Here’s the deal: I don’t want to drink. Not “I know I shouldn’t” or “I know I can’t” – I don’t WANT to. I genuinely believe this is the only reason I am sober today because if my brain told me otherwise, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’d be pouring that huge glass of wine, soda water and ice right this minute. In fact, I might already be on my second. Well, I hadn’t quite sunk to morning drinking when I stopped drinking 511 days ago, but it was heading that way so although I don’t know where I’d be had I not stopped I can only really say this with certainty: right now I’d either be drinking or I’d have made plans for drinking later on. Fact remains though, that the reason I’m not drinking this morning or planning to guzzle Sauvignon Blanc later is solely because I have no desire to. I don’t want to drink.
Since February, I work at a rehab as those of you who know me will know. This springs purely from a desire to help others find this amazing gift I was given and get a shot at reclaiming their lives, but more importantly, themselves. Even 511 days later, on this five hundred and eleventh morning later I still wake up and feel tearful of joy and gratitude that I once again begin a new day without a hangover and the crippling hell of active addiction. On my five hundred and eleventh morning sober my morning coffee tastes epic. On my five hundred and eleventh morning I am steady on my feet and my mind is clear.
I imagine this gratitude comes from my time in captivity. Would I feel this grateful and amazed at just waking up in the morning if I hadn’t been trapped for so long? Would standing up in the shower strike me as so wondrous if I’d been able to do it all along? Call me crazy, but I doubt it. And so I consider myself very, very lucky. Lucky to be an addict, lucky to be an alkie. Perhaps my appreciation for those small, simple things in life – even the fact that I’m breathing – and the joy I feel is this strong and overwhelming because I so very nearly threw it all away. It makes sense, no? If you’ve been confined to a wheelchair for years and years, of course having the use of your legs again will seem more of a miracle and something to be thankful for than it would if you’d always been able to. When we overcome something terrible, I believe it’s a human reaction to want to pass on the gift and help others. I know what that captivity feels like, I know how it feels to be stuck in the hell of addiction and not seeing the way out. But I found a way out and so when I see someone else who is suffering, all I want to do is let them know that no matter how impossible and unlikely it may seem, they can find their way out too. Take any charity, any foundation – almost always founded and run by those who have themselves been through it, no matter what it is. I only have to look around me at my colleagues – the few who aren’t themselves in recovery were lashed by addiction having either grown up with parents who were addicts or had to stand by as a partner or sibling went through it. Every single one of us, regardless of how addiction affected us – directly or indirectly – is at the rehab for one reason only: because we so desperately want to help illuminate that elusive pathway out of hell and reassure those who suffer that it IS there and can be found.
At the rehab, we work with the 12-step program. I attended AA meetings during my first two, three months of recovery but it hasn’t quite been my path. As I mentioned, I am sober today because it’s what I want more than anything else. Or rather, I’m sober today because I don’t want to drink. To my mind, why would I need to go to meetings to stop me doing something I don’t want to do in the first place? But here’s the scary bit: almost every time someone relapses the immediate response is “they stopped working the program“. The philosophy goes that you have to attend meetings and practice the 12 steps in all your affairs and it’s what keeps you sober. I want to be clear though – nowhere does it state in AA literature (as far as I’m aware anyway) that it is the only way to get sober and you’re encourage to “take what works, leave the rest“. Healthy approach, if you ask me. And I guess that’s what I’ve done. And to be even clearer, I absolutely love AA – if it saves just one poor soul from the deep abyss of alcoholism and addiction, then it’s thumbs up from me. AA, CA, NA and all the other As do save hundreds of thousands of us. Millions. As far as I’m concerned, if you keep sober by running naked around your house at dawn each day – keep doing that.
Through my recovery, I’ve sometimes felt prickly at those words. “They stopped working the program“. It gets me prickly because I don’t seem to be “doing it” in the straight-up AA way. But when I put my toys back into my pram and quieten my obstinate inner child, I realised that I’m absolutely working a program. Or THE program, even:
- I admitted defeat and accepted I was powerless in the face of addiction.
- I wanted to find a different way of life.
- I asked for help.
- I looked inward and took stock of my life and what’s fucked me up.
- I honestly and sincerely laid those things that fucked me up bare.
- I resolved to face them all and work through them.
- I set out to turn resentment to forgiveness, anger to love, and fear to faith.
- I felt a desire to put right the harm I’d done.
- I acknowledged, took responsibility and asked forgiveness.
- I keep a close eye on myself and correct myself when resentment, anger and fear threaten to engulf me.
- I practice mindfulness.
- I put my heart and soul into helping other addicts find their way to recovery.
Bill W would be pleased, I reckon, and you don’t need to attend meetings to live your life according to these principles. It makes me chuckle, because it’s almost like I’ve gone and 12-stepped in spite of myself. Nice work, Bill W – you got me! I’m glad though, I just needed to see it for myself and reframe how I think around what it means to work a/the program. It kinda happened organically. I’m not saying I’m a genius but then neither was good ol’ Bill W. Bill W was simply just like me – a drunk, who practiced a new way of life that kept him in balance. And sober. And that’s really what I’ve come to believe recovery is all about: balance. It goes without saying that we’re much more vulnerable to harm, be it addiction or any destructive behaviour at all, if we are broken or carry resentments. Sometimes we just have a deadness inside, a void, a hole in our heart or whatever other way you want to use to describe it. Sometimes there’s just this restlessness and discontent that can only be stilled with drugs – until we find a better way of keeping ourselves balanced.
No, I don’t want to drink on this fine day. Call me cocky, but I wouldn’t drink if you offered me £1,000,000 to do so. Well. I wouldn’t agree to kill myself for £1,000,000 either and that’s what drinking would mean for me because I’m an alcoholic and I can’t drink the way you can. You get my drift though. I don’t want to drink and at this moment in time there is nothing, NOTHING, that could make me. But don’t be fooled, I am always vigilant – that’s where the mindfulness comes in, see – as I still have the brain that threw me into captivity to start with.
What I wanted to get at, although it seems it took me a while to get to the point, is that I do work a program. No, I don’t go to AA meetings very often but I spend a huge part of my waking hours focused on recovery – both my own and that of others around me. I share – here, at home, with friends, at work – and stay open and honest. And I try my damned hardest to pass on this beautiful, magical gift. Some of us get put off by AA and I have to admit this has at times been me too, but then I remind myself that we’re all just doing the same thing – trying to find that balance and work on our recovery. If we do it in a certain order of steps or affirmations or rituals is irrelevant. The 12 steps I believe is something that almost comes naturally when we get sober – when we remove the anaesthesia all our emotions come flooding back and we have no choice but to learn how to deal with them. And I reckon that’s what Bill W did. And how helpful of him to cobble together a guide to give us a nudge in the right direction in case we’re a little lost initially. Personally, I think everyone – addict or otherwise – would be better off going about our lives that way.
It’s all about balance.
Today I’m not going to drink.