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In my first months of recovery, there was a pull to the dark, to relapse, that resembled what I’d figure a tractor beam in Star Wars would be like. The pull was pernicious, though unlike a mythical tractor beam, it could be resisted with the proper amount of bleaching from the light – the source of the light was working the program and meetings.
Fear kept me straight. The fear of what was next if I gave in to the dark and drank again. For once that outweighed the fear of how boring and devoid of fun life would be without booze and drugs (as sick as that may sound to an outsider, that fear has pull – it’s inescapable for some). Thankfully, I stuck with it and stayed in the light.
Now, don’t take this next few paragraphs wrong; there thousands of wonderful times that made me grateful for choosing recovery between then and now. Too many to recount here. Those are what made working through the tough times worth it. The good times were why I kept coming back, and as I grew in recovery, the good times began to overtake the bad. That said, 28-years into recovery, the light is so pure and bright that it’s sometimes difficult to grasp why I ever struggled in the first place. Understanding this is rather simple, though; I didn’t know it could be this good.
I was sitting at my desk yesterday, preparing a job that will be starting soon. It’s a rather large job, with lots of “parts” to it. Good preparation will go a long way in making it successful, though. I’m all over that. So, there I am typing and a text comes in from my daughter down in college, asking if I wanted to come down and do lunch. You know how my heart leapt. Arrangements were made and I left a little early, arriving about 20 minutes before noon to her dorm.
It dawned on me on the way over that this may not be just a casual lunch, that my baby could be in trouble and in need of a shoulder… but I decided shortly after that dawning I wasn’t going to worry about any of that until the conversation went that way. As I pulled in, I called my daughter from a parking spot and she let me know she was on her way.
Now, for lunch, I’d assumed we would hit a spectacular burger joint we found a few weeks ago but when I asked where she wanted to go, she said she found a new place she wanted to check out called Poke Fish. I was less than enthused but tried to hide it, probably unsuccessfully. But off we went.
I’m going to skip all of the boring stuff…
We had sparkling conversation and the best lunch I’d ever eaten. It was that good. I had the salmon and spicy tuna – raw as it gets, on a bed of fried rice with cucumbers, carrots, seaweed (freaking spectacular), spring greens, jalapenos and spicy mayo. I can’t wait to go back! The important thing is that my worries were not accurate. My daughter and I, for the better part of 45 minutes, simply talked about how things were going for her, how she liked college, how she loved the marching band… and it was mostly fantastic for her on her own. There were troubles, of course, campus life is rife with those, but that she loves it was the main gist.
Now, there’s more to her story (that I know but probably shouldn’t know), but there was nothing to gain from bringing it up. It’s already been handled and I wanted my daughter to see that she could just call me up for whatever reason, including just to spend some time with her dear old dad, for whatever she needs. Including a free lunch and great conversation.
We headed back to her dorm, stopping off to pick up a care package her aunt had sent but was delivered to the wrong building, then it was back to her dorm to drop her off, and then back to the office.
I got a little misty as I pulled away from her dorm building… how blessed and fortunate I am to be able to have that experience. This is the good life. That hour with my kid made all of the steps and work involved in recovery worth the effort.
It’s clear, had I given in to the tractor beam pulling me to the dark and kept drinking all those years ago, I wouldn’t even have been on the right side of the grass to have had the experience described above. Because of recovery, I get to feel. And it is good.
Keep coming back. I’m living proof it works if you work it.
Up until my 22nd birthday, my longest sober stint in four years was one week. I don’t remember much of that week as it was in my lost year (1991). I don’t remember much of anything from that year other than I was told my liver was shutting down and I had about eight more years on the right side of the grass at my current pace. I was bad enough that I tried to swear off drinking on my own, of course. I lasted one whole week. I knew AA was out there, but I didn’t want that to ruin my chances of going back to drinking once I righted myself.
A year later was what turned out to be my last drink and/or drug. I was down to seven years left on the right side of the grass. That stuck. I found AA and I finally hurt bad enough that I didn’t care about all of the BS negative clichés surrounding “the program”. I needed the pain to stop and, if possible, to lead a happy life. I’ve said it and written it a hundred times, if someone would have told me standing on my head in the corner would help me stay sober, I’d have tried it.
I’d hit “f*ck it”. That’s “f*ck it”, I don’t care what anyone else says, this life I’m leading isn’t going to end well if something doesn’t change drastically, and right now so I’ll do whatever it takes to change it.
Everyone knows millions have recovered using AA, a free program that doesn’t require anything other than showing up and working some steps. No doctors (though there’s nothing that says one shouldn’t include doctors, mental or medical, to the list of aides), no expensive plans… A Dollar to help cover the cost of coffee and rent – and that’s only if you have a buck to give. Well, those odds seemed a whole lot better than anything else out there, so that’s what I went with.
It’s worked, without fail, for 28, going on 29 years. Not only did it not fail, I did get that happy life out of the deal.
So what’s the trick to sticking with it?
There’s a list as long as my arm, of course. Make meetings, work the steps, be done and stay done, surround yourself with recovering people, work with others, give it away to keep it… but there’s something, one thing, that sticks out slightly above the rest. I have to work at it.
Folks, if I want to watch my life change for the worse before my eyes, all I have to do is stop working at a better recovery. For those newly clean and sober, if your recovery “sucks”, work a little harder at it. Early recovery is never easy, not when you’re dealing with all of the anguish related to the difficulties you created. The only way to get out of the muck is to plow straight through it. If we work at recovery, the suckiness doesn’t last long – and the harder we work at it, the faster the improvement (generally speaking).
That’s the trick. Work.
Meetings are being canceled left and right. Churches and schools alike are closing their doors with the hope of staving off the inevitable. Originally, I thought this was political (God knows the depths to which politicians will sink to unjustly make hay of a crisis – they’ve certainly shown their stripes with this one) but that argument just doesn’t work because the whole entire world is losing it all at the same time… it’s more than mere politics with this, and I’m beginning to understand, watching Italy tell those over 80 they can’t be cared for, the why of it. We need to get behind this to mitigate the damage.
This won’t be a commentary on the panic, as much as it will be a few suggestions on how to cope with the lack of the one thing active recovery requires; human fellowship.
Folks, my normal meetings were canceled this week. I’ve got about a week of sanity before shit starts going sideways so I’m going to have to get a little creative with how I work my program. As I like to say, my disease is sitting in a cage doing push-ups, waiting for a time like this… I have to be ready.
- Pick up the phone. Remember back to the days when you struggled to pick up that thousand pound phone? Well, if you’re not a natural at automatically reaching for it if you have an issue to talk through, now is the time to broaden your horizons. Pick it up. Call a friend. The person on the other end of the line, in all likelihood, needs the conversation just as much as you do.
- Home meetings with a handful of friends. Obviously, we have to be careful with this one. You know the drill, if someone’s sick they don’t come (though this might be a little outdated, they’re now saying everyone should act as if they have it).
- Read, read, read. Read your Big Book. Read your Daily Reflections. Read a Grapevine.
- Visit your sponsor – assuming your sponsor isn’t over 60, of course. We have to think of others first here.
- This is likely the most important: Write or do something constructive for your recovery. This could be a time that brings you down and makes you struggle, edging closer to misery, but why? Make this a time to really dig deep and grow yourself in your recovery. Deepen your faith, reach out and help others in recovery, grow in your program.
I heard something interesting on the radio this morning that really struck a chord. The last few generations were called to war. You’re being called so sit on your couch.
Sure, this will be tough but your recovery is stronger than this. Make it work.
There are a lot of tricky parts to recovery. For some people, figuring out the Higher Power angle is tough. For others, simply going to meetings is a big deal. For all of us, putting the plug in the jug is hard (or putting the cap on the bottle, throwing away the syringe, putting the pipe down, take your pick).
It’s hard, yes. No doubt about it, but that’s not the hardest part.
Usually, when a newcomer is approaching their first anniversary, they get a little antsy. Most often, this happens because they are coming to realize that “just” being clean or sober isn’t enough. Something is missing. It’s hard to put your finger on it, something just feels… off. This is you coming to grips with the fact that this isn’t just about quitting drinking or drugs. We have to apply the principles (and steps) of recovery to our whole way of life. And that’s why they say the first year is a gift. Because the real work starts in the second.
That realization sucks, because that’s A LOT of work you see ahead.
There’s another aspect that’s even more difficult to grasp, though, and it ties into the “whole way of life” concept. That tiny aspect is the topic of this post. Here’s a quote:
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he or she generally doesn’t think so. Above everything we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must or it kills us.
I’ve been practicing a program of recovery for decades and I can still forget that simple concept, and it can happen in an instant. As an example, just yesterday I got into it with a very good friend of mine and it devolved into a discussion about perceptions and double-standards. The “stigma” around recovery is a new hot button topic that fits nicely for this discussion. Many nowadays seek to change perceptions about addicts so the rest of the world views us as sick people (we are, and the gesture is noble).
However, as it pertains to my recovery, I can’t have anything to do with that debate (well, I can at my peril). In fact, to believe that society should do something about letting that stigma go is almost as dangerous to my sobriety as sitting in a bar every night “to soak in the life, to live vicariously through others”. It won’t be long before I’m drunk again doing something so foolish. My troubles are of my own making. I must concentrate on the trouble I made; or the part I played in creating that stigma in the first place. That stigma society has is my fault.
And that leads to the next important quote:
Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some point in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in the position to be hurt.
That second paragraph actually precedes the one above on page 62 of the Big Book. The point is, I have to be keenly aware that fear, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity will kill just as quick as a drink – because they all lead to the first drink.
As I’m concerned, dwelling on double-standards and why life isn’t fair is self-pity. It’s also a form of self-delusion based in fear. The stigma may be very real, but I can’t afford to tap dance in that puddle. I can only look at what I’ve done and fix that – we invariably find that at some point in the past we have made decisions based on self that put us in the position to be hurt.
I can only sweep my side of the street. Once that’s clean, let them have their stigma along with their cake. It doesn’t apply to me, anyway. And that’s a power that can’t be taken away, because it’s not false.
And that, my friends, is why recovery is never boring; there’s always something to work on, and for that, I am grateful.
Recover hard. You may not get another chance.
Are Meetings Needed to Stay Sober? From Dry Drunks and Popcorn Farts to Happy and Recovering (and Everyone In Between)
This will likely be the toughest post I’ve ever written. I am beholden to steer clear of controversy related to AA and the 12 Steps, but this is a hugely important topic that doesn’t get enough of a proper airing. I’m going to try to walk the tightrope.
Let me start by adding a disclaimer; the following is my opinion and my personal understanding. If you want to know exactly what’s in the Big Book, look to the forward and the first 164 pages. I highly recommend reading that rather than basing your opinion on someone else’s opinion. Especially when trying to make a determination on what the book does or does not say.
With that, I’ll begin. Are meetings needed to stay sober? No. And yes. One of the biggest misunderstandings about the aforementioned Big Book is whether or not other forms of recovery are acknowledged. Many mistakenly believe that those in AA believe “the program” is the only way to recover. This is entirely untrue. It’s a fabrication and a pervasive myth. AA does indeed embrace the idea that it does not corner the market on recovery. The idea that “AA” as a whole only recognizes its own “brand” of recovery is simply false (page 31, 38 & 39, bottom of 94, last paragraph of 95, and finally, 103). As I go, I’m only worried about my own recovery and passing on my experience, strength and hope that it might help others. Our stated goal, and I fully embrace this, is simply to be useful to others.
Where this gets tricky is that our brand of recovery happens to be very thorough. We “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to rectifying our past and making amends for our misdeeds. We learn to change how we think and live down to our very core. We look at everything that we are and seek to rise from the dregs of society to become productive members of society. Better, we do this without trained professionals and at little cost, beyond a Dollar to help with coffee and rent and a few more to buy a Big Book.
Put another way, if cancer could be fixed the same way, there’d be a line around the block to get into a meeting and no one would complain about having to work a few simple steps!
Happy and Recovering
That out of the way, I have two very close friends who lead perfectly happy lives who stopped going to meetings decades ago. One found God and happiness in church and the other simply got the message and changed his ways long, long ago. Both are fine, upstanding members of society and have more “clean time” than I do by more than a decade each. Those two alone show beyond a shadow of a doubt that recovery is attainable without meetings.
The trick is, each of my friends are mindful of who they hang out with and what they do with their free time; they’re every bit as vigilant as I am about my recovery. They also worked some form of program in the past where they transformed their life to break the cycle of addiction. These items are a must if one hopes for peace and contentment.
Dry Drunks and Popcorn Farts
Now we’re going to wander into dangerous territory. If I were to have sworn off alcohol for good and managed to quit on my own, cold turkey as they say, well, I’d probably be dead or drunk today. I simply couldn’t do it without the program and live with myself. I had to fix my stinkin’ thinkin’ and everything that came with it in order to sober up. I also needed the companionship that only comes with being a part of AA. And therein lies the rub – but that’s me. I can’t fairly say what someone else needs, I can only share my own experience.
However, where we get into trouble is when well intentioned people lack the ability to honestly assess their situation and become irritable discontents. Within the program these people can get help. Outside, without professional help, they languish, forever placing the blame that belongs on who they’re looking at in the mirror on other people, places, and things. Things they have no control over. These are your dry drunks that we often refer to as “drier than a popcorn fart”. They quit drinking by sheer will alone, and they’re not happy about it.
I don’t know what the answer is for people so afflicted. It’s a horrible condition indeed. I just do my part to be useful to my fellows, wherever possible.
In the end…
In the end, it’s all about happiness and contentment. Call it “quality of life”, a fantastic buzz-term for this topic. I continue to attend meetings because they better my quality of life. I’ve said for a long time (after someone passed it on to me), it’s a lot harder to fall off the wagon when you’re sitting in the middle of it, surrounded by 50 of your closest friends. It’s easier to fall off if you’re sitting on the edge, all by your lonesome. All that wagon needs is to hit a bump and you’re flying through the air, waiting to land in the mud.
Meetings and steps isn’t the only way to sober up. It’s a thorough way. It’s a useful way, and when done with gusto, a way to sober up that leads to an exceedingly happy life. I continue to go because going makes me happy.
But that’s just me.
Just Wednesday night, I attended a concert (Ministry) with my wife at one of the best concert bars in the world – and it’s a twenty minute drive from my house.
As you can see, it’s an “intimate” setting – we were but 20′ from the stage, and we showed up after the opening act. In other words, if you want to see a band, this is the place. It’s amazing. My wife and I have seen Stephen Pearcy (Ratt), Spacehog (Liv Tyler was there, too), Scott Weiland (Holy $#!+ was he awesome), Ministry and a few others.
The main point, though, is that it’s a bar. Friends, at just shy of 27 years clean and sober, I still check my motives before I enter a place like that: 1) Do I have a legitimate reason for being at the establishment? 2) Am I on solid ground, program and spiritually? 3) Do I have an immediate way out should I turn stupid at some point.
If I can’t honestly answer “absolutely good to go” to all of those, I won’t go. Skipping out gets a little pricey, so you can bet your @$$ I make sure I’m ready days in advance. No matter what, though, if there’s even a tinge of hesitancy, I’m out. No concert is worth the misery that would come with a drink.
So there I am, listening to one of my favorite of all time bands rock out one of my favorite all time songs, and some dude launches his beer (accidentally, I believe). Foam pelted my back. What I wasn’t expecting (getting doused by a beer at a heavy metal concert wasn’t a surprise), the guy apologized and used his sleeve to wipe my jacket off. I almost fell over.
As the night wore on and the band got to the older stuff (their new music is still quite good), the mosh pit got rowdy. I considered jumping in, given the stressful times of late. In the end, I decided risking a broken nose was probably not necessary so I just watched from the sideline. Blowing off some steam sure looked tempting, though.
Mrs. Bgddy and I left after the encore and the drummer started throwing his sticks, about 10:30. We were in the driveway at 10:50. And I was no worse for the wear. We had a brief discussion on the way home about how I was doing…
Because my recovery was built on a solid foundation, the world didn’t have to quit drinking because I did, and I don’t have to hide from it. Not anymore (it was definitely advisable while I was building that foundation).
I’m the one with this problem. It does me good to remember that.
Trigger (heh) Warning: I use derogatory terms when referring to drugs and alcohol, of any kind. I apologize profusely if it offends you, but it’s a defense mechanism for me so you’ll have to get over it. It has nothing to do with you anyway, so don’t get me started. You have been Trigger (heh) Warned.
Bill Wilson used PCP early in his attempts at recovery. He was wrong when he relied on it, but some drugs were actually thought to be useful back then, for certain mental issues. Thankfully, a lot’s happened in the last 80 years and we now know that PCP is bad. That’s a period at the end of the last sentence. It has no use in modern medicine, even though it did almost a century ago.
Anyway, this isn’t important – it has relevance, though. Let’s get into the Doobage Dain Broner Maintenance System and Recovery. More important, let’s start with what recovery isn’t. Recovery is defined by the thinking heads as:
“Recovery from alcohol and drug problems is a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”
Sucking on a joint, pipe, or bong is the opposite of abstinence. Now, I’m going to keep this very simple; there are no medical benefits in the use of pot worth sucking in the smoke in the first place. Politicians allow the ignorance persist because they want in on the money and it keeps the electorate stupid and easy to manipulate. The only thing better for that than alcohol is weed.
Recovery from an alcohol or drug addiction does not include switching drugs to keep you sufficiently high. Again, for the cheap seats, getting high the opposite of recovery. This is not rocket science. Let’s try to simplify this a little bit for the tokers in the crowd: In your comment down below, when you try to explain that weed can be an honest part of a recovery program, substitute heroin for pot for me. Try to convince me that because my drug of choice was alcohol, I should be able to shoot up some heroin and be fine. Heroin is too strong? How about crack cocaine? Meth? A drug is a drug is a drug. My friends, that’s quite literally how stupid it is to believe weed can be a part of recovery.
So why do I care? I’m going to be my usual blunt self (pun intended). I care because every person who puts down the dope and actually embraces recovery is a life saved from servitude. Every person who sees the light and stops using has a chance at freedom from the bondage to their addiction.
What it isn’t is a care that a stoner is going to somehow sully the word “recovery” by claiming dope smoking is a part of a recovery program. I couldn’t possibly care less how ignorant you remain. So long as you don’t expect me to cosign that bullshit.
Once we sober up and come out of the haze that once distorted our perception, we tend to want to dissect every little part of our life to figure out why – you know, because our thinking up till that point has been so spectacular.
Why do resentments mess with us so much? Why are we powerless over alcohol? Why must we only look at our part in a situation where someone else wronged us? Why must we find a Higher Power, something greater than ourselves, rather than go with self-reliance (because that obviously did so well for us right up until we sobered up)? Why this, why that, why the other?
Those who remain miserable (by choice, I might add), push the silly debates that don’t have simple answers. My resentment is different, I was really wronged and I don’t have a part in that, it’s all their fault and I have a right to be angry! So I’ll hang onto that resentment because it serves me so well, you know, being a victim and miserable and all… I don’t need a higher power because I’m so all-fired special that I can make self-will work for me! I don’t need the Fourth and Fifth Steps, I can skip those… This is what we call “the which came first, the chicken or the egg debate”.
Who cares which came first? They both taste great fried.
You can work whatever program you like, whatever you think will work. Just don’t come whining to me when you realize you’re a miserable shit… Of course you are! You skipped all of the important stuff that everyone else does to get better!
Let go of the great chicken and egg debate… It doesn’t matter which came first and never will.