In my 12-step home group, we have a speaker meeting every Wednesday. I was asked to share my story for the first time in May of 2017. Regrettably, I focused primarily about my drinking days. I didn’t really talk much about sobriety and wellness. Today, I will try to recount my story and include more about the 12 Steps and my recovery.
One popular baseline format for sharing your story at a speaker meeting is the following:
- What it was like
- and What happened
- and What it’s like now
What is was like
First, a little about me. I have always been a little strange. Feeling like a stranger in social circles, or in public situations, has always been normal for me. I have high levels of anxiety and occasional bouts of depression. I have never been diagnosed, but I have symptoms including nailbiting, quirky social behavior and speech patterns. I’ve always found alcohol to be a remedy for my anxiety. It helped me to not feel anything, which was what I preferred.
My use of alcohol was actually MIS-use, or abuse.
Some people can safely drink and I don’t necessarily blame alcohol for my problems, per se. I have a predisposition towards problems with drinking. It became a serious disorder characterized by emotional imbalance and an unmanageable lifestyle.
My misuse of alcohol was progressive and inconsistent. My consumption levels went from bad to worse, then they would improve (I would drink less) periodically. If you take a look at my whole life, this is definitely the pattern. I drank every day for the most part, but I would go through terrible binges. In the final years of my drinking, I was drinking a lot, whenever possible.
I tried to stop a few times. I didn’t know how long it would last, but I wanted to prove to myself that I had control. This would last for a week or two, then I would give up. Also, I tried to moderate my drinking, or control it. This drove me crazy and it didn’t work.
Here is a summary of my alcohol misuse:
- Lack of control: I couldn’t stop once I took that first drink.
- Never enough: The feeling of insatiable desire.
- Always a reason: I always found a way to justify my drinking.
- Two lives: I pretended that I didn’t have a problem, but really I was a mess.
- Lived by a code: I created rules that made me feel like I had some control over this.
- I drank alone: My operational mode was to isolate and crack open a bottle.
- Robot: I felt like my life was on auto-pilot. I was emotionless and unavailable to humanity.
- Obsession: I lived for that next drink. I loved alcohol. My goal every day was alcohol.
- Medicine: I drank to feel good, and conversely to stop feeling bad.
- Desensitize: Along the same lines, I drank to numb out feelings.
- Sensational: I loved all the sensations of drinking, including taste, mouth “feel”, smell, sounds, etc.
- You like me better: I became a more enjoyable and fun-loving person, or so I thought.
Here’s what happened
My overall pattern was to wake up, go to work, then count the hours until I could drink. Sometimes I would have a beer at lunch, but always I ended the work day with drinks. The whole evening was usually spent drinking, at least until I ran out. Then I would sleep.
Once upon a time, I worked in a brewery. This made it very easy for me to drink after work. In fact, I was often able to drink enough to sustain me before I went home for the day. This was a borderline problematic situation where I drank too much every day, but I was able to get myself home and remain sober for the remainder of the night. On weekends, I largely abstained from drinking, but I would sneak off occasionally and get a quick buzz.
Then I started working in an office. Things got worse in several ways. Most profoundly, I started drinking more hard liquor. This really put me over the top. I started hiding it in my car, or in various places in my house. I was now sustaining my drinking from the time I left work until the time I went to bed. There were many times that I woke up and was astonished by how much I drank the night before. I was now drinking on the weekends, but not as much as the weekdays.
My drinking habits became so bad that a part of me wanted to get caught.
I didn’t know how to stop, but I knew that I needed to change. Something was needed to break the cycle.
I hadn’t laughed in a really long time. The constant fatigue was overwhelming me. My health and wellness were in noticeable decline. I remember thinking that if I were caught, the worst thing would be that I’d get to start over again.
That’s exactly what happened. While cleaning the house, my partner found my stash under my bathroom sink (what a stupid place to hide something). She was beyond disappointed in me. It was infuriating and the last straw. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it was the last time, hopefully.
I felt terrible for her because of my betrayal and selfishness. I became very sad because I felt like a worthless partner and person. Clearly it was time for me to get help, not just for the drinking, but for my mental disorder. I was a mess.
I was told that I needed to go to a 12-step group and that’s what I did. I was skeptical of these groups, so I also wanted to try therapy. This was a great choice for me, as it turns out.
At first, I had to navigate through the weirdness of the 12-step group. I had to sift through my preconceived, false notions about this organization. The 12 Steps were such a strange concept and, of course, “The God Thing” was scary. I remember trying to dismiss my feeling that this was a sort of secret society, like the Freemasons.
Getting therapy early in my sobriety was very helpful, if not critical. It provided me with a resource outside of the rooms, who supported me personally and provided ‘checks and balances’ for the 12-step ideals. Eventually, it was really helpful to have therapy in doing Steps 4 and 5 (taking an inventory of my character defects, and sharing my life story with another human being). However, I have really grown to appreciate and respect the organization, its principles and selflessness.
My recovery program for the first year included:
– Working the 12 steps and meeting with a sponsor
– Going to at least 2 meetings each week
– Reading books about Eastern spirituality – Taoism, Buddhism, especially modern ones
– Reading fiction books to get outside of my head
– Modest exercise
– Writing minimally on my blog and journaling
– Podcasts: Since Right Now and What’s That Tao All About?
What it’s like now
I’ve spent almost a year working on my amends to those that I have harmed. That’s a story in and of itself. At some point, I got worried that it was taking me too long to get it done. I realized later that there is no real hurry. Quality is the important thing. It’s not a race, more like a marathon.
I’m at the point where I’m really trying to work on my recovery on a daily basis. The question right now in my head is, “What are you doing today for your sobriety?”. The word sobriety could be replaced with recovery.
I’m using basic mindfulness and trying to live in the Now. It’s overwhelming to try think in any other terms, whether it’s thinking about who I used to be, or what’s going to happen in the future. They say that God lives in the Now, and I could argue that God …IS… the Now. One piece of this “Now thing” is that I can only do one thing at a time. It’s really hard to solve all of our problems and deal with all of our defects in one moment. You have to take things one step at a time, like eating a meal one bite at a time.
I try to remain mindful of all of the Steps in my daily life.
The 12 steps become a set of tools that are used in practice, or as needed on demand. Eventually, I think it becomes effortless. I try to catch myself when I have resentment, fear, selfishness or dishonesty. When I notice these things, I consciously ask my higher power to help me to take away the negative. I try to replace them with more positive feelings of love and well-being, patience and enthusiasm. When I realize that I’ve acted out and become defective towards another person, I try to quickly rectify things. Sometimes there is a delay, but I always try to make things right quickly. I try to remain honest and humble, and ‘keep my side of the street clean’.
Ultimately, I have changed the goal that I have for each day. I used to count the minutes until that next drink. Alcohol was the end goal of every day of my life. If I was drunk, life was peachy.
Now, my mission every day is to be a good person. My objective is to build character and be a loving person who cares about the well being of people, even the people that irritate me. Even the people that are annoying drunks. To take this a step further, I really want to be more active about the wellness of our planet as a whole.
Tao and the 12th Step
My concept of a higher power is almost exactly in line with what I’ve learned about the Tao. Personal recovery and the Tao are like peas in a pod for me. It’s amazing that there isn’t more talk out there about this. I’m soaking up as much about Tao and Recovery as I can. My intention is to create a website focused on the merger of both concepts.
When I pray, I speak to the Universe and a version of my self that I wish to be – a higher Self. I also speak to a nameless, formless mystery that flows through all things. My higher power includes electromagnetism, relativity, classical mechanics, thermodynamics, creation, destruction, Being – all of those things that science and religion try to understand. Whether my prayer falls upon deaf ears does not matter to me. It is an act of humility and has a practical purpose, even if there is no such thing as the God that many of us are told we must believe in.
Each day, I try to have a conscious contact with the Universe, and a connection to life around me.
I try to be a good person. In doing so, I hope to be of service to other people. I try to be available and not dismissive of other people. It is service and love that will help me crush the negative feelings that I get. Being focused only on my self has been detrimental to my life thus far, so service to others is critical in my recovery.
The phrase “Pay It Forward” comes to mind. I’ve been given the gifts of desperation, sobriety and a program for recovery. There are many gifts in the world, including the people I run across and the planet that we live on. I want to show my appreciation by helping people that are suffering and giving back to this world.