Saturday, November 13, 2010

Staying sober

When I stopped drinking, I was not only an alcoholic. I was an outcast from society,
Something not worth putting any effort into. An object not worth loving or caring for.
Physically or emotionally.  I was something that people close to m believed could not be hurt emotionally, a thing that was an irritation to most, and something at best to be tolerated by those that remained.

The general idea. In my opinion. Was that I did not deserve any better. Looking back I refer to myself as “something” because I don’t think that people around me regarded me with much more respect than you would allow an empty cold drink can lying on the ground in your path. I mean there really is no reason to kick it and listen to the thudding empty sound, but the compulsion to do so is there. And you invariably kick it, Hard.

I stood at the end of a lifetime of drinking, filled with the constant planning to have the next drink, the next numbness. The selfish pride of minute achievements gave me a reason to drink for celebration,  and I sought the numbness in alcohol after what seemed like massive disappointment in things that now seem to be vague memories.

See; I found the ultimate in hurt and disappointment, and discovered the true meaning of hurt. And it was that hurt that brought me to sobriety. Ironic, isn’t it.

Finding the suggested (yes, a 12 step program for an atheist) steps to be followed to that promised land of non craving sobriety proved to be the tree that overshadowed my life from that day on.

When I sought help, I knew I was powerless over alcohol. No one around me needed convincing, and least of all did I. That my life had become unmanageable was rather a bit of a given seeing that I had to find out things about people close to me that was supposed to be the moral example for me to look up to and respect but chose to live differently.

And as much as they used this as a breeding ground for creating feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness in me. I can only assume that it was in self defense against a stinking breath, and someone that had become sub human.

Emotional self defense……

I never came to believe that a power greater than me could restore me to sanity. I did come to believe however that if I kept at it and went to meetings, where I found support in fellow alcoholics. We had a unique interaction with a common problem and even greater common desire. To better our lives and escape the white noise that used to be our lives. The desire of sobriety.

That promise. That I might get to experience. That which others held so high in regard. The thing they seemed to cherish so much. Their sobriety.

I was made promises of a spiritual awakening, of finding a higher power and was told about the need of all humans to feel small and insignificant in front of a grand creator. Instead I found myself and others standing proud in the small achievement of sobriety to the world. But grandly, and Kings of our own castles in our sobriety, however insignificant it might seem to the world.

People. We are all everyday normal people, with a mission, and searching hearts. Plus, a little drinking problem …. The big thirst….

I came to realize that in others I finally found a common ground where responsibility and the true meaning behind all of it was mine to grab, that I had to be responsible.

Responsibility being the thing that I have consciously cringed from my whole life. That human growth point, of becoming an adult which seems to be defined in finding a sense of responsibility. And which we alcoholics when actively drinking despise with a passion.

I was stubborn and I am still so in my atheism, my belief in nothing after this life. My non belief the thing that kept me sober in some ways that other people might never understand.

They also said that I had to make a decision to turn my life over to the care of a God as I understood him.

In the beginning of my sobriety I might have considered this, however this became a point in disagreement that became non negotiable to me. Even while actively trying to work through a suggested 12 step program. And after a year of just concentrating on staying sober I had found confidence in my own beliefs or lack of belief rather. To a point that I became almost abrasive in atheism. But willing to give the steps a go at least.

Amongst all of this I came to a realization that sometimes I could not change things and in those instances I had to accept them. I found a lot of the things I cannot change in my support group. I also learnt that I could take what I needed from these people and leave the rest. I struggle to accept certain things. And I believe its part of the human condition that we accept too easily, and because we accept so easily a lot of addicts find twelve step programs to work for them, as they have already been conditioned through years that they are intrinsically bad and immoral and that this can only be changed through prayer.

I worked hard at this, to not accept until there is an absolute necessity for acceptance.

They said it would get better and easier, I did not believe them. They said it would get worse, before it got better… I did not believe them. They were right.

It’s hard to believe now that a year ago I was so proud and thrilled at that Massive milestone. Of having stayed sober for a full year. Now I realize that it wasn’t me that achieved it. It was everyone around me.

People making conscious efforts at their own drinking habits. Family keeping non alcoholic drinks in their fridges for my benefit. People in my support group in my secret society of alcoholics. A person guiding me whom was fantastic and amazing, and then finding a new person to guide me when the first was transferred out of the country, one  whom allowed me my free thought and expression and seem to understand my need to question everything.

I got to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, and what a mind fuck that was. To identify and pen your own shortcomings in your character might sound easy at first but trust me it is not. It might sound like an exercise in futility, but trust me when I say that in my own experience. It is not.

I take my hat of to my wife in surviving with me through the last two years. It was an emotional roller coaster ride and the promise made to me when I went looking for help was that it would be the most difficult thing I did in my life and that started to take on meaning.

After doing it though and sharing with another human being the exact nature of my own admission in my flaws and my wrongs it was as if a massive rock had fallen off my shoulders, a relief that cannot be described.

Step six and seven proved to be a bit problematic as I had to make these things available to a God to remove from my character (This still seems like a religious copout to me) that I do not believe exist. However I knew the defects of character was abundant, and most probably always will be. Thus I realized that just in becoming aware of these short comings I could actively concentrate on it not to have the same detrimental effect on me as before. And in some instances I just had to let go of them.

The serenity prayer in its secular form did wonders for me and I still use it regularly. The mere act of letting go of things that you cannot change has a feeling of being set free, it also allows you to concentrate on things that is actually worth while concentrating on.

I had to make a list of all the persons I had harmed and what I had done to them. Then I not only had to admit it to them, but I also had to go back to them and ask them how I could make it better. Unless it would bring harm to me or others. I have found that based purely on the epic length of this list. It would be a long term project by default….

However in the end it was not only very gratifying but the freedom gained from it immensely evident to me in daily life. I have taken to trying not to add to this list and also to try and keep my step four character shortcomings from becoming a longer list. Some people however sometimes seem intent on trying to help me grow these lists…which in its own is also a challenge.

Step 11 calling for me to consciously pray and meditate was and is a total loss. However this step calls for something else. It calls for a seeking of coming to a conscious understanding of what God wills; praying for knowledge and the power to carry this Gods will out. These words I know is futile for me.

I chose however to make these steps work for me, and have found a way to get that done thus far. Hence I tried to persevere. And looked at it in a different and positive light.

Firstly I understood such a God would be implied here in a positive way. I understood in that context as coming to a realization of what is good for humanity in a broader sense, what is good for society and my fellow man. And tried to see the goal and not the means.

It was a given that it would be best for myself and society if I stayed sober, and secondly it touches on the Secular humanist beliefs which I hold very dear and firm.

Taking religion away from it. I try to be conscious of what I can do to better other people’s lives, influencing it in a positive way. This is something I can only strive to consciously do and it does seem to make me feel that I can contribute to a society where so much bad things happen in a positive way.

To try and impact positively on others lives is tough and something that I can certainly only try and do. I am far from perfect, and will never be perfect in any way. But I have to make this aspect work for me if I want to stay sober, and keep enjoying this new freedom and life that I have built.

Lastly I can honestly say that I have had no spiritual awakening, however I have become a lot more aware and conscious of my own emotions and how I choose to deal with them. I have tried to carry my secret society’s message and can only hope that I might touch other people’s lives positively in doing so in the same way as I have been touched.

“Through my efforts, I gain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”


  1. ... ek het nou gehuil... want ek is geraak deur menslikheid...

  2. Thanks Therine. Jou comments beteken altyd vir my baie.

  3. Uiteindelik leer ek die anderkant van jou ken... ek besef nie altyd (eintlik glad nie) waardeur jy die afgelope twee jaar gegaan het nie. Ons vriendskap is nou al amper twee jaar oud en dit is die eerste keer wat ek in kontak kom met die "anderkant". Dankie dat ek dit kon lees en beter verstaan...ek is seker daarvan dat dit vir jou ook deel is van die heelmaak proses. En moet ASB nie ophou skryf nie... jy het 'n ongelooflike talent en ek hoop regtig dat ons eendag jou naam op 'n boek of vyf gaan sien.... en ek hoop ek is dan nog deel van jou lewe...