Ups, Downs, and spiritual progress
In February, I celebrated thirty years of sobriety, and in March, I turned sixty years old. Both celebrations would have been inconceivable for me on that miserable day when I made the call to AA and said those now familiar words, “My name is Joe, and I’m an alcoholic.”
I had ended up in a small fishing motel on Vancouver Island, home to other dead-enders like me who could afford the $80 per month rent. At midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1974, some of my neighbors knocked on my door and hollered, “Happy New Year, let’s celebrate!” From the depths of my drunken self-pity, I said, “Go away, there’s nothing to celebrate.”
Over the next few weeks, I often went into the dark pit and would stand some nights on a vacant lot near the water, looking southeast out over Georgia Strait. The Cape Mudge lighthouse would be revolving across Discovery Passage, and the foghorn would be moaning its mournful warning, but there was no light that I could see. I wished that I had the courage to just walk out into the water and end it all. There was no hope.
I remember that I had cut a clipping out of the newspaper, a survey that the Red Cross had done with people who had drowned and then been revived. It said that at first most people put up a fight, but then they gave up and experienced a sense of peace as they drowned. I taped the clipping to my kitchen cupboard, and read it from time to time, longing for that sense of peace.
On February 7 1975, my friend said to me, “You’re a nice guy when you’re sober, but when you drink, everything goes crazy.” For a moment, I felt like I was looking in a mirror. The only reason I was a nice guy when I was sober was because I felt guilty and ashamed of the things that I had done when I was drinking. There was nothing left in my life that was decent, clean, and honest. My response to her was, “I’m going to do something about that.”
Latest that day, I called the operator for information and was given the AA number. I called, and said those fateful words, “My name is Joe and I’m an alcoholic.” Two men came to see me, and the first thing they asked was, “Can you say that alcohol made you do things you wouldn’t normally do?” That hooked me into the Fellowship.
I have often looked back and reflected on that day. I think what happened was that there was a spark left in me, something spiritual. Some where deep inside, some part of me said “This far, and no further.” And so I started my journey of sobriety.
I’m really happy that I was led into the Steps right away. As the result of doing the Fourth and Fifth Steps in my third month, I experienced the beginnings of the spiritual awakening that I believe has kept me sober all these years. For me, the greatest promise of the program is the one in the Twelfth Step. It tells me I will have a spiritual awakening as the result of the Steps. I know I need that awakening to have a chance to stay sober.
I hear a lot of people say at meetings that it keeps getting better in sobriety. That hasn’t been the case with me. Different, yes. Sober, yes. But life has kept on happening. I had a terrific struggle with a social anxiety disorder that started in my third year and lasted for about nine years. Some time after I recovered from that, I was hit with a chronic depressive disorder that I still struggle with. My wife of many years returned to drinking after seventeen years, and I spent some time raising our two boys as a single parent.
But sobriety continues. The measure of my sobriety isn’t the distance between now and the last drink–the measure of my sobriety is the distance between now and the next drink. And I know how to keep that distance: the Steps, trying to stay connected to a Higher Power, and working with others. Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I was listening to a tape of one of Dr. Bob’s last talks. In that talk he said at one point, “Don’t think that because I’m fifteen and a half years sober I’m any farther from the next drink than any of you.”
A few months ago, I tapped into a survey on my computer. The survey said it would help to determine how long I would live. I’m not sure why it attracted my attention, but I went on to complete the questions about lifestyle, illness, family history, and so on. The result was that I could live to be ninety. That brought a chuckle to this one day at a time alcoholic.
There’s a kind of symmetry to the whole thing: I spent the first thirty years making a mess of the life I was given, the next thirty trying to figure out this simple program, and now I can try in the last thirty to loosen up, let life happen, and try to have a little fun.
But if my experience is worth anything, it tells me that life will keep happening, as long as it lasts. There will be ups and downs, and spiritual progress and setbacks. But at the end of each day as I extend my sobriety past age sixty, I hope that I can say a short prayer of gratitude for another day of sobriety. Anything else good that happens is a bonus.