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My Favorite Advice.

14 November 2013

I think often, the best advice comes from people who have struggled in the deepest dark. In AA, we say that if you want to recover, go find someone who has what you want, and then do what they did. We’re all rising from the same dungeon. When I look around the room at my men’s meeting, I see drunks and junkies who are judges, and IT professionals, and business owners. I see criminals who are tradesmen. I see addicts: well, sober, sane, and productive. And I see people new to the program, a needle practically still hanging from their arms, breath rank with liquor, who will soon be these same productive men.

I belong there. A bloated, useless drunk, six years ago, I am a useful and helpful man today. I contribute. I found someone who had what I wanted, and I did what he told me he’d done. In the process, I lost my wife and my step-child. But I also lost my indignity. I lost my shame. I lost my uselessness and my indolence. Addiction robbed me first and most of all of my dignity. Of my sense that I was worth something to anyone. Least of all was I worth anything to myself.

I still struggle with value. The company I wrote about a couple of days ago has decided, it looks like, to forgo my input rather than pay my fee. Their prerogative, of course, but bruising. I regularly feel useless at work even while everyone tells me that I am making major contributions, and planning for my ascendance to higher positions. I feel false and uncertain; the rice paper wrapped around a bit of sweet: do you eat this? Is this edible? Or is this the garbage that something edible arrives in?

Sobriety’s journey is a peculiar blend of selfishness and self-effacement. I am sober for me and no one else. No one can claim my sobriety for their own. I poisoned myself to insensibility – to the rim of the abyss. And then, somehow, I rolled away. Some will say I was caught back by the finger of God. I don’t know about God. I know that when I was too sick to persist in my life, and when all those around me were too sick to persevere my sicknesses, change found me. And I hung from that change, first as a noose, then as a branch, finally as a ladder.

But to persist in sobriety, from only shortly after the outset, we need to turn our eyes away from ourselves. My experience is my experience, it is the life I’ve lived. But it is not only mine. I could not be sober without the broad profundity of all of the lives lived sober before me. Now, my experience is part of that sea of life. Now, I have become one of the people, who has what another might want. Who can tell that person, “This is what I did. This is what you can do.”

My favorite advice comes from a person who is not an addict. But she knows the world of addiction as intimately as I do, I think. She knows the mindscape of illness. She’s a writer, and like most great writers, she can distill great complexity into tiny crystals of words. In two words, she summarized the entire second half of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous for me. In two words, she told me how to participate in relationships. How to find contentment, and peace, in all this strange madness.

Focus outward.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 November 2013 09:27

    Who is that writer?

    • 14 November 2013 09:48

      She reads this. If she wants to identify herself, I’ll let her.

  2. 14 November 2013 11:24

    I like the honesty in what you write. I appreciate that you share your struggles as well as your successes. It makes me feel less alone. So your ‘focus outward’ works for me. Need to work on that myself…

  3. zman91 permalink
    14 November 2013 15:21

    Hi, I recently stumbled upon your blog, and I have come to like it. Not all of your topics but certainly those related to AA as I am a member of this great fellowship myself. And through this fellowship and the grace of God, I have been able to turn my life around and become a somewhat useful member of society. I feel most useful when I can follow those two words you mentioned, “Focus outward”, or as the Big Book tells me: “Trust God, clean house, and work with others!” How many words is that, 8? Okay, some meaning, same effect. Interesting that you say you don’t know about God, but I assume you are pretty darn sure about a Higher Power.

    I saw that power at a meeting two nights ago: The guy had been coming in for weeks, never sober, always reeking of alcohol, could have held a match under his breath and torched the place. But that night he said he stopped, hadn’t had a drink in 8 days. Something, someone touched him. A power greater that him! I felt tons of gratitude.

    Thanks for writing, I’ll be back.

  4. 14 November 2013 19:31

    Wow. This is one hell of a piece of writing. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  5. Syd permalink
    16 November 2013 11:46

    In Al-Anon our focus outward is giving it away in order to keep it. Interesting how alcoholics focus outward while Al-Anons are told to keep the focus on ourselves, because we so often neglect ourselves to look after others.

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