The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single, Sober Step

AA Ironman I saw something incredible today. I saw a man, 53 years of age, studious and pensive in nature, run an Ironman Triathlon. A 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 55 mile bike ride, and culminating in a 13.1 mile run.

I was in a meeting last week. The topic was along the lines of, “AA is not a cure-all, but without AA very little else is possible.” For the past few days, I have been thinking about that topic. It seems an idea so simple, I find it hard to believe I haven’t heard it before.

I think we all grow up with dreams, with ideas of who we are and who we want to be. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it all falls apart. Genetic determination mixed with anxiety and hurt leaving many of us in a comatose state unable to function. Then we find substances outside of ourselves and immediately, things start to look up. We can talk to people again and dance and sing and laugh. These substances worked so well in fact, that most of us then turned to stronger, more potent, quicker, cheaper, more readily available versions. Along the way, the things we originally desired start to disappear. Friends, jobs, cars, freedom, sanity, but they don’t go immediately, no. At first they go slowly, so slowly we don’t always see the signs, confusing dysfunction with bad luck. In the end, life gets catastrophic enough that even we can finally see the devastation. It is here that one of two things happen: we either sober up or else we don’t.

AA allowed me to put down the drink long enough to connect to a higher power. It showed me how to take an inventory of my behavior, assess my character defects, and choose an alternate existence. AA gave me friends to talk to and a place to go. But it didn’t cure everything. AA hasn’t made me rich or beautiful. AA hasn’t bought me a house or gotten me into graduate school. AA hasn’t won me the Pulitzer Prize or made my life into a Lifetime movie. And it definitely hasn’t made me able to compete in an Ironman.

But I could.

And that’s the thing. Without sobriety, nothing is possible. Without sobriety, I would be stuck in that continuing vortex of self pitying, self-delusioned obsession.

With AA, there is a chance. It has taken me eight years to begin to understand what the full potential of my life with AA can be. “There you will find release from care, boredom and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus we find the fellowship and so will you,” (152). So true.

The journey of a thousand miles or of 70.3 begins with a single, sober step.

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Among Them You Will Make Lifelong Friends.

Active Addiction Guest ListAs the eight of you who read my blog regularly know, a couple of weeks ago, I got engaged to my lovely lovely. But that is not what this blog is about. This blog is about the guest list.

Eight years ago, I lived in a run-down apartment off 59 and Newcastle in Houston, Texas. My roommate, a girl I knew from work, came home one day and informed me that she was moving out. It seemed she suddenly and unexpectedly eloped with the chef at our restaurant because her student visa was running out and she was going to have to return to Russia. (No, I’m serious. I’m not making this stuff up.) She suggested either we break the lease or I find a roommate. The simple thought of living with someone new terrified me in my final days. Looking back, it is almost humorously tragic to contemplate. There was zero chance of me opening up my existence to the scrutiny and judgment of a stranger.

So, I sat on the floor of my apartment and continued to drink and chain smoke in total isolation.

Not long after, I woke up one morning in withdraws. I was dizzy and shaking. It felt like a worse version of the flu. I knew if I drank something, I would feel better, but I could not think of one person in the world who would bring me something to drink. But more than that, there is not one person in the world who would bring me anything: not a cup of soup, a blanket, or a kind word.

I often write of loneliness because it is the emotion I most remember from of those days. I was so incredibly lost and ashamed and alone. I think, honestly, I give my immediate family a bad rap in this memory. Had I called them, had I reached out and asked for help, I am sure I would have been in rehab by dinnertime. They love me and are good people, but I was so disconnected from them. My pride, even in those down times, was so entrenched it would have been impossible for me to reach out to them for help.

But that was eight years ago. This year, I will be making the promise of friendship and fidelity to another person. With that comes a wedding and a party. A few days ago, I began the amazing task of writing down a list of all the people we would like surrounding us on our special day. First I listed my family, the people who are here now that I could not let be there then. Then I listed sponsors, then sponsees, friends from our home group, ladies from my yearly retreat, buddies from his half-way house. As one piece of paper filled, I flipped the page and continued to write. I could not help but smile as our small intimate wedding soon turned into a celebration of AA proportions.

“You are going to meet these new friends in your own community… High and low, rich and poor, these are the future fellows of Alcoholics Anonymous. Among them you will make lifelong friends. You will be bound to them with new and wonderful ties, for you will escape disaster together and you will commence shoulder to shoulder your common journey,” (Big Book 152-153).

True, it is our past that originally united us. AA supplied me with a place to meet people, people who like me experience fear and neurosis, people who suffer from guilt and shame and heartache. But it is our future which will keep uniting us.

And through the process, AA has begun the process of trying to teach me how to be a friend. I’m still not very good at it. I’m still really quite self-centered. But I’m better. At least I can see my faults, apologize, and try again. Once of my favorite lines in the Twelve and Twelve is “We have not once sought to be one in a family, a friend among friends…” (53). Today, I seek to be better.

Of all the blessing I have received from AA and recovery, my friends (and my honey, of course) maybe the greatest blessing of all. I like to say I belong to the “No Matter What Club,” but if I were as lonely today as I was on February 27, 2007, I’m not sure that I would still be sober. My AA friends save my sanity on a daily basis, but more than that, they have saved my life. Now… For the rest of the journey…