My Favorite Advice.
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.