Today marks the one year anniversary of my first attempt to get sober. This time last year, I was shaking my way through withdrawals and looking towards the future with absolute terror. My success, my marriage and even my very life was on the line. I got my first twenty-four hour chip, expecting it to be “forever.”
I’ve gotten a few more twenty-four hour chips since then. I honestly don’t recall the exact number but that isn’t what matters. There is only one of them that matters and that is the one I received tonight, representing one full day’s worth of sobriety. Tonight, as I reflect on the last 365 days, I’m taking a moment to look at what I’ve learned. This year wasn’t perfect and it didn’t go exactly the way I wished for it to, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t learn an awful lot.
First, I can be sober and even learn to enjoy life without a drink. I stayed sober for almost six months from February through July and, though it was hard, I at least proved to myself that I can put some days together. I felt proud of myself and I know that there were other people in my life who were also proud of me. If I stayed sober for six months without really working the program of A.A. and if my life began improving measurably despite my lack of understanding and effort, I can only imagine what future awaits now that I am armed with the knowledge and the tools to maintain my sobriety. This coming year is not about learning so much as it is about doing.
Second, I have to do what the Big Book, my sponsor and others in my recovery family tell me to do. My own thinking is total, self-centered garbage at least half the time and every moment I spend reacting to my environment rather than mindfully asking for help and advice and taking a moment to reflect on what the next right thing to do is a moment in which I am placing my sobriety and happiness in danger. Impulsivity is a huge character defect of mine and if I develop the ability and awareness to seek advice before acting or to even consult my newfound conscience for a brief moment then I might be able to avoid repeating many of the same mistakes I’ve made throughout my life.
Thirdly, the simple knowledge that something is wrong does not change things. The Big Book says that self-knowledge alone cannot save us from our alcoholism. We need to act and we need to seek guidance from our Higher Power through prayer and meditation. I only recently came to understand and fully believe in the unmanageability of my life and how it relates to alcoholism but that simple knowledge got me nowhere. It’s time to take steps, twelve of them to be exact, and to propel myself into another dimension of living.
Another significant, although relatively late development in my self-understanding this year was that I suffer from manic-depressive illness. I suffer from it now, I’ve suffered from it for many years and I will always suffer from it. There is not a day that goes by when I will not need to take several pills and confront challenges that are associated with my natural brain chemistry. Not unlike alcoholism, I cannot defeat bipolar disorder, at least not in the conventional sense. Even despite taking daily medications, I will still need to develop skills and strategies for dealing with the ups and downs that will continue to occur. The only way I can accept my life with this terrible disease is to surrender to it. By surrendering to it I’m actually able to view it for what it is and spend my valuable energy learning to go with the flow rather than against it.
I have also developed a close network of friends, people who truly care for me both inside and outside the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has come to my attention that people totally unbeknownst to me have kept me in their prayers for years and that my family, whom I always considered to be so angry with me, has always been rooting for me. I’m also not the center of their attention – while they certainly care and wish what is best for me, they’re not preoccupied with my every failure or misstep. They have their own lives to live and I am, as stated in a previous post, not the center of the universe.
The center of my universe needs to be gratitude. When I really pause to reflect upon my current circumstances I can only stand in awe, not of the things I’ve lost or failed to gain, but that I still have. I have a beautiful wife who has remained by my side even as I pushed her away or ignored her. She has never stopped loving me and she is taking the necessary steps to improve herself so that we can build a happier life together. Her real strength is not in her ability to remain true to me, it is in her ability to change herself. I have seen her change tremendously for the better and she inspires me every day. Together, with the changes we are making as individuals, I truly believe that we are making a better, more enduring team. I have a family that, despite my many missteps, still loves me and has high expectations for me. The fact that they still expect me to find success and independence is a compliment to their faith in my abilities. It is good to fall short sometimes because it reminds you that you still have something to fall short of. If you’ve lost it all you have nothing left to measure. My health is also in pretty spectacular condition despite many years of substance abuse. People who drink the way I did often end up with serious health problems such as pancreatitis, even at a young age. Nevermind chronic health issues, I’m damned lucky to be alive. I’ve had alcohol poisoning, I’ve driven during blackouts and I could have broken my neck falling down the stairs but I’m still here. There are so many who aren’t so fortunate.
Finally, I have a Higher Power. I choose to call that Higher Power God and I believe that Jesus Christ died upon a cross so that I might find salvation from my sinful nature. I believe that my faith provides a light for me to shine onto other people and to make the world a better place and I believe that, by prayer, meditation and action, I can bring love and kindness into the world around me and, perhaps, even a little bit for myself. There are many paths to truth and enlightenment and I embrace them all. There was a time in my life not so long ago when I considered the possibility of a Higher Power to be the stuff of fantasy and delusion. I couldn’t see how science and progress could coexist with a God of any sort. How far I’ve come. God created a grand universe and has given us the gifts to better understand it. I love science even more now that I know I’m truly seeking knowledge of a higher truth and appreciating the grand majesty of His architecture. This Sunday, I will be baptized at my church and I am overjoyed. My God is a loving God and He seeks for all of us to seek Him by reflecting His love onto those around us. My Higher Power is somebody I can turn my will and my life over to, in fact somebody that I need to turn my will and my life over to. I’ve tried for many years to think my way out of despair and to travel my own path. Evidently, at least for this broken soul, it doesn’t work that way.
And so a “new year” begins. I am reborn and armed with the faith and the knowledge to act that I might actually save my life and improve the lives of those around me. There will be ups and downs this year and I have no way of predicting what they will be, but this year now passed has shown me that I can weather those storms and at least gain some greater clarity into life by doing so.
The sun sets in a beautiful blaze in my rear view mirror and it is colorful, indeed. The path before me is gray with uncertainty and choices yet unmade. I rejoice in the colorful year that has passed and the fresh canvas laid before me.