“We can find happiness and self-confidence with alcohol. But we don’t get to keep them. Having those things takes work for some of us”
“Over the years, research has confirmed what so many therapists have known intuitively, that the therapeutic relationship itself is essential to the success a patient experiences. Some studies have even called it the most important common factor to successful outcomes.” (From an article called The Importance of the Relationship in Therapy written by Lisa Firestone Ph.D. for Psychology Today.)
I don’t flatter myself by thinking I know more than what I do when it comes to helping people with drug and alcohol problems. After all, I only have an associate degree in drug and alcohol counseling that I obtained as a fifty-two year old student back in January of 2013.
It was from a highly recommended community college and I was fortunate to have teachers who picked the right books to learn from and who also knew more about addiction than I did. But again, it was an associate degree in a field that requires a bachelor’s degree or higher, and truth be told, I haven’t done any counseling since that time, at least not in a professional setting.
What I have done since then, and actually for years before, is to help people with drug and alcohol problems in my private life, and I am currently employed as a case worker helping people who have been diagnosed with mental disorders. Some of them are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is termed as having co-occurring disorders (COD). And it has been enough to fulfill me in life without being a drug and alcohol counselor.
The main reason I feel fulfilled is due to the level of help I am able to give to some of my clients.
Although therapy is left up to a professional for the level of help needed by some clients with co-occurring disorders, I still bring something more to the table than simply being a case worker, who pushes paperwork and provides transportation when needed.
I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, because I’m not. But if it does, please reread this post from the beginning.
You see I have also known intuitively for a long time how important a relationship is with anyone I am helping, and although my self-confidence in doing so wavers from time to time, it still remains strong despite the lack of higher college degrees. I know inside that the belief I have in myself will always shine through to those I am helping—help themselves.
Although I did not know intuitively that it is up to the individual to take the reins of recovery and use whatever help is needed to remain sober and become emotionally well, I did learn this for myself. It not only filled me with a level of self-confidence I never had before, but also enough self-love to become happy with who I was.
I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, because it’s not. If it does, please reread the last two paragraphs above.
Helping others help themselves has kept me humble enough to tell each person that it is they who deserve the credit, not me, while knowing intuitively, that the healing relationship we share is essential to the success they experience.
“When I was young. I never needed anyone. And makin’ love was just for fun. Those days are gone.
Livin’ alone. I think of all the friends I’ve known. But when I dial the telephone. Nobody’s home.”
I had girlfriends as a teenager. But the above lyrics from the song All By Myself, sung by Eric Carmen in 1975, still sums up my teenage years. And although I got married at the young age of nineteen, the song also sums up many of the years that followed. Years that I call my drinking days. Where even with a wife and kids, and friends in bars, I still often felt sad and alone. But fortunately that’s not the case anymore.
I celebrated 22 years of sobriety on April 27th, and although I was actually “all by myself,” it was a quiet and relaxing evening.
With my wife at home in a nearby state, the night went by with some TV and doing a few things to improve the personal use of my blog. I then fell asleep in front of the TV at some point, (it happens a lot more now that I’m fifty-eight years old) and after waking up at a time I don’t remember now. I went to the bathroom and then went to bed. (There’s a lot more peeing at fifty-eight too).
Now the point of this blog post isn’t to talk about my drinking days or tell you about my bathroom habits. I covered the loneliness I experienced throughout my life in my book and my frequent peeing may fall under the expression, “too much information.” But I do want to talk about how after 22 years of growth, both personal and spiritual, I am the happiest I’ve ever been, even though I’m not as happy I was several years ago.
I know that sounds confusing but stay with me. I promise there’s a positive message coming.
Back in January of 2013 I wrote a blog post called A Quiet Confidence. It’s about my college experiences, but it mostly focuses on one in particular. An experience that helped me to grow at the age of fifty-two, and one that reflects how I have been feeling for a while now.
I have spent the last year and four months working as a case worker for people with mental illnesses and I have also spent that time being away from my wife more than before. Although we have been married for over 38 years now, I can honestly say that we miss each other when we’re not together.
Since there’s a rather long story behind my current situation, I’ll move on by simply stating that my present circumstances came to pass due to the passion I have for helping others.
It was in that blog post from 2013 that I wrote how I had begun having doubts about some of my personal views on counseling and addiction and how it was affecting my self-confidence. And it was also in that post that I wrote that I felt like I was losing my identity. Now while those things currently hold true, I will say that I love myself and that I’m happy with who I am. Which is why I am the happiest I have ever been, but not as happy as I was when I was in college.
Now for the positive message I promised.
I have found that being happy with who we are can sustain us in times when we’re not as happy in life as we want to be. And that as long as we don’t give up, our lives will improve for the better.
I believe that this past year and four months have helped me to grow as a person, but it has also shown me where I need to grow more. And that even though I have a job that I love, I need to start being with the wife that I love more.
I also need to start believing more in a creator of some kind. A creator that I sometimes call god. Not the God of the bible, but one that gave us the ability to be happy and to change our lives for the better if we need to. After all, it’s what helped me to grow spiritually and become happy with who I am.
“All by myself. Don’t want to be, all by myself anymore. All by myself. Don’t want to live, all by myself anymore.
Hard to be sure. Sometimes I feel so insecure. And love so distant and obscure. Remains the cure.”
In truth I have been sad at times without my wife by my side as much. But I know that love will be the cure.
The love I have for my wife. The love I have for myself. And a love for life that I never had in my drinking days.
Although the opioid epidemic needs to remain at the forefront in our efforts to help those addicted. (The death rate from overdoses continue to rise.) We should not forget the problems many people face due to excessive use of alcohol. A substance that robbed me of many things, including my happiness, until I got help over 21 years ago. I can’t truthfully say that I may have died. I didn’t drink every day and I still had my health. But I can say I was dying emotionally and spiritually.”
The word obsess comes from the Latin word obsidere, one meaning of which is “to besiege.” Being someone who has, at times, obsessed over something, I can say that if we’re not careful, thoughts can besiege our minds, take us out of the present moment, and rob us of any enjoyment we might otherwise experience. In my drinking days, I often obsessed about one thing or another, and depending on what it was, I could find myself filled with such emotions as resentment, anger, self-pity, or anxiety. This was always wasted time on my part; I never looked for solutions if there was a problem. And nothing I obsessed over was ever as bad as I originally thought it was. But mostly, I simply could not stop thinking about something once it became ingrained in my thought processes.
Fortunately, I learned how to turn these types of thoughts around, so to speak. Whatever it was I started to obsess about, with practice, I was able to keep it to a minimum and eventually stop thinking about it altogether. The practice I speak of was to literally redirect my thoughts to something else, something fun, or telling myself how pointless it was to keep thinking about it. And I often talked to someone about whatever I was obsessing over. It took time to break free of obsessive thinking, but it was never as bad as the days when all I could think about was getting drunk. That obsessiveness almost always led to the same conclusion: my mind besieged with worry, distress, and often hopelessness after a night out drinking.
I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety this month. I went from calling myself a high bottom alcoholic, to a recovered alcoholic, and at some point I called myself a self-proclaimed alcoholic. But eventually it no longer mattered what I called myself. The bottom line is that I was a problem drinker who needed to be something I wasn’t, full of fears and insecurities that made me unhappy, and I was often quite lonely and sad.
Thankfully that all changed after waking up hung over on April 27th, 1996, sick to my stomach and afraid that the argument I started with my wife the night before had cost me my family. Fortunately, it somehow didn’t, and the rest is history as they say. But I’ll add that it was hard and scary along the way at times.
I didn’t drink every day, and I was far from the stereotypes one sees in movies and on TV, bottoming out and losing everything. But I had bottomed out emotionally and spiritually, and at the time I only knew of one place I could go to get help—Alcoholics Anonymous.
I wrote about my experience there in my book, and how the Twelve Steps helped me to love myself and be happy in life. And I wrote about some of the answers I found outside the rooms of AA that helped me find even greater happiness. But this post isn’t about AA or my book. It’s about the two answers I didn’t find.
It frightens me some days that there may not be something after we die. And I’m still not sure what my true purpose is in life.
Yes I have a book and a blog. Yes I help people with substance use problems. And yes I currently work helping people with mental illnesses. But I have to wonder why my prayers of being able to financially support myself while writing more books and helping more people haven’t been answered?
One might say that vanity has something to do with it. If I get a swelled head and begin to think I’m more important than what I am, I could end up drinking again, right? But I’ve ruled this out. A lot of things have contributed to my growth and my happiness, and I know drinking would rob me of that. Plus I have never been more humble in my life. I don’t have a lot of money, an expensive car, or a big home. And I’m aware that I still have a lot more growing to do, both spiritually and as a person.
So what is it then? Why haven’t I achieved my dream yet? No god? Not my purpose to help the many people suffering from what has become better known as a chronic, progressive disease of the brain? Maybe I’m just not qualified? Maybe a book and blog doesn’t make me an expert on addiction and helping others? And if there is a god of some kind. Maybe I’m not supposed to be famous or well-known in the field of addiction?
I’m not sure if the answer as to whether or not there’s a god will ever be answered. And I can only hope that the term “when preparation meets opportunity” becomes a reality for me. But I can honestly say that there have been some signs that I’m on the right path in life.
I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety this month. I went from calling myself an alcoholic, to a recovered alcoholic, and at some point a self-proclaimed alcoholic. But it no longer matters what I call myself. I don’t need to be something I’m not, and I’ve learned how to overcome my fears and insecurities. I’m no longer lonely. And although I feel sad on some days, finally being happy with who I am sustains me during those times and the sadness never lasts.
So I guess I’ll simply keep trying to believe that something created life and the universe for a reason and that we do have a purpose while we’re here. And not worry about the answers.
If my sobriety has taught me anything, it’s that we can create our own happiness, and that living in the present moment is one of the best ways to achieve it.
The definitions listed below are why I think most people’s troubles come from insecurity, and not ego like many spiritual gurus state.
1. uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence
1. A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
2. The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
3. An overly high opinion of oneself.
The third definition of ego comes from insecurity. But it is a false sense of ego used to overlook our fears and insecurities and help us feel better about ourselves.
I should know. I had a false ego all through my life—even into my early sobriety. It was in my sobriety, however, that I was able to become more self-confident and grow to love myself. I also found greater happiness in life. Especially after finally becoming happy with who I was.
It is those things that I want for others. It’s why I do what I do to help people. I enjoy helping others. It makes me feel good about myself, and gives me a sense of achievement.
Not because of ego. And not because of insecurity. But because of who I’ve become.