When I started working on a self-improvement challenge I had created, it was geared towards the individual doing it at their pace based on what their goals were at the time. It was a very simple program, one to help a person grow into the better person they wished themselves to be. It was designed over a course of... well, let's back up just a bit here. Just a tad...
September 21, 2013
I had my last drink. Unintentionally, but the last one nonetheless.
October 1, 2013
I saw Hope for the first time in my life. I mean real Hope. It was explained that I was not actually broken, just sick. Then I made a conscious decision to not die.
October 24, 2013
Still utterly dazed, I traveled past cold, gray fields for hours to get home from inpatient treatment. Still wanting death, but now having had a glimpse of Hope, I challenged myself to find Life.
For the next nine or ten months I white knuckled it through meeting after meeting, both 12-step and intensive outpatient treatment, multiple times per day, listening to the clock's incessant, rhythmic taunting, "You (tick) will (tock) fail (tick) again (tock)." Over and over.
I begged to a god I wasn't sure I believed in, "Just get me to nine o'clock, and I'll be okay." I very vividly remember thinking this as I condemned every person in The Room for convincing my wife that she would die of this Beast's cursed disease -- a prophecy she wholeheartedly fulfilled, but I've written some about that already. As for now, nine o'clock was the magic hour, where all liquor stores would seal the doors and the raging waters would calm as the ominous cloud of cravings would dissipate.
The clock did it for me back then, one loud second at a time.
I began to find comfort in The Rooms, not because I saw Hope with each mile-marking token that was passed out on a regular basis, but because I knew that I, like many of the other new-coming sufferers, found a place I knew I could trust to be left alone. There was a simple peace found in the isolation of the crowded boat.
The aloneness grew old very quickly, so I invited two old friends to join me in my quest for stillness -- but they'd been there all along, I had just been highly successful in ignoring them all this time -- until now.
And Left Side and Right Side began plotting. The conniving bastards. The ship was sinking.
I was beginning to hate Life again -- maybe I had been wrong in my decision to live. I began to fantasize about my demise; the best way to hide my suicide was a simple, accidental death. I had many plans. Many good ones. A few great ones. I could make it work.
But my plans hadn't included a couple of people I met in a small, 12-step meeting I had recently begun to attend; a couple of members that were part of a sober activities group. They were my unexpected life-raft. With them, I found the island that my counselors had spoken about; a place I had been told to hope for, to reach for, and to move towards.
The skies began to clear up. I could suddenly see something more than just a room with dreadful stories being told again and again. As the light began to shine on each individual, three things happened:
- Those dreadful stories suddenly had a significance and were relatable; my perspective changed. These were people, many striving as hard as I was with their choice to not die, and struggling all the same. They were hurting as badly as... me.
- I began to see many wide paths light up before before me; all led to the light.
- I began to suit-up... and show up.
I reached a point in my life where I had to face unknown troubles and unrecognized feelings, and I was sick and tired of being alive again. I had rounded a mountainous bend on my path, only to find there was still a more daunting distance to travel. I was tired. It had taken me just over a year and a half to reach this point, and now I had more to travel?!
The Twins, Left Side and Right Side, now argued on a daily basis. Again. And they would not stop the arguing! Everything I talked to them about became a problem larger than Life, and the only answer they offered always ended in me taking my last breath!
How was I supposed to get help from those two?!
To make matters worse, I still hadn't fully learned how to open up and talk to a person outside of my head. I was physically tired on a daily basis, The Rooms were just there to give me a place to go, so as not to drive off a cliff. I began to dread, once again, the very act of being alive.
I was at an atheist/agnostics meeting, and I heard a topic discussed on "Expectations, and Limitations" (I've touched on this here).
Essentially, it went something like this:
"As humans, we expect certain things to go a certain way. We expect our brakes to stop our vehicles and we expect our paychecks to come in on time. These are relatively normal and healthy expectations.
"But what if our check doesn't come in on time? Do we limit ourselves and just stop going to work? If our brakes quit working, do we limit ourselves and never drive another car again?"
Hmm. I'd expected a shorter road, yet it was longer. Maybe I need to stop asking Left Side and Right Side for directions.
June 1, 2015
Fully aware that the above lesson could go in a couple of different directions, the direction it took me in, was this:
"I’m an Alcoholic, and I’m in Recovery. This [project] is dedicated to Expectations, Limitations, and Reality; things that Alcoholics and Addicts, of all varieties, have very skewed ideas of. The only way most of us can ever make it through it, is to do it, quite literally, one day at a time; with small goals, often just minutes away from each other. It sounds like a lot of work, and sometimes – it is. But we make it. We make it by focusing on NOW. Today. This very moment. And at the end of the day, we have a mile of successful steps."
So a challenge was born.
A challenge that represents our daily expectations, limitations, and reality. But it encompassed so much more for me. It opened up a world of acceptance, change, and an ability to learn the difference. It challenged me to do something about myself. To improve me.
So I publicly began a challenge and christened it "365 Days, and a Tree."
"I see that small, skinny coat, and I expect to fit into it; but since it won't go exactly as I plan, I simply don’t do anything at all. In reality, that coat is not meant for an adult, it is meant for a child, of which I am no longer. I need to stop focusing on my old behaviors and put down the child sized coat, and pickup the adult sized one. Now, I can focus on what needs to be done to fit into that."
Aka: Do the next, best indicated thing. How?
"365 Days, and a Tree is a challenge intended to get people motivated and focused, not on the year ahead, but on the daily challenges -- one day at a time -- knowing that a year is in sight. Each tree is a small goal, or set of goals, made each day. Think of it this way: Many times in my past, I've been struggling, let's say running, and just wanted to quit. But as I looked ahead, I could see a tree, so I made a deal with myself, "Just get to that tree over there, then you can quit. Just get to that tree." And once I did, it satisfied me, so I set a new goal, "Just get to that tree, right over there." When all was said and done, I'd completed the task at hand and put one more mile behind me."
It doesn't matter the goal, only that I suit-up-and-show-up. The "just do it." Pick up the foot, move it forward, and set it back down. Whether eating, walking, lifting, writing, singing, jobbing, adulting... There is no try, it is do -- or die. (You get the point.)
It is, quite literally, one day at a time, 365 times; and many, many trees in between.
This is exactly how I became sober and eventually began to live in recovery. Minute by minute, hour by hour. One day turned into a week, a week into two. Soon I had a month behind me, then six, a year. And now? Now I'm two years and just over eight months in recovery. That's 365 days at least two-and-a-half times, and many, many trees. And that's exactly how I do it to this day.
June 1, 2016
Speaking of 365 days, today is the one year anniversary for the day that I created (and began working) the "365 Days, and a Tree" challenge. In that time, I've done (and still do) a few things:
- Regained a spiritual connection via meditation.
- Work on the 12-steps (AA and non-AA related).
- Shot and edited videos for a TV station, non-profit groups, as well as for personal purposes.
- Rediscovered photography.
- Lost weight. Seventy-plus pounds (and counting), in case anyone is wondering.
- Started blogging (aka: learn how to express).
- Started a website called Drunkless for people to express and share their experience, strength, and HOPE.
- Started DrunklessLIFE podcasting series with the assistance of Drunkless members.
And best of all:
- Gained friends. Friends in the Program. In the Rooms. Some who've become very, very close to me.
- Stayed sober, while actively seeking recovery.
Note that this challenge is for anyone, with any reason to improve on anything; alcoholic/addict or not. It's about personal improvement. Eating habits, exercise and physical health, work habits, meditation/contemplation/prayer, yoga, church, commitments, relationships, talking/expressing, painting, writing, singing, house cleaning... it doesn't matter. It just requires the will to suit-up, show-up, and do the next, best indicated thing. That's something I've learned from AA, by the way -- not that AA is the only place to learn that, just where I happen to pick it up at.
The challenge's year has passed, and the second one starts anew.
So I begin again. I will continue to follow my goal to become mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically more fit, because it is healthy and good for me, and that's something I want.
My latest challenges?
- To continue working on my physical health. I want to jump on the ground to get that photograph, or climb that tree to video that point of view. I want to hike without being winded every four or five minutes. And I'm already so much closer... it's only a matter of time.
- To talk to people without stumbling all over my own words, to maintain interest with both parties, and actually hold a friendly conversation -- with complete strangers. I think HW called it "small talk." Hopefully up to three times per day, and then report back to my accountability partners. My counselor is up for the idea on this, too.
(This is part of the reason I podcast, by the way.)
- Continued spiritual growth, mental clarity, emotional stability, and back to #1, physical health.
Happiness doesn't grow on trees -- it is decided upon, acted upon, nurtured, strengthened, and worked towards. I'm not sure what the end result of "happy" truly is, but I can certainly say this: Today, I'm the exact opposite of miserable, lonely, afraid, and praying for death.
The ultimate goal (at this point, anyway)? (Gulp!) Speak publicly, in front of a live audience, about Drunkless and its awesome crew. To talk about our 365 Days, and a Tree and what the challenge means and has done so far for me. About Sobriety. About Recovery. And about a simple little choice that can offer a lost, hurting soul some Hope, for a lifetime -- a choice to not die; a decision to LIVE.
Will you join me?