1,000 one day at a times

Not long ago I passed a milestone: 1,000 days sober. I’m proud of that accomplishment. Best 1,000 days of my life. By a long shot.

At the same time, I still feel like I’m a baby in sobriety. I spent more than 8,000 in active alcoholism. That’s sobering. My 1,000 days is a small fraction of my lifetime of drunkenness.

It’s another paradox of the program: time both matters a lot and is meaningless at the same time.

I’ve certainly accomplished something that I’m proud of. I’ve seen the the promises come true in my life in their own way and to varying degrees. I’ve won for the last 1,000 days and everyone around me has won with me.

At the same time I wake up each day with only that day. Regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow, today is my focus. Today is the day to use as I will. For good or bad.

Today is the gift.

String together enough todays and I’ll get to 8,000 and beyond. One at a time.

The Real Issue With Addiction

Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution. —Russell Brand

For normal person, the issues of addiction seems obvious. The substance is the problem. Get rid of the substance and you resolve the problem. There is some truth in that for the addict.

But an addict knows the deeper truth. The substance isn’t the real problem. The real problem is in us. The problem is our failure to deal with reality as it is.

We simply don’t want to deal with life on life’s terms. So we numb ourselves and avoid reality.

And the deeply seductive truth of addiction? It works. Reality does change. At least it feels different under the influence. So we want more. And more. And more.

We can’t get enough. And we never will.

There are only two options once addiction has someone in it’s grips. The first is that addiction runs it’s natural course. There is only one result that happens when addiction runs its course: death.

The other option is surrender. And when the addict surrenders to reality as it is there is hope.

Recovery is not easy. But with surrender it is possible.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Another Body on The Road to Recovery

This week the news has been filled with commentaries on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Oscar winning actor was found dead in his apartment with a needle sticking out of his arm. Another casualty of addiction. The picture that has emerged is of a life full of talent and accomplishment gone wrong after picking up again.

A few days ago, he was seen drunk in Atlanta. Then looking disheveled sleeping on the plane back to New York. The day before he was found dead, his ex girlfriend and mother of his three children saw him and thought he was high. And at least one of the reports said his apartment looked like a shooting gallery.

When I first came into the rooms of AA, I heard people say that on the road to recovery you step over bodies. I didn’t get it at the time. After a few years sober it has deep meaning for me now.

For every one that has found sobriety, there are dozens that have not. Many will not. And many of those who do not find recovery will die from the disease.

There are also those who find sobriety for a time and lose it. Hoffman, apparently, was one of these.

Husbands, fathers, sons, wives, mothers, daughters, and friends, who will never recover from addiction. Some of them appear put together on the outside. But without recovery, they are sick and decaying on the inside.

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says, “We are sure God wants us happy, joyous, and free.” For so many in recovery, this is their life experience. But there are so many that will wrestle with demons and never find this life experience. Or find it for a time and then lose it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of these. For him the road to recovery is over. And unfortunately, his story doesn’t end with being happy, joyous, and free. The story emerging is the opposite. It’s the story of misery, bondage, and death.

During the past week I’ve seen dozens of responses to Hoffman’s death. Some are angry about him wasting his life. Others bashing him for his lack of self control. Some have claimed that better actors wouldn’t die like this. And others that this is just a series of bad choices on his part. Some are certainly empathetic and take pity.

Some of these things are true. Of course, Hoffman had choices. Made bad ones. And he threw away his incredible life.

But most outside of recovery circles lack this simple understanding: the disease of addiction is a powerful, horrendous, consuming, beast. The beast wants the addict dead. Those without the disease simply don’t understand the lack of power the addict has while under the influence of the beast.

Escape is rare. Possible? Absolutely. But those who escape the beast are the fortunate few walking a narrow road.

Unfortunately, for Philip Seymour Hoffman, the beast and his power won. The beast had previously taken his relationship with his partner, damaged his relationship with his children, wreaked havoc in his personal life. Now the beast took his life. He is now another body on the road to recovery that the rest of us will step over.

For me, in my recovery, Hoffman is another reminder. The beast wants to destroy my marriage. Damage my family. Wreak havoc in my business and personal life.

Like Hoffman, the beast wants me dead.

Smart Feet

My life was infinitely more complex when I was drinking. Everything was more complicated. Even simple things were complicated by drinking. Drinking makes everything ten times more complicated than it needs to be.

Sober life has made life simple. Not easy. I still have hard work to do. But it is simple.

I was thinking about this the other day when I heard another AA sharing about smart feet. Smart feet is the simplest concept in the world: regardless of what is happening in your life good, bad, or indifferent make sure you have smart feet that take you to meetings.

It doesn’t get much simpler. I stay sober by going to meetings. My smart feet take me there. It’s not the only thing that keeps me sober but it’s a crucial part.

LIfe can be going to shit or smelling like roses but either way I stay sober by going to meetings and being around other people like me that are beating alcoholism.

Simple sobriety.

The Power of The Circle

My AA home group is a 7am meeting in a local church that meets Monday-Friday.

I’m generally there 2-3 times a week. In the summer, when my kids are out of school, or around holidays and other times when mornings are less hectic, I’m there every day.

I’m often late.

I’m a creature of habit. I walk in, grab coffee, black, and take a seat around the circle. I tend to favor the north side of the room or the east. But I’ll sit anywhere around the circle.

Our meeting is a mix of speakers, steps, readings, and anniversaries. At 7:30, the basket is passed and we give our donations as we desire. I head out to the kitchen for my second cup of coffee around then. I try to do dishes after the meeting if I don’t need to rush to something else, which is about half of the time.

Get to meeting. Coffee. Listen. Share. Grab my 2nd cup of coffee. Listen more. Do dishes. Repeat.

One of my employees has asked me why I still go. She can’t understand why, after a few years of sobriety, I still go to meetings.

It’s very easy to explain: there is power in the circle. The circle holds hope. The circle is powerful.

The circle is a cauldron of healing. We come to the circle with whatever we have. We come as we are.

Sometimes, we come with brokenness and pain. Around the circle, we share the brokenness and pain. The circle can handle the brokenness and pain. The circle provides healing for the brokenness and pain.

Sometimes, we come with joy and happiness. Around the circle we celebrate the joy and happiness. The circle reminds us that joy and happiness are available for those who follow the narrow road to recovery.

The circle is mysterious and magical. The sunlight of the Spirit is in the circle.

The circle is what AA is all about.

Join the circle. As we trudge the road to happy destiny.

My AA Program After a Couple of Sober Years

With a couple of years of sobriety under my belt I continue to make progress. Here’s what my AA program looks like today:

Don’t Drink Under Any Circumstances

This one probably seems blatantly obvious. Especially for someone with a few years of sobriety. It is obvious: don’t drink. Ever. But I think it is of utmost importance for me to remember this as the absolute fundamental of my program, regardless of all else. I am truly powerless over alcohol and am unable to drink successfully under any circumstances. All other things support this element of the program.

I’ve been around long enough to have heard a fair amount of relapse stories. One common theme often emerges: “I thought I could drink like a normal person after being sober for so long. I was wrong.”

I don’t want to forget that for me to drink is to die. Plain and simple.

Get to meetings

I get to as many meetings as I can. After 500+ meetings, I still love being with other alcoholics and sharing our experience, strength, and hope. Meeting makers make it. I heard it early in sobriety, and so far it has worked for me. I get to 3-5 meetings a week, depending on my schedule. Often I get to a meeting every day when I am on vacation or have time off around the holidays.

In my ideal world, I would go to a meeting every day. But I have a large family, own my own business, and have a rigorous workout schedule (I’m an athlete in avocation) so I’m content with 3-5 meetings a week. In particular, when I find myself irritable, restless, and discontent I get myself to a meeting.

Develop Friendships in AA

When I first started in AA I went to meetings, listened, spoke up occasionally, and left. I kept to myself for a while.

I saw other people who had warm friendships with others in the rooms. I wanted that. But I was still watching from the outside. And I was still very afraid to be vulnerable.

It took a few months before I really started opening up and getting to know people. Fortunately, I stayed sober and kept coming back long enough to develop friendships.

Today, many of the relationships that I value most in life are with fellow alcoholics in recovery. I need a community of folks around me to walk with. And they need me. We need each other.

Extend The Hand of AA Whenever Possible

The longer I am sover, the more comfortable I am talking about sobriety. When I was first sober it was at times terrifying for me to talk about sobriety. There are still some people that I don’t want to talk to about sobriety. But for the most part, I share that I am in recovery with people when appropriate.

As a result, I have had increased number of times when someone knows someone that needs help. It is amazing how prevalent alcoholism is. Those who know that I am in recovery often refer me to friends that are trying to get sober (or are trying to get sober themselves).

It’s an honor to walk with people that are struggling with alcoholism. I’m not an expert and don’t pretend to be. I do know that I can share my story, what I have learned, and what has helped me. All I’m really doing is passing along that which someone else has shared with me. And I find that to be very helpful for people that are desperate.

Like me they need hope. They need to know that others have been where they are. They need to know that they can be free from alcohol. They need to know that life can get better.

Work the 12 Steps of AA

Like many things in sobriety, working the steps has been a slow process. I haven’t worked the 12 steps of AA in as timely or as orderly a process as many would suggest. And I honestly believe I would be making more progress on many of my defects of character sooner if I did. It just hasn’t been my path.

I’ve meandered through the steps.

However, I do consistently work the steps on an ongoing basis. I am working with a sponsor. We discuss the steps regularly. We share our experiences with the steps. We often are asking each other about particular things in life that we would like to see change.

Most importantly, as God enlightens me to areas of life that need to change I apply the steps to those areas. For me it is an ongoing process, not a one time experience. The steps are about change.

In this respect I have been thorough working the steps. The program is a program of change and I believe the steps are a crucial part of changing. Without them, we are wandering through sobriety together instead of growing.

Being Sponsored

I have a sponsor. I talk to my sponsor a number of times per week via text, email, facebook, in meetings, or face to face. It’s important to me that my sponsor is involved in my life. My sponsor knows the big stuff that is going on. It is especially important to me if I have thoughts about drinking. My sponsor, along with my spouse, will be the first to know if I am having thoughts about drinking.

I’ve heard it said many times that the sponsors primary job is to help their sponsee work the steps. I think that is true, but for me it is much more than that. It’s also about developing an authentic, real relationship with someone that I can tell anything to. It’s about trust.

I don’t think there is a perfect AA program. But I think people that work at it will develop an AA program that works for them and enables them to thrive as recovering alcoholics. Do the work and you will find a program that works for you.

Giving Time Time

When I first walked into AA, I was a broken person. After 24 years of alcoholic drinking, my body was broken, my spirit was crushed, I was emotionally dysfunctional, and my mind was in a fog.

I just wanted to be “fixed.” I was ready to surrender and stop the struggle.

Sobriety “fixed” some things quickly. I remember getting a good nights sleep without interruption for the first time in years. Waking up without a hangover. What a gift of sobriety that is.

I felt more engaged with those around me immediately. Spending time with my wife and kids was previously tainted by alcohol. It became surreal just to do the mundane things of life with family and friends without being under the influence. My first summer of sobriety was one experience after another realizing you can do normal things in life without drinking.

Other things have changed gradually. I was in terrible health when I walked into the rooms of AA. My liver was in early cirrhosis. I was 100 pounds overweight. My blood pressure was sky high.

After being sober for a couple of years I was given the gift of a clean bill of health from my doctor. It didn’t happen overnight but in the grand scheme of things my health was “fixed” in short time.

Still other changes are longer term projects as I work a program of recovery. There are longstanding character defects that linger into sobriety. I still need to take steps to eradicate these defects. I am still broken in many ways.

But there is hope. Sobriety gives the promise of hope. Sobriety provides the opportunity for steady progress over time.

When I was an active alcoholic time was the enemy: there was never enough time, I lost time while drinking, and time marked the continuous decline in my life as my alcoholism progressed.

In recovery time has become an ally. Time is the stage on which my life can continue to change and grow. I can prune the defects over time and continue to make progress in areas that I want to grow. Time make impossibilities possible as I apply steady efforts of change over time.

In sobriety, time is the fuel for change.

I can give time time.

The Beginning of Sobriety

I woke up at 9:30 a.m. I had missed a very important meeting.

I had an awful hangover. My head was pounding. I tried to get up and was in immediate pain. The room was spinning.

I swim occasionally and sometimes used exercise as  a hangover cure. I headed to the pool at the local YMCA. I couldn’t swim. I was going through the motions but my body was still too poisoned by alcohol to function.

I showered and got in my car to head to my office (all of 1 mile away). I couldn’t even do that. I pulled over and slept for a few minutes in my car.

What happened next I can only attribute to a spiritual awakening: I woke up and said to myself, “you need help and need to find an AA meeting.” I had never thought about AA before. I had certainly never considered myself an alcoholic (there was an overabundance of evidence that I was but I was in denial prior to that moment).

AA was the last thing on my mind before that moment in time.

Spiritual awakenings seem to happen in random places, in random ways, at random times. This was one of those times. God seemed to guide my thoughts into a meeting.

I found an AA meeting on my phone less than half a mile from where I was. I had no idea what to expect. Other than movie and television depictions, I’d never had any exposure to AA.

When I got to the meeting I found my way into the basement of the church, took a deep breath, and walked in. The feeling I had was like getting ready to jump into freezing water. It took my breath away.

I thought about turning around at that moment, but I walked through the door. I knew at that moment life wouldn’t be the same.

I knew going through the door meant my life was about to be changed forever.