In my previous three blogs I looked at how I got sober and my early recovery (see part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here). In this concluding part, I describe how I have found a more spiritual way to live in sobriety finding more happiness and fulfilment than I could have ever imagined in my old life.
Disclaimer: The following text represents my experience only – it is in no way representative of the views of any organisation or religion. It’s just how it was and is for me so, please, take it or leave it in the spirit in which it is offered!
Today, my life is immeasurably better than it was when I was drinking and probably as good as it’s ever been or as far as I can remember. I love my life and many of the beautiful people I am lucky enough to meet and with whom I interact. My thinking is clear and some might say simple(!) and the constant internal voice that used to tell me I was a piece of shite or the wronged rightful master of the universe or that I needed to be at war with the world or I had to be right about everything all of the time or myriad other warped versions of my truth has largely fallen silent. All my close relationships have not just been restored but are on a higher plane than ever before and are a constant source of joy and warmth to me – I can say I am more in love with my wife more than ever and my sons are my good mates now, I would certainly like to think, as well as being fine sons with whom I love to hang out and do stuff.
I get riled dramatically less about scenarios and people beyond my control – I have largely learnt how to accept them for what they are – and my life runs so much smoother as a result. If I do lose my shit, or do something I know to be wrong – I try to admit it and take restorative action to address it as quickly as possible. This is not because I am trying to be a saint or anything – this is because I have learned if I hang on to a resentment or negative emotions for any length of time I am the one who gets damaged and poisoned as a result. This does not make me a doormat either – it just makes me someone who tries to be conscious of his part in things and honestly take responsibility if I am wrong. I have let go of so much that used to confound and crucify myself – if I can feel myself getting disturbed by something – I just ask myself how important is this in the grand scheme of things really? And the answer invariably is “not much at all.” Then I can laugh and realise what a lot of bollocks my head can tell me.
Again if I can do this, I can enjoy a tangible powerful flow of psychic energy and generally an inner peace the like of which I have never known. This helps me in my working life and now I see my work as a way of giving service rather than a means for ego, massage, self-aggrandizement and material advancement – I have a renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for what I do – which has in turn been reflected in the quality of work I do, which all equals job satisfaction and appreciation of colleagues and clients.
Of course, shit happens – I have lost a friend this year to this disease of alcoholism, family and friends have suffered terrible illness and ailments, some work projects can prove to be very stressful even now – i.e. all the stuff anyone on this planet can face – but when faced with these external pressures and circumstances – my first reaction now isn’t to try and drown out my feelings by picking up a drink. I have the tools, the support network and a spiritual connection to help me deal with these things sober. This has taken time and work though and a willingness to remain open to what was suggested to me.
Working through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with my sponsor, while working on my own deep-seated mental issues with my psychotherapist and through my own spiritual enquiry, helped me face up to who I am and no longer hate myself, hell I’m even quite fond of myself these days – warts and all! But this recovery process and spiritual awakening was not a bolt of lightning more like a gradual lightening of my psychic load to allow me to raise my head to see the glorious terrain around me and smell the heaven scented jasmine.
Connecting or at least reaching out to a higher power gives me inner strength I never knew I could channel. Does God exist or doesn’t he? Hand on heart I can’t scientifically prove the point – but there is a presence in my life, whether conjured up by my deep unconscious or one that does really exist in some intangible form impossible to perceive in its entity or define by human parameters. It’s a warm and loving presence that helps me and I don’t need to look it in the mouth to know it’s there and that it helps me navigate life’s seas. And I don’t quite know and can’t explain how someone who was a fervent atheist for many years has come to believe in a higher power i.e. God.
I do know that by accepting I couldn’t get sober on my own and needed the help of others, I was opening myself up to a more spiritual way of living. At a deeper level, I feel immeasurably calmer and adept at accepting what comes my way by connecting with my higher power. And there really have been times when there have been some almost freakish things happen in my recovery that have given me the sense that some deeper force is at work. But you also see it in the rooms of AA – you hear incredible stories of recovery to be sure – broken people who were all but dead as a result of their incessant compulsion to drink, who had lost everything partners, kids, jobs, homes and hope and done terrible things when drinking. But for whatever reason they had come into contact with AA and made a recovery completely losing their obsession with alcohol and any inclination to drink and now are living healthy, happy lives, helping others and making a useful contribution to society – there are hundreds of thousands the world over who have done this through AA, Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step addiction recovery organisations
But it’s more than that – in AA, you see the profound capacity for the good that there is in humanity. You see people from all walks of life who are determined to turn their lives around for the better, but also to freely give their help to other alcoholics. This is 99 per cent of the time down without passing any judgment, because we know we’ve all been there before and could all too quickly go back there by picking up a drink, because we are powerless over alcohol.
For me this striving for fellowship, unconditionally loving instinct, desire to lift oneself up from the mire and to help others, is the essence of all that is good about the human spirit and it is in that spirit that God resides and works – and I can tap into it and charge myself up – simply by going to a meeting anywhere in the world where there are AA groups, by talking to my sponsor or another AA member, by helping others, and by just trying to be a decent husband, father, employee and human being .
But also through prayer and meditation.
So these days, I get up every morning I make a coffee and go and sit down in a quiet place. I read a couple of short excerpts from a couple of inspirational books I have about sobriety and spirituality . Then I say the Sh’ma – a cornerstone of Jewish prayer and chant the ni’sim b’chol yom (daily miracles). These prayers ground me and give me a sense of connection with some of my ancestors and are an expression of thanks for some of the things in my life that I can all too easily take for granted. Then I meditate – usually for five to ten minutes – longer sometimes if I have the need, inclination and time. This is usually for the sole purpose of quietening down the chatter in my noggin.
People think I’m talkative – they should listen to my head – that fecker never shuts up! And if it doesn’t quieten down, while I’m meditating – I just try to sit back, observe its banter, nod and not get into a discussion with it. This is also about getting centred – focused in the now. Inevitably at that time of day my head is racing ahead to what the day, months and years hence might hold and as soon as I get too involved in that fictitious world, my heart also begins to race and the chatter just gets louder and more disparate. Meditation stops my head galloping away in this way.
Then when the time feels right – I try and connect with my higher power of my understanding – which as I say isn’t really a great deal of understanding – but I try and reach out anyway. I go through all the things I need to be grateful for mentioned above. This immediately centres me and puts any perceived problems or areas of dissatisfaction in my life into perspective. It’s a great base from which to approach the day and whether or not you believe in a higher power – just try doing a gratitude list for your life every day – I find it to be a powerfully affirmative exercise.
I then pray for anyone in my life who is suffering physical or mental illness and then finally I ask God to remove all my shortcomings and defects to allow me to help others and to be of use to my family and community. Again for me – the point here is that this is an aspirational concept – a spiritual expression of hope to make a useful contribution that day and be a channel for good and light – at least in my small sphere of influence at any rate.
Being able to help others around me – gives me a heightened sense of self-esteem (“if you want to feel greater self-esteem – do estimable things” said one wise AA member in a meeting I was at) and I can find happiness and tranquillity with relative ease these days… as for the drinking – I rarely even think about it, let alone miss it. Now, after spending 30-odd years obsessing about it, that truly is a miracle.
I have to be vigilant though, as I have discovered if I don’t follow my daily recovery ‘program’ – I can find myself falling back into old defective habits and ways of thinking pretty quickly and I’ve no doubt from listening to others – and from my own ‘near-miss’ experiences – I would be back in a bottle pretty quickly if I failed to take preventative action. And, thank God, I have been able to realise and accept I am not cured of my alcoholism and never will be. Each day of sobriety is a temporary reprieve from a deadly disease, I need to remind myself.
I have to keep working at my AA program and on myself if I want to maintain my recovery. It never stops “Your alcoholism doesn’t go on holiday, Ben” my sponsor once told me. If, however, I do keep living my life by the principles of the program and pursuing the right path shown to me by my higher power through my gut – my life just seems to get better and better with more doors opening up for me to a universe of positive energy, light and possibilities.
I am grateful every day.
My deep heartfelt thanks to Char, Louis, Jacob, the Carlish and Davis clans, Brian, Barbara, Jennifer, Larisa, Jim, Nigel, Helen, Geoff (RIP) and so many others – you know who you are.
- If you feel like you have a problem with booze or addiction and want to talk to someone about it – please feel free to drop me a line – by sending me an email at this address. If you feel like you may have a problem with your drinking, but you’re not sure if you’re an alcoholic or if AA is for you – this AA online survey might help http://www.aa.org.au/new-to-aa/is-aa-for-you.php – it provided another piece in the jigsaw for me.