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Growing up as the youngest of three, I was led to believe that the enemy is on the outside. With the benefit of hindsight, reflection, and many years of recovery, though, I came to discover that in fact the enemy was on the inside — alcoholism. I didn't really understand the insanity that existed in my family of origin until I read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It helped to make sense of the insanity of the disease of Alcoholism. And this paved the road to healing, allowing a forgiveness of self and others that until then had been a concept that I couldn't comprehend.
I had always felt physically and mentally different. Although successful in many ways and in spite of many accomplishments, I still often felt irritable, angry and discontent.
There were early signs that I lacked balance and was prone to extremism, like having three jobs by the age of 12. Or like the first week that I played golf: With little regard for rules or etiquette I charged around obsessed, hitting a little white ball from 6:30 a,m. until 9:30 p.m. one day, 72 holes on a full-size course. When channeled properly, this single-mindedness could contribute to success. When I introduced myself to alcohol, however, the negative consequences became predictable. On New Year's Eve of Grade 12, my first three beers left me puking and blacking out in someone's garden in the dead of winter. My friends took me home and put me to bed and my parents were none the wiser. But the experience was so bad that I didn't drink again for some 17 months.
University afforded me many opportunities both to succeed, and to drink. I was captain of the University of British Columbia soccer team that won the Canadian Championships in 1974. Alcohol was the magic elixir that allowed me to feel taller, smarter and handsome. Normally awkward and somewhat shy, alcohol allowed me to get comfortable in my own skin.
From college, I was drafted into professional soccer and played four years for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League. The ego is fed highly in this environment, but if inside, you're low in self-esteem, then the incongruence between what you're presenting to the outside world and what you feel about yourself grows into a chasm. I drank to fit in and feel a part of something — and consequently, I learned to drink copious amounts of alcohol while not vomiting, a rite of passage known as "holding your liquor." The violation of values and core beliefs was well underway. The phrase, "What goes on the road stays on the road" became one of my many survival skills.
Getting my teaching degree, playing professional soccer, getting married, and having children only served to widen disconnect between my inner and outer beings. On the outside, I presented as someone who's very social and well regarded. Inside, however, inside I felt alone and scared, with a constant feeling that something bad was about to happen. Progressive drinking allowed this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Build it up only to eventually blow it up" became a common theme in my life.
On the way home from being fired as a high school teacher and counselor, I had an epiphany: I realized that alcohol had killed my grandfather, who died on Vancouver's Skid Row at age 57. He had choked on his own vomit and been robbed of his gold watch. I somehow knew that the same sad ending could be in store for me should I not stop drinking. I opened my community resource book and right there on the page I opened was the phone number of Alcoholics Anonymous. I picked up the phone and talked to a member of A.A. named Bob K. He listened while I had that meltdown and admitted that I was an alcoholic. He asked if I could get to an A.A. meeting that night. I said that I would try. At first I sat outside the meeting crying and shaking, but finally I summoned the courage to go in.
At that first A.A. meeting, on December 2nd 1993, I heard "Machine Gun Gerry" describe himself as an "EGO maniac with an inferiority complex." He described doing many amazing things in his life only to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors with alcohol because he didn't feel deserving or worthy. Bingo!
Besides identifying with the speaker, that night I experienced another miracle that was a sign that I was destined to get help through A.A. I sat beside a man named Stephen. We met the next morning for breakfast and what he described about himself allowed me to see that I'm not unique. Stephen, too, had lost his teaching job due to his alcoholism. Just like me, he had been a high school Physical Education teacher and counselor. He, too, had used external accomplishments like university degrees to try and build up immunity to the disease of alcoholism. His father Dave was a violent raging drunk. Bingo again. He had a brother who drank far more than he did. Just like me. His mother was severely co-dependent and affected by alcoholism. Me, too. I finally felt like someone understood me, and that there was a way out. Stephen 12-stepped me and carried the message of hope that is Alcoholics Anonymous. I asked him to take me to the leader, only to find out there are no leaders, just trusted servants. Almost 18 years later, Stephen remains my mentor, sponsor, and the one who showed me how to get — and stay — sober.
The literature, especially the Big Book, gave me the insight and awareness to see that I had been suffering from a disease that went undetected and untreated for 25 years. I discovered that I was physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually sick. Consequently, recovery would have to address these areas and to compensate for the damage done. I was ready to learn how to obtain comfort in my own skin.
Relieved for having stumbled upon the problem and therefore a possible solution, I went to any length to get and stay sober. Recovery is not for the faint of heart. It demands hard work and discipline and taking direction. The saying, "You can tell an alcoholic, but you can't tell him much," typifies my life up to age 41.
I have never messed with the formula that was given so freely to me; SPONSOR, HOME GROUP, STEP GROUP, SERVICE and MEETINGS! While the first several years of sobriety were difficult and challenging, I always found relief and the answers to all my problems in the Big Book, meetings, sponsorship, or in helping others.
Early in sobriety I used to ask my sponsor, "Why me?" like I was some martyr or victim who was powerless to change. He responded, "Because you have experienced the Grace of God, so be grateful and allow your life to be a shining example of recovery from alcoholism through the 12 steps and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous." So I try, One Day at a Time, to carry the message to those who still suffer from this disease.
A.A. taught me to listen, to have compassion, and to consider forgiveness of self and others as the road to freedom. One long-timer commented to me while I was in the midst of dealing with the wreckage of my past, "That's okay Sonny, if your sobriety has been forged in fire then she be strong like steel." He was right. My current attitude of gratitude is a far cry from those days when I had such a sense of entitlement and lack of gratitude.
A.A. delivered on its promise and guarantee that I will not find it necessary to pick up that first drink under any and all conditions, if I maintain my spiritual condition. The first ten years of my sobriety included my father's sudden death, the long and drawn-out death of my mother, the loss of my teaching job and career, some jail time and lots of adverse local publicity. For some time, A.A. was my safe harbor in the storm of life. It asked little of me and has given me so much more in return. Therefore I see it as my responsibility to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety. I'm indebted and so I pay my debt off by staying sober one day at a time, and by giving hope to those that have none.
This disease is a killer. It killed not only my grandfather, but also my father, who died at age 70 on the roadside from a massive alcohol-induced heart attack. Alcoholism is suicide on the installment plan. My brother, who is 2 years older, suffers from cirrhosis of the liver. His quality of life is not great and he remains bitter, angry and resentful.
Alcoholism is also a family disease, one that has adversely affected my wife and two children. Fortunately, they have sought and received help through the Al-Anon Family Programs. They work the same steps and consequently they, too, try to clean their own side of the street. We all know that looking inward rather than looking outward for the problem, and also the solution, results in living life in harmony.
Yes, a life in recovery is different than anything I had known or expected. I had a history of resisting wellness while letting in the bad. Drinking is only a system of many other problems lying below the surface. Therefore, as an alcoholic I have to experience a profound spiritual awakening that is available to anyone who does and then continues to practice all 12 steps O.D.A.T.
After ten years of sobriety, the College of B.C. Teachers reviewed the recovery I had achieved through A.A. The board decided to restore my teaching certificate and grant me the privilege of teaching in the schools of B.C. God, however, has ultimately directed me to work in the field of recovery. I went back to school and got another degree, this one the most meaningful. I have been a drug and alcohol counselor, an Interventionist, and a Program Director for a wonderful holistic, healing recovery center. I am blessed to be a member of a wonderful team of passionate, talented caring team who make a huge difference in the lives of others who are affected by the disease of alcoholism and addiction.
I'm like the song "Amazing Grace," which includes the lines "that saved a wretch like me" and "I once was blind but now I see." I'm grateful that I experienced the perfect storm — I drank enough to get to A.A. but not enough to kill myself. Desperate as only the drowning can be, I managed to grab hold of the life preserver that was sent my way. And having grabbed on to the tried, tested, and true formula that has saved my life and countless others, I don't ever intend to deviate from it. Alcoholism may be a curse, but through it I have discovered that the greatest blessing bestowed on me was becoming a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.