Occasionally I will go back to one of the first things I wrote for this blog, and every once in a while it feels like I’m reading about somebody else’s life. But that feeling is also – usually – very short lived. I could finish reading the entire blog post or quit midway through, and within ten minutes, I’m fantasizing and/or glorifying whatever food I’m craving.
I will always be an addict. That much I know. I don’t fixate on beer or Kodiak anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still an addict. Food is an addiction. Sugar is an addiction. Sometimes something so menial as an infatuation with putting everything in my house in its rightful place can take me to a place that is so obsessive that it goes past OCD and lands right back where it probably always will in my mind.
There will always be a part of me that mentally struggles to withstand an addictive obsession. I will always be an addict.
My tendencies, even when mind-altering substances are not the obsession, will always be addictive in nature. I will always fixate on something that brings me temporary satisfaction or a temporary high. That is quite simply who I am. It’s also going to forever be the character trait I loathe about myself and fight like hell to squash.
But whereas two years ago I essentially lost my two best friends and had to grieve for them for quite some time, now I can look at my future and see a time – hopefully – when being an addict simply means I have to respect the “disease“, not spend every waking hour fighting it. That’s progress.
In the year after I quit drinking and dipping on the same day (I’m still kind of impressed by the double cold turkey,) I weighed about 200 pounds and killed my nightly cravings for alcohol and tobacco with M&M’s. To represent how addiction is progressive, even with something as benign as food, I’ve clocked in between 215 and 220 the past seven or eight months. I’ve progressively eaten more and more. I’ve progressively consumed more and more sweet tea. Hell, even the amount of sugar I put in a gallon of sweet tea has gone up.
Everything about the past year is traditional addictive behavior. A little more and a little more and a little more until I’m smack dab in the middle of full blown mind control. That is my life, right now, at two years sober. If you asked a veteran member of AA, they would probably call me a “dry drunk” at this stage because I still display addictive behavior.
Well, that and the fact that I quit going to AA and never completed my steps exactly as they prescribe.
As I sit here at two years sober, though, I am not bothered by either of those things. This right here – this sitting by myself every night and writing, even if it’s only thirty minutes – this is my AA. This is my counseling. This is my constant admission of powerlessness over alcohol. This is how I continue to uncover my defects of character. This is how I encourage myself to step out into a world I shut off for twenty years. This is how I reflect on taking that step about making amends and digging through my past to find out if there is anybody left who deserves an apology.
So far, I think my amends have been made. That is by far the second best step behind the very first one. Those amends gave me my family back. Better yet, those amends made me want to spend time with my family because any embarrassment from my past was immediately forgotten with the utterance of “I’m sorry.”
And speaking of those twelve steps. I think AA is a fabulous, life-saving, life-changing organization to which I owe a lot of gratitude for my first year of sobriety. But it’s not for everybody. Most things in this life are not one size fits all, and AA is no different.
I had only a couple of awkward experiences with people in AA, and to be honest, 99% of the individuals in those rooms are such outstanding people I would not hesitate to stand alongside them in battle. But a couple of people made snide comments when I’d speak up at meetings and talk about my struggles with handing my will and my life over to a god I didn’t understand or to a belief system wrought with overly implausible and disputable stories, parables, and “rules,” but a couple of times I was made to feel belittled by my struggles with regards to faith. That felt wrong. It felt like I was around one of those judgy “Christians” that points out everybody else’s sins while oblivious to their own.
It got to a point where I was always saddled with mild dread when I knew it was time for my usual AA meeting. You really don’t realize until you struggle with it how much AA revolves around the idea of a “higher power,” and I never felt comfortable there because of that.
It was kind of like when you see those people who are so devout and steadfastly defensive of their religion that when people do not align themselves perfectly with their doctrine, they vilify and condemn them. That’s how I felt, and I even felt that way a few times when I didn’t speak up and say anything. I felt like if I HAD spoken up, I would have been told my feelings and my methods were wrong. You just can’t really fit in at AA unless you are staunchly in touch with your higher power. And because I was not, a few people and a few experiences hampered my ability to form any kind of loyalty to my AA group.
But in saying that, I also realize that no matter the organization or sect of people, there will always be somebody that rubs you the wrong way. Hell, I’m well aware that I rub some people the wrong way. I also realize that my view of AA is simply MY view, and it might be totally inaccurate for others.
But when every meeting includes five or more people who essentially give testimonies to why they owe their sobriety to God, it’s really hard to feel comfortable there when you’re still trying to prove to yourself and everybody else that you’re strong enough to beat addiction with NOBODY’S help, at the very least a God you don’t understand. That’s the big, strong, unnecessarily proud man in me that I sometimes still fight, too. He needs this to be HIS victory. In other words, a lot of what I just said about AA and a higher power has to do with well known character flaws within myself. No doubt about that.
AA is also a microcosm of life outside those rooms in a number of ways. In most everything you do, you will have leaders and veterans and newbies and people who half-ass and people who rarely show up and people who talk too damn much and people who are mysterious and people who know everything there is to know about your group after attending two meetings. I knew this, so I spent most meetings trying to find somebody who thought like me or believed like me or doubted like me. It just never happened.
But a couple of snide comments are not going to discourage me in this life. Not anymore. Those few comments didn’t make me stop going. In fact, I kept going for months after the last one. Eventually, though, I just stopped going.
My guess is that somebody will read this and haughtily ask, “So why did you REALLY stop going to AA?” To that, I can’t give an answer other than I just never felt comfortable there. I just can’t come up with a good, earnest answer to that question. I can definitively say, however, that it has nothing to do with drinking again. I don’t even crave it anymore. So I was never quite able to put together one concrete answer as to why I quit going.
But then one day out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, literally as I was writing this reflection, a teacher friend of mine put something on Facebook that I had never seen before, and I have spent the better part of two weeks since I saw it trying to figure out what it all means for me. The very first and most obvious realization was that I finally knew why I quit going to AA.
I never connected with anybody. And my success in AA – and possibly even the success of my sobriety – depended on it.
A British man named Johann Hari spent three years researching addiction for the sole purpose of helping some members of his family with their addictions. He is a journalist, and he traveled all over the world looking at different methods of treating addiction. What he did not realize when he pursued his journey was that he would discover that everything we know about addiction is wrong. And I’m here to tell you after two years of sobriety, he is absolutely right in everything he discovered.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to do the Cliff’s Notes version, but you can see the entire TED Talk here. The highlight to me was the discussion of two distinctly different studies on mice. A hundred years ago, they put individual mice in cages with nothing but two sources of water: clean water and water laced with heroin or cocaine. There was literally nothing in the cage but a mouse and two choices of beverage. One hundred percent of the mice became addicted and eventually died. I would have, too. I bet they were bored out of their damn minds. And people referenced this study for DECADES as the gold standard of proof of how easy it is to become addicted.
Decades later, however, this other guy decided to change the “cage,” not the drug. In other words, they still had two sources of water: the clean water and the water laced with heroin or cocaine. In the cage, however, they had friends and tunnels and hamster wheels and other fun, engaging stuff. They had the freedom to play together, have sex, whatever. The point was that this guy had this theory that we were treating addiction incorrectly. We were punishing addicts and putting them in treatment centers in near seclusion and placing societal barriers between their ability to connect with other people.
As for the mice? NONE of them preferred the drugged water, NONE of them became addicted, and NONE of them showed any dependency whatsoever, even if they occasionally drank from the drugged water. Why? Because they had connections with other mice.
And then he said something that blew my mind and I knew right then and there that I had found something that had been missing in me for two years. AA didn’t give me this, my writing didn’t give me this, even the hours of other “stuff” I’ve read the past few years about addiction didn’t give me this. He said, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
This entire theory and the ensuing realization of what it means for me opens itself up to hundreds of thoughts and potentially life-altering changes, and I plan to think a lot more on it, but it honestly didn’t have that effect immediately. Initially after hearing his theories and knowing how true they were, I fell into a dull, ever-so-reminiscent feeling of failure.
For the past two years, I’ve truly thought that as long as I stayed sober, I was winning this battle. But I’ve also thought – in fact, I literally just wrote about it in my last blog post – that something was missing. I actually said these exact words:
The man inside me that still feels like a failure in life cannot and does not break free by simply finding clarity of purpose in my role as father and husband. That’s simply the family side of my purpose. But there is a professional side, a success side, a risk-taking side, a personal gratification side, a need to feel important side, a desire to be revered side (or at the very least, remembered positively.) That side is still wanting. That side doesn’t achieve fulfillment from teaching, parenting, and marriage alone. That side needs more.
I was discussing the age-old question, “Why are we here?” but I had no idea at the time that sobriety was not my goal. My goal was simply to make connections with other people. And I can say without hesitation that after two years, I have failed to do that.
I have not failed with the connections I need in my family life, but I have unquestionably failed with removing the cloak of reclusion from my life in order to make connections outside the confines of my family. There are just so many ways I have failed at this.
I actually want to go back and count the number of times I have said something in my blog posts about taking chances now that I’m free from the shackles of addiction. But have I actually taken any chances? One. You’re reading it.
I sent all my friends a text apologizing for disappearing from their lives for the past three or four years while I was heading closer to rock bottom. I said I would love to see them sometime soon. But have I tried to plan anything to get together with them since that initial text? Nope.
I made a very formal, very public apology to my classmates in my high school graduating class for abandoning my duties as senior class president and not helping to plan class reunions. They were absolutely fantastic in their forgiveness, but I’ve not gone out of my way to get involved since that initial apology. And why not? I’m terrified. That would mean exiting my comfort zone.
My wife and I joke all the time about starting a Youtube channel and making stupid kid videos using stupid stuff like shaving cream and Play-Doh and plastic animals because we are always so astonished at the number of views these things get. We were watching something the other day where all you saw were the woman’s hands and she was cutting shapes out of Play-Doh with cookie cutters. My son was mesmerized. It had been uploaded for two weeks and had 800,000 views. We are continuously flabbergasted by the number of views these videos get.
Could that be us? Well, it won’t be if we don’t try. Those people are making tens of thousands of dollars off of ONE video and it probably takes her two hours to film, edit, and upload it. That’s a pretty nice return on investment. But have I taken a shot at it? Nope.
And maybe that’s a little off the topic of connecting with people, but there is absolutely something to be said about connecting with an online audience. When I have a blog post that gets shared and commenting on, that is an amazing feeling. That is absolutely a form of connecting with people. I didn’t allow myself to connect with people for a long, long time. I have to start. In whatever ways I can. That guy, Johann Hari, is absolutely correct.
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.” That’s just an amazing realization to me.
What else is amazing as I look back on two years is the relationship I have with my family. My wife and I have had maybe three arguments over the past 730 days and each one lasted about seven minutes. That’s remarkable. We used to fight almost daily, and it was ALWAYS about drinking or lying or something my dumbass did around the house like pass out on the couch and knock a full beer over on the carpet. Now we don’t argue at all. We are one of the happiest couples you’ll ever meet. I said it once, but it bears repeating. That’s remarkable.
More than anything, though, she has proven to be a woman who will never give up on me. She has been frustrated at times over the past two years when I’m having “moments” where addiction and/or depression is trying to take over my life and I have to outwardly fight some demons, but her patience and love has been heaven sent. As much as I struggle with my faith, she and these three kids she’s raising with me are reasons 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D why I believe God is real.
Besides, she saved my life. I would probably be dead or closing in on the finish line if it wasn’t for her. My fourteen year old daughter gets a little credit there, too. She saw the worst of her daddy and never disowned me or belittled me at a time when either of those things could have crushed me. Neither one of them had the strength inside to fight for their husband and father without help from a higher power of some sort. Watching helplessly as addiction ruins your life is not a battle most people can fight alone. It’s probably even tougher than being the addict. The place we are at today in our relationship is truly a miracle.
So if I had to sum up these last two years, I wouldn’t use up too many words. My family blesses me daily and I’m proud to say now that I repay their blessings. I’ll always be an addict, and I’ll forever fight the inner demons that want me to go back, but I just breathed two years of sober breath. My wife and my oldest daughter have supported that fight every step of the way. I did what I had to do to make it two years, and I’m thankful to have learned so quickly that I now need to do more to stay sober forever.
“The opposite of addiction is connection.” Sure SOUNDS easy, doesn’t it?