I’m not usually at a loss for words but when a friend recently asked me how I got sober, I struggled to explain. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect–nearly 6 years now–and I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding the phenomenon that changed the course of my life. This is unfortunate because if there was a way to understand this process in measurable terms, the solution could be offered to each and every person struggling with addiction.
If I were to reduce my path to recovery to some fundamentals–or key moments– it would look something like this:
- Going to detox
- Rehab: A 12-step retreat
- Sober Living for 7 months (meetings, sponsorship during this time)
- Living on my own with people in recovery
These four things were all a part of my journey, but can they been seen as a recipe for everyone?
Personally, I know many people who can check off those four fundamentals, who are not sober today. Of all the people I got sober with, there are only a few people I can think of who stayed sober the entire time. There are others who had relapses who are now sober, and that’s good. But unfortunately, there are many who haven’t been so lucky. A couple were shooting heroin while battling cancer. Some went missing. Several have died. But what is more common, is that they’ve been “in and out of the program” for years . If I could pinpoint what has made my journey successful, I think The Tub would be more read than The Secret and I’d probably own many luxurious hot tubs and leather-bound books.
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My friend observed–and has observed for a while now–that I generally seem content and confident. More specifically, he sees that I’m “OK” when people (my friends) are drinking around me. This is all true to a large degree. So, when he sees another alcoholic in recovery who is seemingly fragile or unstable, he understandably believes that they should attack recovery in the way I did. He knows that I’m not religious, so he assumes (as many do), that I had some moment of clarity, where I mustered up the will-power to stop the thing that was ruining my life. He means to compliment me. But, while I don’t believe some religious God keeps me from downing vodka, the idea that I’m somehow more resilient than the countless other people who have “fallen” just cannot be.
I don’t know exactly what happened but it certainly can’t be reduced to will-power and resiliency. Even if I have more will-power now (which I don’t feel like I do) there had to be something that happened–or a combination of events–that changed my mental circuitry. I don’t believe you spontaneously go from uncontrollable substance abuse to nearly six years of abstinence. But what the hell happened?
If you asked me in November of 2010 how I was able to stay sober, I would’ve told you it was related to a Higher Power.
If you asked me in 2012 how I was able to stay sober, I may have said that living with sober guys and sponsoring people in recovery was keeping me sober.
If you asked me in 2014 how I was able to stay sober, I may have said that constantly striving to be a better person and walking through my fears was keeping me sober.
If you asked me last year how I was able to stay sober, I may have said that I have a profound understanding that altering my mind with a substance would never make me happy.
If you asked me today how I’m able to stay sober–well, it was asked–and I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet.
And this is the mystery of change.
Because it’s difficult to describe something (the process of recovery) in finite terms when you continue to live the process. And it’s equally difficult to pinpoint the origins of the problem (why am I alcoholic?). I definitely do not know the recipe for everyone–or even the specific ingredients that kept me sober this long–but I do know that it happened:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Today, I view recovery as an elusive spectrum. You can know 100 people in recovery who all present differently. On one end, you have people who don’t drink or do drugs (“dry”) but are absolutely miserable. Let’s put them on the left side of the spectrum and stay away because they’re usually volatile. There are others who are abstinent and supremely content and happy. Let’s put them on the far right. And then there’s everything in the middle. Thankfully, I don’t identify with the guys on the left but where I fall on this spectrum continues to change. I offered an analogy to my friend last night that I sometimes use when people suggest (without knowing they’re doing it) my story had a beginning, middle, and an end.
I say think of it as being in remission.
I don’t have any of the symptoms that plague the active alcoholic. I don’t obsess over drinking or getting high. I don’t fantasize about a time when I’ll be able to do these things. I’m not restless, irritable, or discontent. But even though I don’t currently have these symptoms, I truly believe they have the potential to reemerge. If I don’t maintain a certain equilibrium (and the complicated part is explaining how this happens), the walls of the hot tub collapse and I’m drowning–yet again–in Rubinoff vodka. There are people who view this fear as weakness. For me, it’s a healthy understanding. Many cynics view the line, “We admitted to ourselves that we are powerless over alcohol” as a tenant of learned helplessness that can cripple a person in recovery. They see the Steps as the antithesis of positive affirmation and self-reliant success. And that’s fine that people believe that!
But I was–and continue to be– empowered by that line of powerlessness.
Because when you come to accept certain defeats, you’re able to move on and live your life. You’re free from a pitiful slavery I hope none of you have to experience. Saying “I’m powerless over alcohol” is like accepting a breakup. You’re not weak because you move on. The weakness is spending your energy on something that doesn’t spend energy on you.
The weakness and devastation of addiction is clinging onto a game you’re not equipped to win. I’m good at a lot of things–ping pong, Ticket to Ride, and hot tubs to name a few–but I was not good at the drinking socially game. When I say “I was not good,” what I mean to say is that I may have been one of the worst of all time.
But I quit that game and now I write a hot tub blog so thanks, love ya, bye.