I’m wishing everyone a Happy New Year. And a sober one should help ensure that. When I look back over my 21 and a half years of sobriety, I can honestly say that the biggest obstacle I faced was fear. Fortunately many of the fears I had turned out to be the boogeyman, and the ones that turned out to be real, helped me to grow and become a stronger person. So while not everyday may bring us happiness, we cannot fail to be happy by facing our fears, knowing that we will find greater strength in doing so.
Some people don’t like using the word “sick” when describing someone with an addiction. I get it. Just like the words alcoholic and addict, saying someone is sick can add to the shame and stigma associated with addiction, and prevent a person from getting the help they need.
But was I sick? Yes.
Although I didn’t drink every day and I seemed to be doing well in life, I wasn’t. I had fears and insecurities, not of the normal variety, that made me emotionally sick.
As a result, I was overly jealous of people and an extremely jealous husband. I felt like I needed to prove myself at almost every turn—believing deep down that I didn’t stack up to others. And I tried to be something I wasn’t, often acting out in arrogant and egotistical ways, in an attempt to feel better about myself.
I was also spiritually sick.
I should have been a better person than I was. A better friend. A more loving husband. And certainly a more loving and caring father.
Not that I was a bad person. I tried not to do things that I knew I shouldn’t, and I actually did some good things in my drinking days. But I just couldn’t sustain a better way of living. Sooner or later my fears would overwhelm me. My insecurities would become too great. And I would turn to the only thing that I thought could help me with how I was feeling. Even when riddled with guilt, I could not stop drinking for a long period of time, and I would return to the behaviors that actually made me feel worse about myself.
Eventually I got help and began living a different way, but I was still emotionally and spiritually sick in the beginning. But as I remained sober, my brain healed. And as I kept trying to be a better person than I was before, I was no longer sick.
I had changed the things about myself that needed to be changed. The thoughts and behaviors that didn’t make me a bad person, but along with my drinking, kept me emotionally and spiritually “sick” and prevented me from becoming the person I always wanted to be.
I can’t imagine ever drinking again. I enjoy being sober and living a spiritual life. I’ve become a good person who loves themselves and others. And I’m happy with who I am. But let me make two things clear.
I’m no superhero when it comes to living a spiritual life. And it’s not always easy being me.
There are times when my thoughts become filled with anger about one thing or another, and a small resentment can crop up. I can be somewhat cynical when it comes to certain people—a few celebrities and politicians come to mind. And I’m a man who enjoys looking at woman, although I’m careful not to stare, especially when I’m with my wife. Oh yeah. I also drop the F-Bomb sometimes and say things I wish I hadn’t.
As far as why it’s not easy being me, well that’s a little more complicated.
You would think if I’m happy with myself and enjoy life, it only stands to reason that being who I am shouldn’t be hard. But sometimes it is. Sometimes, a sudden sadness comes over me, or I feel anxious without any real reason for it.
Now I know that may not seem like a big deal, but wait, there’s more.
I’ve gone to bed in a good mood already, only to awaken the next morning feeling down or actually fearful. Dreams are sometimes the culprit and these feelings usually go away quickly. But sometimes they linger and I have to fight mentally to feel better emotionally.
Science tells us that some people have lower levels of what I like to call the happy chemicals in our brains, which I’m sure I am one of. But that doesn’t help much when I’m feeling unhappy for no reason of my making.
Fortunately, I’ve come to realize that there are going to be times when I’m not as happy as I want to be and that the way I am feeling will pass. I just wish it was easier on some days is all.
In the end I do know that living a spiritual life, which doesn’t have to be anything more than trying to be a better person than we were before, helps us to love ourselves and to be happy with who we are. And that may well be another reason I have to fight to be happy.
Truth be told, I haven’t been trying as hard as I have in the past to improve on myself—correcting my negative thoughts and behaviors.
I may not be a superhero when it comes to living a spiritual life. And it’s not always easy being me. But I can’t think of a better way to live or a better person to be.
I just need to work harder at being the person I say I am.
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.
“I don’t pretend to have all the answers in life. But I do have an answer for not having all the answers. Don’t worry about not having all the answers in life.”
I’ve found that when it comes to having doubts in life or in ourselves, we can be insecure in one of two ways. We can look up to people who are confident and strong, and be inspired to grow and be like them. Or we can be jealous of them and act out in ways that we think make us look confident and strong.
I was the latter of the two during my drinking days. But once I stopped drinking and admitted I needed help staying sober, I was fortunate to find people in Alcoholics Anonymous who understood me. People who loved me unconditionally, and explained how my pride and ego were to blame for my vain and pretentious behaviors, and my unhappiness.
I didn’t always like some of these people, but I listened to them anyway because I wanted to be like them—happy and sober.
In time I began to see that what they called ego was really fears and insecurities, and although I eventually stopped going to AA meetings, I still continued to change the things about myself that prevented me from growing both spiritually and as a person. (Mostly my negative thoughts and behaviors.)
I don’t pretend to be the most confident person today. Nor do I pretend to be the strongest. But I have grown enough to continue looking up to people who are, and try to be like them.
I’m just grateful that all those years ago (almost 21 now) that I found the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and people there who wanted to help me stay sober. People that expected nothing in return, and were still growing themselves.
People I will always remember.
“I actually wrote something else as a commentary on the election, but I decided not to post it. It was written with a bit of anger, and I’m no longer angry, just sad. All I can do is hope for the best for our country and try not to hold any resentments that I’m sure will come. I know the happiness I’ve cherished since I quit drinking over 20 years ago will return, and I can move on. I will rebound from what, for me, is an unwanted circumstance—it’s what I do. There is nothing that can make me feel like I did back in my drinking days, including an election.”