguish and anger.
My alcoholic, and subsequent recovery, story isn’t anything all that special. Sure, I got in some trouble and I was facing some serious time for crimes I played a small bit role in, but I’m typically what you call a “high bottom” drunk. I quit way before things got really bad.
I didn’t do too many hard drugs. I never shot up. I never whored myself out to cover my tab with the dealer. I was never really homeless, if I was close a time or two. I caught a break going through intensive out-patient treatment when a doctor ran some intake tests on my liver and they came back really bad. At 22 I had the “liver of a 60-year-old chronic alcoholic”. He said I’d likely be dead of cirrhosis by 30… if I even made it that long. I drank for another year, but eventually I arrived at the obvious conclusion; I was f***ed.
The 26-year journey from the day I quit has been, at times, a serious struggle. My first year was a bitch… until they told me that year was a gift – and I found out what, exactly, that meant. They were right, it was.
After five years, the fog started to lift. The clouds broke around ten. At fifteen, it was partly cloudy. At twenty, the sun was shining. And at 25, it warmed up in the sunshine.
I truly believe the hardest days of my life are behind me. The hardest thing I’ll ever do was done at 23-years-old. Or perhaps, let’s say that if I choose to stay on my current path in life, the hardest thing I’ll ever do was done at the ripe old age of 23… Should I decide to firmly implant my head in my ass again and drink, the hardest thing will become quitting again. I know I’ve got another drink in me, I don’t know about another recovery.
So here’s the trick; everything I am has changed. I believe my Higher Power (God, in my case) granted me grace. I did something really good with that grace and quit killing myself, and torturing those who loved me (not an easy task as I was). My attitude and outlook on life has completely changed. Completely. I’m on a path that led from hell on Earth to Heaven, to where I’m truly grateful for every day I’m on the right side of the grass, pumping air.
Getting to the point without getting too deep into the weeds, and to put this in a way that anyone can use, my version of hell was bad enough. I didn’t have to dig any deeper. My version doesn’t have to be better than or worse than anyone else’s, what matters is that it was enough to get me to see that, after a whole lot of working to make me a better version of me, each day is a gift. Even the hard days, because as few as they are, they get me to the good (and vastly more plentiful). I’ve cleaned up who I am to a point that, instead of continually making and cleaning up messes I make, I’m able to concentrate on something higher. Something better. I can concentrate on doing more of what made the sun shine.
Because I’m no longer the drunk who was only capable of doing exactly the wrong thing at any given moment.
At the time I was going through it, my first year sucked. In two through five, I saw that first one as a glorious gift.
I thought I was doing really well in my fifth year sober, till I made it to ten and looked back – then I realized how hard I’d worked and was entirely thankful to have made it as far as I had.
Then came twenty, and I realized I really hadn’t known much at ten, but I’d made a good start of it – and besides, the sun was really shining now. Things were really clicking. My job was good, my marriage was great, the kids were good and doing great things… and my recovery was well spent.
Then I hit twenty-five and I realized I had a lot of room for growth, because in that short five years my life had gotten exponentially better… and I know that if I keep doing the right thing at any given matter, it’ll likely continue to get better. Quitting drinking really sucked at the time, but when I look back at how I’ve changed, it’s the best sucky thing that’s ever happened to me.
And why wouldn’t it keep getting better? For twenty-six years, since I started working a program of fixing the train wreck that I was, that’s all that has happened; things got better*. And if I can do it, anyone can. There’s an instruction manual. It’s 164 pages long, and they call it the Big Book. It just takes some want to. And therein lies the rub.
Better, you don’t have to be a drunk to use the work in that Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to better yourself. Just take the drinking out of the equation. Step one: We admitted that we were powerless, that our lives were unmanageable. Step two: Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him… and just keep going.
Powerless over what, you ask? Who cares? Do you want to get better or don’t you. Make a decision and roll with it. Powerless over being happy. Start there and build on it. That’s how it works.
*Not easier. Better. Big difference.