It’s crazy that I’ve been sober for a year now. It seems like in the beginning you’re trying really hard not to drink. Then you’re trying hard to not think about not drinking. Then you progress spiritually through your program and neither think about drinking nor not drinking. And then all of a sudden you’re been sober for a year. What a whirlwind of a year it was.
What It Was Like
Coming into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, you hear these crazy stories of people overcoming incredible hardship in their lives. Some examples I’ve heard are:
- Going to prison, getting out and having to pick up the pieces.
- Losing everything: friends, family, job, marriage and having to go to in-patient treatment.
- Having multiple DUIs and still not getting it. Until losing everything.
- Being so selfish, while active in addiction, that upon hearing that his Mom had terminal cancer, resenting that he would have to spend time with her.
- Sex work to finance one’s habit
(I’m happy to say that all of these stories are from people I’ve met in the program who are now living happy, successful sober lives - being of service to others)
I’m happy to say that none of these were my experience. My rock bottom was getting shitfaced at my 10 year high school reunion, calling a guy that I wasn’t even interested in to come meet me at the bar, leading him on and embarrassing myself.
But on the inside - which is what leads most of us to addiction in the first place - I was as big of a mess as the hottest of hot messes.
Shit Burrito is a great analogy that I use to describe what I was. Perfectionist on the outside, steaming pile of shit on the inside.
To quote the bedevilments from the Big Book (We Agnostics, p. 52):
- I was having trouble with personal relationships
- I couldn’t control my emotional nature
- I was prey to misery and depression
- I was full of fear
- I was unhappy
- I wasn’t of any real use to others
My relationships were highly co-dependent. I would choose stronger people to cling to. People that made me feel safe. In a sense, people were my higher power.
On the other end of the spectrum, I would pick weak people to fix. People with more issues than me. People who I would look down on, to feel better about myself. By trying to fix other people, I didn’t have to fix myself.
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand how little chance you have of changing others”
Many of these people were also my drinking buddies, because misery loves company. And we were definitely a miserable lot. (Unfortunately, most of my old drinking buddies are still fairly unhappy.)
Romantically, I didn’t have much success either. Because I made my relationships about me. About my needs. Without much thought for my partner.
One of the underlying causes of addiction is emotions. And, in my opinion, one of our largest contemporary social problems. We don’t learn how to feel. Expressing emotions is weakness. Especially for men. So we hold everything in.
Even before I turned to alcohol at age 23, I avoided feeling. I either used food - or workaholism - to not have to think or feel.
I was massively insecure, yet masked it by acting arrogant. I craved the approval of others - wanted, needed, to be liked - even by people that I didn’t necessarily like back. And when they didn’t like me - or when I convinced myself they must not like me - it would crush me.
In reality I doubt most people thought about me much at all - they had their own lives to worry about - but my self-centered nature coupled with extreme insecurity made me obsess about my perceived image.
In the 4th Step of AA, one of the main things we analyze is our fears. And two of my biggest fears are abandonment or rejection. Now that I am aware of those fears - and the behaviors and feelings driven by those fears - I’m much less insecure. And able to rely on my higher power rather than the approval of others.
“We need to learn to distinguish emotions like anger and attachment that are destructive from positive ones like compassion that are a source of happiness.”
Misery and Depression
The irony of misery and depression is that many of us aren’t even consciously aware we are miserable. I know I wasn’t.
In a material sense, I had all of the things that I wanted. Most of the people I was hanging out with were pretty similar to me. I was convinced that I was happy. Or if not happy, at least better off than most.
And yet, I had to drink myself to sleep every night to escape feeling. Is that really happiness?
A year later, looking back, I realize how miserable I was. How much I was driven by resentment and fear. And doing whatever I could to escape having to feel.
Like misery and depression, if someone would have told me I was full of fear, I would have told them that they were full of it. I wasn’t aware that I was fearful.
But going through Step 4, I was full of fear. So many fears that I filled up like 6 pages.
Some of my biggest were:
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of being defective
- Fear of being not enough
- Fear of failure
- (but also) Fear of success
And there were many more. But these are some of the biggest.
I wish I could say that all of my fears magically went away overnight. They didn’t. But being aware of them allows me to be aware of my behavior and to redirect it accordingly. It’s a daily effort - a daily discourse with my higher power - to live a life that isn’t ruled by fear.
“True happiness comes from having a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved by cultivating altruism, love, and compassion, and by eliminating anger, selfishness, and greed.”
Most of my family members are unhappy. On both sides. Many are content, but few are happy. So happiness is not really something I was raised to aspire to. It’s not really something I was even aware of having or not having.
The thing about blocking out your emotions and feelings is that you don’t know what you’re feeling.
I still don’t know now that I would necessarily call myself happy. But I’m much less miserable. I’m able to take pleasure in the small little joys in life. Like:
- A hummingbird coming to the feeder on my patio and drinking
- A sunset driving through the mountains
- A beautiful whole moon on Winter Solstice
- Sharing a meal with a friend
Happiness is an inside job. It’s something that you have to manifest in yourself. No one - and no external things - can manifest it for you. It’s something that I aspire to every day. And it’s been a work in progress in recovery. Every day I’m a little bit less miserable. At some point, that will bloom into true happiness.
I think the 12th Step - helping others, carrying the message - is one of the most important things we can do to achieve true lasting happiness. Helping others. Being of service. Putting an other before ourselves.
“My advice is that if you must be selfish, be wisely selfish. Wise people serve others sincerely, putting the needs of others above their own. Ultimately you will be happier.”
While I was never aware of being useless, the fact that I was super selfish and self-centered means that I was only focusing on myself. And thus, I was more or less useless to others.
We alcoholics are selfish and self-centered by nature. Some of the most selfish people I’ve ever met in my life are people I’ve met in recovery. We must be diligent everyday to say the 11th Step Prayer.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!
That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen.”
To focus on being of service to others. To shift our focus away from what we want. This has been transformational in my recovery.
What It’s Like Now
Now to focus on the positives. What it’s like now. Just one year in.
One of the biggest improvements is my health. My sleep is way better. My liver enzymes have returned to normal levels, from essentially alcoholic hepatitis. I’ve lost weight. My skin looks better. My mind fog is gone. My focus has improved. My mood has improved.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect. But we strive for progress, not perfection.
9th Step Promises
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.
- We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
- We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
- We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
- No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
- That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
- We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
- Self-seeking will slip away.
- Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
- Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
- We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
- We will suddenly realize that God is going for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The Promises in my Life
Just to briefly go through the promises in my life: I’m free from alcohol. I’m aspiring toward happiness. While I haven’t realized what I think is true happiness, I’ve moved leaps and bounds in the right direction.
I’ve made peace with my past. I don’t regret any of it. All of it - the good and bad - have shaped me into the man that I am today. Since I can’t change the past anyway, I’m no longer worried about it.
I’ve found serenity and peace in my lie. I’m learning how to have fun without alcohol. One day at a time.
I’m using my experience to benefit others. Sponsoring men, speaking at meetings, reaching out to newcomers.
Uselessness and self-pity have disappeared. I aspire everyday to be useful to others.
I’ve become less selfish and taken a much bigger interest in my fellows. I’d like to aspire to be completely unselfish, but one day at a time.
Like selfishness, self-seeking has diminished a lot, but it’s not completely gone.
My entire attitude and outlook on life has changed.
I’m not scared of anyone. I embrace differences, I embrace diversity, I’m okay with change. Still not necessarily thrilled by change, but I don’t panic like I used to.
I’ve handled so many situations that would have baffled or terrified me in the past. And just went forward with them. Perhaps I didn’t handle them perfectly, but definitely a lot better than I would have in the past.
My higher power has enabled me to do what I would never have been able to achieve myself. In fact, I’d probably be dead by now had I not made a change.
For You, The Reader
Do you suffer from compulsive behavior? Drinking, drugs, overeating, sex addiction, co-dependence? There’s a 12 Step program out there for you.
You can realize these promises in your life too. You just have to be diligent.