Today, I was in a pretty dark place. A guy I know calls it a “Dark Night of the Soul.” It’s a spiritual valley we find ourselves in from time to time, even in the recovered life.
You’re probably thinking, “Who died?” or “Did he lose his job?” “Is he homeless again?” But it’s funny, I’ve survived those kinds of lows pretty well. When the challenge is real, I seem to rise.
But it’s these bitter, lonely, selfish, self-pitying thoughts that creep in and take hold… They lead me out onto an emotional glacier where nothing grows, and I begin to freeze. I grow hungry, and tired, and next thing I know, I’m fighting for survival.
That’s why I know beyond any doubt that it is a spiritual illness, and must be treated after the alcohol and drugs are long gone. And its origins, its roots, the cause, are all within me.
I’m the problem again.
Sadness into Despair, and then Dishonesty
I miss my son. Really badly. I gave myself a good bashing with old photos and looking back on my Facebook feed from a few years ago. Every few months I do that to myself. Why?
That’s the way it is sometimes. It hurts. I feel deep sadness and remorse. I have consequences from that old way of life. It is what it is.
Then It Happened
I told myself the first of two lies I know to be ridiculous and fatal: “I just want my life back.” Well, shit just got real, didn’t it? I just stepped out onto the ice, going to cross this frozen wasteland on my own, without God, or any help from anybody else.
That photo is awesome. It was featured during the credits of a Japanese film on premature infants. Yeah, us!!! Good enough for the movies! It’s a beautiful father-son Hallmark moment. Wonderful times of love and family. I still have it on my bathroom mirror.
I have only a hazy recollection of taking it.
We look so happy together…
But I wasn’t there. Vacant. Dead on the inside, unless I had the brief hilarity alcohol gave me. Since I’m smiling, I know I was drunk, which is why I barely remember. That double-edged sword cut my son out of my life.
I’d been distraught over having a drinking problem for years. I drank through my child’s birth, three months too early. I drank every time I went into the NICU to see him during his first three months of hanging by a thread. I drank through his follow-up surgery to repair a bad heart valve. I drank through his hernia repair. I left my wife in the waiting room with some excuse so I could get back to the convenience store.
I got drunk every night. I was sick every morning. I bought a drink on the way to work to try and get right, and prayed nobody called me on it.
I got behind the wheel over and over, even with my son in the car.
How miserable is the existence I’m describing here? I was afraid. Always fear in my gut unless I drowned it.
How miserable is sneaking drinks when you know it’s killing you, or might hurt someone else? How bad is scoring dope when you know what’s on the line? One more six pack even though your spouse told you they were done if you came home drunk again? How bad is putting that spike in your arm knowing you have to have it even though you may not be there for your loved ones ever again?
So tell me what part of that you would want back? If you’re struggling anything like I was, with alcoholism, addiction, or even having rough times in sobriety (because we do sometimes), get real about this, because the lie can start to sound really good. For some reason it was making sense.
Yes, these appear to be great days of joy looking back. But the image, the memory, is a façade. It’s bullshit. What I’m telling myself, the story I’m repeating to myself about all the “good times,” doesn’t match the reality I lived.
If I believe God has brought me to where I am for some purpose, even simple mercy, I need to be present in that, not devising my own plan to take back parts of my destructive past. Here’s what
The Second Big Lie
These are evidence for me of lie #2. I was briefly sober during this time. And I said I was happy. Seeing as how my drinking had been really out of hand for several years, I certainly felt better. I thought I had beat it, and I was a new family man, greatest Dad in the world. God, how I wanted to be. I had dedicated my sobriety to them. It was all for them. All for family.
A Facebook post from that period:
“Having a good start to the weekend. Great weather. Good family times! Haruki has always insisted on taking baths with his mother. That would be fine, but it decreases her time to do small chores after dinner and she never gets to just relax. Suddenly on Friday evening, he walked up and announced he and I were getting in the bath. I’d just gotten finished with mine, but it’s one of those Dad moments. I said, “But… But… But… OOOHHHHH… OK. Let’s go! Right now!” Last night he and I walked to the drug store for ice cream. He’s asked me to put him to bed the last two nights. This is progress!”
But I was still hurting on the inside. I was so anxious, and depressed, and trying desperately to make the situation something that it wasn’t. My efforts lacked integrity. It was a poorly built structure on a weak and unreliable foundation: Me.
So, as happy as it looks like I was, as happy as I should have been able to be… Well, it all just isn’t what it appears. It seems like love and family should conquer all. But not so, when dealing with alcohol and addiction.
When I look back on pictures and Facebook posts from those times, I can start to tell myself a different story, leaving out the all-important details of how sick I now know I was.
Not long after that second photo, I got drunk again. Here’s my mea culpa:
“Dear family, friends, and students: For more than 15 years I have struggled with alcoholism. Over the past year I was sober, serene, sane… More so than I’ve ever been in my life. Then, about three weeks ago, I had a very negative experience. I immediately became panicked and unable to function. The next day, I could no longer cope with my fear. I drank. I have been unable to stop since. Why didn’t I do one of the the many things I know to do then? I cannot explain. Checking into the hospital. I hope this is the last time. I am sorry to those who have been inconvenienced or disappointed. The only way I’ve heard to get better is to be completely honest. So here is my beginning.”
That was the second trip to rehab out of… More than two.
I wanted to hang on to my family so badly. But I am an alcoholic, and that desire was not sufficient, as it goes for most of us. When push came to shove, my legs gave way.
You see… I had no net in place when some things in my life got dicey. Nothing had changed about me on the inside, and I had nothing to lean on besides the same resources that had failed me over and over. All I had were my best intentions and willpower to back them up.
If you are a real alcoholic or addict, the well being or benefit of others will be insufficient. That may be hard, but we prove it time and time again.
Spiritual Illness Tests Me Again
Even now, I sometimes begin to arrange things in my mind. I start with, “If I only had my son back, life would be…”
It would be what? How do I know? I can go all kinds of bad places, draw up all kinds of stupid plans, start interjecting myself into the lives of people who aren’t ready for that, become self-willed and insistent. I want what I want. I get selfish, and I get there really quickly.
I still get sick in sobriety. I still have sad times. I form expectations and there are still disappointments. I look back on the past and fall into self-pity. (Alcoholics Anonymous 417) I feel guilt all over again.
And I begin to tell myself the lies. I start to disregard God’s plans and assume mine are better. I assume I know better (Alcoholics Anonymous 418) than God. I get into dangerous waters.
I will soon get thirsty.
When I Lose My Grip on the Truth
This fact, that I can still lie to myself and create false expectations, is a very significant reason why I work a 12-Step Program as laid out in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, even after active alcoholism has been overcome.
I still have a sponsor and I work the 10th Step. I admit my resentments and fears, I have my dishonesty made clear. I take that to my Higher Power, and I get back to reality and start being helpful to somebody else. I’m stuck in my own head, someplace that is not real for me right now, and I need to get active in something that I have some real part in. I get back to the present.
The 11th Step directs me to prayer and meditation. I ask God what reality is. I ask how to go on. I ask Him to show me the truth, and then I listen and try to be aware of the answer. It always comes in some form or another, if I’m willing to listen.
And One More Thing We Lie about… Others Have It Better
If you find yourself comparing somebody else’s life, what you see and hear going on for them, and find yourself envious… Well, it probably isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Especially on Social Media. They call it a Facebook Wall for a reason. A person can hang anything they want there, decorate it any way they’d like. They can show you all the pink clouds and rainbows, no matter what the reality behind the curtain. Seen the Wizard of Oz? As you can see from my examples above, it often isn’t what it appears. Theirs isn’t THAT great, and ours isn’t THAT bad. We lose perspective and compare apples and oranges.
So do not be afraid to be real. If you are hurting, OK. Step 10 tells us to be on the lookout for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear. That means it happens sometimes. We know it will. When it does, own it and take action. You are not failing. You only fail if you do not act, and banish yourself to the wilderness of self-pity and, “Oh, poor me.”
Comparing your dirty details with somebody else’s polished presentation… Well, it’s a pretty stupid thing to do. Just like comparing your possessions to another’s. You are setting yourself up to lose, to lash yourself with resentment and self-pity. And once again, you’re doing it to yourself. IT’S NOT REAL.
Remember: This is still a spiritual illness.
If you are already in recovery, God has gotten you this far. Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare your present with the recent past. Get real about who you were and what it was like, and then take stock of today. Talk with your sponsor and keep perspective. Then you can hang some truth on your wall, decorate it with a better reality, and be whole.
Reality Is A Better Life, But It Is Far from Perfect
It’s not always unicorns and rainbows in recovery. But my life now is real. There are good times, real joy, and I’m not leaving any sordid details hidden backstage. No bodies in the cellar. I look at photos of the last two years, and I know exactly who I was, who I am today, and that I have nothing to hide. I am happy about those things. Most of us working a 12-Step program in sobriety can say the same.
Spiritual Principles Keep Us Alive
That’s called integrity.
Who we are and what we do are consistent, and we can hold our head high, even during tough times. The 12th Step instructs us to practice these kinds of principles in all our affairs. These habits keep us strong through the rough and emotional days.
And it works. I went through that “Dark Night of the Soul,” I got honest about my self-pity, and the fact that I was getting dishonest about how great it used to be, beginning to want “that life back,” and my resentment and selfishness faded.
And I didn’t need to drink. No matter how dark the night got.
Neither alcohol or drugs have power over us today.
If you want that freedom, we can show you what we did, and what we continue to do in recovery to stay that way. We’re here. Reach out.