We read all sorts of things about addiction and alcoholism; theories and personal stories and inspirational writings, things like How Addiction Works, or How I Almost Died, or Who is/why is God, or Do the Steps & Get a Sponsor, or How to Sober Up By Yourself, etc., etc. -- the topics are wide ranging and all across the board.
But... what about what it is like to live? What it is like after actually escaping the bottomless pit and surviving after sobering up and hitting recovery?
I'm no medical expert, I don't have a degree in any kind of counseling or life-coaching, nor I can speak for anyone else. But I can certainly speak for me, from my experience, and shed some of my light on this subject, what little there may be.
Okay, let's catch up...
The shortest of briefs:
Where I came from
A good home. A secluded family. Rules were very tight, church was very big, and God? Well, as much as He loved me, He was certainly pissed off at me... all the time.
I moved out around age 19. I was ready to go. At this point in my life, the only alcoholic beverage I'd had was when I was about five years old -- one bottle, one drunk moment, and then the alcohol simply disappeared from my life. Gone.
Just a hop-and-a-skip later...
At age twenty-one/twenty-three or so, I decided I was past a point where anyone could hold anything over my head. No law, no parents, no church could tell me I was "wrong" for doing anything, including drinking. I had my arguments, and they made sense. That was all I needed. And one more. Or two. Or a case...
Married to an alcoholic, I gave up. Complete harmony and bliss were an impossibility it seemed. So I followed suit, hoping she'd realize the errors of her ways -- an erroneous and disastrous thought process, but a true line of thinking to the codependent/alcoholic. It was for me anyway. And in short: we pickled. She died, and I was left terrifyingly alone.
No matter how much I tried to expire, Death had a different set of instructions. The Beast was kept on a leash just long enough to torture me; I couldn't stop drinking and wished to die, but the Beast couldn't kill me.
And then... I chose to LIVE
In an upcoming blog that I am currently writing, I'll explain the light-striking moment when a new Hope was revealed to me, in such a way I never knew existed. Until that time, just know that I discovered Hope. For now, we'll simply move forward -- to this blog, right here, right now...
What is it like since I've chosen to LIVE?
Hard. Joyous. Accountable. Depressing. Free. Introspective. Frightening. Enlightening. Accepting. Trusting. Hopeful.
These are only a few words to describe what I've been through in the last two years and eight-ish months. It's been a process like I've never dealt with before, learning to live Life. Here, let's take a peek at a few of the many things I look forward to on a daily basis.
Self-reflection and introspection
For the first time, I can look at myself and see what is going on with me. I mean, most of the time. There are still those times when I hinder myself with my ego, blind-fury, or selective-hearing (I am right most of the time, after all). But I can now look at what I used to believe was an unfixable, horrible mess, and I can see a fixable, somewhat horrible mess. Believe me, that's a huge improvement!
There was a time when I thought nothing good of myself, that the world would be a much better place without me! But today, I realize that, although I'm no knight-in-shining-armor, I'm a damn nice guy, a guy that people like -- because they can. I can look at myself and recognize when I've done something worthwhile, and when I need to stop what I'm doing and go make amends (sometimes immediately). I can see the value in what I do today, I can feel the worthiness of my actions (good or bad), and I can grasp the concepts of a reality that is... well, real. Are the days of my fantasy world gone forever?! Ya!
Okay, let's get back to reality, folks.
But now I know when my head is in the clouds. And today I can bring myself back to the earth -- or get assistance doing it, wanted or not.
Frustrations, and freedoms
They exist, hand in hand, actually.
Life's frustrations are all still here; trucks that won't start, flat tires that won't remain flat-less, wobbly steering wheels, dead cell phone batteries, forgotten keys for our locked homes. Ya. All that is still there, alive and kickin'.
In my past, that meant trapping myself in a dark box, for hours upon hours, if not days or weeks at a time. It was a very dark place, hating the moments, cursing one problem to the next, feeding an endless echo of self-loathing.
There's nothing an exuberant amount of vodka can't make me care less about. Including Life. The Bottle had me bound tightly in that dark, frightening box of self-hate and self-disgust.
Or... did it?
Today, living right now in my sobriety, I am free. I can choose to be arrested to the dreaded box, or I can get moving and realize that the freedom is in my choice.
Yes, it is true, I still get frustrated at Life and all the damn intricacies it has. But I'm free to do with it what I want. I can seethe, or I can reach out to connect and ask for help.
Connectivity (for the first time -- spiritual and humanistic)
I've got a connection today. Not only with my HP, whatever s/he/it may look like, but also with people. That's a big deal, because in my self-destructive past, I had chased everyone away.
If they hated me, I couldn't hurt them -- and just as importantly, they couldn't hurt me.
Except -- nobody hated me. Do you realize how hard it is to feel successful at anything when the success you seek is to have everyone hate you, yet no one will? Well, take my word for it, don't try it. It's painful, lonely, and very dark-box-bound.
But here's what I've found since I chose to live:
Sometimes, I am very lonely; disconnected.
Ya, it can suck. But on the flip-side, I can find a connection with either my HP (via meditation and prayer, nature walks, writing, photography, music), or another human being (a meeting, a phone call, even a text). And quite quickly, I might add. I never realized, until I sobered up, just how fast a connection could be made, not to mention the necessity if it. It is vital. And it's in recovery, whatever form that may take for each individual, that it gets created.
This is not a not a dream. It's real, it is possible, I promise. And life in Recovery taught me that.
Joy, serenity, and a hell of a lot of practice
Sure, I am sad on certain days. Frustrated on others. And even uneasy at times. But those are just moments within now. A piece of time from Today's many time-slices. The best part is, Time has many flavors of slices to choose from.
I think today, I'm gonna go for joyous. Maybe even serene. Or peaceful. Calm. Relaxed. Sounds yummy to me.
Wait, what's that? Time ran out? No time for joy or serenity or slices of peace?
When a baker wants a pie, a baker bakes a pie. Or perhaps a cake with some artificial flavors, but something is baked to get by until the next shipment of Happy-Joyous-and-Free. The problem is -- I'm not a baker, I'm a chef.
It's called practice and determination.
Now, I'd rather chef than bake -- baking is not my thing, it is not something that I enjoy doing very much, but I know I'll have to learn. Still, I had always been better at cooking up something angry, depressed, or sad. I felt worthless for so many years, I didn't know how to be anything but a Misery Chef! I had to rewire my thinking, rethink my value, and reevaluate my abilities and thought processes!
So I did.
I began struggling through recipes for the next couple of years. A little meditation here, a scoop of prayer there, and a dash of atheists and agnostics. Throw that into the yoga pan and toss it into the Native American oven next to the sober activities cake, and you know what I got?
A bowl full of Recovery's cherries. And believe me, it's not the same thing as Life's bowl full of cherries. Turns out Recovery is sweeter than wine. ;)
Recovery takes time. It takes patience and persistence. And it takes work. It is not so much work and effort that it can't be done, it truly is simple. As AJ says, "I said simple, not easy."
The reality is, this disease didn't happen over night. It took time to get to this point, for some of us it happened faster than others, but it took time, effort, and work nonetheless. Thankfully, sobering up can take considerably less time. Recovery, on the other hand, will take a lifetime.
... it doesn't have to be alone.
With some effort, open mindedness, a guide, small goals, steady steps, time, and a program, it is possible to go through life and recover from alcoholism and addiction.
It pays off, it truly does.
I never in my life thought that I would have accomplished anything; I had actually planned on being dead years ago. Today, I'm not dead. Today -- I'm very much alive. And you know what? I'm glad I am. I have met more people in my recovery than I ever knew was possible. I've learned more lessons about life, and friendships, and love, and spirituality, and Hope than I ever knew even existed!
I've become a lot more social, and although very scared at times, I have people I can turn to for assistance. I've been given challenges to help me cope with the social stresses. I've learned to not be alone.
I've also learned how to express myself . So much so that I created a website for other people (guests included) so they can begin to express themselves. I've even gone as far as starting a podcast, thanks to Tami for assisting me with that!
I've even reached out of my comfort zone and moved into a house ALONE, where the only person I'm responsible for is me (my codependent side is screaming in terror right now). Imagine that! My recovery isn't just helping me recover from alcohol, it is helping me recover from me! Blessed recovery, anyway!
I even started a self improvement challenge, used it, proved its success, and I'm working it again.
I picked up photography again.
Drawing and painting.
Editing (both audio and video).
I AM A RECOVERY-MACHINE!
A recovery center.
12-step programs (AA, White Bison, 12-step yoga, Buddhist groups).
My sponsors (AA based).
Yes. Me. Don't ever try to take that away from me, either. I was, and still am, determined to make my life better. Why? Because that's what I choose to do. I have a disease that will take me out -- if I let it -- but I don't intend to let it. I know that for me, one drink means guaranteed death -- it's no question in my mind. None.
It's the difference between these two statements:
I never want to drink again.
I want to never drink again.
And to live, I have to make choices. So I choose to rely on the help that is out there: programs full of people that have become friends -- comrades -- fighting the same damn fight and making the same decision as myself on a daily basis.
Does that mean I'm cured?
It's only that today, I choose to live. I choose today, to not drink. Tomorrow? Eh, I'll let tomorrow take care of itself. But today?
Today, I'll just stay sober.
And that is what it is like to live after getting sobered up and finding recovery. At least, some days...