Editor's Note: In previous essays for CultureMap, Ted M reflected on marking four anniversaries of sobriety. In this essay, he looks at his life now.
It’s year 5 in this annual post, and when we left off last I was landing on the shores of beautiful Los Angeles. My recovery task was clear, and I simply had to get to it. Action, growth and opportunity were at my feet. It has been over half a decade without a drink, but the story doesn't end there.
The cross-country move was taxing from the start and the adjustments were challenging, yet very doable. In California, getting used to the importance of saving seats before meetings, a different tone and pattern to format, regional pride to the way recovery was offered, all of these were simple adjustments, with no right or wrong to their merit.
I recall being in a room where the discussion broke out, almost a debate of who had the better recovery – New York, Los Angeles or Paris. Interesting fodder, when I raised my hand self-righteousnessly and said with sincere conviction, I wasn’t aware that city location had any effect and that whether it was Paris, France or Paris, Texas — it was taught to me that there wasn’t a geographic solution to this affliction, but rather one uniform answer— find a Higher Power greater than myself and embrace that.
Sitting down smugly, so proud, I thought, "See I showed them." Here I was judging and perceiving all the ego in the room, and I was the one being Douchey McDoucher.
Imbalance in the journey
Recovery has been my entire life the past four years – social, personal, otherwise and that was more than okay with me. I had lived a well-heeled existence, traveled the world and experienced love in relationships in my non-sober life, so my thought pattern was this was my time to be solely focused on others and giving back. Even with that good intent, there was imbalance in my journey which was not clear to me. I was willing to show up, be of service, be kind and positive, but my expectations of others was chipping away at that veneer, which on the outside, looked at peace, but the inner me was beginning to be spiritually sick.
My employment proved more complex, the business side of treatment, in my vision, proved to be more monetary driven than recovery based. Naive as that statement may seem, I honestly wasn’t prepared for that. People with double-digit sobriety, decades in the program, offered proposals and visions that seemed morally compromising and at times outfight offensive to me. I was used to these activities in the corporate world I had left behind but this seemed testing to me, and these gut punches took their toll on my inner peace.
To be fair, most of the requests were likely appropriate, yet some were outrageously offensive. I simply forgot to check my internal fear barometer and then mistakenly perceived certain people to represent the whole of recovery, rather than the humans they are, that I am, flawed and imperfect.
Over the past four years I had been a proverbial Little Red Riding Hood, whistling through the forest of recovery, not a care in the world, with the wolf fast approaching. In my moment of spiritual crisis, I wanted to describe the lurking foe as these people who had wronged, me and this institution I loved so much, but the true identity of the preying beast was my disease, loneliness, and unwillingness to call myself out in the moment of truth.
The wolf knocked on the door
So the wolf knocked on the door, and I not only graciously let him in, I immediately turned all that I had worked so hard for, over to the moment. I distinctly recall, as that moment approached, all I had to do was phone a friend, my recovery wing-man, a guy I had reached out to often in my first year and say this is about to happen, and he would have provided the anti-wolf repellant he had on previous calls.
I selfishly didn’t have the resolve, and yet, surely with all the worldly injustices I had been forced to endure, I was due this vacation into half measures. Surely.
So Memorial weekend 2015 came and went, the insanity and darkness were back in a blink, and four days later I made the call, the call that always comes after the fact. The cry was to a great recovery friend back in Texas who I texted daily, but we only saved actual phone conversation for the serious matter. I think even he was surprised to hear me ask, what next after a week with a meth pipe in my mouth. Patience, empathy, and realness was given; instructions on immediately getting back on the horse was the suggestion.
Reluctantly, I knew what came next. I came clean to my home group in LA and then flew to Texas and sat with friends who had meant so much to me and shared my faulty story.
Depression set in and after being a go-to guy in recovery, I was now a person with days. It was daunting but my earned reality. My purpose in life seemed gone. I did go back to the rooms, and days returned to months, but it was clear California was not the place for me — but what next?
Time for a move
It made sense to go back to my hometown of St. Louis and get my sea legs back. With that move came an opportunity to be of service to my ailing/aging parents who were both suffering from stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s a tough disease to visit, let alone immerse yourself into 24/7 for six months. My efforts were genuine and present daily until it was time to reclaim my life.
It was here in St Louis where I stepped into my next bear trap. Going to meetings, friends would ask how much sobriety I had, and being in an AA meeting, I’d think “singleness of purpose.” I’d look at my app reminding me of years–months-hours, “don’t drink at any cost.” I hadn’t – so – I have four years and change. Surely I did.
I knew this layover was temporary and I couldn’t give what I didn’t have, so I didn’t do what I love most — sponsor guys. I did go to meetings daily and regained some semblance of spiritual strength.
When it came time to make the next move – the destination was an old haunt/ Milwaukee, a Midwest choice I thought would offer calm, peace and simplicity to this re-foundation. I went with the idea of shifting from the business side of recovery to the counseling side. School was called for and that vision is still being shaped. I came to town and did what I do — pour myself into the recovery community, going to two meetings a day to get to know the fellowship. But as time went by something was amiss.
I am very clear I made my own bed — so I own that — I will also put out there, moving from Houston to Austin to LA to STL to Milwaukee over the past 18 months takes a toll on a person of a certain age. While visiting a town and going to a meeting is most often a welcoming and inspiring experience, trying to become a sincere part of a fellowship is an earned exercise and the constant movement has been challenging to that goal, at best.
Facing the truth
As I write this entry it was to be the week to “celebrate” my five years of sobriety. On a Monday I went to my usual meetings to announce I hadn’t drank in five years, but the proclamation was hallow and dirty. On Tuesday, of course the topic was honesty and this kid I respected said the exact right thing, “I can’t pick and choose my truth.” They say God speaks to us though those in the rooms, and that man might as well have had a bullhorn, shouting, “Hey Ted, I got a message from God for you — you can’t mold your own version.”
I knew the truth, I know sobriety means clean too. I was resentful that after my wolf came in LA, I did the next right thing, I got honest and told all concerned in LA and Texas. If I wanted to have courage I had to get vulnerable.
So I asked myself and a couple mentors, how often do I have to fall on the sword of honesty? And before anyone spoke, I answered myself, I had been the one who rolled into new towns too prideful to announce months not years, no one would have cared — they would have simply said “great, welcome, have a seat.” My reimagining the term sober, wanting credit where none was owed or due, had planted the wrong seeds, so I now had to reap the bad crop, and if I wanted peace of mind, I had to make things right.
I’ve always thought recovery is a shift from "I have to" to opportunities — the opportunity to go to meetings, to get some dignity/respect back or for the first time, to be of service, to grow spiritually and deconstruct ego. My opportunity for this make-do, came to me after that Tuesday meeting in the form of a giant red nail — the object given to the person asked to give the lead at the large men’s meeting on Saturday.
I’m sure fear will accompany me as I stand up in front of all those men and tell my truth. But the way I see it, for the cost of an hour of anxiety, some words, my release of what others hear or feel, pushing a reset button. I get to breath. I get true freedom. I get to walk out with a head held up. Hoopefully I get to put a positive lesson out there to a newcomer. That list is priceless.
Today I am grateful I have 16 months of true recovery under my belt. I'm back in the middle of the program, but in a more balanced version.
A seemingly small time has passed since 2011 but I’m here to report, I love recovery, the opportunities it offers me and all who care to thoroughly follow its path. My trip through the recovery woods is shifting and reshaping right under my feet, the wolf is always out there. But as long as I clean house, help others, and trust God, grandmother can expect me at the end.
Editor's Note: Because the Twelve Step philosophy is to preserve anonymity, we have not published Ted M.'s full name. However, he can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.