I don’t know what it is about certain messages that create a spiritual awakening. You can’t predict when they happen, but they happen constantly for me when I seek out quality sobriety. It doesn’t have anything to do with the person or the words, it’s simply a result of being at the right place at the right time. I don’t know more beyond that, and I don’t think I ever will. I just know that my insides are constantly evolving and changing. My personal type of alcoholism brought me to heroin, crack, meth and anything else I could get my hands on. I used to prefer certain substances over the other, but at the end of my days out there, it really didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t stop getting loaded. There have been many different things that have changed the direction of my recovery for the better, but today I just want to give you three.
I was one out of a couple dozen faces in the disinterested crowd in a large room at a Florida treatment center. I was in physical withdrawal and tired of being sick and tired when I heard this one. The group leader of the treatment group said something pretty simple. The words were, “You don’t have to have any certain number of days to feel better.”
This confused me. I had all the reasons in the world as to why I can’t feel good right now. I’m detoxing, I’m resentful, I’m lonely and I feel this gaping void inside me. Beginning to embody this new sentence, I had to take responsibility for the way I felt. If I was miserable and depressed, I had a big part in that. Only after trying to eat right, exercise and take other people’s suggestions can I determine that it is not my fault. I always thought life just happened to me. I was a victim to all these terrible feelings of misery and negativity. I didn’t know I had the power to change it by training my brain. My sponsor always tells me that the brain is a muscle. No one’s born with a six pack.
Being completely new in recovery, I didn’t want to do anything. Nothing felt right. Life was confusing and strange, for lack of a better word. That makes complete sense, considering that I had been doing nothing but finding avenues for getting loaded for too long. The black-and-white 1962 movie “Days of Wine and Roses,” said it best: “All I know is, the drunk world is one world and the sober world is another.” (If you’ve been in treatment even a few times, you’ve probably seen it too.)
When entering a new world, or even a new country, an adjustment period occurs. I don’t have to eat well, drink enough water, or even sleep consistently in active addiction. When I was using/drinking, what I did didn’t matter. That’s one of many things that I loved about it. I felt in control of my feelings.
Being freshly clean and sober, it felt like my feelings had complete rein over me. Waiting for motivation has been a crucial issue for me. I can still constantly sell myself short by waiting for my feelings to dictate my actions. My feelings have been the guiding forces in my life for many years, so it’s a habit. Only after I realized I wasn’t supposed to feel like doing things in order to do them, did my recovery start to shift. This is the second part to that statement I heard. Now that I understand I can choose to be happier, I need to take actions that contradict my feelings because my feelings in early recovery are wrong.
When I do things I don’t want to do, I rewire my brain the way it is supposed to be wired. Instead of focusing on instant gratification and pleasure-seeking, I train it to achieve long-term goals and more permanent rewards. I’ve found that I can either wait for pain to shape me or I can shape myself before my issue goes there. Doing nothing until doing nothing becomes excessively miserable is always waiting for me.
If you’ve ever heard a recovered addict/alcoholic say, “It took me 4 years to (insert accomplishment here),” you’ve likely felt discouraged, maybe even told yourself that it’s normal to take years to feel better in recovery. The truth is, that’s just how long it took them to start taking the right actions in recovery. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that you can act your way into better thinking, but you can’t think your way into better acting. I know that my thinking goes dark very quickly, so if I want to have better thoughts, I’d better take better actions. I did have to act as if I was happy in order to become happier.
The next blow to my chest was realizing how self-centeredness was ruining my life. It took some time for me realize that being self-centered is not only about being greedy, rude or vain. For me, being selfish is literally being centered in myself. It’s important to remember that the ego can go both ways with superiority and inferiority. If people looked at me wrong or ignored me, it meant I was worthless and disliked. I thought I had all this power and people were always thinking about me, when actually, they could have just been having a bad day.
I was only focused on how I felt and how I could get to the next thing I wanted. I didn’t know people thought about anything else. Similar to the way I thought alcohol and drugs made everyone feel like God, I thought everyone else was self-centered. Because I was so focused on me, my feelings really dominated who I was. If I felt miserable, I felt it with my whole body.
The little words, “It’s not about you,” changed my sobriety. By realizing that I’m not that important, I actually experienced a lot more serenity. I realized that the way people treat me and the things that happen to me are not about me. When I started my first job in early sobriety, I had this nagging feeling that the people I worked with were talking about me and that they didn’t like me working there. I didn’t realize those feelings were self-centered. I thought I had the power to make people dislike their job. I thought I was so important that people needed to talk about me. The truth is, it’s not about me. We just didn’t know each other yet! When we get sober, things like rewarding relationships take time. Today I have a fun relationship with my coworkers and we laugh together all the time. (We’re all in recovery, might I add.) I had to learn to be “one among many.” Today, I am a drop in the vast ocean of humanity. I am no better than or worse than anyone around me.
It’s important to note that I never realized other-centeredness was the solution to all my problems and I mean all. The very concept defied my entire being. I wanted what I wanted and I was going to either get it, or sit and wallow in self-pity over not getting it. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny all those years I was trapped in pure self. Our book makes a huge blanket statement, “Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must or it kills us!” (62) That means our problem doesn’t lie with alcohol and drugs. I see now how the needle and the bottle were just symbols of a deeper issue. When I got here, all I wanted was to stop wanting to die. I wanted to use and drink how I wanted, but it wasn’t working anymore. I had no choice but to hit a meeting, get a sponsor and do some strenuous work on my ego.
Closely, following the last topic, I’ll talk about how you don’t have to have any certain amount of days to help others. I didn’t expect to sponsor someone at just under 6 months sober, but it happened. It happened because I was trying to carry the message of alcoholics anonymous. My first sponsor told me that she expects me to be taking people through the book at 30 days sober because I had been taken through some of the book myself. I was reaching out to newer girls and talking to them. I was just being a listening compassionate ear. By doing that, I stay out of my self-centeredness. I’m no philanthropist because I started to do these helpful things because I was told I had to in order to feel better. (Later on, I did start to value these relationships and acted this way without feeling like I had to.)
As I worked the steps, I started to clear out the wreckage of my past and started to have somewhat of a solid message. I prayed for people to help everyday for awhile. I desperately need them the way they desperately need help.
I remember this new girl who had just relapsed asking for help at a meeting. She said her house was very messy, with her having four kids and being a single working mom. I came over to help her clean it simply because I had the time and I wanted to be useful. Leaving her house, I was filled with a sense of being comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t used to feeling that way. I had also been practicing being helpful to others by listening to how their day was, asking questions about themselves and taking service positions against my own will. All of those things snowballed into being interested in helping others simply for the act of being helpful. Work with other alcoholics –doing things they can’t do for themselves–has always helped me feel more comfortable in the world.
After someone asks you to sponsor them, you switch over from being just a friend, to someone who must work hand in hand with a higher power to protect their sobriety. I remind myself it is a spiritual journey of two souls, nothing less, nothing more.
I started taking everything more seriously. It was a push in the right direction. This girl is now looking to me for a message. I have to do what I can to grow spiritually. Being newly sober myself, I didn’t want her to surpass me, so I tried to stay ahead of the curve.
For the first step I did what my sponsors have done for me. I read out of the book and solidified the knowledge and message of hope within AA that I’ve already heard. I then asked her to write her life story, as my sponsor asked of me. When she was telling me her story, I found a lot of myself. I also was able to objectively see how the lack of God and self-reliance was fueling terrible decisions in her life. She would get a boyfriend that wasn’t treating her right and then he would cheat on her or do something of the sort and she would move onto using more heavily. It really drove home the idea that a lot of the bad things in my own story was due to a lack of God too. I over depended on the people around me and looked for outside things to fix my spiritual void. When I was listening to her progression of drug use, I saw clearly that it wasn’t about the drugs at all. It was about this anxious sense of feeling apart and different from others. I understood these things logically before she told me her story, but I could never see this stuff as clearly when I read and looked at my own.
I remember when my sponsee first told me, “Thank you for keeping me sane.” I was shocked. I can’t even keep myself sane! This, however, is the point of alcoholics anonymous. We can’t help ourselves, but we can help ourselves by helping each other. All I was doing was repeating what I’ve been told and sharing my experience.
This new way of life is not something I ever thought would really work for me. Once I broke down the illusion that recovery is unattainable for someone like me, and admitted to my innermost self that I really am alcoholic, my pain and my misery became a solid foundation to build the rest of my life on.