When an alcoholic goes to an AA meeting for the first time ever, the group always asks if anyone is at their very first meeting.
If someone raises their hand, they do what it called a “first step meeting.”
Everyone who speaks at that meeting basically tells their story: What it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.
The idea for this is at least two fold:
1) It allows the newcomer to relate to people. They realize that other people drank like they did. They realize they are not crazy, they are not alone. This is huge.
2) The newcomer gets hope because the people telling their story in the group seem to be happy and healthy. They have been restored to sanity. So the newcomer gets hope from this. Again, this is a big deal.
This website is not the same as an AA meeting, but someone is writing this, and what follows is my story.
What it was like
I grew up in a very nice family.
A lot of alcoholics have a very troubled past. Many of them had very tough childhoods. There was often a lot of drinking in the house when they were young. Or perhaps they were abused by a family member.
Not so with me. I had a nearly perfect upbringing, to be honest. I did have some pretty intense food allergies when I was young, which made me feel a bit awkward at school. Back then food allergies were not so common like they are today. But other than that my youth was pretty good. I had no complaints.
After I graduated high school I was still basically trouble free. I had not used any illicit drugs or been drunk yet. I had a few sips here and there but I never knew what it was like to get trashed. I was still innocent.
But I got curious. And I wanted to know what it was like “to be high.” I had never had a buzz in my whole life. So for whatever reason, just curious I guess, I sought out some marijuana and I smoked a joint with a friend of mine. No one pressured me at all. I sought it out myself. I wanted to know what it was like.
That one joint was like the light bulb going on in my head. Suddenly I was excited about something. I was passionate. And I distinctly remember saying during that first episode that “I am going to get high for the rest of my life. I have found my calling.”
So I continued to smoke marijuana for a while and then one night I decided to try alcohol. My friends were drinking and I suddenly had this revelation that I should just get drunk. I should do it. I had no idea what it was like, and I wanted to know about that too.
So I drank. And while I was drinking we also smoked more.
My friends reported that they had never saw me talk that much before, ever. Because this was my miracle drug. Alcohol fixed me perfectly. I was normally shy and quiet. But when I was drinking it gave me that courage, it allowed me to open up and speak my mind. It was a miracle cure for me. It fixed my personality.
For the next 8 or 9 years or so I continued to drink and use a variety of drugs. Alcohol was my true drug of choice though.
At one point I realized that I had a problem. But I wasn’t willing to accept a solution. I could admit that I was an alcoholic, but I was not interested in any solutions. The solution for me was to drink and use drugs. That was my only path to happiness. I did not believe that there were any other paths.
My family found out and they urged me to go to rehab. So I went to one. There I learned that the solution was probably lots and lots of AA meetings. I was not ready for that solution. I would not accept it. My plan at that time was to leave treatment and to smoke marijuana, but to avoid alcohol. My real problem, so I thought, was with alcohol. So I would just quit that and use marijuana instead. They refer to this as “the marijuana maintenance program.” It is notorious for not working out so well.
As you can guess, it did not work out for me. I got to a point where I was still full of fear and anxiety and I felt like I deserved to drink. Why smoke 50 dollars worth of something when I could buy a cheap bottle of liquor for 5 bucks and get the same level of buzz? So I caved after only a month or two and went back to drinking. Not good.
A year or so later my family organized a massive intervention and they sent me to Hazelden in Minnesota. I was 24 at the time and was the oldest kid at the facility (14 to 24 year olds). The nurses there told me that they had not seen a case like me in a long, long time. There were bruises all over my body and I had no idea why. They were truly scared for me. I was 24 years old and drinking a half gallon of vodka daily. One of the nurses shed a tear over this and I knew that I was in serious trouble.
But I couldn’t stop. I did not want to stop. I was too afraid. Too scared of myself. Too scared of reality. And so when it came time to plan the aftercare, Hazelden wanted me to go to long term rehab.
I was not ready for that. I rejected that solution. I was still in denial about how much help I really needed. Yes, I was an alcoholic. No, I was not willing to be “locked up for months” in long term rehab. So I left Hazelden and I drank again. I drank for another year.
Things got worse and worse. I was unhappy. I was slowly breaking through my denial.
So what finally happened?
Nothing too tragic. But it was enough. I had finally had enough.
I was living with my girlfriend at the time and I was obviously codependent with her to some degree.
Her family took her on a long vacation out of town and I was suddenly alone for the first time in a long time. Maybe the first time ever.
So I was alone and I was drinking and using drugs all by myself.
And here is the thing: I thought that this was what I wanted. Because in many ways I blamed the girlfriend for my unhappiness. In other words: “If everyone would just go away and leave me alone and let me drink then I would finally be truly happy.” That was my mindset.
Well, I got my wish. The girlfriend left on vacation. I was alone and I had an ample supply of booze and drugs.
And I was miserable.
This was the final straw on my denial. I could no longer run away from myself. I could no longer hide in denial. The truth was right there in front of my face, plain as day.
I was alcoholic and I was miserable. And even when I got my way perfectly and had unlimited drugs and alcohol, I still wasn’t happy.
And so I had this moment of clarity where I realized I would never be truly happy chasing the high, trying to stay drunk. It all hit me like a ton of bricks. It was very sudden. It was just one moment, one flash of insight. It only lasted for a few seconds. And I realized in that moment that if I continued with the drugs and the alcohol that it was futile. I would never be happy.
My mom had called me and was asking me when I was going to do something about my problem. For her it was just a routine conversation, she did not expect a miracle.
But she got one. Because I asked for help. I asked to go to rehab. And she took me.
And I haven’t had a drink or a drug since. It’s been over 13 years now.
The reason “it worked” then was because I had that moment of clarity. I had finally broken through the last of my denial. I had finally hit bottom. Everyone had left me temporarily, and I was left with my alcohol and myself. I had to face myself. I had to face reality. I could no longer blame others for my unhappiness because they had all left me temporarily. So I was out of excuses. I was unhappy, and the alcohol was the problem. I finally believed it. I finally got it. If I was going to be happy in the future, it was going to have to be sober.
I did not really believe that it could work at the time. But I was so miserable that I was willing to take a leap of faith. It was worth a try. Anything was better than the misery that I was living in.
So I went to rehab. My parents got on the phone and made it happen. A local rehab center, nothing fancy. They got me in fairly quickly.
I knew that I needed long term treatment. Just doing 28 days or less would not be enough. I was sure of this. So I asked the therapists to help me get placed at long term rehab.
More good fortune. I was placed in a long term facility that housed 12 men. Best decision I ever made. Stayed there for 20 months. Got a job. Was able to come and go. Went back to college while living there. Started rebuilding a real life.
I attended AA meetings for about the first 18 months or so. Hit them hard for the first 6 months and after that it trailed off quite a bit as I found other ways to maintain sobriety. I also chaired an NA H&I meeting one night each week for the first two years. That was tough for me because I am afraid to speak in front of others. But I forced myself through that and it probably helped my recovery quite a bit. Face your fears, grow as a result.
Later on I worked at that same treatment center, full time, for a period of about 5 years. I worked both with residential clients and as a nurse aid in the detox area. Very eye opening experience. I learned a lot about alcoholism and addiction while “being in the trenches” during that five years.
When I was living in long term rehab it did not get better overnight. It took a bit of time. I think at around 90 days sober I still had some very scary and frustrating moments. I can remember crying on my bed in my room, frustrated with everything, and thinking that it might be hopeless and that I might drink again one day. That was at about 90 days sober.
But I held on, and I didn’t drink, and it eventually got better.
At six months sober I was still living in long term rehab and I had a revelation. This was one of the biggest deals in my recovery journey. I had a day where I realized that I had not thought about drinking or using drugs all day long. Not once! This was a miracle.
This is what they talk about in the big book of AA. The relief from the obsession. The obsession over drugs and alcohol had left me.
Now take a look at the timing there. At 90 days sober I was still frustrated and in tears and ready to relapse. But I held on, and only 3 months later I experienced this miracle. This miracle where the obsession over drugs and alcohol had left me entirely. That is amazing. If you are new in recovery then you should take that information and turn it into hope. If you do the work and just hold on and don’t relapse then you can be free.
I never thought that the obsession to drink and use drugs would leave me. I said it was impossible. But it happened. And it did not take very long. About six months of dedicated work in recovery.
And that was 13 years ago. Since then it just keeps getting better and better.
This is one of the amazing things about recovery. This is really the biggest gift of sobriety. That your life just keeps getting better and better over time.
In addiction, the opposite is true. It is a downward spiral. Everything just keeps getting worse. The disease is progressive.
Recovery is the opposite. It is an upward spiral. Things just keep getting better and better.
That is the great hope of sobriety.
This is why you get clean and sober. To become the person you were always meant to be.
So that you can learn, grow, and then help others. It’s freaking amazing.
What it is like now
Today I have over 13 years sober and my life is a whole lot different.
In fact, my life is not anything like what it was in early recovery. Nor is it very similar to what it was like at 3 years sober, or 5 years sober, or even 7 years sober.
Instead, it keeps changing. It keeps getting better.
I attribute this to the holistic approach that I use for recovery. I have what I call “The daily practice.” Every day I engage in healthy habits. And I am always looking to expand and refine this daily practice, so that I am taking care of myself in the best ways possible.
What am I doing to love myself today? What am I doing to take care of myself today? These are the questions that drive my actions on a daily basis. You have to be kind to yourself so that you can be kind to others. You have to nourish your soul so that you can spread a message of hope.
I’m not perfect today. Far from it. And I don’t necessarily want perfection anyway. I want the process. I want to keep learning. I want to keep peeling back more layers of myself, getting down to the honest truth, and figuring out one more way to take better care of myself.
This is a process that I am still uncovering after 13 years of sobriety. Even in the last few months I have made tremendous gains in this area.
The process will never end. That is, the process of becoming the person you are supposed to be. The person that you were meant to be.
I thought at one time that I had recovery pretty much figured out. And I got pretty comfortable with myself. And I was coasting a bit. That gets you into dangerous territory. That can lead to complacency.
There are a million different forms of complacency.
I have learned today that the solution for this is to assume that you are complacent. This doesn’t really hurt you. It can only help. Just assume that you are stuck in a rut. Now, what can you do to kick start yourself into action? Figure out what that is, then do it. That is your action plan for sobriety.
When you take care of yourself in all of these different ways, it allows you opportunities.
There are no ways to predict these opportunities. You just do the work, take care of yourself, learn to love yourself, and then suddenly, happiness and good fortune shows up on your doorstep.
You see someone in life who has achieved amazing things, and you say “well, they are just lucky.”
No, they have a process. They have a daily practice. They are doing the work, probably working like a dog to push themselves to learn, to grow, to love themselves. And then life shows up and rewards them for it because they are in a strong position to take advantage of opportunities.
The holistic approach doesn’t make much sense from a short term perspective. It doesn’t really help you today or even next week.
But the holistic approach to recovery will reward you down the road if you do the work. It multiplies over time. If you take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually then at some point you will say “wow, somehow it all just came together for me!” Well, duh. That is because you did the work! Of course it takes some time for the universe to sort all of those benefits out. But eventually they all trickle down to you.
I have an amazing life today.
I am healthy.
I have amazing relationships in my life. People who care about and love me.
I have people in recovery who try to help me. And others that I reach out and offer help to.
I am on a path of personal growth. I am open to feedback, to criticism. I want to change, even though I get lazy and resist it at times.
I am grateful just to exist today.
Existence itself is enough. Nothing more is required. Pure gratitude.
I don’t always feel that much gratitude. Sometimes I can still be pretty selfish in fact.
So I have to work at it.
I have to remind myself. I have to use process. I have to make gratitude lists.
Today, I have every reason to be grateful in my life.
I just have to remember this.
So every day I try to reinvent myself, and to be grateful for the lessons that the universe serves up to me.
That’s what it is like today. Not a perfect life, and I am far from being perfect. But I am happy to be learning. I am happy to be in the process.
The process of becoming the guy I am supposed to be…..