I was visiting a dear friend of mine the other day in the hospital. He was dealing with some heart problems that brought him to the emergency room earlier in the week. This man, who has 20+ years sobriety, and is one of the sweetest, kindest souls I have encountered on my Earth Time here. Soft spoken and soft hearted, he told me about his recent history of taking too much on – too many commitments (AA related), too much time taken with the program, too much of well, everything. He told me he had started to build resentments as a result of his attachments to those commitments. He felt that his recent heart condition was a manifestation of these recent stresses and his overdoing of things.
I nodded and “yes, of course” ‘d throughout his talking to me. I alternated between looking in his eyes and observing his delicate frame outlined in his gown. Noticed the wrinkled knees and darkened toe nails. I followed the snakes of tubes emerging from his arms and to several drips and machines. My eyes landed on his as he continued to tell me about his recent amount of activities and obligations he took on in the name of recovery. As I nodded once again, he looked over his glasses, and in his gentle retired-school-principal voice, asked “Are you listening to this, Paul?”
I sat gobsmacked for a moment. This man knew me very well, even though we have known each other for only a few months. He knew how to reach me, and reach me he did. Cautionary tale jammed down into my inbox, thank you very much.
You see, I have been having a bit of an issue of my own lately. Nothing like the drink problem, but related to it. The best way to illustrate it is to hear what my wife recently told me. She is going away to Africa for a work trip soon. I have taken vacation time to watch the boys. But since they are both in school, it leaves me a lot of free time. My wife’s words to me? “Don’t just do recovery stuff when you’re off, ok?”
Alright, so just because I think of recovery when I wake up, try to get in as much recovery time in my spare time (and even at work), meet up with people for recovery, go to places where other people are doing recovery, go on websites and boards that are just about recovery, read about recovery and feel that if I am not doing recovery, I will feel a bit empty inside, doesn’t mean anything, ok?
Now replace the word “recovery” with “drinking” in the above sentence. See a problem?
I’m a recovery junkie. And I have known this in my gut for some time now.
In addition to all the things I mentioned, I also blog (d’uh), hit as many other blogs, am active on other recovery message boards, hit my treatment center alumni meetings when I can, speak at meetings, sponsor men in real life, email and skype, pray, meditate, listen to hundreds of AA speaker tapes, read spiritual books, watch recovery docs and movies (I see only 2-3 fictional movies a year at most), rework the steps and hit any AA commitments I can. I also take phone calls from newcomers and from treatment centers.
I don’t mention this as a #humblebrag – a way of bragging couched in a manner of false humility. I mention this because I know that these are somewhat Draconian measures taken against myself in the name of something that is supposed to be positive and life-affirming. It has become yet another “reach” of mine in where I am clutching onto something that is temporarily blocking me from something even greater. It’s a safety blanket that is becoming soiled and tattered – it’s initial use long expired and holding me back from moving on. It’s my pathetic way of achieving some measure of control over things…and we all know where my best thinking got me eventually. It’s my identity.
It might be something innate in alcoholics. I am not sure. But I know when I was growing up, I would find one thing – one, not several, but one – and hang onto it and burn it out and drag it out until it no longer served me. Then I would move on, never ever going back to that one thing. One of those was magic. When I was a young boy, I got my mother to buy me all the magic kits out there. I pretended to be a great and fantastic magician. The David Copperfield of Downsview. I also borrowed books from the library, dressed up, held little magic shows in my backyard and even dreamed of being a magician
But once the shine came off of the magic gig, I dropped it and moved on. Karate, playing the flute, beer making (ha ha), death metal…all examples of things that I nerded out completely on and when they didn’t make me feel the way I wanted to feel, I moved on. Looking back, the seeking I found in these activities of my youth was no different than the seeking I found when I was older, and no different than the seeking I found in alcohol. What I sought was completion, for a sense of being grounded in something, of being whole.
So while I don’t think of alcohol per se now, I think of recovery, which of course ties into alcohol. At first it was something I needed, and now it’s something else. Not to say that I don’t need recovery. I do. I have heard way too many stories of those who decided to go it their own way after working the 12-steps, walking away from the thing that saved their lives, and then soon after relapsed. That is yet another cautionary tale that is at top of mind. So for this alcoholic, it’s about balance (what’s that?). I need to find a middle. I need to seek a place where recovery is a way of life, and yet is not my entire life.
And it’s a bit frightening.
It’s no surprise that I have no hobbies or real interests right now in my life. I have work, family and recovery. Oh, and sleep. Not a healthy way of being. But it’s a matter of letting go. It’s a matter of trusting God. It’s a matter of knowing that I will be ok. I had many old timers recently tell me that they all went through this phase – usually around 2-3 years of sobriety (what? I am not special?) and that it passes as long as we are awake to it. At least I have that going for me. I need to stop and smell the roses, even if I get pricked now and then. I need to be gentle to myself (what’s that?). Letting go of this will be as challenging as removing the alcohol problem, if not more. It’s a quality problem, I suppose. But I need to get a life. Seriously. I just don’t know where to start.
I never had a normal life, from the inside out. I lived my life from the outside in, and it was as hollow and empty as a discarded vodka mickey. So this is brand new territory I am staking out. This is pioneer stuff for me. This is taking the training wheels of and getting ready to bump and bruise and yet fly and cruise. I’ve been piloting on the ground long enough, it’s time to take wings and fly, baby.
I just need a map now.
This coming week will certainly by a (non-pressured) test. For an alcoholic of my type having free and easy time early in my recovery was always a challenge in not indulging in drinking. It’s ironic now that my challenge is not indulging in recovery whilst I have the extra time on my hands. How did that happen?
So stick with me, dear reader. If I am not tearing it up on the blogs as much as I used to, maybe it’s because I have started starting a collection of paper mache of busts of the last 15 Canadian Prime Ministers, or started to making hand-crafted, artisinal bug repellent / shoe polish. Perhaps I will find joy in underwater skeet shooting or learning to play the saw. Maybe there is spiritual merit in learning Estonian folk dancing. It’s just a matter of trial and error.
“Are you listening to this, Paul?”