I was recently speaking with a very impulsive Retreat guest who had difficulty maintaining a focus on one thing for very long. I was not surprised that his drug of choice was meth, because at the beginning of his meth use it actually calmed him down. At The Retreat we do Big Book studies that are two hours long at a time, and this was tough for him. He told me “I need something short and simple, that can work for me.”
My first attempt at college didn’t go so well. It started off fun, then become fun with some consequences, then by my 7th year of school it was just all consequence. I had been to detoxes, I was failing courses, going to classes I wasn’t even registered for, and drinking myself into oblivion. Life was getting bad and drinking was my only solution. I don’t mean to gloss over my first few treatment experiences but I want the focus of this to be on the importance of staying plugged in to my program.
In a way, we are all the people we have ever been. I am my five year old self, and my fifteen year old self, and my twenty five year old self, as well as the man I am today, at sixty-eight years old. We are, to some extent, the sum of our experiences. We can benefit from all our experiences, or be damaged by them.
When I started attending recovery meetings for family members affected by someone else’s addiction, something became clear to me pretty quickly: I had no idea how to communicate in a healthy manner.
The communication that had taken place in my marriage when alcoholism was present ran through three phases. Phase 1 was to talk to him about his drinking and use whenever I could, and however I could, in the hope of making him stop. Phase 2 was not talking about his drinking and use at all, with the hope that if I ignored it would go away. Phase 3 was letting the frustration of this situation take over, and not talking about anything – otherwise known as the silent treatment. Of course, staring at someone else and thinking at them until they figure out what’s wrong is not the most effective communication tool…
I grew up in Mtn. View, California and at the age of 17, I found myself at a crossroads. Once my addiction had reached the point of requiring professional help, my Mom and I went to see a doctor that specialized in chemical dependency. When the doctor came to greet us, he was not what I expected. He was an older gentleman that appeared as if he only knew medicine rather than being able to possibly comprehend what I was going through. He sat us down and said to my Mom…”You are basically putting Band-Aids on the problem…if your son does not stop what he’s doing…he’s going to die.” I could tell my Mom was fighting back the tears and doing her best to remain strong. The doctor went on to tell us about a treatment center in Minnesota that could help.
There is a Woody Allen saying that is often misquoted as “90 percent of life is just showing up.” What he actually said was "Showing up is 80 percent of life. Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.” (New York Times, August 21, 1977). I find that showing up is terribly important, because for me it has been difficult.
This weekend, I will be an A.A. Speaker at the “Rogue Roundup” in Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Although I have spoken at a number of A.A. roundups, this will be the first one on the west coast. I’m the last of nine speakers, most from California, and I follow the famous Clancy I. One difference between the Los Angeles speakers and myself is that I don’t have a dramatic drinking story. I drank quietly, and I never got arrested. Because I don’t have a “war story” to present, I’m going with four important things I’ve learned in A.A. so far.
We all know that addiction, whether to alcohol or other drugs, is brutal. Not everyone is sure that, in recovery, we get better. I believe that we can all get better in recovery. Life gets better for the alcoholic and addict who embraces Twelve Step recovery. Life also gets better for those who leave behind the alcoholic and addict who chooses not to recover, and seeks their own recovery.
Most people ask this at some point in their lives. I started out confused. I came from a crazy, violent alcoholic family in the 1950’s that also had upper middle class Republican Party professional values. I was expected to do well in school, go to college and graduate school, have a profession and be a success. I was also torn to shreds, physically and emotionally for any real or imaginary flaw. I drank and drugged every hour of every day from age 10 to age 40. Thirty years of struggle to be somebody. I collected an education and a profession, one confused academic credit at a time. Then I got sober and suddenly, I was fully conscious. Now, what?
Broken trust. It’s the primary issue that family members talk about when they discuss what’s been the most difficult for them when they’ve been impacted by the disease of addiction. They want to trust their loved ones again. Their loved ones want to be trusted. How do we heal something that’s become so damaged?