still drive Uber once in a while and every so often my passenger will open up about his life. Once, a woman in tears put in her address, and it was to an AA meeting I had been to before. She wasn’t sober and was really scared. I walked her into the meeting to give her that extra dose of support. Passing on the gift I’ve been given in moments like these, through random meetings and conversations, is the driving force of my life.
My biggest fear going into recovery was that I would be alone in the process. I was not alone. And you are not alone! I didn’t believe there was hope, and the thought I that I could be happy without any substance in my body was unfathomable. But now that I’ve been sober for three years, I can honestly say that I am only just beginning to realize how much life is out there, and how truly amazing and wonderful it is.
Drinking at an early age
My nickname in high school was "Alchy". When I was 13, I had my first drink. Looking back, I was hooked right away. I would always sneak booze in my parents’ liquor cabinet and replace it with water, which my parents ignored. The ‘social acceptability’ of alcohol convinced me it was safe and I had a right to drink as much and whenever I wanted.
Meanwhile, what began as a method of fitting in with my peers quickly became my means of escape. Eventually, after years of drinking, the need for an escape overpowered everything else and brought me to the point of wishing I could die.
A year and a half after my first bout of pancreatitis--one month after my divorce--I was back in the hospital with the worst case the doctor had ever seen. My medical staff was clear that I would die if I did not stop drinking and go to rehab to get sober. The only reason I agreed to go was that it was covered by insurance and would give me a month to figure things out with free food and roof over my head.
Related: Oil Rigs, Addiction, and a Heart Transformed by Love: Chris’ Story
My wake up call came during a morning group session when a guy said that he had a great night’s sleep the night before. It hit me how desperate I was that a good night’s sleep was awe-inspiring. Until that point, I felt like I did not belong in rehab and that I only needed to go to some AA meetings so I could "learn to drink like a gentleman." I truly thought AA taught people how to control their alcohol. I was in complete denial about my condition.
When the 30 days were over, I came back to work as a forensic accountant, guns blazing, ready to kick butt. I also stopped going to AA under the impression it didn’t really work for me, and that I could do it on my own. This was a big mistake. I was not ready to be around a high level of stress so soon and I wound up taking a leave of absence for a year driving Uber to pay the bills.
Expanding a sober social network
Then came the day I picked up a passenger who was in AA. She opened up and urged me to visit her meeting, assuring me it was different. In the groups I had been to before, everyone was usually grouchy, unshaven, and miserable. This group was full of cheerful, smiling people I connected with. It dawned on me that this was not a coincidence.
The power and strength of the therapists and my fellow addicts in rehab and AA helped me rebuild my life and face the stress that fueled my addiction. I replaced the feelings of comfort and ease I got from drinking with healthy habits, like taking care of myself, reading good books, expanding my sober social network, and meditating.
I’ve always been a ‘giver,’ and often gave so much of myself to others that I had nothing left for me. Now, I accept my limitations and recognize my boundaries--I know they are non-negotiable. My boss, who is amazing, lets me work at a pace I can handle without going overboard.
A Spiritual Awakening
During this process, my sponsor gave me a challenge. For the first half of the week, I was to live as if God did not exist, which was easy because it is what I did every day. I associated God with religion, and religion and I were not on easy terms. For the second half of the week, I was to ‘pretend’ that God was everything to me and to see what happens.
The first part of the challenge, Sunday through Tuesday, was uneventful: life as normal. On Wednesday morning, a drunk guy in my neighborhood stopped to chat with me as I was getting into my car to go to the library to do my AA homework. He was a mess, holding a tumbler, wearing pajamas. I got out of the conversation as quickly as I could and drove off.
I got only about 20 yards to the stop sign when it hit me. Exactly two years ago, I had been like that man who was drunk during the day. The only difference between that man and me is that he had the energy to get out and walk. I wouldn’t get off my couch. In that moment, I remembered that this was the first day of the second part of the “God is everything” challenge. Something clicked. I began to see that God was helping me to get sober. I couldn’t do it on my own.
Learning to Trust
When my therapist told me to trust the process, it seriously ticked me off. I had no concept of "trust" at the time. All I knew was fear and doubt. Now I'm 3 years into recovery, I’ve learned to love the phrase, because it's true.
Sharing my story, listening to the stories of others, commenting on Instagram and encouraging others on their journey with the hope that someone will grasp that they too can get better is what matters most to me. The gift I have doesn’t do much unless I give it away.
Taking OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these 4 steps Brad took towards freedom:
1. Find Sanctuaries: If you can, I recommend going to rehab - that's the Golden goose. Many people aren't able to go, so do whatever you can. Move in with a friend or relative who walked through sobriety or is healthy and can help you. If you can't move, kick everyone out who is not sober and who is not supportive of your being sober. If you can't do that, remove all alcohol/drugs from the house and ban them from entering. Have a place in your home that you can call your own, your sanctuary, and tell those who live with you that you are unavailable to contact when you're in the sanctuary unless of an emergency. You need a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. This safe sanctuary is critical for changing thought patterns, commit to living sober, and allows you to focus on your healing.
2. Find Therapy. If it all possible work, with a professional, preferably someone who specializes in addiction and substance abuse and mental health issues. Need help finding a therapist near you? There are many resources online - get a jump start here on the Connection page.
3 Find a Shovel and Dig in! Do the work. Ask the hard questions. Get to the root causes of why you drank or used. In AA we call it the 12 steps, but you don't have to be in AA to do any of this. Really trying to understand what it is that you're escaping from. My belief is that, at the root, addiction is a lack of connection. Lack of connection comes from your need to escape. Your need to escape comes from traumas. Do the work and you'll figure this out. When you figure this out the obsession or need to use or drink will go away. But you will have the tools necessary to deal with cravings when they come.
4. Play the Tape Forward: The cravings tell you "just one drink." but when you play the tape forward, you know what happens after that one drink. Only you can answer these questions: Will it stop at one? How many will I have? What will happen later that night? How will I feel the next morning? This tool has been, and continues to be, my main go-to and my savior!