5 Points I Learned Through Recovery

alcohol recovery

What I learned through recovery

The gambler can sit in a bar, stroke his beard, and mull over a life of lessons learned.  A sage old teacher can sit down and fill a notebook with observations gleaned in decades working with children.  And a recovered addict also has very specific lessons learned through his recovery.  These are things that make me feel wise and on par with anyone who has accumulated knowledge in any field.  And I’m more than happy to have these pearls, even if the process of learning them is one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Here then, are 5 lessons I learned in my recovery from alcohol addiction.

1. You have to admit your problem.

Now, I realize this can sound self-explanatory.  In fact, it’s a big cliché, right?  Probably kind of annoying.  But I feel I have some new ideas here.  And that comes in talking about what I really mean about really admitting a problem.  To me, what admitting a problem is about is a relationship with oneself.  It’s an active process, it’s not a fact.  It’s not one single, nearly instantaneous action.

And it’s not intellectual either.  People think of admitting as the opposite of denying, which would mean that you check “yes” on some mental questionnaire as to whether or not you have a problem and that’s all you have to do. But admitting a problem is emotional, not intellectual, and it’s a type of relationship you have with yourself.  It means having that heart-melting hour or two in which you recognize that you’ve done something wrong.

It’s a huge relief—it’s amazingly liberating and humbling in the best possible sense.  I would imagine a torrent of very pleasant chemicals flood your brain when you have this experience with yourself—for me it was amazing.

I began seeing the old me and the mistake me from a bit of a distance.  I knew the drinking me was, literally, me, but I was able to get enough distance to think of the drinker and his damage as that other guy.

And how did I get here?  Well, only through a process.  I would say I “knew” I had a problem a good year before I “admitted” it the way I’m discussing here.  The knowledge of it was on the other side of a glass door from me—I could see it, but couldn’t access it.  Admitting your problem means feeling it.

2. Non-addiction is in tune with nature

Huh?  Has Sam gone hippy on us?  Hey, this is Sam we’re talking about.  Here’s what I mean.  I saw this thing on PBS a while back in which they were talking about the human being able to see in the red spectrum while animals such as cows cannot.  They showed the world as it appeared to the cow, very monochromatic, missing out on so many details.  They then showed the same scene through human eyes, with all sorts of little details.

Seeing all the colors is the difference between being sober and being drunk.  Being an alcoholic means numbing the pain of life.  It distorts the balance of your brain waves to the point that you’re not looking at the world the way nature intends it.  There are many plants and animals out there that we can take in as juices, foods, etc., each augmenting our brainwaves and our overall chemistry each time we take them in.  We weren’t meant to pick just the most damaging ones, and we also weren’t meant to pick just a couple and use them in a way that is way out of whack from the others.  We’re really not supposed to take just the poisonous ones way out of whack from the others.

People renounce their drinking due to religious guilt or other religious factors.  They may struggle, on way the other, with various morality issues.  They may feel they’re being pressured by certain morality police ideas they resent, and that might keep them from kicking the bottle.  But how can you argue with nature?  Who doesn’t worship at the temple of nature and the rational, pure ways it represents?  Who doesn’t want to be in line with the universe and its workings?  It’s something that people all walks of life agree on.

3. You’re not missing out on anything

When I was a kid in a small town in Ohio, my next-door neighbor, six or seven years older than me, always used to sneak out at night.  I probably slept through it a hundred times, but sometimes I’d wake up from the sound and would jump over to the window in time to catch him jumping down from the storm drainpipe to the ground.  Once, I woke up with the roosters and saw him, in the red, dim morning, sneaking back in.

In school the next day, I’d burn and burn thinking about that.  Not only did I think he was cool and that what he was doing was cool, not only did I think it would be awesome to be older and sneak out and do whatever he was doing, I burned with envy.  I deeply wanted to be him, and cursed the fact that I was seven or eight and just a little twerp.

Being a recovered alcoholic puts us back into that awful pre-adolescent state.  Even though we’re strong and we fought like hell just to get beyond our addicted state, we end up going into a goofy funk when confronted with others who are drinking.  In fact, it can come up at odd times, that feeling that just as my neighbor was supposedly up to something so amazing sneaking out, so the people who are drinkers are having such amazing experiences.  You know, they’re sailing off into amazing states, taking risks by doing the things they do while feeling that tingling, temple-pounding intoxication, and we’re drinking soda, stone sober at midnight.

The good news, though, is that this is a trait of early recovery, not of seasoned, long-term recovered drinkers.  There’s an interesting tool called the Jelinek curve that walks you through all stages of addiction and recovery.  As a person gets into some nice meaty stages of recovery, yet still isn’t all the way there, some stages include “start of group therapy,” “appreciation of possibilities of new way of life,” and “diminishing fears of the unknown future.”  These are chronological.  During these, in my experience, you still have this sense that you’re missing out on something.

You actually fool yourself into feeling like an innocent, as though you don’t know what the big, bad world of booze is all about.  And that’s absolutely ridiculous.  One of the lessons I learned was that  you have to remember something that really should be obvious.  You’re the smart one.  You’re the one with all the hard-earned life experience.  First off, you know only too well all there is to know about nightlife and its darker sides.  You know the experience—whether this is a thrill or whatever you’d consider it—of dancing with the devil and pushing yourself to extremes.  You also know how awful it is to be dependant.  You know, in short, why knowledge of the alcoholic’s life is knowledge you surely don’t want.

So, to go back to the Jelinek curve, once you get into stages such as “rebirth of ideals” and “facts faced with courage” you’re ready to learn this lesson about not missing anything.  It takes a while, but you’ll get there, champion.

4. Live in the present

Now, this is another one that sounds like a campfire song or a bad cliché.  But here’s what I mean.  You’ve probably been told plenty of times that it’s so important to slam the door on the past and all that. You have to forget the alcoholic you and all the circumstances behind him.  You have to bury all of that.

But I think that while some people understand how to slam the door on the past, they may be living too   much in the future.  I mean, you have to make plans and you have to envision things four years down the road, three years, etc. There’s really nothing wrong with that.

But here’s the rub.  There are a lot of little things you have to do along the way to keep your recovery in place.  You have to keep determined; you have to keep up with all the mental exercises you have set up; you have to keep up with the new hobbies like bike riding, pottery, photography, reading, whatever you have set up to get you into a new frame of mind.

I can tell you first hand that there’s such a thing as filling your head full of neat ideas about the future and fantasize about that safe distance so much that you forget all the maintenance that is necessary for the future.  Therefore, while you have plenty of time to think about the future and to look ahead in your recovery process, it’s really best to think about that day, how you feel that day, how fun it is to do the things you do, how nice it is to excel in your job and to be clear-headed.  Again, this is from first-hand experience.

5. A bad day is just a bad day

During my recovery I’ve had bad days of many varieties.  I’ve had to stay home from work and have watched movies all day long, wishing the whole time I was drinking while doing it, feeling like the whole thing was pointless without a drink.

I’ve had days when I went to the store and bought a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, though I never opened it.  I’ve ordered and paid for drinks at a bar before walking away from it.

I’ve been just very depressed without knowing why.  I’ve also thought that there was absolutely no way I was going to make it another year, two years, three years.

During those days, I wonder why I’ve been off the rails.  I beat myself up an awful lot and consider myself a failure.  I think about it the next day and the next, and I live in a little reality in which it seems like I’ve screwed up and my recovery is over.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it gets a person into a place of trying to change the way you’re doing things and also losing confidence.

Confidence and faith in yourself are really your best assets, and they’re absolutely essential.  You can’t get bogged down in bad days that scare you.  At first, they will be scary, sure.  That’s only human.  But what I learned before too long was that bad days are just bad days.  They can be caused by all sorts of things, but most importantly, they can be overcome very easily.

A lot of things can come along, such as friends cheering you, any manner of new developments or cool things that may come up.  Or you may reflect on things long enough to get over whatever went wrong.  But what will happen is that you’ll figure out, as this happens over and over, that it’s not that hard to get past a bad day.  Finally, when one comes up, you’ll start to realize, right in the midst of that bad day, that it’s happening, it’s bad, and that it will also get flushed away soon enough.  It will not even faze you, and you’ll be able to work through it.  That itself will make the day less bad.  Cool, right?

These are all things I’ve learned the hard way over the years.  Just like a technician in any field, I’ve realized what I’ve learned and have been able to put it all together.  I certainly hope you find it helpful.  I made plans to take joy in the lunch I had that day, being careful to go to a different place and order a different item each day for novelty.  This, by the way, kept my mind occupied (in addition to finding something positive about each person) during the morning, giving me something to look forward to.

I also got my mind ready to remember my resolve and remember I was recovering, and to remember that this night would be different from past nights because it would involve a short jog and a fruit smoothie and not drinking.  It would involve being comfortable in my home instead of sitting on a hard stool in some bar.

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