I was talking with my sponsor yesterday about how recovery works, and he said “what I know is that the people I’ve known who work through the first 164 pages of the Big Book and keep it simple don’t drink again, stay sober, and live happy lives. There are a lot of unhappy people in Alcoholics Anonymous, but from my experience, most of them tried to make it more complicated and go beyond the program as it is.”

There’s something really profound about this for me. I tend to be an “all or nothing” thinker at times, in that I expect or hope for a universal solution to the problems of life. I want all of it to get better without having to wrestle with any of it, or without having to accept that sometimes life just doesn’t get better. But that’s a surefire path to an eventual straightjacket, or worse. Life doesn’t always get better. Accepting life on its own terms is sometimes the best we can do.

I think I’d hoped that becoming sober would solve everything else for me-and maybe eventually it will, in its own way. It’s becoming easier to be okay with some of the ambiguities of life, and to let go of some of the ways I’d tried to control life before. It’s definitely easier to think clearly. I’m no longer trying to avoid making hard decisions or pretend they aren’t even there by anesthetizing myself or checking out of life. I’ve had to walk away from a few friendships, and while this has been sad, it’s also been both necessary and obvious, and while I truly wish I could still have the best versions of those friends in my life, I also know that my own survival and sanity are at stake, and that letting go in this case means trusting God to take care of people I really do love but who cannot love me in a way that will work.

Honesty, Doubt, and Surrender

Today’s meeting was a discussion of the third step:

“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Overall, the last 13 days of sobriety have not been that hard for me. I’ve had a sense of calm and a lack of chaos in my heart and life that I haven’t experienced in months, if not years. But I found myself struggling with this point, not because I disagreed with any of it, but because I agree with it so thoroughly, and because of a profound fear of inauthenticity in myself. In addition to having been a drunk therapist, I was once also a drunk pastor. I’ve prayed for deliverance from my addiction and from the life circumstances that somehow made dependence seem necessary before. I’ve recommitted myself to God’s purposes for my life and tried harder more times than I can count, only to stumble and fall in my very best efforts to be a better version of myself. I wasted a lot of life living as a hypocrite. I don’t ever want to live that way again, and even if that means a vivid and unattractive display of my wounds and scars, I’d rather be known as I am than loved for something I’m not.

I desperately want to remain sober, and that requires a sort of honesty and authenticity I’ve mostly faked in the past. Sometimes I’ve even believed the false version of Pete myself, and that’s the part that scares me. How do I know this time is any different? It feels different…I’ve done a few different things this time…but the truth that I’ve come to know about myself is that I have a tremendous capacity for self-deception. That’s why it’s so important to surround myself with people with whom I am ruthlessly honest, who will hold me accountable and call me on my bullshit, but who will also tell me when they actually see me being honest. That’s why I’m grateful for meetings.

I guess the other thing, like many matters involving faith, is that this isn’t a one time surrender. Every day, sometimes every moment, I have to commit myself to that surrender again, to decide that this is the path I walk today. Today is almost over, and I’m grateful I got to live in it.

“Hi. I’m Pete. And I’m an alcoholic.”

For the third first time in my life, I sat in a room of strangers and nervously uttered those words, knowing at least what the next two I heard would be.

“Hi Pete.”

I’d been sober for 24 hours, and I’d been here before, as I said, twice.

The first time, I was going through my first divorce.  I was on staff at a wonderful church, but my life was very confusing, and I was grasping at any clarity I could find.  I went to one meeting, decided I wasn’t an alcoholic, just really stressed, and never went back. I enjoyed a comfortable relationship with alcohol for the next two years until I got married again. (By comfortable, I mean that after I went back to school and became a therapist, I drank every night, sometimes through the entire weekend if my kids weren’t with me, and at one point had a bottle of bourbon in my filing cabinet in my office.  At least two of my clients saw me hungover on a regular basis, and one ran into me drunk, standing on the sidewalk, in a kilt, on Saint Patrick’s Day. “Comfortable” in this case means “unapologetic.”)

The second time, during my second marriage, my wife and I had just had a big argument. I may have even passed out in the middle of the discussion, but the drinking was clearly a factor.  The next day, I went to a meeting, cleared my house of all the alcohol I had, and was stone cold sober for six months.  I went to meetings at least weekly, and I didn’t miss drinking at all.  My marriage started to seem more like the friendship it once had been. We talked every day about deep, heart issues, and it started to feel like healing.  My wife and I went for a walk the day I’d been sober six months, and she told me two things.  First, that she had decided she didn’t want to give up on our marriage, and second, that she wanted me to start drinking again, because I was more fun and because she wanted to be able to drink and not feel weird around me when she did. “I don’t want you to get drunk.  I want us to just have one or two and do so in moderation, and not stockpile it in the house.”  I enthusiastically agreed, because I loved craft beer.  I filed for divorce about a year and a half later – not because I of alcohol, but partly because of some of the control issues that all of the above should at least begin to illustrate.  On April 15th, 2016, when she told me she was leaving me, my work friends took me out to Brit’s Pub and got me ridiculously drunk in an effort to be supportive.  The day I served her with papers in June, I met a friend at the Surly brewery, and daily drinking again became part of my life.

That was the beginning.

I moved to a quiet suburb that has one brewery, but it’s one of the best in the state, and made so many frequent appearances that I often ended up not paying for much of anything. I met and unsuccessfully attempted to have a relationship with a girl who worked at two breweries, and spent most of the time I was with her drinking or drunk. I got a part time job at a liquor store for about a month and spent nearly every dime I earned there on craft beer. I got incredibly drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day this year and did some regrettable things.

And then one day it all fell apart, and I knew I was done.

Today is my twelfth day sober, and more than anything else, I have a sense of gratitude and undeserved peace.  I am thankful for every moment that I get to participate in life with a clarity I haven’t had in nearly twenty years.

And with that, I’ll pass for now.