I celebrated 27 consecutive years of sobriety last Easter. I still retain a vivid memory of that drunken brunch, which kicked off my last 12-hour binge. As I sat glued to the barstool, I ruined the evening by hitting on a woman across the table as my partner watched with disgust. Earlier that year, my father had suffered a massive stroke at the hands of a bottle of scotch. Fearful that I would suffer the same fate, I finally quit drinking.
Soon afterward, I had a “spiritual experience,” described in the Big Book of Alcoholic’s Anonymous as, “A personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.” One Sunday, as I was driving in a convertible with a friend, I put my drink down, and as I looked up, I beheld a dark cloud rising up from the depths of my subconsciousness. For the first time in my life I beheld the glory of a magnificent sun beaming brightly from the center of my being.
Living on life’s terms without alcohol has become the norm for me. However, there were certain steps that I took along the way that made my life well worth sharing. Here are a few things I gleaned over the years about how to move forward, one sober day at a time.
1. Sobriety is a State of Being
It is much more than a defined point of view as described by AA’s founder, Bill Wilson. While the steps may “Have their usefulness for all”, attending AA meetings is not for everyone. Over the years I have seen many people fail and some die, in spite of faithfully attending these meetings. Many times I have observed miserable people pacing nervously in the halls. I‘ve learned that spirituality is a common thread that connects healthy people.
2. Life Changes with Action
I suggest taking the time to rigorously work the steps as outlined in AA’s Big Book. People who engage in spiritual practices usually wake up from their alcoholic stupor. 15 years without a drink turned me into a miserable, mean person. I thought that if the “Other” acted as I wanted, everything would be OK. Willing to go to any length to appease my co-dependent’s thinking, I followed the steps diligently because I wanted to help another addict achieve sobriety. It was only after completing all of the steps as described in the Big Book, that I was eventually able to benefit others through acts of kindness and genuine selfless service. It was during this time that life once again began to smile at me.
3. There may be many paths leading to the top of a mountain, but the view is always the same
If you select your path carefully, and stick with it, you’ll never get lost on the trail. One time, while hiking up Machu Picchu, I stopped at a lookout. Out of breath, and with my stamina depleted, I didn’t think I could go on. Suddenly a butterfly spoke to me, explaining that enlightenment is never found halfway up the mountain. AA says that half measures bring nothing worthwhile, and it’s true. Spirituality is like standing in front of an ice cream parlor; although there are many flavors to choose from, you can only sample them one at a time.
4. Every Experience Counts
Although children are often exposed to violence, abuse, and neglect, it doesn’t mean that we are always victims of circumstance. Over the past 25 years I have experienced a series of intense events that led me to psychiatrists, shamans and homeopaths. Today I am free from the bondage of addiction. Now I find peace in practically every experience and no longer rely on others for my happiness. I am healed and take responsibility for my actions. I’ve finally learned how to soar high and free, like an eagle. My experiences have shaped my character and taught me how to serve others.
5. Some Days Suck Wind
Even though I have been alcohol-free for many years, some days are better spent in bed. Years ago I was introduced to a tool named H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired.) If your mood goes south, decide which one is the prevailing wind in your life, and take the necessary steps to set things right. Often a handful of almonds are enough to cause a shift, and suddenly everything changes. On other occasions the exhaustion leads to a movie marathon in bed. Remember that moods eventually fade away.
6. Keep it Simple
The greatest gift of all was being able to return to a place of calm and simplicity. Although it took me 25 years to get “here,” I’m living proof that the struggle was well worth the journey. As I completed my hike up the mountain in Peru that day, I forgave myself and made amends to everyone I had harmed over the years. As my fears, anxieties and resentments dissipated, I was able to make an honest assessment of my life. I’ve learned how to act consciously in a loving manner on a daily basis, and as a result, I am now a happy, fulfilled soul. For years I trotted around the globe searching for inner peace. Then one day I inadvertently discovered truth in my garden. As I gazed at the shiny, succulent fruit of a lone strawberry plant, I experienced another “spiritual awakening.” I realized that the answer to every question, problem, and challenge in my life, has always been available to me, residing deep within the core of my true authentic self.
For those of you who haven’t experienced addiction, these revelations may be difficult to understand and are most likely irrelevant, but I can assure you that after 25 years of falling awake, it sure feels great to be living life sober.