- Friends & Family
“How did I get here?” Hmm. Many people ask themselves things such as this, but no one more than the alcoholic and addict. The law stops many of us. I was stopped as well, but not by the law. I was stopped by something else.
Sometime in 1993, I was at home reading a self-help book. I had gone to two meetings about a year apart, and decided they were weak-willed religious nuts and I wanted nothing to do with them. Truth was, I wanted nothing to do with anyone. I was antisocial. People (of any kind) always ended up causing some kind of pain, even by just leaving. And they always left you.
However, I had come to understand something from those meetings. I would either be sober as a stone or drunk as fish. There would be no in-between for me. All the books and groups agreed that something had to happen for an alcoholic/addict to achieve permanent sobriety.
The science books called it a paradigm shift; where whole groups of things that ran your life are thrust to the side so that new stuff can take its place. The religious books said you had to find God. The book I was reading was sort of a mix of the two, and very light on the God stuff, because I could not tolerate the idea of God much.
It was about 3 pm when I began to read the book. Before you ask, I do not know the name of the book anymore, because I came to believe the book was just a catalyst. I did my usual, which was to have a fifth and a pint of vodka ready. I also had some Benadryl, some pot, and for later, some cans of nitrous oxide. At that time, those had been my staples. I started to read the book and drink from a mix of pop and vodka. I only had a few sips before I forgot to keep drinking from it, because as I read page after page, I began to feel good. Then good changed to better, and very quickly, it changed to positively feeling so good, I almost did not feel like me anymore.
I was 25 years old and had been drinking hard for five years. For the last year or so, I had also been mixing drugs in with the alcohol because alcohol alone no longer reached the pain—no longer allowed me to numb myself out. I had tried to quit a thousand times and I had thought about it a million.
Eleven hours later, I closed the book. I had not slept or moved in all that time. My alcohol and drugs remained barely touched. It was early morning, and the light was starting to come into the house. I looked around my house, and everything was the same as it had been before. Yet, it wasn’t.
The next part has never been easy for me to explain. How do you explain the unexplainable? How do you put into words, either written or spoken, that suddenly everything was just right? Everything was just the way it was supposed to be. I was, everything was. The world was.
Everything was, in spite of how it might look, exactly the way it was supposed to be. Everything was exactly the way it had been designed to be. I felt a feeling—not peace. Not fulfillment. Those words are just words compared to what I felt. I was filled up and emptied at the same time. There was nothing I needed. I glanced down at the drugs and alcohol and it seemed completely ridiculous for me to even think of using them. I walked into my kitchen, made some coffee and began to clean my house as it has been a very long time.
That feeling stayed with me strongly for four days. During that time, even my dreams were like that. I cannot describe it any clearer than to say everything was right. I had no anger, no fear, no mistrust. Everyone I encountered seemed like an old friend.
Then, on day five, the feeling began to fade. But as it faded, I heard a voice whisper in my mind that was both my voice and not my voice,
“Want this back? Than change something in your life.”
The voice did not tell me what to change or how to change it. It just said change something.
So I did. And along with it, I went from a daily drinker to a binge drinker. Because of that change, I would stay sober 30 days and drink for a week. Or stay sober two months and drink for two days. There was no pattern to it that I could tell, except that when I drank again, I could break the cycle by changing something in my life.
I will also tell you that every time I drank or used after that, I woke the next morning with a horrible feeling of shame. As if I had let down my very best friend.
This became my pattern for a time. A little over a year, I believe.
The problem with this was of course, after a while, what do you change?
It was a new cycle. I had been sober two weeks. I was walking around a path in my parent’s yard that I used as a running path. I had been working out for two hours and was nearing the end of my stamina. It would not last, though. At that time, I could not sleep; when I worked out, two seconds after I stopped, I got back that same feeling I had—of being encased in a plastic bubble. I could see out, but could not touch anything, and nothing seemed real to me. If the program said we got better each day, I was doing the opposite of that.
I was unraveling and I knew it. Sanity was something I was sure I had never had. I could remember that amazing feeling of completeness, but I could not feel it at all anymore.
I had run a few miles and done karate katas for hours straight, but was about to start again. In the back of my mind I thought if I died from it, maybe that would be for the best.
Suddenly, I saw a picture of myself. I was walking through downtown Flint (Michigan) and had on a winter coat and three pairs of pants, even though it was July. I was dirty and my beard looked like I had not shaved in months. I walked and mumbled to myself, and as I did, tipped back a paper bag covered bottle.
As I saw this picture, I heard that same voice that was both mine, yet not mine, say, “it’s ridiculous to be doing this stuff when you know the twelve steps are right there. If you don’t get back there, this will be you.”
Than the picture and the voice were gone.
I blinked, for moment unsure of where I was. Then I walked into my house, got my keys and started driving. I ended up at a meeting that is the oldest meeting here in Flint.
I came in a few minutes before it started. There was a group of about forty people in a U shape with one man sitting facing all of them. Later, I found that was the chairman, that led the meeting. I pulled a chair to the far corner back by the other door and sat. One guy around my age motioned for me to come sit with them. I signaled no, but in my head, I thought, “Idiot. If I wanted to know any of you losers I would have sat with you in the first place.” I listened to what others said, and then the meeting was over. I was almost out the door when a young guy yelled from behind me for me to stop.
I turned, ready to fight if I had to. I was not hostile. That’s just how I was.
He mumbled some greeting, and I nodded and walked out.
Months later, that same guy was my sponsor, teaching me the best he could about how he stayed sober.
Did it work? Yes, if your definition of “sober” is the absence of alcohol and drugs. If it involves peace of mind, then the answer is no.
Now don’t get me wrong. You have to be free of alcohol and drugs or most of the steps will simply not work. And I did the steps. Not in a cursory way, but with deep study and intent. And I had many mighty revelations. That is why I was able to stay sober.
The problem was that they did not give me the happy, joyous and free feeling that others talked about. I stayed sober and watched others change. I saw their lives get better, and their mental state change. I was sober, but volatile. Making amends for acting crazy was a weekly event.
When I was a year sober, my sponsor moved out of state. He told me I needed to get a new one. So I did. I felt crazy a lot of the time, and the only thing that stopped it was working on the steps, reading the literature and going to a lot of meetings. I was always working on another fourth step, trying to reach that level I watched others reach. I was waiting for the peace the program talked about that never seemed to come for me.
Finally, I was two years sober, on my third sponsor. I was working the steps with all of them the way the big book says. They had no advice for me because I was already doing more than they were.
Between my second and third years sober is when things begin to change. The anger that is such a deep part of my personality began to get worse. I was angry at everything. All the time. I told myself and others in meetings often that I had resigned myself to the fact that that is how I am. Happiness felt like a lie—if I had ten seconds of not being quite as angry as usual, that was peace to me. And I believed it. But as time went by, I realized I was lying to myself.
I continued to read the literature and go to meetings like crazy. I did service work just as crazily. If I didn’t, the things inside me turned into a tornado that threatened to destroy anything near me.
At four years sober, the word “anger” did not come close to what I felt inside. I was constantly in a simmering rage. I was not mad at any one person, place, or situation. I was mad at everything and nothing. Little by little it began to dawn on me that I was going to be like that for the rest of my life. And I thought I could handle it. After all, it had been four years like that.
Then one day, it dawned on me that I didn’t have to handle that. No, alcohol and drugs are not the solution. They were a temporary fix for a permanent problem. Ah, I thought, “but if I kill myself, that would stop all of this.” Suicide had never been an option for me before because I had no belief in a God or an afterlife. Now, I knew there was a God who would take care of things if I offed myself. But getting the conviction to do it was another story.
I began to think about suicide a lot. I wrote letters to God, saying on the one hand, “your will be done God, anything is better than the way I was.” And on the other saying “I can’t stand this anymore. Change it or take me out of here.” In meetings, I spent my time ranting about what others said, about I thought the big book said and about how ridiculous the world was. I did all of the steps every day as I knew them then. I looked at my defects and attempted to not do them so much. I made amends for my constant failings as well as for my inability to control my mouth or temper.
I saw all the things that were often talked about in meetings. I saw that I was selfish, and that a higher power could help me. None of that meant much to me. I watched others change and grow, and I did what they did, but I did not get the same results they did. It had been interesting for about two seconds, but it was not able to penetrate the core of rage that ran through me.
Then, things began to change again. It all began to get worse. I began to have trouble sleeping. Everywhere I went, people just seemed to hassle me. I had trouble at work, and home, at meetings, and with my family. Through all of it, I clung to the idea that if I just stayed sober, prayed and worked the steps long enough, my life would change and I would begin to have the promises come to true in my life like all the other people I watched in meetings.
But now, this rage that I had mostly been able to keep inside began to bubble up and over flow from me. I began to be afraid of what I might do in meetings, so I began to not go as often. This was in stark contrast to the one to two meetings a day I had gone to for the last four and a half years. My thoughts were almost always about dying.
In a moment of clarity, I realized I needed to stop that. I stopped listening to the people who said I needed to just do the steps and go to meetings, and I went to see a psychiatrist. She listened for a while, read some of my poems and letters, and then did what they do: she wrote me two scripts (prescriptions). She also made me an appointment to see a psychotherapist. I walked out of there that day feeling like maybe I had a chance. I was not optimistic, just maybe not for sure my life was going to be a black ball of death forever.
I felt no effect from the meds, and in two weeks I saw the psychotherapist. It was a typical first appointment. She asked me about my past, my family, my mother and father, what I had been through to get sober. I told her. I just seemed like a meeting to me, so I was not at all uncomfortable.
The following week, I moved from the city I lived in all my life to another that was an hour and a 30 minutes away. I, of course, right away got a meeting list and started going to meetings. The meetings were different, but I knew I would adjust to them in time. For a fleeting moment, I felt like maybe things were going to get better.
Later, I would see this as the calm before the storm.
Work was terrible. The job I once loved was now full of people who did not seem to see that I did a good job. No matter how much I changed things and did an even better job, I was constantly hassled. My roommate was always late on the rent or causing some other kind of trouble that made me lose money. My family was a big hassle, and meetings in the new city were just not like where I was from. If I spent the time to drive and go to one where I had been, it cost too much gas. Besides, I had never liked those fools much anyway, I told myself. Why should it matter that I did not see them or hear their stories over and over?
The rage was burning in me like a wildfire by then. I had bad dreams (when I could remember them) and wake up yelling when I did not. I argued with my roommate and everyone I knew, especially my therapist. I liked her at first, but now she seemed as clueless as the rest of them—as clueless as me.
I got written up at the hospital I worked at again. I was told if I did not change the unchangeable I was going to be fired. It took all I had in me not to jump across the table and beat my boss to death right there. When I got home my roommate was there being the idiot he was; giving me excuses about why he did not have the rent. We got in a huge argument, and he must have seen the murder in my eyes because he said, “If you touch me, I’ll sue you.” I smiled, and told him if I touched him at all, he would never sue anyone because he would be dead. Then I walked out of the house and went to a meeting.
I had never been to that meeting group before, and they all bugged me right from the start. I sat there trying to bottle it all up, but suddenly I couldn’t. I stood up and told the chairman he was not doing it right, that none of them were. And that if they did not change things, they were all going to get drunk. The chairman looked at me and said that the only one likely get drunk was me. In all my life, I had never hurt anyone. But I felt myself so close to attacking that man that I stood up and walked out of the meeting. No one followed me.
I walked into the house. My roommate was sitting on my couch with my dogs watching TV. My mind that had been seething with rage suddenly went calm. I walked over to the counter where I kept the bottle of meds the psych doc had given me. I was supposed to take one a night before bed. The bottle was full. With my roommate right there, I swallowed the entire bottle. He never even knew. Then I walked out of the house and drove to the hospital I worked at and looked the medication up in the Physicians Desk Reference. By what it said, I had about 45 minutes to decide if I wanted to die. All I had to do to end it all was lay my head back in the chair and go to sleep. It took me about 15 more minutes to decide.
As you may have guessed, I went down to the ER and told them what I had done. That is all I remember. Six days later I woke up in the same intensive care I worked in with tubes in every orifice except my mouth. My coworkers said I had been such a terrible patient. They pretended to be ok with me, but it was looks I would come to see often for a while. Suicide attempts are not something that many people understand.
The next day, I was released because my doctor and the psychiatrist bought what I sold them and believed it was just temporary thing. And it seemed to be. I still felt crazy, but that was a normal thing to me.
Then one night, when my roommate was gone for the night, I found myself doing something I had not done since I quit drinking. I selected a razor and cut my hand. As I sat in the dark watching myself bleed I had another moment of clarity. I called my psychiatrist. She convinced me to admit myself to the psychiatric unit. I spent three weeks there, pretty much wasting my time. I told no one what I really felt. How could I? I did not know myself. They decided I was ok, so they released me.
Three days later, I took a full bottle of pills again. This time there was no going home on my own. I was committed to a lock-down psychiatric unit– the kind with barred steel doors you’re not supposed to be able to get out of.
They took my belt and my shoelaces. The first night I was there, I went to the nurse and asked for the meds I took and she told me in not so nice a way that I had nothing ordered, and that I was not getting anything. My rage blew that night for the first time. I said “fine.” And walked back to my room, picked up my leather coat, and walked three paces to the barred steal door that was near my room. I put on the coat. I had on no shoes or shirt, just my jeans. I kicked on the door three times. The kicks boomed through the unit like dynamite going off. On the third kick, the door opened, and I walked out.
I walked down three flights of stairs and called the guy who had been my roommate for the first time since I was in the hospital. I told him what I had done, and that I was waiting for security to come for me. He tried to get me to run, but I knew hospitals and the involuntary commitment thing. If I left, the state police would just pick me up anyway.
Then they were there: six security people and a nurse– not the nurse who had pissed me off.
She tried to convince me to go back with them. I said, no thank you. She said if I didn’t, they would make me. I laughed at her, told her they did not bring enough men, dropped my coat and stepped into aikido triangle stance. The men looking at me looked suddenly nervous.
Then something happened. I looked at the nurse, and the men, and time seemed to slow down. Then I heard a little voice inside my head. A voice that both my own, and somehow not my own. And it said, “You don’t want to hurt these people. And you will if you do this.”
The moment seemed to last for a long time. They did not move; I did move. Then suddenly I found myself stepping out of the stance, picking up my coat and saying “Ok, let’s go,” and we all walked back upstairs the way we had come.
I spent four weeks that time. The next day, the docs took me off all my meds and put me on something different. Still I felt nothing from them. I was released, and moved back to the city I had come from. I thought that going back home and to the meetings I was used to would make a difference. I also quit seeing the shrink and the therapist. I was better now. Or so I thought. I was just past five years sober.
A week later, I was chairing a meeting at my home group. A guy I had known for my whole sobriety, Roger, who I sometimes thought of as a friend, did not like something about how I ran the meeting. He said so in the meeting. I blew him off. I ended the meeting, and was helping clean up. I saw and felt him coming over to say something to me. It was no big deal. When you chaired, this kind of stuff happened. Roger started yelling at me, and out of nowhere the simmering rage exploded. Sure I had been angry at the meeting, but that’s how I always was. But this time, I blew a gasket.
I started yelling. I crumbled the cup in my hand and told Roger if he did not get away from me I was going to kill him. And for the first time in my life when I said that, I meant it. Red colored my vison, and knew that if anyone tried to stop me I was going to kill them, too. Roger froze. Big as he was, I scared him. But he was still too close. Later I would realize that people too close to me was one of my triggers. I said a whole bunch of cuss words and ended them all with “step back.”
Finally, he did.
My sanity returned enough for me to get out of there.
Now, I was worried. Even with the suicide attempts, I had not been very concerned. It was just my life. But now, I knew my “craziness” was not just affecting me. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? That day a made an appointment with a new therapist. This time, with a new idea. No matter how much I felt or they felt I was ok, I was not going to stop going.
A few days after that, I was at my home group again. The meeting was over and I was getting ready to run my butt out of the meeting as fast as I could. It was my MO (mode of operation). But something odd gripped me that day. I had been going to meetings and seeing the therapist, and I had a new fourth step written. I needed a sponsor to go over it with. I looked around me. It was a problem, because I did not trust anyone and they were mostly idiots anyway. Especially this guy named Tom. He had like a million years sober and had been arguing with me before, after, and in meetings my whole sobriety. To say I did not like him much was an understatement. And that is why it made no sense to me at all that I suddenly found myself asking him to be my sponsor.
It got even weirder when he said yes.
The next week he was at my house to hear my fifth step. I brought out all my stuff. The same kind of stuff I had been writing my whole sobriety. Big book fourth step: four columns, sex, and fear inventory. He listened as I read it to him. When I was done, he took my stuff, looked at it a minute, and then handed it back to me. Then he said the words that were to completely change my life. He said, “that’s a good start, but where are the good things about you?”
I sat there in front of Tom, stunned. I told him nowhere in the big book did it say to write down the good things. Tom smiled and said “that’s right, it’s in the twelve and twelve.” I was starting to get mad. But then I looked at him and I thought of myself and my life and who I was, and I stopped. My voice sounded like a little kid’s voice when I said to Tom that I could not write down the good things about myself, because there was nothing good about me. I was a useless piece of crap.
To me, it felt horrible and wonderful the same time. Horrible to say out loud what I had been feeling my whole life. But wonderful the same time. As if, finally, I would face the truth about myself. Tom looked at me and then told me for about ten minutes the many good things he and others saw in me. The he handed me back my fourth step and said to take it back and write a fourth step on the good stuff about me.
I was as shocked as if he had suddenly grown a second head. That was when I first realized that I trusted Tom. I had had five years to listen to him and I knew that unlike some, he pretty much did what he said he was going to.
This started a new phase of life for me. I worked with Tom every week. At the same time, I saw my therapist once a week. I can’t say everything Tom and I did. The therapist either. But we worked on positive things. I learned from Tom how to work the steps according to the twelve and twelve in a positive way. I learned that neither God nor I were the terrible beings I once thought we were.
From my therapist, I learned about what repressed pain can do to a person. I learned what a “cutter” was and how so many other things were similar to addiction. I learned that when sexual and physical abuse happens at a very early age, it often does not leave memories. The brain is not developed enough for that. But can leave emotions like rage, disgust, revulsion and self-hate. All of this can be there with no person to pin it on. In fact, it is more common than not in abuse survivors. I learned how to do inner child work, and other esoteric ways to heal deep pain. I thought they were hokey, but I did them anyway.
I continued to go to meetings and work on myself. With eleven years sober, I went to school to become a massage therapist, and there found other things that helped me heal and enrich my life in ways that I cannot describe. Helping heal someone’s body pain seemed to something I was made to do. I was very good at it. Here, a tendency to overdo everything helped me acquire skill quickly. Because of the things I learned there, I was able to get off psych meds completely. I have been back on them a few times, but only temporarily.
With constant work on myself both in meetings and with Tom and in therapy, I was a different man. I was working as a massage therapist full-time. I met and married a wonderful woman who knows all about my past, and is grateful I found my sanity.
When I was 13 year sober, the woman who would become my wife and I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada for our work. I continued to work on myself. In fact, I got so well that I barely needed meetings anymore.
From 13 to 16 year sober I went to a total of six meetings. And I had no real problems to speak of. I continued to live my life by the things I had learned from Tom and to apply all the steps to everyone I could.
Then we moved back to our home state of Michigan and for a time I went to more meetings. But then after a bit, I fell back into my habit of one every few months. Nothing bad happened at all.
Then for no reason that I see at all, I started going to more meetings. And wow, everyone irritated me!
I would come home to my wife and complain to her about all the ridiculous things I heard and saw. What big jerks they all were.
Then one day my wife could not take it anymore and she said to me, “How can all of the people in all the meetings be jerks?”
At first I got mad. I felt like she was not backing me up. But then later I thought to myself, “yes, how can everyone in a meeting be a jerk?” I tried to see them differently. I resolved to. And I found out I could not. The more I tried to be mellow, the more they pissed me off.
So I set out to understand it. Certain meetings really angered me. So I started going to them. Not to share, but to see if I could analyze this anger and see where it came from. So I went to a certain big book meeting. They only called on their “friends” there and never on me. There were many other things that pissed me off. The entire meeting pissed me off. They were mostly young and cocky and acted as if they all new everything.
The things above were what I was focusing on, but I knew that was not what was really making me angry. I could feel the anger stemming from somewhere else. And like a rope, I followed it back.
And then I got one of the biggest shocks of my life and sobriety. The anger was stemming from fear. I was afraid of them. That they might be right. That they didn’t like me. That deep down, I was not worthy– the very things I had worked so hard with Tom and others to rid myself of. But I had not rid myself of it. I has simply gotten better at hiding my fears from myself.
But now, like the hole in the dike, I saw it all as the dam gave way. I saw that I had always been afraid. All my life. And all my craziness in and out of the program were not so convoluted and far reaching as I had thought. Yes, they had taken almost two decades of step work and therapy to deal with. But at their basis, there was only fear. Fear of you, or me, of life. Now I saw it everywhere. I could not stop seeing it.
For all of my sobriety, I had come to the twelve step meetings and used it to get sober and only picked out a few people to trust. I got to meetings one second before they started, and I left fifteen early. I told myself I did that because I was busy. But now I saw I did that because I was afraid to get to know all the people. I was afraid to care about them. But that was a lie, too– because I did care about them! I had gone to meetings with many of them for the entire 17 years I had been sober, but never talked to most of them. And I had never let them know how much they had helped me. And how much I cared about them– loved them.
So, I started a new thing. I got to meetings 30 minutes early and I went to up to people I did not know and introduced myself. I went up to those I knew and told them how much they meant to me, and I told them I was sorry I had always been so stand offish. Then I started getting people’s phone numbers and calling them.
I did all this only for one reason: I did not want to be afraid of it anymore. I did not expect to get anything else from it.
Ah, but what I shock I got. I began to feel better. I began to like going to meetings again, and to actually miss people when I did not see them for a while.
It took me a while to go up to all the people who had helped me over the years and tell them “thank you” and what they mean to me. It was kind of amusing for a time. I was still known as a volatile kind of crazy person. Sober, but crazy. The look on people’s faces as I walked towards them was one of, “oh crap. Why is he coming over to me?” Then as I said thank you and told them how much they meant to me, they would get an utterly bewildered look. It was quite hilarious and is still fun to talk about in meetings, before and after.
It has been five years now since all that last part. In that time, I faced my fears about school and went back to become a registered nurse. I had a 3.79 GPA when I got thrown out for not passing their math test. More shock occurred when I realized I did not want to be a nurse and went back to being a massage therapist.
I have been facing fears all over the place. I have found that all the things the old old-timers said are pretty much true. I have to see it in my own life. I have faced a lot. But I know I am not done because every time I think I am, some new veil gives way and I see more.
My latest one is that all this happens better, and more often, and more fully when I am going to meetings regularly. I have told my story here in full to help someone if I can. But much of it is ego.
Today, I am much happier saying, “I don’t know.” I don’t know what God is, or if there is one. I do know that if I focus on other people for the wrong reasons, then I am off kilter. There is so much to work on in me, to look at you is only to hide from myself. If I am honest, I can see good things in anyone. Even those people I was once not be able to stand. I cannot help everyone, but I need not hinder anyone.
Then I simply need to be true to myself. I share what I have been though and am going through. If it helps you, take it. If not, leave it. If you misunderstand my words or posts or intent, well, I often do that with others too, so it’s all equal in the end.
Religion and politics and arguments and dislike are things I leave to others. I am not perfect at it all, so if I revert and go off somewhere, I will make amends when I can.
Something else I know is that it has always been people that changed me. The interesting changes I did alone are nothing compared to what I learned though contact with the twelve steps and the groups– all of you. You truly are my higher powers.
A few months ago, my wife asked me if I thought that during the times I was hardly going to meetings if I was on dangerous ground. I told her that if she had asked me that then, I would have said no. But now, based on what I know now, the answer is yes.
I am human and I live and grow and learn. I know things about myself and the world that are not part of this story because they are not program. I learned things about meditation and life that, for me, can make me feel so complete that I am in awe.
I will always have the disease of addiction. The disease tells me I don’t have it, or that I have learned so much it cannot affect me anymore. We say it is cunning, baffling and powerful. It is also patient. A few decades or more to set me up to think I was beyond it is not beyond its abilities.
So today, I keep in mind that I cannot stop doing any of what I have learned. And I don’t think I will. Contact with a twelve step group and all of you is simply too wonderful. Yes, it can be hard to watch some relapse, kill themselves, and/or die. But I am here to help, and to love you until you love yourself. If you make it, will your story be as crazy as mine? Only if you want it to be.