“Don’t doubt the process – you deserve a great life.”
“The Great Despair: that’s (uh)… that’s the term later generations used to describe this period of time,” is a prophetic statement made by Ava the protagonist historian from the year 2592 who travels to New York City circa 2015 in the film Tomorrow Ever After. 1 Her words speak volumes for those of us who seem to be standing on the edge of a sober tomorrow; what seems like a daunting abyss. Addicts and alcoholics alike are hollowed by the question, “What now?” Upon transitioning out of treatment, however long the stint, many of us who really desire to stay clean and sober feel incredibly insecure and vulnerable. It is for that reason organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous have initiated a program called Bridging the Gap. A pamphlet on this program is available at most meetings and summarizes the purpose as pertaining to “Between Treatment and AA Through Temporary Contacts.” As a recovering person I’m embattled with the question, “Is that enough?”
As I enter the last five days of an Intensive Outpatient Program I cannot help but recognize my feelings of ambiguity, lack of purpose and intimidation. Now, so far in my personal program I’ve reached the fourth step of AA’s twelve where I produce a “searching and fearless moral inventory of those (I’ve) harmed.” 2 Prior to this I’ve accepted my powerlessness over alcohol and drugs as well as recognized, acknowledged and whole-heartedly accepted a power greater than myself. Faith now becoming more and more a practiced way of life but the foundation of such still like wet cement – impressionable, sensitive and seemingly forever indented if stepped on. In every phone call my sponsor cannot answer, year-chip taken by others and rejection by sober livings, a sense of alarm and desolation stirs in my gut. The thing is: alcoholic, addict or not, most people in today’s society have felt this great despair. This sense of having no meaning. A common symptom of those of us preparing to return to everyday life, surrounded by those who seem to have it made so very easy (aka ‘normies’).
On Tuesday, September 12, 2017 writer Emily Esfahani Smith was featured on TED Talks Daily podcast segment “There’s more to life than being happy.” I found great solace in her message as she explained what she coins as the four pillars of a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendance and storytelling. In qualifying her conclusions, Smith references psychologist Dan Mcadams who argues that people who lead meaningful lives “tend to tell stories about their lives defined by redemption, growth and love.” 3 I could not agree more. At Broadway Treatment Center in Huntington Beach, California, I found redemption. I grew emotionally as well as spiritually and have started a lifelong process of healing. But now my 90-day stint is coming to an end. My mind is plagued with doubt, wondering how I will maintain recovery outside of this facility. A metaphysical expanse or ‘gap’ appearing larger and larger as my exit approaches.
With that, I look at those who have come before me. I would encourage anyone feeling great despair to do this. Analyze what has worked for others who have maintained sobriety after treatment. Ask them how they did it? And take note. Fact of the matter is: none of us are unique. Sure, we come from different walks of life, careers and families (if any) but as uncommon as we are, we recovering persons share a common problem: lack of courage. This lack of courage is the life-threatening symptom of our disease. It is the insanity that kept us from entering the rooms of AA. The obsession of hearing the clank of an empty shot glass land on the bar. The delusional rationalizing that ‘coming to’ rather than ‘waking up’ was acceptable. According to Floyd P. Garrett, M.D. of Behavioral Medical Associates, “It is in fact an act of great courage to walk into an AA meeting for the first time. Many people with severe drinking problems simply lack the courage to take this first step under any circumstances. They commonly hide their fear by critical, often cynical remarks about AA and the people who do have the courage to attend. They may indulge themselves with elaborate philosophical, scientific and even political rationalizations for why they will never attend a single AA meeting. But at bottom they are simply too afraid to walk through the door.” 4 A grand sense of resolve has come from identifying my fear and that is a cue I am taking from those who have come before me; from those I see enjoying a new found freedom.
In an effort to bridge the gap there a few vital practices keeping me sober as I move on from treatment. The first is staying in contact with other members of AA, NA and the likes thereof. This includes but not limited to family and friends that communicatively support my recovery efforts. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a sponsor who I not only look up to but also enjoy spending time with. For this reason, when he is unavailable to answer my phone calls I tend to take it personally, allowing sentiments of abandonment, loneliness and worthlessness to invade my thought process. All of these negative thoughts are delusional. Upon correcting my mentality, I realign myself by calling others I have met in the program. These are the steel beams of my bridge. Their experiences, strengths and hopes serve as the blueprint of my bridges design and construction.
The second practice, which is interchangeably prioritized with the first, is staying in constant contact with my higher power through prayer and meditation. The great outdoors, the gift of desperation, good orderly direction and getting off drugs are all vastly more powerful than me, so who am I not to recognize such? This disease of addiction is infamous for making its victims irrationally selfish and self-centered, thus making the habit of praying consistently a difficult one to practice. If you are like me, you may have always believed in a higher power, a creator of the universe, an omnipotent and all-knowing being. However, seldom did we hit our knees until our lives were threatened by the inevitable ends of jails, institutions and death. Trials and tribulations are stifling when we recognize their existentialism, often letting them cloud our vision and inhibit our motivation to live sustainably. It is vital to understand that meaning derives from serving something bigger than ourselves. We can either serve the problem or serve the solution. God, our higher power, is the solution and it has been inside of us the entire time. Do not be fooled by the misconception that our problems are unmanageable. For us they might be, however for the force of life that has allowed us to perceive the dangers they represent the problems are simply that: perceptions. Thus, now we have the superstructure, the girder, the truss, the arch of our bridge – infinite in length, spanning however wide the gap may appear to be.
Finally, the practice of ‘bring the body and the mind will follow’ is serving me with grand success. Just as I opposed the cries of my heart and returned to the liquor store in relapse, my body arrived, and close behind the purchase so did my mind. A necessary part of living a meaningful life (embalmed with redemption, growth and love) is living a meaningful life! In working the steps of AA, a psychic change has begun. I could not truly describe something that had not already happened to me, so why would I give up on my recovery because I have not crossed the expanse between treatment and functioning as a sober civilian in society? Of course I am apprehensive about facing life sober and drug-free, but I have yet to give that life a chance. Alcohol and drugs have had every chance to correct our lives, free of us our bondage and strengthen our relationships. They have failed immensely. In bridging the gap, courage is necessary to cross the threshold. It may be a struggle of the mind and body but the heart says give yourself, the real you, a chance.
Leaving treatment is not a problem. It’s an opportunity to immerse ourselves into AA. An opportunity to practice faith in action. And above all, a service to others that may one day stand at the edge of their very own abyss. It is a service that draws us closer to our higher power. You and I are not the first ones to bridge the gap, nor are we alone. So take the hand of someone who’s done it. Ask them to show you how it’s done. All the instructions are in the Big Book of AA. Reading such teaches us how to love ourselves, how to love others and how to love God. Thus granting us the opportunity to live a meaningful life full of redemption, growth and love. A great hope is replacing my great despair, day by day, minute by minute, trial by trial, and opportunity by opportunity. I hope you too will give yourself a chance to live and thrive outside of recovery. Don’t dwell on the past, look back only for those who are to follow. Don’t look down, it doesn’t matter if you fall – we are here to catch you. Don’t doubt the process – you deserve a great life. Give it to yourself through sobriety and clean-time.
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1 (http://www.imdb.com , 2016)
2 (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2001, p. 59)
3 (TED Talks Daily, 09/12/17)
4 (Your First AA Meeting, An Unofficial Guide for the Perplexed”, www.bma-wellness.com, 2012.)