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We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
— E. M. FORSTER

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Martin W. Too smart to recover

My name is Martin and I am an alcoholic. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1959 to a seemingly normal family, which unfortunately was my only example of defining what "normal" was. Family life was full of addiction, with my father becoming very violent, unstable and physically abusive when drinking and my poor mother trying to hold the family together at all costs. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back now, I see how she was a wounded soul herself and weakened by the constant abuse meted out by my father. While growing up I wanted to be adopted since I didn't want to belong to that family.

By the time I was 15, we had moved to 12 different cities on three different continents. I didn't know what a friend was as each time I found one I would move and have to start again. By the time I came into recovery I had a good relationship only with five computers and two dogs.

I followed in my father's footsteps in more ways than I liked — we are both engineers and both developed a talent at drinking. I guess I wasn't adopted after all.

Shortly after my brother was born, we moved to England, where I was found to have a high IQ and ended up at a private boy's school where my courses were geared toward math and science — subjects that I excelled at throughout my career as an engineer. At that school I developed a passion for rugby. Both the rugby and the engineering gave me ample opportunity to practice my talent of drinking.

My first drink was shandy (beer and ginger beer), a drink that was usually given to old ladies in England. Since I was only 12, this was the only drink that we would have after playing rugby, while the adults would get the real thing. I quickly found that half a dozen would give me a good buzz and left me wanting much more.

I found myself in Winnipeg at age 15, which would become my home for 11 years. At high school, other sports and drugs were added to the mix. Due to the difference in schooling between England and Canada, I didn't really need to study and could concentrate on my addiction.

Somehow I graduated high school and was accepted into a four-year engineering course at the University of Manitoba. University gave me the opportunity to drink like a man. During my first year, I moved into a fraternity, where I would live for most of the seven years that I took to complete the four-year degree. My drinking was accelerated to abusive levels and I found myself blacking out at almost every occasion. I still have a mug that I proudly won for drinking 40 beers during one engineering celebration, not that I remember anything after the first dozen. I used speed to get myself going on the days that I did go to the university. I would fail a year and then pass a year in an attempt to graduate.

Toward the end of my degree, I developed a resentment toward my girlfriend, and to get back at her I ended up marrying her best friend, who had decided we had been married in a previous life. She was destined to become ex-wife number 1.

We moved to Vancouver as there were no jobs available in Winnipeg. I worked my way up the ladder as an engineer, but quit four years later after another resentment — something I was becoming very skilled at developing. I didn't consult my wife before doing this and we had to make a hasty exit to Calgary to live with her parents. I quickly found employment at an engineering firm there, but within four months, I quit and took a job in Lethbridge. I didn't let my wife know until I had moved to Lethbridge and told her to come down. This became a reoccurring theme: I made the decisions without consulting anyone else. Shortly after that move, my wife decided to leave me. The way I saw it, I was free to drink since during our marriage she tried to control how much I drank, with limited success.

Rugby and drinking became my only joys in life, although after a bad injury I was forced to quit playing rugby and at age 34 started learning to skate in an attempt to play hockey — another sport that would assist in my drinking.

I moved back to Calgary and chose my second wife on the assumption that my first marriage had ended not because of my drinking, but because we didn't have kids. Wife number 2 had two children whom my drinking would also take hostage. Over the course of our relationship, we moved between Calgary and Lethbridge five times — each time without consulting her. Soon I had ex-wife number 2.

That divorce rapidly accelerated my drinking and a rapid decline into demoralization. It started with an impaired charge and ended up with waking up on my kitchen floor in several bodily fluids and not remembering the previous six months. Everyone needs to hit a unique bottom and this was mine. My sponsor told me that "you hit your bottom when you decide to stop digging" — I guess that was when I decided to stop digging.

My sobriety date is July 22, 2003. A few days later, I was able to drag myself to my first AA meeting. I wasn't happy to be there and didn't even want to be there. I couldn't call myself an alcoholic and told myself that I was only there just to learn how to drink without forgetting what I did the night before. At that meeting I didn't relate to anyone except Dave, who was 62 days sober and who put his TV on so he didn't feel so alone. I did the same thing.

I was told to go to meetings and get a Big Book. Because I was embarrassed and didn't want anyone to know that I didn't have one, I bought it at Chapters for over double the price AA would have sold it to me. Over the years I have learned not to be embarrassed and to ask for help.

Shortly after that first meeting I started doing service — something I credit in keeping me sober over the years. My first service job was making coffee and setting up my home group. I got the job by complaining about the coffee and was given the key to the meeting room to show that I could do better. (I did in my own humble opinion!) When I tried to give the key back, I was told to give it to whoever complained about the coffee. Over the next few weeks I would try everything possible to get someone to complain about the coffee, but no one did ... so I continued this service over that first year, and stayed sober.

I am convinced that the 3rd legacy of our program has
saved my life.

Over the years I have been secretary, chair, treasurer, Intergroup Rep, GSR and Westword (Calgary AA newspaper) editor.

During the first five months of my recovery, I went to meetings, did my service, and carried my Big Book everywhere I went. I didn't open it because no one told me to read it — just to get one. For those five months I practiced "MA" — Martin's Anonymous, which removed any step that had the word GOD, Higher Power, or Spirituality. About the only thing I did right during those five months was not take a drink.

In December, 2003, I was sent to Recovery Acres (1835 House), a men's treatment center in South Calgary. In that treatment center I learned humility, to ask for help and most importantly, to read the Big Book as it contains all the instructions for practicing the program of recovery. After completing my program and I returned to real life on January 1, 2004 —fully entered into the program of recovery in AA.

I would like to say that since leaving treatment, I have practiced this program perfectly, but I didn't. I work it to the best of my ability, making daily progress. I spent many days arguing with my sponsor about the "God" issue always looking for a "technical" answer. At one time he remarked that he had never seen someone too dumb to get recovery, but he had met a few that were "too smart" to recover and that I was possibly one of them. Ultimately I developed my own idea of a Higher Power and this was the last day that I had a conscious desire to have a drink. That is one of the many promises that are hidden throughout the Big Book.

It is now 2011 and I no longer work as an engineer, as I struggled with working in that career and staying sober. Deciding to do anything I needed to stay sober has meant changing everything in my life that wasn't working for me, and that turned out to include the career that I'd worked at for over half my life.

I started working first as a volunteer and then as an employee at the Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre. This fuels my passion for working on the front line with people in addiction. Life there was good and starting to get better, but I've since made still another move … hopefully my last. I met a lady in AA and we decided in 2007 to move to Bowen Island, which is where she started in her recovery. I now work at the treatment center that she came to.

Living on Bowen Island has offered me a lot of help in the "God" issue as I started to learn to sail. My Higher Power has morphed into nature over the years. (GOD is my acronym for "Great Out Doors.") Sailing allows me to get closer to my Higher Power through being on the water just about every day I don't work. A close friend who succumbed to this disease earlier this year once told me, "You can't control the wind, but you can adjust the angle of your sails." These words are as true for life as they are for sailing.

Life continues to happen, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes up, sometimes down, but it always changes. These days I continue to work my program to the best of my ability and try to have balance in my life. I work, continue to be active in AA, and sail any day that the weather and my time permits.

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