05/2/14

A different kind of birthday

It’s my 21st birthday today. Not my “belly-button” birthday, it’s my sobriety birthday. 21 years and 3 months ago I sat in a room, the first of many, and said for the 1st time “My name is Mike, and I’m an alcoholic.”

The room was nondescript, mostly notable for a circle of folding chairs and the smell of strong coffee. I’ve always been a “people watcher”, but the group of people sitting in the chairs puzzled me. In a social sense, they were clearly a group, but there were none of the socio-economic threads that you will usually find running through groups that bond them together;  race, gender, age etc. They were all over the place as far as these sorts of distinctions go, but they were so at ease with each other.

Like every one of these people, I had crashed pretty bad. I had earned good will from my NCO’s and Officers, but had spent it down to the last penny. A couple of brave leaders had given me my very last chance, even as I was demoted from Sergeant to Specialist. My wife had made an ultimatum as well. That was external, but inside I knew I had failed many people, and I had failed myself.

If I wasn’t desperate I wouldn’t have made it past the AA reliance on “A Higher Power”. I had been very active in the church until I was 14, when I reached a level of discord between what I had been taught, and what I had observed. I won’t detail my crisis of faith, but it would be fair to say that I’ve kept organized religion at arm’s length since then. It’s also fair to say that my spiritual beliefs have grown greatly in the couple of decades since I opened my mind to this possibility.

Three months after my first meeting I was walking past a bar, and seemingly without thought, I cut a hard right, walked up to the bar and proceeded to drink. The ease of this relapse scared me profoundly, and I went to a meeting the next day and started to work the program’s steps with a renewed vigor and these efforts have brought me to today.

It is clear to me now that an understanding of what profound personal honesty is, learning how my mind reacts and what my biases are has been the critical to my emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth.

A sober and focused life has brought me many gifts. One is a sense of ease that came once I no longer had to try to maintain  a duel life. At the time I didn’t know how much effort it took to try to build mental compartments and keep all of my stories straight. I can clearly remember when it struck me, how free it made me feel when I could live one simple existence.

Perhaps the largest gift is that out of our six children, four have never seen their father intoxicated. I’m also a worthy partner for my incredible wife, and this has allowed us to face a great deal of adversity and thrive as a family. We’ve “made” three of our kids, adopted three more.

We’ve done formal foster care for 16 children, and done informal foster care (no government involvement) for 3 more. Tonight, as I write this, my wife is attending a 8 week old infant at the hospital, a recent foster child placed with us. It’s his 4th day in the hospital, and he’s recovering, but he was a very sick little boy. She can focus on him because she can trust me to be here and do right with the other children in our home.

I still struggle to bring my actions into line with my ideals, and am far from perfect, but I wake up each day knowing that I’m living a blessed life. I find a great deal of satisfaction in my work, and look forward to going home to my family every night where I find incredible love and support.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I feel like the luckiest man in the world. If you are reading these words and are trapped by addiction I send you my very best wishes, and I hope that you too can find your way out of the darkness. There are many paths, but they all begin with commitment.  With that said, please understand that I only have compassion for you, not judgment. I’ve heard over and over again in AA rooms “There but for the grace of God go I”, and for me, this rings true.