Point Of View

Celebrating 4 years of sobriety: Not as much drama but most challenging year so far

Celebrating 4 years of sobriety: Less drama but challenges multiply

Sobriety sign
The road to sobriety/recovery is a constant challenge. Courtesy photo

Editor's Note: In previous essays for CultureMap, Ted M reflected on marking three separate anniversaries of sobriety. In this essay, he looks at his life now.

This is my fourth installment in an annual series chronicling where I am in my sobriety/recovery journey. This particular year, life has not brought as much crisis, or crazy, or death as in past years, but if I’m being transparent, it has been my most difficult and challenging to date.

That being said, before another word is typed, I have to declare I am sincerely grateful for each of these past 365 days; for the growth and lessons they have provided. I am happy and proud that as I write this living journal, I have not found the need to drink or drug this very day.

I am happy and proud that I have not found the need to drink or drug this very day. That might sound trite, but to the experienced addict, the depth of that statement does not go unchecked. 

That might sound trite, but to the experienced addict, the depth of that statement does not go unchecked.

As I reflect, the theme of my year has been wrapped around what some call one of the most powerful prayers of all time —  “Be still and know I am God.” Those simple words and the multiple variations of that powerful message have resonated with me in terms of patience, recognizing I am not in charge, allowing things to play out, the power of silence, the gifts of waiting life out, and letting common sense play its cards as impatience wants to double down and go all in.

In this wolfpack I run with, it is routine to hear the phrase, "pause when agitated." Quite frankly, what I learned this year was the positive power of pausing at other times too; happy, stressful, celebratory, in order to play out the most effective and meaningful actions available. The ability to take a stand that says silence can bring clarity has depth to a long term sober person. To quote my favorite Buddhist thought of the year: “If you can’t be positive, at least be quiet.”

Gift of imperfection

In my first year of recovery everything was about how not to drink or drug on a daily basis, the next year that graduated to the power and need to surrender on that same daily timetable. Next came the commitment, importance, and passion to be of service to others. This year my jam has been all about the gift of imperfection.

I do not need to be the ideal recovery pupil or teacher, but rather, in all of life’s fractions, ones that intertwine recovery with outside patterns, I not only can do them imperfectly, but by embracing that true humanity, I gain real traction. I’m not about excuses when I mess up, but as my authentic self surfaces with its good and bad attributes, if I can embrace the lessons learned along an imperfect path, I can be much more realistic and available for myself and those I’m honored to be of service to.

 I started my recovery year in Houston, journeyed to Austin, and as I type, am on fresh terra in my new home in Los Angeles. If a 2,000 mile journey starts with the first step, then I am here to report I have felt each footprint.  

I started my recovery year in Houston, journeyed to Austin, and as I type, am on fresh terra in my new home in Los Angeles. If a 2,000 mile journey starts with the first step, then I am here to report I have felt each footprint.

The process takes many roads, some straight and smooth, others with crazy twists and turns. This year has reminded me that all I need to do is wake up, surrender to something bigger than myself, and then deal with what transpires throughout that very day. That’s doable and not nearly as daunting as everyday life used to be, worrying about past and future.

At one point this year, I was in the gym, about eight months into sober unemployment, and as I sat on a lifecycle, I thought to myself,  “What’s it going to take”  to get a job, a relationship, to maintain sobriety, to stay out of resentments, to lead an esteem able life, to matter and have meaning — what is it going to take? That’s a lofty proposition to ponder with Ellen staring me down on the TV begging for a dance.  

Finding my place in life is not guaranteed by embracing recovery. Somehow, I thought that if I pulled my exterior and emotional life together, and did the next right thing, all would come easy. That bias has proven just another symptom of my self-absorption so commonly afflicted upon addicts. I am at a point of life that jumping into scenarios and seeing where they take me leads to paralyzing fear. An yet action is called for, and so I grab the parachute and leap- the landing spot may not be my planned target, but it will be the exact right field for my splash down.

The real answers

The real answers will come (they always do), not in my time —but in the only time frame that has been dependable over the past four  years — in His time. This was my wake up call to the power of patience and mediation (formal and common everyday) I’m still not awake to traditional mediation, but the informal version of simply being still in the car when I want to road-rage, staying calm in the grocery store when the line doesn’t move as fast as I want, not replying when something is said, implied or not said, to my liking. These are opportunities to not react and wait for a calmer voice — from my Higher Power, my friends, a softer version of my own; allowing rational thought to outweigh immediate ideas and needs.

We live in a world of immediacy, made even more common by the consumption of social media, making the feeling of a need to take a stand just that much more prompt. This exhaustion of reflection has solidified my mantra of the year, which is  “take the time to take the time.” To me, this begs to invest in the long term and be proud of the worthiness of patience to get the true and established returns that come from the legwork.

 Today I need to lean, and I can’t be afraid to reveal that, allowing help to come my way. 

Getting past the Veruca Salt attitude of "I want mine now, and quicker than that," has been replaced, by me, with the occasional tried and true idea that a hand written thank you note can have longer staying power then a tweet, text or Instagram. It’s not my attempt to go back to the future, but rather, it’s all about balance and consistency, two traits that have proven critical to the hope of my long term recovery. These are prevailing virtues I see in those I count as mentors in this mountain of freedom I have chosen to hike.

There was a movie (Boyhood) celebrated this year about the everyday life of a child that gained recognition for spanning 12 actual years in production. I sit in daily meetings with people working with 20, 30, 40 years of a new life in production, and by that score, I am but a toddler. I choose to attend those various “A” meetings on a very regular basis, I get that opportunity, and when I pondered why I attend so frequently,  I broke it down to three main reasons; to be taught, awakened, and inspired.

Recovery has taken me on a myriad of rides and by remaining willing, teachable, and keeping humility not only as a key in my life, but the key chain that holds the core elements of my efforts together, this path has served me well. Keeping the story real, in the first three years I have sponsored in the neighborhood of 250 men —  each on his own unique path and all an honor.  There have been so many lives and journeys and seeds of recovery planted; a lot of people leaning on me, relying on a helping hand to reach out to them. Today I need to lean, and I can’t be afraid to reveal that, allowing help to come my way.

The answer to what’s it going to take is exactly what one might think — it’s going to take what it takes —  but in the process, I can put out honest effort, I can bring love and service to the forefront, I can listen, I can grow, I can release ego, and then most importantly, I can “be still, and know He is God.”

In that diatribe I didn’t mention drink or drug — those afflictions remain rooted in my foundation and must be tended to first and always, but they are symptoms, with the real opportunities and challenges coming once they are arrested. These things don’t come in the first week of recovery, they take action, consistency and balance, I need to lean into recovery and allow myself to be wrapped in the cloak of fellowship. What’s it going to take —  it’s going to take the simple and complex things of life, but if I stay rightsized today — I can be best prepared to embrace and grow into the what’s it going to take now.

So I close this year’s review with a song lyric by Jessie J that calls out to me- it so positively embraces that imperfection I cherish, the freedom to grow- and my recovery journey-today:

‘I still fall on my face sometimes and I

Can't color inside the lines 'cause

I'm perfectly incomplete

I'm still working on my masterpiece’

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Comments can be sent to Ted M at tjmann14@yahoo.com

Previous columns in this series:

Celebrating a year of sobriety: Giving up the celebrity good life for a life worth living

Celebrating a second year of sobriety: The challenges are many, the rewards are great

Celebrating 3 years of sobriety: Still one day at a time but, at last, ready to date and plan future

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