Friday, September 7, 2012


It’s been over a month since my last entry, so I’m giving myself permission to be long-winded today.

I’ve been doing this Recovery thing for a few one-days-at-a-time now. Last month, I passed my 4-year sobriety birthday. I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of newcomers come in, go back out, and stay. And I’ve seen people with some clean time continue to struggle with how the Disease never quits trying to run their life. I have my struggles, too. Fortunately, they’re what we like to call ‘quality problems’. Things like how I’m no longer out of work and desperate for a job; these days I have a job—a pretty good one at that!--and my problem is the struggle to find a different job, one that’s a better fit for me and that I can be happy doing.

As I’ve been looking for a new job, I’m having to spend a lot of time in a mental place that is really uncomfortable for me. I like certainty. I like knowing What Is. Waiting for a call to interview, or to hear about whether I’ve gotten a position or not, that is all ‘what if’ territory. And no matter how hard I try to let go and let god, I still struggle to do so. And in the meantime, the Disease keeps feeding me all kinds of crap, tempting me to jump on board and ride the Obsession Express train back to crazy town.

I don’t like what-if anymore. Not knowing drives me crazy these days. I can’t do anything with what-if. Good news, bad, or indifferent, that I can deal with. But what-if is all about waiting, having patience, trusting. And the more I want something, the harder it is to sit in that place of uncertainty regarding it. This uncertainty is difficult when it comes to romantic relationships as well. And, just as it is with a job I want, the more interested I am in someone, the harder it is for me—especially when it comes to trying to read the situation and the others involved.

I do have my life experience, what brought me to the program, the work I’ve done in the program and the tools I’ve learned to use. I know that, as uncomfortable as it is for me, the worst thing I could do would be to try and control the situation. To try and do something, reacting from a place of what-if and my discomfort with those feelings, well that is all to the bad. Because if I do that, then I’m trying to run my life and that shit does not work. God takes care of me. Always has. All that’s required of me is to do my part and let him take care of the rest.

The parallels of the two situations keep going, actually. Even if I’m called in to interview for a new job, that only adds to the already heavy stress and unhappiness I have about my current one. The same is true as I struggle to meet someone, or on the rare times when I do—I have all the uncertainty of that new situation, compounded by all the feelings associated with being alone. First dates are obscenely stressful. It's an important point: my fears my insecurities are still there, despite my time in the program. They don’t fully go away. I handle them much better now than I used to (maybe even better than most folks out there), but they don't vanish.

Ironically, the guidance for how to handle each of these two totally different situations is the same. Whether it’s work or romance, all I can do is honestly present myself. The other will be interested, or they won’t. And sure, I may be disappointed if things don't go the way I want them to, but I know (from painful experience) that it does me no good to try and manipulate the situation. That’s what my experience has taught me—when I try to make reality resemble my own designs, that’s when I go crazy, shit gets fucked up, and people get hurt.

But like I said before this very meaningful tangent, what I deal with now are quality problems. And I find myself thinking often about how REALLY lucky I am. I’m in good health. I haven’t developed any cross-addictions. There have been moments where I’ve seen the potential for them and have taken action to ensure they don’t develop (one example: I used to be a good poker player; I don’t play poker anymore). My best guess as to why I’ve been so fortunate in this area is that I have a fierce devotion and determination to work and keep on working the program. Perhaps that is where I am the most fortunate.

I'm not sure if I can say how or why I have so much willingness to work the program, to turn immediately to it when times are rough. Maybe my higher power decided to bless me with this gift. Maybe it’s something I’ve learned from my experience that the program works only if I work it. Maybe it’s an instinct I’ve developed over the past four years. Or maybe it’s because the program is the only thing in all my long years of suffering I've ever found that actually, truly helped.

Hmm… writing that last line leads me to a different thought.

I had coffee with a fellow member recently. I asked them why they continued to work the program, what it was that kept them going. In their response, they talked about how it feels to no longer spend every day wanting to die.

The statement is true for me, too. Before I found Recovery, that was how my life was. I didn’t want to go to bed at night because I’d just have to wake up in the morning and go through it all all over again. Every day was misery, walking around so emotionally raw, in constant pain that was so unbearable, pain I had felt for so long that I couldn’t even begin to tell you why. And it had been like that for so long I couldn’t even tell you when it had started. If you went back and talked to me in my days of self-mutilation (late teens, early 20s), I would have told you the exact same thing—that I’d always felt like this, that I was in constant emotional pain, and even then I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why or when it started.

I wish I could explain this to others—how it feels to live every day of your life wanting to die, and then to not feel that way anymore. And not just no longer wanting to die, but feeling genuinely joyful to be alive, happy to have a life that works. The best parallel I can think of would be to tell folks imagine starving for over thirty years and then eating for the first time. And at first it’s just scraps, then it becomes full meals, then steaks and fresh vegetables, and every bite is a pleasure beyond words.

If someone were to ask me to put a finger on it, that’s the reason I would cite for where my willingness comes from: I used to spend every day wanting to die; today I don’t. And I really don’t want to go back to wanting to die. More than any other reason, I used as a way to escape being miserable. The fact that I'm not miserable anymore is a miracle I once thought impossible.

So even as I walk through the desert of ‘what-if’, I can work the program, listen to the guidance of my higher power and have patience. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, but I can do it. And hey, I fully admit that I am largely writing that right now in order to re-convince and remind myself that I can. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a little good old fashioned acting as-if and remembering that This, Too, Shall Pass.


  1. I love this article, Zach, esp. everything you wrote after "...leads me to a different thought." You described my emotional life, before and during my drinking days, just about perfectly. The scariest thing was that, at a certain point in the drinking days, I achieved everything I'd ever wanted - and more. I was in a relationship with the love of my life; a mainstream publisher had accepted my novel for publication; I'd won a free trip to Paris for my honey and myself. And I was STILL scared and miserable and my ONLY relief was in the bottle.

    Thank you for reminding me to thank my higher power, and thousands of other sober alcoholics, for the miracle of my recovery. I no longer have any of those things that made my life "perfect" back in the day, but I no longer wake up in terror, wishing I were dead or that I could at least figure out was wrong with me so I could fix it.

    I had one of those experiences yesterday that reminds me of the miracles we get to experience, if we're willing. I went to meeting I hadn't attended for about a year, and reconnected with people I hadn't seen for a while, and heard their stories. They are people who kept coming back, even when they thought they couldn't get sober, and who now are telling miserable, frightened newcomers what they did and what changed. We are so, so lucky, Zach. Thank you for reminding me what it was like.

    1. Thanks so much, Dormilona. My blog isn't very widely read, but every so often I get comments from folks like yourself and it lets me know that it is worth it. So glad you stopped by! -Zach