Sunday, November 21, 2010

"TOTD, yo!"

Ah, the disease. Some call it alcoholism, some call it addiction. Those of us who suffer from it call it fucking hell. The sobriety calculator app on my phone (which I usually blog from) tells me that I have 822 days clean and sober today. And yes, even with more than two years of time, I still suffer from the disease. I work steps. I attend meetings. I sponsor others. I hold service positions. But I still suffer from the disease. Don't misunderstand, things are better now than they were when I was using, but I am never cured. Like anyone living with an incurable disease, there are things I can do to treat it, but it will never fully go away. I'm thinking right now of a friend of mine who is coming up 15 years who always insists that, even now, she is not all well and wonderful.

There is still a perception out there that the disease is the addiction itself. If that were true, then mere abstinence would be enough for us. It isn't. Anyone who's lived with a binge user or a dry drunk knows that to be true. I am not the first to say that I don't need to be loaded, I can be an asshole all on my own. The disease is about behavior, about thought patterns, about ways of communicating. It is the perversion of our natural survival instincts. It is the rampant overuse of defects of character. It is our desire and attempts to control. It is the reactions we make and the actions we take based out of our fears, both real and imagined. Our use, our addiction to any one particular drug of choice, is only a symptom.

The disease develops through active use. Some say it's in our genes. For some of us, it's pressence can be seen long before we ever take our first drink or do our first drug. No matter how it starts, if it isn't arrested, it leads inexoribly to one of three places: jails, institutions, and death. Sometimes, reaching one of these is enough to wake us up from our stupor. We have a moment of clarity where we realize that we can't do it anymore. The idea occurs to us that there must be another way; there must be something better. We admit to ourselves that what we've been doing doesn't work. Perhaps we feel the presence of the divine and it gives us the strength to change. Maybe we crawl, battered, beaten, and broken, into the rooms of Recovery begging for help. Maybe we're dragged there.

We lose so much because of this disease. We lose material posessions. We lose our jobs and our homes. We lose people, too--our girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands. We lose our family, our parents and our children. We lose our way, and we lose ourselves.

I've heard it said that the beginning of this disease, the thing that happens inside us that allows it to take root and grow, is the idea that we are not enough. If you suffer from this disease, then somewhere along the way you bought into the idea that who you are, just as you are, isn't enough. That you had to be someone or something besides who you are at the core in order to be loved by other people. At the heart of so many of us with this disease is the idea that we are inherently unlovable. We feel that we don't deserve to be loved, that we have to do something special, be someone else, in order to be worthy of love. For many of us, the disease progresses to the point where we don't want to be loved, where we will do anything and everything to keep others from loving us. And all the while, we live our lives with this empty feeling inside.

In the grips of our disease, we are insane. And like all insane people, we think we aren't. It takes a clear head to see how crazy we are. It takes the presence of other people who have been restored to sanity, who posess a measure or peace and serenity, who can show us a different way.

There are many opinions about the way out of this disease. Some feel therapy is the answer. Some believe that devout religious practice is. The rooms of 12-step Recovery don't claim to be the only way, just a way that does work. I've never met anyone who said they had worked all twelve steps of the program and it didn't do anything for them. I've heard it said, in different words, that it's important not to expect more than what the program offers. The program only offers freedom from active addiction, nothing more. I happen to disagree. What I have found through working the program of Recovery is nothing less than freedom. It's freedom from active addiction, yes, but also freedom to learn who I really am--and that includes the freedom to see the parts of myself I don't like and the freedom to work to change them.

I've learned, too, the dangers of underestimating my disease, of thinking that I've got it licked, that I've won the war. I don't get to win this war, but I do get a working truce. If I keep up my program, if I keep on working on myself, then I get an amicable separation from this bad marriage. And for me, that is more than good enough.

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