It is said that the moment of clarity or the psychological change happens for the addict or alcoholic when he or she has hit bottom. I think it is safe to say that my friends and family wondered for several years if I would survive hitting my bottom. I went through so many bad times that were not my bottom. There were the 911 calls, the ambulance rides that lead to hospitalizations of up to nine days and the times I was forced to admit to the psych ward. But those were not my bottom. By the time I ended up in my first detox facility, my lymphatic system was compromised. I could not walk on my right foot and I was on 11 prescription medications for issues that were merely side effects of my drinking. The doctor said my brain was likely shrunken to the size of an Alzheimer patient’s. But that was not my bottom. I went to jail for public intoxication three times, attacked my 70-year-old father during a blackout, lost my fiancé and our five bedroom house and abandoned my career path. But none of these were my bottom. I went to three inpatient treatment facilities and attended three outpatient programs in the matter of two years. I kept going in and out in a chronic cycle of relapse. I was miserable when drunk and miserable when sober. I seemed 12-step compliant, but no true surrender had been made.
My bottom greeted me in the California desert one ordinary Thursday morning as I found myself homeless, walking aimlessly for miles from a Riverside County jail. No one was answering my calls. I came to see that my repetitive attempts to drink myself to death were not working and that I was too much of a wimp to hang myself or slit my wrists. I thought about how this was really my moment to do such a thing. It was my wide open chance. I had run out of options. No one was going to scoop me up and save my life for me. I was devastated that I was going to have to kill myself in a violent manner and that, even then, it might not work. But then something happened. I thought that, since I have to be alive, I should consider truly living. And that was it. I was wearing a bright pink shirt and black shorts. My feet were dirty. The sun was beating down on me. And I was done.
I lived for over three months in a homeless shelter and had no contact from my parents, who were two of the only people I knew in this part of California. I didn’t get sober at the fancy rehabs or in the rooms of 12-step groups. I got sober in a program at a homeless shelter. Timing is everything. I was finally willing and ready to take my life back. I sucked at life and needed some very serious direction. I received it at this shelter. The people there told me when to eat, when to scrub the toilets, when to pray, when to talk and when to be silent. I surrendered fully to the 18 women with whom I shared a room. I complied to all that was asked of me with the best of my ability.
There, I found the thing that had been missing in all of my previous attempts to get sober: service to others. I helped to connect resources in the community with needs at our facility. I worked intake for our overnight services. I helped women write letters to the judges who had taken their children away. I folded a lot of laundry. I listened to the painful stories and I celebrated the small victories.
In time, I got stronger. I left the shelter and went to a sober living facility. My parents and I reconciled and spent our first Christmas together in six years. I began to volunteer by teaching a class at a local rehab center, which was a class that I had gone through. Then I worked as a technician in the residential modality department there, and the CEO created a full-time position for me as the director of public relations.
I now have eight months of sobriety. In these months, my life has improved exponentially. I get up and go to work each day like average, dignified people do. I have the honor to give back to people struggling with alcoholism. I bought a car. I live in a nice place that I can afford in a beautiful part of California near my parents. They no longer have to live on the edge, wondering if today will be the day that I die. I don’t dwell on the past as much as I did and I no longer fear the future. Most of the time, I meet my visitors from the past, such as a memory, a bill or a regret, like welcomed guests. And guests eventually leave.
I still have plenty of wreckage from my addiction to contend with. Now that my head is clear enough to make choices, I pray that my choices are aligned with the will of the universe. I see others drinking with impunity and I envy their ability to find relief. My hands shake from the nerve damage from my drinking. It’s frustrating to paint my nails or tie a ribbon. I still carry shame about being an alcoholic that can only be arrested by reminding myself that I was born physically different from others. I have a disease, not a moral failing. I sometimes unintentionally hurt people and become overly remorseful and ashamed that I do not always make the right decisions. I aspire to clean up my side of the street when that happens. Working the 12 steps promises me that I will find true freedom from all of these things.
Sobriety is not perfect but it’s a heck of a lot better than merely existing in the slow death of alcoholism. I will be forever grateful to the dozens of people who helped me along the way and I aim every day to pay back that same compassion, time and attention to the alcoholics who still suffer. Like Pat said at the end of Silver Linings Playbook, “I think of everything everyone did for me and I feel like a very lucky guy.”