A dear friend of mine who attends my home group sagely advised me that if I was starting to feel worse, I was getting better. I was told this about 30 days into sobriety. I had just achieved my first chip and I was on cloud nine. (Many AA groups use a colored chip system for varying lengths of sobriety). I didn’t get his gist at all. I felt better in mind, body, and spirit than I had in a very long time. Sure, it’s a daily uphill battle, but to this point, I was flying up that hill.
His experienced prediction was right, though. I started to feel the end of the honeymoon period very recently, right around my 90-day celebration. A little context:
I had known for some time that my girlfriend, her sister and some of their friends were taking a two-week trip to Hawaii. I wasn’t invited but I assumed it was because of my work schedule. The latter part of the summer I am generally very busy, performing with my bluegrass band at weddings and other high-paying events. I didn’t really think much of it. About a week ago, I woke up angry and resentful. How dare them not invite me! What did I do? They are just being inconsiderate of my feelings! I have every reason to feel justified in my anger and resentment!
Let’s take a step back in time. The plans for the trip came to fruition in early April. My quit date is April 29th. I wasn’t invited on purpose. They didn’t want to put up with me being intoxicated and causing problems. Now, luckily I came to this conclusion on my own and was outside of cellular coverage all morning. I had prepared a barrage of angry, sarcastic text messages. I knew I was desperate when I was ready to resort to a nuclear text war. I was ready to come home and fight, to tell her exactly what I thought of her and her friends.
The easiest part of quitting drinking for me has been quitting drinking. On April 29, 2018, I put down the bottle and walked away. It was no longer part of my life. I was free, the yoke of alcohol removed from my shoulders. There is no turning back. However, the historical repercussions have reared their terrible heads like a hydra, each head representing a transgression against a member of the party I was formerly infuriated by. Unlike Heracles, I am no demigod. For every head I decapitated, another seemed to grow in its place with no end in sight. The wrongs I had committed under the influence became impossible to ignore.
One of the most humbling realizations of my life was that my drinking caused me to miss this trip. I felt lower than low, like dirt stuck in the treads of the boot of life that had just stomped me down. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, weak, disgusting, tarnished. This is not the man I wanted to be. I want to exude strength, virtue, honor, kindness, decency, valor, courage. I had committed a merciless betrayal of myself and what I want to stand for. It was spiritual treason.
Suddenly, as if aroused by divine providence, my clouded judgment parted. My anger subsided. Harsh truths became a joy of self-realization. I knew if I kept true to my path, I would never have to do this again. I suddenly remembered Indiana Jones: the penitent man humbles himself before God and kneels. That is exactly what I had to do, kneel humbly and prepare to rectify my transgressions to the people I have hurt, embarrassed or made uncomfortable.
Ego is the enemy. Humble yourself. Use your reason. To err is human, but to place the blame correctly and take responsibility for your actions is a true sign of virtue and wisdom. I’m not falsely claiming to be a wizened sage by any means, but I believe in taking account of my faults, now more than ever. I remember and cherish this as I begin my period of atonement.
In his essay Religion and Rocketry, author C.S. Lewis conjectures if an alien species, if they exist, would have or need an understanding of Christianity and the philosophy of Christ as Earthmen do. Lewis wonders if the concept of being “the fallen”, humans in need of redemption that comes from God through his Son, Jesus Christ, is subject only to the human race. Regardless of the conclusions (the essay is fascinating), it reminded me that I had fallen. Knowing and understanding this fact opened my eyes to a redemption that was attainable for me, that I was not doomed to an eternity of problems I caused while under the influence.
I have come to a crossroads. My head is clear, my heart is open. Even though I have fallen, I will pick myself up. As Lao Tzu said, “a journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step”.