A very good piece, written by Bill Littlefield, came out yesterday or the day before. It is about CC Sabathia, and the courage it takes to ask for help. It touches on some of the same points I made a few days ago. Don’t wait. Ask for help when you need it. Drop everything and start recovery. Fuck the playoffs. All that is good, and right, and true. But there’s something in this whole discussion that doesn’t sit right with me. And that’s “the courage to ask for help.”
When I was at the bottom, when life felt no better than death and the only thing worse than drinking was not drinking, I didn’t feel courageous. When I went to see Wes, the counselor who had run my DUI-penance a couple of years prior, and told him I thought I was in trouble with alcohol, I didn’t feel courageous. When I told my then-wife, “It’s every day,” I didn’t feel courageous. When I googled “alcohol rehab” and called the first number I saw, I didn’t feel courageous.
I didn’t feel courageous when I got on the plane. I didn’t feel courageous when I checked in to rehab. I didn’t feel courageous when I took 4 mg of Ativan to keep from seizing during withdrawal. I didn’t feel courageous as I spent the next week in pajamas wondering what the hell my life had come to, wondering if I was going to get sober just to lose everything anyway. I didn’t feel courageous as I looked into my future and could not for the life of me fathom how I was going to live another week, much less the rest of my life, without a drink.
I felt lost. And desolate. And alone. I felt like apologizing to everyone I’d ever known. Not for the things I’d done wrong, when I was drunk. That would come later. I felt like apologizing for who I was. For what I’d let myself become. My entire identity had shrunk to fit in a bottle. How could I be so weak? So useless? My whole life people had told me I was brilliant and destined for great things. Instead, I was weeping on the floor in an inpatient rehab. I had become completely worthless. I could see that I had been that way for a long time.
I don’t tell people it takes courage to ask for help. Maybe I don’t really know what courage is and how it feels. But when I talk to alcoholics still active in their disease, I tell them that it’s ok to fall apart. We have to fall apart at the end. Because we’re broken, and we need to be put back together. It’s ok to surrender. It’s ok to give up. It’s ok to let go. Other people can take it from where you are. There’s a way out. You can’t see it. But I can. I’ve been over it. Many times. First for myself, then with others. Close your eyes. Take my hand. We’ll walk when you’re ready. It’s not as far as you think.
There is courage in recovery. But for me, and for the people who I know who drank the way I drank, it didn’t come at the beginning. You know when I started to feel like I had some courage? When I started to do the things that brought me back to life. When I sat down to write my fourth step. When I sat down with my sponsor and did my fifth step. When I got my first real job. When I started to say, “I can do things. I’m willing to try.”
The courage of recovery, the courage I feel, is the courage to be ordinary. To do the things that so many normal people take for granted: work a job; be in a relationship; move from one city to another. It is a small kind of courage. It’s not exceptional or uncommon. But it feels kind of momentous to me. Because I spent so many years a coward. Hiding from life by obliterating my feelings and my ambition and my integrity.
Today, I have the courage to be ordinary. To try things I might fail at. To run further than I thought possible. To take on challenges that terrified me. One of the Promises, in AA, is that we will intuitively know how to manage situations that used to baffle us. That’s come true for me. And so I have the courage today to take on baffling things. Because my intuition has returned, and leads me right more than it leads me wrong.
In the beginning, the day before the day your life changes, you don’t have to be courageous. We are the net that catches you, when everything else has failed. Let go. Fall.