The promises of recovery really do come true. It works if you work for it.
My fourth sober birthday seems like a good day to talk more about gratitude and the promises of recovery. It’s my actual birthday – the anniversary of the day that, two months before I was supposed to make my debut, my young mother was given a sedative and awoke with a 4 ½ lb human to care for. Here we are 51 years later, and I can say without hesitation that my life has never felt more joyful and promising.
My father passed away when I was 28. He was only 47, and for years I was convinced that I was destined for the same early demise. All my life, I had this weird sixth sense about plans. Even as a kid, if I’d get invited to a sleepover, for instance, and, no matter how excited I was, I just couldn’t picture myself being there, it never failed that I’d be standing at the front door ready to roll with my toothbrush and sleeping bag tucked under my arm when the stove would catch fire or my mother would announce she had a neurosurgery-grade migraine and couldn’t drive me. This odd gift followed me into my twenties and thirties, but by the time my forties heralded their arrival, considerable interference began to obscure my clairvoyance. When I closed my eyes and tried to imagine my future – picture myself attending my kids’ weddings or cradling a succession of grandchildren, I invariably drew a complete blank.
It was around the same time my mental telepathy skills went on the fritz that those close to me began suggesting that I might consider scaling back on my alcohol consumption. These were the kindergarten days of what would eventually become the high school musical theater production of “I’m An Alcoholic And My Life Is In the Toilet,” so I hadn’t yet begun to correlate my behavior with my waning mental faculties (even the made up ones like knowing the future). By the time I saw a clear picture of what lie ahead, I felt like nothing lie ahead. As I approached the magical age of 47, the number I was convinced would be my last, I was barely doing any living at all.
That’s when some power beyond my comprehension at the time got fed up with my apathy and took over the direction of my tanking one-woman revue. Seemingly on autopilot, I entered rehab and slowly made my exit (stage left – let’s stick with the metaphor, shall we?) from a life of suffocating addictive insanity. I took the suggestions offered and immersed myself in this new life of recovery, which, for me, includes a robust schedule of AA meetings and a lot of reading from the Big Book.
Pages 83-84 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous offer up some pretty lofty promises of recovery as the result of diligently working a 12-step program.
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us-sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
This sounded like magical rainbow unicorn voodoo horse manure the first dozen or so times I read it because I couldn’t imagine these promises ever pertaining to me. I’ve had a life-long fear of people and of economic insecurity. I didn’t understand how working the steps was going to change that and a whole host of other things – until it happened. I was painstaking about getting to meetings, listening to my sponsor and taking her suggestions, volunteering for commitments, reading the literature with a pen and highlighter in hand, and following the instructions laid out in the Big Book and 12&12 for me and the millions before me, and one day I noticed that my chest just didn’t feel quite as constricted as it had.
I noticed that I did know a new freedom. I no longer carried the burden of scheduling my day around procuring, hiding, and consuming alcohol, and if you’ve even dabbled in addiction, you know what a full-time job that is. “Happy” gradually became my default setting. I’ve examined my past and felt the burning hot shame that accompanies regret, and then I got to work righting those wrongs so that I could move forward. It took time to understand that “not shutting the door on my past” meant not that I would act like it never happened, but that I would keep the memories just fresh enough to know what’s in store should I choose to walk back through that door.
I do understand the feeling of serenity and peace. There are days when it’s fleeting and elusive, but I’ve developed an unwavering faith that it will return as soon as I’m willing to let go of whatever I’ve allowed to momentarily rob me of it. Regardless of how depraved or embarrassing my past experiences, they’re part of my story, and sharing them openly and honestly with others trying to find their own way in recovery always benefits us both – I’m reminded of how far I’ve come, and they get to see that change is possible.
I used to wallow in self-pity, and that made me feel useless. Today I am useful, which leaves me no time for self-pity. I take an active role in my life – I have a job I love in the recovery field, I’ve gone back to school (which, for decades, I made every excuse to avoid), and I show up in every way possible for the people in my life. I do seek to be true to myself, but I am no longer entirely self-seeking. My whole attitude and outlook upon life has changed – I now see days filled with opportunity, and one look at my schedule bears witness to the fact that I fill it with meaningful interactions with people who fortify me (which brings us full circle to my history with fear of people). My financial situation hasn’t changed for the better – in fact, I’ve sacrificed a cushy paycheck to work in a more meaningful field – but I am no longer worried about the future.
I still feel awkward sometimes and a few recent situations have illuminated the fact that I have trouble thinking on my feet in emergency situations (I doubt I’m the one you’ll want next to you in an active shooter situation), but more times than not I am able to intuitively handle situations that used to baffle me. I have more confidence in my decision-making skills because my head is clear and because I rely more on a clear and open channel with the higher power that surrounds me than I do on my own ego. I allow God to take the wheel these days, because he’s a much better driver than I ever was.
Are these extravagant promises? I think not. They are materializing because I work for them. I didn’t wake up one day in a California-King sized bed in a mansion on the Mediterranean surrounded by servants and housebroken puppies. My life is just better now in every possible way than it was when I was drinking, and for that I am grateful. Gratitude is the force that keeps the promises in perpetual motion.
I have good days — when everything goes right and I don’t drink, and I have great days – when everything goes wrong and I don’t drink. I celebrated my 48th birthday 11 months after I got sober. I sat in a meeting and cried because I was given a second chance at a future that I thought would never materialize. My intuition has returned, and every day I look forward to what’s on the horizon – let’s get a move on with those grandkids, girls! Glam-ma has some spoiling to do!