By Steve L.
It was Saturday morning, July 1, 1989, when my friend dropped me off at the front door of a Brentwood, TN treatment facility, The Harbors of Brentwood. I was not there because I wanted or intended to cease my drinking and drug use. I was not there because I had experienced some epiphany or “white light” experience. I was not there because I wanted some moral reconstitution. I was there merely to fulfill my obligation to the legal system of Williamson County Tennessee for the conviction of my sixth DUI the previous year.
A plea bargain agreement had netted me several weekends in the Williamson County jail along with a commitment to complete residential treatment for alcoholism. However, not noted in the legal documentation was my indiscriminate and insatiable appetite for a broad array of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, barbiturates, methamphetamine, PCP, mescaline, LSD, and other hallucinogens. But an alcoholic and drug addict? Not me. I can take it or leave it. Have you ever noticed the people who say they can take it or leave it always take it?
As I look back through the lens of today’s recovery I clearly see the absurdity of life as I was living it and understand the nature of the alcoholic insanity that prevented me from recognizing that very fact. The book Alcoholics Anonymous so accurately describes my condition at the time: “they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.”
Normal? A head-on collision driving the wrong way down the interstate resulting in the totaling of four automobiles and nonfatal injuries to an innocent motorist coupled with yet another DUI arrest. A remorseful drunk tank resolution to never drink again is replaced in a matter of days with a feeling that I had overreacted. I’ll do better . . . I’ll be more careful, I thought. Surely I can drink and enjoy all that alcohol does for me without suffering the pains of what it does to me. Again, I am identified in the book Alcoholics Anonymous: “The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker.”
Normal? I sit on the edge of a bed in an apartment and as I gaze at the reflection in the dresser mirror, I see my friend holding a syringe and injecting cocaine into my arm. Once again crossing a line I said I would never cross. Alcoholics Anonymous states, “If a mere code of morals or better philosophy of living were sufficient to overcome alcoholism many of us would have recovered long ago.”
Normal? At the birth of my daughter I am drunk and high at the hospital. Then, as my wife and daughter remain at the hospital for a week, my fear confines me to a mattress in the den of our duplex. Drinking, smoking weed, and snorting cocaine, I am unable to visit them for more than fifteen minutes a day. Having been in the midst of a blackout during the delivery, I later concoct a self-constructed story of that night which I share as fact with friends and family for years to come.
These and other examples of drunken and drug-induced escapades serve as a framework to quantify the external impact of my alcoholism and drug addiction. They provide tangible, sometimes legal evidence of the devastating consequences of my addiction. More puzzling to me however was an even more debilitating aspect of my drug and alcohol addiction. Not what I did when drunk and high, but rather how I felt when sober—the internal malady. Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Once confused and baffled by the seeming futility of existence, they show the underlying reasons why they were making heavy going of life. Leaving aside the drink question, they tell why living was so unsatisfactory.”
Until I got to treatment I did not realize I had alcoholism and drug addiction even when I was not drinking and using. I did not understand the problem. Treatment introduced and educated me to the problem and encouraged the Twelve Steps as an avenue to the solution.
The last twenty-five years have seen life make many turns and twists. Ten years into my sobriety I went bankrupt, losing home, cars, and possessions. Never did drinking and drugging look like a solution to the challenge. At other times I earned more in a month than I had previously earned in a year. Never did drinking and drugging seem like a celebratory option.
This is the miracle. It is not the miracle of not drinking; it is the miracle of really living. The miracle is not measured by the circumstances of my life, but rather in the experience of my life from the inside out. No longer is living “unsatisfactory.”
I embraced my recovery as if my life depended on it, for indeed it did. But my life in recovery today is not one driven by desperation or fear of relapse, but rather by a sincere desire to live a useful and purposeful life. I am not running from the fire as much as I am drawn to the light. The Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions states, “True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.”
Whether through treatment, therapy, counseling, the Twelve Steps or any combination, my hope is that any who suffers from alcohol and/or drug addiction may find a freedom and an inner peace that allows for a life that is “happily and usefully whole.”
I close with recognition and gratitude for God’s grace; an unmerited and unearned gift that to be kept must be given away.