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My Idea of a Perfect Day In Recovery Isn’t Exactly What Many Might Think – And It’s Definitely Not All That Sexy.

I’m fortunate enough to work from home one day a week. Wednesday. Technically, I’m at the office about 6:10 am, but I’ve got a meeting at a job just 14 miles from home at 9, so rather than drive all the way back to the office after the meeting, I work in my home office for the rest of the day. Yesterday was particularly awesome. And by awesome, I mean hard. I fixed my estimating software with tech support, wrangled a few jobs, worked on some estimates and, with the exception of a nice lunch hour, was busy an hour-and-a-half after I’d normally leave the office.

That lunch hour was special, though.  My wife is running for the local school board so she’s always busy lately.  While she was on the phone, I got her gravel bike out of the bike room… it’s been put away wet so many times the rear brake cable was frozen inside the housing.  It was so bad, I had to cut the cable and housing up by the handlebar to get the cable out of the shifter.  Worst I’ve ever seen.  Now, for most this would mean dropping the bike off at the shop.  Mechanical disc brakes, new cable and housing, internally routed.

I won’t lie, I put the repair off almost a week because I was nervous about running that cable housing through the frame.  In the end, after a few different tricks failed, I got it through the little opening down by the bottom bracket with some luck and a pair of needle-nosed pliers.  Once the housing was through, the rest of the repair was pretty straightforward.  Not exactly easy, but I did a very nice job.  Now her “other” gravel bike (she has two currently) is good to go, 100%.  Then it was back to work, right up until I threw my leg over my top tube just before 5.

I almost didn’t bother with the bike ride.  I know, I know, but it was a little chilly (low 60°), windy, gray and cloudy… it wasn’t exactly a day suited for an enjoyable ride.  That’s exactly what I got out of it, though.  I took the Venge for a two-mile spin to check out the saddle position and decided I needed to change it a bit after getting back to the house.  I put on a vest and moved my Garmin and Varia taillight to the Trek and took that for the rest of my ride.  I let the tailwind push me and picked an easy gear for the headwind.  It should have been a junk mile ride but I had a fantastic time.  I was smiling when I pulled into the driveway.  Never would have seen that ride coming.  Not in those conditions.

Then, with my wife at a board meeting and my kids at swimming practice, I cleaned up and picked up pizza for supper.  Eating was a little quiet and lonely, but as soon as I was done, I had to hustle out the door to make my Tuesday night meeting.

Best meeting I’ve been to in months.  For those in the program, you know those superficial meetings where people talk about anything but recovery?  Like anyone gives a shit about how difficult their life is because the groomer didn’t cut the dog’s hair right, or the lesson someone learned in humility because the pool guy messed up the pool’s pH at the second home in California, but they were able to control themselves and didn’t yell at owner (no kidding, I actually sat through this a few years ago – I actually laughed out loud at the “humility, living life on life’s terms” part). 

No, last night’s meeting was one of those where you really get down to what’s going on and how to get through life on life’s terms, both from a noob’s perspective, and then from a seasoned AA’s perspective, and finally from the perspective of someone who’d relapsed after 42 years of recovery.  We talked about what mattered.  It was one of those meetings where everyone walks out feeling better about their recovery than when they walked in, no matter where we are on the path.

I left shortly after the meeting and was asleep by 9:30, and I did fall asleep with a smile on my face.

My friends, true peace, contentment and happiness – the best recovery has to offer – isn’t about enjoying the huge victories and the big leaps in progress.  It isn’t about winning the lottery.  It’s about finding, appreciating and making the most of the good in normal day-to-day life.  

Yesterday wasn’t spectacular because I hit a homerun.  Yesterday was spectacular because I saw the good in everything life gave me, from the moment I woke up till the second I fell asleep.  If you want to slow time down, so at the end of 30 years you’re not saying “Where did it go?”, but “Wow, what a ride!  What’s next?!”, this is my secret:  Do the next right thing at any given moment, then find a way to enjoy that moment for what it is.

It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.  It just takes practice.  Lots of it.

“You Will Know a New Freedom and a New Happiness…”

In my post yesterday, I inadvertently stumbled on an aspect of recovery that I’ve completely missed. It kinda snuck* up on me. While I have troubles, just like anyone else, the majority of the time I think about happy things and I didn’t even realize it until I wrote that post. Even now, well beyond two decades of recovery, I’m still finding a new freedom and happiness – in ways I didn’t know were possible.

“Jim, if you just keep coming back you’ll come to a point where you think your life just can’t get any better. Then, six months will go by and you’ll realize it did. All by itself.

That promise was made to me when I picked up my 9 month coin. I’ve been there so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve experienced such contentment I often have a tough time believing it’s possible for it to continue, let alone get better. Then I find out it wasn’t only possible, there’s room for much better. As long as I continue to work for it.

I don’t struggle with money or worry much about food anymore. I haven’t had to worry about how I was going to put gas in the tank in almost two decades, now. We don’t live paycheck to paycheck anymore… and most important for my whole family and me, we don’t live under the shadow of my active alcoholism (neither my wife, nor kids, have ever seen me drink).

I don’t regret my past, either. I needed every last bit of misery to finally give up fighting to stay drunk. I needed for things to be that bad so I could have it this good.

I not only comprehend the word serenity, I live in it. Without question, I know peace. I write about these two items regularly.

This next one is interesting, because I’ve realized it’s a little different for me; no matter how high I was on the scale, my bottom only needed to be low enough that I wanted to stop digging, I can see where my experience, strength and hope still benefit others. It happens often.

Uselessness and self-pity? I don’t even remember what they feel like, and let me tell you, that’s enough to make a fella jump up and click his heels.

From the day I quit drinking, my life has changed in such ways, I barely recognize who I am contrasted with who I was. My whole attitude and outlook has changed.

There’s only one item that I fall short on; I haven’t lost interest in selfish things. I still like my bike rides and my free time. I like to sit on the couch over the winter weekends… but I’m working on doing better.

My friends, especially you, Nelson; I promise you, if you just keep coming back, your life will be so good, you’ll think it can’t possibly get any better. Six months later, you’ll find that it did… all by itself.

Just don’t fuckin’ drink or do drugs.

* Of course, it sneaked up on me, but I try to write how I speak, in generally common English and “snuck” is the non-standard past tense of the verb “sneak”. If anything, we know I’m non-standard.

The Difference Between Making It In Recovery and Relapsing; What It Takes to Keep Coming Back

Grab a cup of coffee for this post.  This is a long one.  Apologies in advance, it took that long to get to the main point.  I couldn’t cut anything without a convolution of the process.

Well, my friends, we’re only a few days out from New Year’s resolutions when everyone and their brother is swearing off alcohol for good… this time.

You’ve said it before, I’ve said it before (more than twenty times, I’d reckon), and we’ve all heard it before.  You probably don’t really believe it when you utter it.  I surely didn’t.  “Hoped”, maybe.  Nor do we believe it, when we hear it said.

What it takes to recover and to stay recovered is very simple, but sadly, exceedingly difficult to maintain.  Note, I chose the word “simple” in lieu of “easy”.  Simple, it is – they fit the instructions on 164 pages of a book.  That’s all it took, 164 pages, plus time and practice, to go from lost cause to happily recovering.  Easy, it isn’t.

Now, to be fair, I only know of one way to recover from addiction.  It’s the “free” way.  I don’t have to pay for professionals to assess my life and tell me what to do.  I can do it myself, with the help of a friend, because honesty takes care of the important stuff – and I’m talking penetrative, deep, dark, scary honesty.  On the plus-side, I only have to worry about me – being honest about how I’m doing.  The way I know is the “whole life” repair kit.  If happiness were measured as wealth is, I’d be the equivalent of living on the ocean in West Palm Beach.  There are other ways for folks to recover, but I’m not familiar with them, so I’ll stay in my lane, as we like to say.

So, there isn’t a lot to making it in recovery, but it’s a bit of a puzzle to make it all work.  The tough part is, each individual makes their own puzzle pieces – it’s up to the individual to make sure they fit together.  Let’s look at my puzzle pieces because I know mine, yours may vary a little bit.

  • I can’t drink successfully.  I’ve tried so many times, so many different ways, so many combinations… I simply suck at living and using at the same time.
  • I can’t use anything else successfully.  Folks, this isn’t rocket science.  If I can’t drink successfully, I can’t smoke dope successfully.  I can’t shoot heroin successfully.  I can’t smoke crack successfully.  Etcetera.
  • Those first two pieces are hugely important, because they form this next piece; I can’t use successfully, so I won’t try.
  • That piece forms the next; I won’t try, I’ll use twelve steps to recover.
  • That forms the next; I’ll put my arrogance aside.  I don’t know what’s best for me.  I’ll take some advice from others who have recovered before me.
  • That forms the next piece; step one…  and so forth, eleven more times.

These are all absolutes.  If I have any doubt in my mind, I need to squash it underneath my heel.  Thoughts will enter the gray matter between my ears that will work against those absolutes.  Those thoughts have no validity anymore.  They must be discarded (this last paragraph is 20-year recovery stuff that you won’t find in the Big Book – taking it to heart early in recovery will be like cheating).

From that point, there are a few simple things that’ll help keep us on the path.  For me, it was reviewing those first four points, but simplified.  See, I asked my Higher Power for a deal the day I quit.  The deal was; God, I can’t do this alone, I need Your help.  If You help me, I’ll give recovery everything I’ve got.

Rather than going through each of the first four points, I often referred back to the deal.  Basically, it’s a Big Book principle; I can’t, You can, I’ll let You.  Simple.

Too often we like to complicate things.  Well, I can’t have a Higher Power because [insert reason/excuse here].  Surely, crack cocaine was my drug of choice, so heroin should be okay, right?  How about meth, maybe?  Of course, that’s not how we justify it, is it?  No, we like to go for “weed” which enjoys the dubious distinction (either ignorant or dishonest, take your pick) of being less damaging and/or addicting to the user.  In the end, though, a drug is a drug and using pot is just as bad as heroin.

The main point about all of this is “keep it simple, stupid”.  Recovery may be hard, but it’s definitely simple.  Making it complex only serves relapse, and making it complex is a choice.  Going back to making our puzzle pieces, the more complex we make the pieces, the harder it is to make them fit together.

So let’s look at how we can beat the penchant for making simple things, complex.  In my case, complex-ing recovery was all about ego. It’s funny how many things fall back to the ego – and I have a perfect example.

I had a problem with doing a Fourth Step.  There were a few things that were going to have to go on that Fourth that I didn’t want to deal with in the Fifth.  For that reason, I created a “problem” with not being done with the Third.  I couldn’t do the Fourth because I wasn’t done with the Third, you see?

Well, that only worked on folks in meetings with fewer than five years of recovery.  The old timers didn’t buy it (correctly), because Step Three is only a decision.  It just so happens that you have to practice continually making the decision.  Anyway, I was called to the mat by a woman whom I trusted implicitly (I also had a mild crush on her, to be honest…).  She gave me the old, “Look, you’ve been working on the Third Step for a month and you still haven’t gotten it?  What’s really the problem?”

And I fessed up.

I didn’t want to do the Fourth because there were things on my Fifth that could have meant a year or few in jail if I made my amends.  That’s why I didn’t want to really complete my Fourth…  And you can bet, that whole episode made my Fourth when I finally did it a week later, after discussing the sordid affair with my sponsor.

The point is, I made the Third Step puzzle piece so complex, it couldn’t fit with the Fourth Step piece.  I almost drank over that mess, too.  See, when you get close to your first year of recovery, many of us get a little squirrely because we come to find that “just being sober” isn’t enough.  We have to free that trainload of baggage we’ve been hauling around, sometimes for decades.  We find we have to work the program in all our affairs.  We don’t necessarily understand what’s happening at the time, but that’s the “why” of it.

In my case, I put my ego (and fear) aside to do what had to be done to be free of my addiction.  I never knew what “freedom” would feel like until I did the Fourth, Fifth, (Sixth, Seventh, Eighth & Ninth) Steps to rid myself of the baggage I’d piled up and had been lugging around.  Without letting go and getting beyond that experience, I’d have been drunk (and I’d likely died long ago, my liver just can’t take anymore poison).  Instead, “I found a new freedom and a new happiness” that I didn’t think was possible.  Just like they promised would happen.

And I stayed recovered.

And I lived happily ever after.

Because I made the puzzle pieces so they fit together.

And that’s how it works.