I was obsessed with the thought of a drink whenever alcohol was not metabolizing in my system. The mental obsession was my constant companion for over twenty years. But for the past nine years I have scarcely given it a thought. So what changed?
As I look back on early sobriety this go around I see clearly how the journey this time bears no resemblance to the fourteen years where I was in and out of recovery. For fourteen years I was on a kale and beet diet… nine years ago I was served delicious bacon.
(Yes my more politically-correct readers, I just made a comparison that implies that dining on a slaughtered pig is superior to the latest vegan delight. I am not a young man. I remember when kale was a garnish. That being said, I actually do enjoy kale and beet salad. Recipe sharing is always appreciated.)
So just how was the mental obsession removed?
It’s no mystery. I could– like the bloviating, self-aggrandizing blow hard that I am wont to be—complicate the issue and layout a theory of my own make. But when I did it my way, when I sponsored myself, there was only one constant… I kept getting drunk.
No, the formula is simple. I heard it early and often. I try to make sure the newcomer hears it as well: Trust God, Clean House, and Serve Others.
Granted, when I first started this journey my trust in God was as shaky as a two-legged stool. It would be more accurate to say that I trusted my sponsor (yes, I finally got one after fourteen years of failure) and he gently suggested that a life powered not on self-will, but by a Higher Power of some kind, might be something I should look into.
I got sober on March 18th. By March 22nd I was doing my Third Step prayer—turning my life and will over to the care of God I I understood God. That is not to say I had the God thing figured out. That was hardly the case.
I had doubts about God. I had unresolved resentments towards God. I had muddled thoughts about the nature of God. At best, I conceded that some people might be able to tap into that Higher Power. But I was afraid that my decades of debauchery probably had driven God to the point where God was just looking at me and saying: “And your name again is…?” It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t believe in God when I got here. More accurately, I was thinking God had long ago stopped believing in me.
That’s the beauty of the program came to the rescue–one drunk gaining the confidence of another. Though it may seem odd to refer to a sponsor as an authority, that’s exactly what he quickly became. Consider all the truths we accept because we heard it from an authority. I’ve never seen Fargo, North Dakota. But I have no doubt that it exists because I believe the people who have told me so.
Similarly, I believed that my sponsor had broken the cycle of relapse and had gotten sober. He told me that he did so by entrusting his life to the care of God. I quickly learned that my sponsor was damaged goods… just like me. I had a moment of clarity in which I accepted the proposition that God had inspired this program of recovery to help damaged people. I trusted, though I did not perfectly understand. Much like I trust the navigation app on my phone to guide me across town but understand global positioning systems oh but a little. Early sobriety was a period of near constant prayer.
Clean house? Yeah, my sponsor was kind of big on that. He believed passionately that inventory, sharing and amends were vital to breaking the cycle of relapse. His was not the slow and easy way. I was given two weeks to produce a written Fourth Step. Once finished we did not delay in sitting down and discussing it. It didn’t matter if it was a perfect 4th and 5th, those were steps to be revisited. I did the best I could in the fog I was in and we moved on. A quick trip through addressing character defects (I’d have to revisit that often as well) and I was making amends before I was sixty days sober.
Serve others? For me, I had to first acknowledging that people other than myself existed and mattered. I was self-centered to the extreme. But I learned pretty early on that this is a “we” program, not a “me” program.
Right at the sixty day mark my wife at that time announced she was headed out of town. In the past, that had always been a dicey situation. Alone in my home I could really get my party on. The last time she had taken a trip I stocked up on Costco-sized bottles of vodka and a hefty batch of delicious Costco King Crab Legs… well at least I assume they were delicious. When I came to, the bottles were drained bone dry and the crab legs were rotten. I hadn’t even bothered to eat… or to bathe… or to put the toilet seat up when I vomited. I just drank.
Her announcement that she was departing for a weekend had me concerned. My thinking was pretty squirrelly, the mental obsession—though weaker—had yet to dissipate. And then a flicker of a thought: What if I hosted a swim party and a bar-b-que. It would keep me busy. It would keep my mind occupied. I would put me in close proximity to scantily-clad people… always a good thing. Just one little problem. The only person I knew was my sponsor. The guest list was looking as anemic as a vegan who only dines on kale and beet salads… (sorry vegans, I just have so little respect for bacon haters.)
For sixty days I had come to meetings, shared little and kept to myself. If I was going to host a party I was going to have to initiate contact with other human beings. The thought terrified me. But the thought of being home alone terrified me more. It’s like the fear of wetting my pants trumping my aversion to using the all-too-public trough urinals at Dodger Stadium. I mustered up whatever reserves of courage I had and put myself out there. I thought they would spurn me. I thought wrong. Friendships were made and I became a part of AA.
I haven’t had the thought of a drink since.
Of course we are not cured. We are granted a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. I have blogged about spiritual maintenance. I actually blogged on that concept to as a reminder to myself.
For some, the mental obsession is lifted almost immediately. For some it takes much longer than sixty days. But those who fully commit to this program of action bear witness again and again that the miracle can happen. Trust God, clean house and serve others.