We addicts and alcoholics all have a story to tell outlining the exact details of how we got started down a path that would ultimately lead to abundant chaos that consumed our lives; spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I see it as a tale of a malady that is patient in its approach, careless in its practice, and unrelenting in its torment. I used to look back at my own life and wonder how I got to the place I was, and how I was ever going to get back to the old me; but the simplest truth is, I will never again be the person I was.
I honestly cannot say that I was born an alcoholic. With all of this knowledge that I currently possess on the subject, I don’t see how I wasn’t just a normal kid growing up in the land of Oz, then one day as a young adult I was dared to do something stupid, and a switch was flipped. Each addict is different and has their own story to tell, and I do think that for some a switch is flipped, and for others there isn’t necessarily a switch but a long process of learning to medicate. I was dared to drink a half pint of liquor, and without hesitation, I did. I had obviously drank alcohol before, but never quite this much all at once. It didn’t make me sloppy, it didn’t cause me to become happy, angry, depressed, or become belligerent or useless. It crashed over me like a wave of relief and it was from that very moment my alcoholism would develop. I do believe that there are side notes to be made as to why I decided to continue to drink, but none of which I can speak of with any truth, only with assumptions for which I am still sorting through and learning about. I had crossed a line I had no reason to believe existed; a starting line my emotional self had been silently crouched behind, patiently waiting for the gun to go off and it was from there I started my race and my love affair with alcohol.
Everything had begun to calm down and slow down, my mind was no longer racing at a million miles a second, I became comfortable and carefree of the things that I felt hindered and debilitated me. I liked the way I felt under the influence, and I used it as a medication to withdraw myself for how I was and who I was so I could become someone or something I could handle with greater ease. I knew in a short amount of time that my drinking (although it had only just begun) was going to grow into a problem. Looking back, I think I initially realized it was a problem because I no longer drank for the festivities or for the occasions in which one indulges in the consumption of alcohol. I was doing it to feel different physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was only when I started to hide it that I knew I was in trouble.
I’ve met many and have heard of many that were never honest with themselves about their drinking, perhaps their were too far gone emotionally to know the difference, but as idiotic as it may seem to say so, I am grateful that I was able to be honest with myself from the very start. However, it still took a decade of pain to arouse the fight within me to stop. Unfortunately with addiction, there are “men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves… they are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty”. I count my blessings that I am able to grasp the concept. As a sober house manager it is sometimes easy and also tough to see some fall under the category of being the less fortunate, and as the Big Book states, “their chances are less than average”. But I need to have hope in this disease.
I don’t usually turn to the pages of the Big Book to draw my conclusions for two reasons: The Big Book was written in the 1930’s and there is a lot that the Big Book doesn’t account for in today’s society. The Big Book isn’t the be all, say all of what it means to live a sober life. I feel guilty for having that opinion because the Big Book is the proverbial Bible for any addict looking for answers, and it’s a good place to start looking, but each man and woman is unique in their circumstances in which their situation has written their personal stories. And not to contradict myself, but if you want to live a sober life, The Big Book gets it right in its design and applies to most people looking for a way to change their circumstances.
The men’s sober house I manage will accept just about anyone who has at least thirty days of continuous sobriety and the desire to apply a sober structure to their lives. Most come to the house from treatment centers, and with alcohol being a staple in our society and the drug epidemic currently affecting just about everyone’s life in some way, there is no shortage of individuals in need. In my experience, the drug addicts that come into the house are usually young in age (not that drug addiction discriminates based on age), and most of the alcoholics will vary in age from the new eighteen year-old to those in the winter of their lives. Over half of our new additions are just kids, stemming from all backgrounds; each with the hope of maintaining their new found sobriety. However, in many of these cases, the parents involved wish for their child’s sobriety more so; and without question, it is completely understood.
I lost two guys in two days this last weekend. If you happen to read my last post, I lost three guys over the span of just a couple of weeks. Four of the five guys were new to sobriety and had never tried to remain sober for any period of time on their own before. Of those four guys new to sobriety, each of them toured the house with their parents by their side and their entrance fees were paid by their parents. This is fantastic. I love when the person coming in has the absolute support of his family during his journey forward to establish a sober lifestyle for himself at the house. I have no issue with this, but it does raise red flags immediately for me. In creating and maintaining a sober life in recovery the number one priority of the guy coming in should be himself, but for some, they are present only to appease parents who want this for him more than he himself does. I hate to say it, but almost all of the guys who come in with their parents holding their hand relapse within the first month.
The criticism here isn’t that the parents are present or touring the house with the man looking to better himself. However, when a parent is leading the way and asking all of the questions, that is a red flag. Those men who walk into this house and take an active interest in their approach to sober living seem to have much better odds of reaching their goals of what it means to adopt a sober lifestyle. I can hear the struggle and the promise of hope in their voices, where the reality of their situation seems to be clear to them. It is the sound of acceptance and surrender. This doesn’t mean absolute success, it just means that they have recognized that their lives have become unmanageable and are willing to go to any length to reclaim it.
It’s certainly not the parents fault if their son doesn’t take an active interest in the betterment of his life. This is a learning process for them as well as the guy moving in, especially if he is new to sobriety. For all of the parents, should the moment of their son’s relapse become a reality, it should be the break-away point as to not enable their behavior any further. If the parent continues to do whatever they can, even if they believe they are helping, they are only enabling, no matter what excuse is made. It is my opinion that after this break-away point occurs, a parent should only try and help when their son reaches out to them concerning his recovery; it is from this seeking of help that he will start to take his life in his own hands and hopefully begin to realize that their life is unmanageable in active addiction. But even in these cases, the addict mind can be very manipulative and the help provided should only be geared towards recovery, not the enabling of addict behaviors. For the guy coming in to the sober house, I ask a series of questions, and some just go through the motions of agreeing with what I am telling them and with what they believe they should want, but it will not be until they realize that they have hurt enough and/or hurt enough people that they’re truly ready to embrace recovery and what living life a sober life really means. The ability to be honest with themselves is just the first hurdle in a race that will last a lifetime. It is the most important hurdle that every single man or woman must get over in order to proceed forward into recovery.
I focus on this topic because the two gentlemen I lost were not ready. I have no doubt that they want to stay sober; that they wish to never use drugs or alcohol ever again, but most newcomers have zero idea as to what that really means, or the honesty they need to adopt to fully understand their predicament and the possible reasons why they are unable to remain sober. Being honest doesn’t simply mean admitting that you are an addict, it means applying that honesty to every corner of your life. Like I explained before, each man that comes into this house is unique in his situation and carries with him things in his life that will make or break his recovery. The strength of our house is the number of guys within the walls all going through similar experiences. Being able to share the burden with the men you live with and develop relationships is an integral part of our program at this house. It is a safe environment where you can sort through the garbage in your life while you learn to live in active sobriety.
For those who have lived in this house for what I would consider a prolonged period of time, we have terms for certain milestones in early recovery such as losing the “pink cloud” of treatment and getting over “the hump” of early sobriety. These are terms that are used frequently and can help guide those newcomers through their struggles. The Pink Cloud refers to a haze that encapsulates recent patients of treatment centers once they have completed their treatment programs and move into the house. Its a refreshing positive perspective that a newcomer brings to the house that the men who’ve experienced it know doesn’t last, but nonetheless is a welcome attribute. New housemates from these treatment facilities are usually gun-hoe about the living a sober life, going to meetings, participating in service opportunities provided by the different meetings around town, talking about recovery and the dreams they have for themselves within recovery. The ‘Hump’ on the other hand is something that will make or break someone’s initial journey into sobriety. Learning to live without drugs or alcohol is incredibly daunting task when you’ve been using for years. Addiction is like baseball. When you first put on that glove or pick up that bat, you are completely awful at the fundamentals, but with practice, and years of developing the right skills to become a better player, you finally make it to the majors. Addiction starts and ends this way. For many of us, we’ve been in active addiction for so long, its hard to give up the crutch on which our dysfunctional life is held up. And the “Hump” is a journey through the terrible first few weeks or months trying to figure out how you are going to proceed forward in life without that crutch. Just doing the things you are supposed to be doing in sobriety will almost never be enough for an addict. You have to learn how to live a sober life and learn how to function without using. You have to be able to experience emotions and heartache, anger and anxiety without turning to your drug of choice. If you can make it through this critical phase of early recovery, then your chances of success are far greater moving forward. Living sober only gets easier because you have essentially learned how live through those tough moments without reaching for your crutch. It’s not so cut and dry as my writing tends explain; but more or less, these are the first few bridges a man must cross when they come into this house. Once you’ve learned how to cope without using, you are over the hump. Only then does the real work begin.