February 1st, 2018 marks 8 years since I have had a drink of alcohol.
I usually write a little something on the topic of recovery every year, but this go round I thought I would change it up. I feel it’s fitting considering my ideas of what recovery looks like have changed so much as time has passed. For instance, in my first year I was heavily involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups. However, after I took my year token I can honestly say I’ve probably only been to two or three meetings in the subsequent seven years. It’s not that I don’t see the value in 12-step or other self-help groups. I would actually credit AA with saving my life in that first year. My journey of self-discovery just took me down a different road.
I can’t stress enough here that just because I stopped going to AA, doesn’t mean I stopped doing “the work.” I’m going to say something that may be controversial to some, but I need to preface it first. I am in no way, shape or form knocking AA. Some will hear what I’m about to say and run a mile with it. Some will take this as just the thing they needed to hear to justify why they don’t need to go to meetings. At the end of the day, only you can know if you’re just making excuses and avoiding doing “the work.”
Here goes: AA does not keep you sober. Doing “the work” keeps you sober. AA does not lead to a joyous, happy and free life. Doing “the work” leads to a joyous, happy and free life.
This would be a nice place for a wide-eyed emoji.
When I was in treatment one of the counselors had an article up on his wall titled: “The Only Thing I Had To Change Was Everything.” I hated this article. Moreover, I think I just put too much focus on the fact that someone was telling me I had to change everything, and I pushed back against it. The more I sat with it, though, the more I realized the lesson in it. Everything in my life prior to that point had landed me in a hospital bed on the verge of death. What was I hanging on to? What was so great about my current situation? Why would I not want to change everything?
And this, my friends, was the beginning of “the work.”
“The work” involves a rigorous process of going inward and taking a long hard look at yourself. It involves turning over every (metaphorical) stone, looking in every dark corner of your mind, and getting down to the brass tax of what makes you tick. It involves being willing to be uncomfortable. It involves facing some of your biggest fears. And, it involves an unwavering faith that doing all of this work will eventually lead to a positive outcome.
For me, AA provided that first big challenge. I was a punk little (30 year old) know-it-all who had nothing to learn from this group of alcoholics. I was also terribly afraid and embarrassed to be associated with this group of alcoholics. And, therein was the first lesson. Could I set aside preconceived notions of this group and the people that make it up? Could I open myself up to new information even if at times it was contrary to everything I believed? Was I willing to humble myself, face all the shame, and admit that I was no better and no worse than anyone in these rooms? Spoiler alert. I was willing. But, that shit was an uphill battle.
I went to meetings consistently every week. I went to meetings where I knew a lot of people, and I purposely went to meetings where I knew absolutely no one, just to make it more uncomfortable. I went out for coffee with strangers, and I joined panels that spoke in hospitals (I only did that twice, to be fair. But, both times I was freakin’ terrified). I also got a sponsor and completed all 12 steps. Do you know what it’s like to try and apologize to everyone you’ve ever harmed? The point of this is, all of these things made me extremely uncomfortable and I wanted to learn how to become comfortable.
I wholeheartedly believe that, for me, AA was so much more than just a book, 12 steps, and some meetings. It provided fertile ground for me to challenge myself and learn to overcome all of the shortcomings that hadn’t allowed me to move forward in my life. Frankly, every single experience during that first year desperately made me want to drink, and I got the reward of learning how to do it all without the crutch of a substance.
Let me take a step back for a second. If you are still reading this, and you are not a person who has struggled with substances, have you been able to see the message in here that applies to your life, too? Like I said, this is not about recovery. This entire post is about sacrifice. Delayed gratification. This is about creating change in your life by any means necessary. This is “the work.” This is the part that most people are unwilling to do, yet still want to complain about how the universe keeps giving them the short end of the stick.
It doesn’t have to be AA. That just so happens to be the place I started pulling on the thread. Like I said, I stepped away after a year because I felt there was other work to do elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong; “the work” has never stopped. The lessons just keep coming. The reason I haven’t had a drink for 8 years isn’t because I HAVE to stay sober, it’s because I am determined to see what kind of life I can create for myself and drinking is something I’ve been willing to give up to get that.
There is a quote that I found early in my journey that asks: “Are you willing to live a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t?” This quote embodies everything I am talking about in this post and everything I live my life by.
It’s taken 8 years, but guess what I did today? Whatever I wanted to. I have two jobs, both of which I am the boss and I make the schedule.
What sacrifices are you willing to make to create the life you want for yourself?
As always, if any of this speaks to you I’d love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to comment below! But, please keep in mind that this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes, and is not intended to treat, diagnose or be interpreted as a substitute for therapeutic services.