This post is another in a series of occasional installments describing my early recovery and treatment for alcoholism. The most recent prior post is Recovery is so slow and the cold rain feels so good . Others may be found in the “My Links” section on the left side of my blog. Every time I post one of these stories I hear from a number of people struggling with alcoholism/addiction – either theirs or someone in their family, or a friend. I am grateful for that as my primary purpose in telling my story is to carry a message of hope to others who are dealing with this killer disease.
It also makes me humble and grateful for my sober life and recovery program. I mention AA periodically as that is what works for me. I am neither a spokesperson nor do I represent AA in any manner. There are many ways to get clean and sober and it doesn’t matter to me how one achieves this. Simply put, this is my story. I appreciate you taking time to read it.
January 12, 2002
Group last Monday was good for me as I continued to discuss powerlessness, acceptance, my childhood, and shame and abandonment fears. I had been sober now for about 18 months and was just beginning to really feel life for the first time. Thirty years of drinking is essentially thirty years of being anesthetized to one’s feelings. This was all new and strange – and very uncomfortable and unsettling. The shame that lurked like Castenada’s death over his left shoulder was omnipresent. And those core fears of not measuring up or not being good enough, rejection, abandonment, failure – all ugly and real and not real.
The next several days were long and tiring. At a Wednesday meeting it hit me that God was taking care of everyone, even those I disliked or had trouble with. I wrestled with this a lot - How could God care about folks who were such assholes and difficult to be around? Of course I didn’t quite ever apply that label to myself. Self-centeredness had a way of protecting me from reality and from my feelings. The next day my wife (we were separated and living apart) called to tell me that she’d had a breast biopsy and was waiting for the results. My diary notes read “pretty shocked.”
I went to a noon meeting and then rode the bus to a nearby shopping center to get new eyeglasses. On the ride back my wife called to say that “there are malignant cancer cells.” Went to another meeting that night. A neighbor friend called to offer me a ride to the meeting. Two others called to say hello. I didn’t tell them anything. My sponsor called at 11:00 pm to check on me. The next day some other folks called and I went to work. I appreciated all the calls and yet I really didn’t open up to anyone. What do I say? “My wife who I am angry at and who is angry at me has cancer?” That Saturday evening I was feeling low and went to another meeting and then walked home. My notes: “Just feel like crying tonight. Sure wish it wasn’t like this. Keep praying and seeking God’s guidance.”
A week passes and my wife is officially diagnosed with breast cancer. I met her on Tuesday at the doctor’s office. He says “Ductile carcinoma invasive type.” I returned to work as I had two classes to teach. I told my colleague and started crying in her office. I taught both classes. Irritable mood. Maybe shouldn’t have held class. Exhausted that night. I had a drinking dream that night. I was sneaking beer from a keg and looking around to see who was watching. Just me in the middle of an old wood-floored ballroom. It had tall windows draped with heavy curtains of a Victorian style. I ended up at a bar table with ice cold mini-bottles of vodka. Just like the old days. Woke up in a sweat. Took a minute to realize it was a dream. Got up and turned off the heat in the apartment.
The next day was like a hangover. A friend came over and we talked for three hours about death and spirituality. Her husband was actually near death from his cancer. The next few days were a blur of meetings and classes. Two people who I admired picked up one-year and two-year sobriety chips and that was comforting. A blind guy who came to meetings with his service dog picked up an 18-year chip. This was all very reassuring to me. If he can do it, I can do it. My wife had gone to the beach for the weekend with a group of women. It was Saturday and pouring rain and I rode the bus to watch my son’s basketball game. I hated not being able to drive anywhere. Riding buses was a pain in the ass in this town. Turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was one of many much-needed lessons in humility.
I was at home the next day with my son and the gravity of my wife’s cancer hit me all at once. Lots of tears, sadness, confusion, and fear. Always fear. The temptation to drive is huge. I spoke with my lawyer and he said there is “absolutely no way” that I will get my license any earlier than four years. I had been holding out hope that there would be a special exemption for me. I obtained my first driver’s license in Michigan at the age of fifteen-and-a-half because of a special rule that permitted this in hardship cases. My mother couldn’t drive due to her being a paraplegic and there were three children and I was the oldest. So two DUIs in two years isn’t exactly a hardship case? Hmmmm. I really wanted to exert my will and drive; but, that voice from August 26, 2000 was in my head repeating over and over “I’ll do whatever I’m told to do.” Played some James Taylor “…when you need a friend…” Felt better and had a moment of gratitude for being sober. The thought came that by being sober at least I had a chance.
Several weeks later I did a 5th step and then steps 6 and 7 right afterwards. This is AA step stuff for those not connected to this recovery program. That 5th step lasted for hours and I shared it all. What did I have to lose? Step 6 is literally a review of all I had just shared. It is suggested in the AA “big book” that it be done an hour later. Had I been thorough? Honest? Was I really ready to just let go of all this “stuff?” The fears, shame, guilt? Answering my own questions I indicated that I was ready to say the Seventh Step prayer. Now I have to admit to many doubts at this point. I didn’t really understand what all what happening. I was willing to ask for help from a higher power; but, not sure how or what to expect. So I just did what I was told. I got down on my knees and recited the prayer and asked God to remove my “character defects” which were essentially all those core fears. Then I went about the rest of my day. As the days passed I actually began to feel some relief. Finally some relief. My diary notes read “God continues to hear me.” Had a great talk with a friend in the program later that week and went to many meetings including three on Saturday.
A woman in the program overdosed and was unconscious at the Wednesday meeting. I watched as the paramedics worked on her and hustled her off to the hospital. The next day my wife had her first of several surgeries and I ran into some program folks outside the ICU. Their AA friend was on life-support and I was in the surgery waiting area and so we all hung out together waiting…and waiting…and talking quietly. We occasionally prayed together. This (prayer) was not my normal response to stress. But then nothing was normal.
Update: The ICU woman survives today; but, with significant brain damage. She resides in a nearby state institution. My wife survives today after multiple surgeries and extensive chemotherapies. (It has been ten years for both).
I have been writing excerpts of my alcoholism and recovery story and posting them on OS for quite a while. Some reading this today are “new” readers and I appreciate you taking time to read this. This all occurred about ten years ago. My life today is a total miracle in so many ways, and I want readers who may be struggling to know that there is hope and that it takes time. And to be certain, my life today has its struggles and hardships; but, that’s just life.
And to you “veteran” readers of my story, I continue to offer you my most heartfelt thanks.