What Do You Want?

“The indispensable first step to getting the things you want in life is this: decide what you want.” Ben Stein

When I first began my journey in recovery, I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want in life. I had enough of the guilt and shame. I was over feeling foggy in the mornings and  depressed most of my day. Self-pity was my constant companion in my isolation. I was, as they say, sick and tired of being sick and tired.

My first decision upon arriving at recovery, was to get off this merry-go-round and stay off of it.  This journey into recovery has lead me to many other decisions. These decisions have created a new life, one that does bring me a great deal of happiness, joy and freedom.

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But I had to decide. I couldn’t stop my disease and continue to indulge it. I couldn’t continue consuming and be in recovery at the same time. Making a decision is choosing a door. It’s like you’re in a room with many doors and you’re weighing the pros and cons of each possible door. Staying in the room is not an option: not making a decision is also a decision. If I stay in my indecision of addiction, I am deciding for addiction. Not making a decision is deciding to maintain the status quo. I can’t move forward and stay in the same place. In order to change, I had to decide to change.

Making a decision is walking through a door, closing it behind you and moving forward. It eliminates all of the other possibilities that were available. At first I was frightened. What if I made the wrong decision? What if things don’t turn out the way I think they should? This could all turn out to be a disaster! Or so I thought.

At the moment of my decision, any door would have been an improvement over where I was: stewing in my own filth. I am learning that there are no wrong doors to choose. Each possibility comes with it’s own set of promises and challenges. Each provides an opportunity to learn and grow in life. My decision to open the door to recovery has allowed me to get to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, my character defects and my attributes. I am no longer stuck; I am moving and growing.

My recovery program allows me to know who I am and where I want to go in life. Every day I am presented with options. I now weigh these options as to whether or not they are moving me toward fulfilling my goals and decide for or against these options. Yes, sometimes my choice could have been wiser. Sometimes I am lead off course. Sometimes I find pain and other times I discovery pleasure. But knowing where I want to go in life allows me to steer toward that goal. Regardless of what happens,  I am learning.

And it all started with a decision.

Terminally Unique

I, like many others who arrive at the doors of recovery rooms, was suffering from a belief that went far beyond my addiction and was at the root of what was killing me. It was a belief that went deep and in many ways was the source of all of the problems that I was encountering in life. I arrived with the disease of ‘Terminal Uniqueness’.

I thought that I was unique. I believed that I was different. I knew that no one else had the challenges that I faced. I was convinced that if anyone else had been bombarded by the set of circumstances that I found myself in, they too would have found a way to escape this prison by over indulging in some sort of ‘medication’ to treat this disease.

Of course I ended up in recovery. I was sure I was the only white, gay, ex-catholic, male, farm boy from Southern Ontario that had ever been born. I had some lower back pain issues. I had a partner who didn’t understand me. I was depressed. I felt I was powerless over my situation and so, of course, I deserved some compensation for all of these difficulties. Getting loaded was my way of dealing with all of those things. I needed some relief from all of the things that were constantly prodding at my mind.

It took going through the Twelve Steps of recovery to allow me to see that I wasn’t ‘unique’ or ‘different’. I came to see that my ‘terminal uniqueness’ was another deadly form of Ego disease. I realized that I hadn’t accepted the package that made me who I was. Thinking I was different was my ego telling me to run away from all that I was instead of embracing it. My problems weren’t connected to my sexuality, my religion, or my environment. My problem was me and my solution was acceptance.

Recovery has helped me to face myself honestly, without judgement and without expectation. I have a garden variety addiction. My story is very similar to the stories of the other folks around the meeting tables. Some dove deeper into their addiction than I did but the result was the same and here we all sit. I learned to dig below the surface to see my past for what it was.  I learned to accept my story, my past. I learned to embrace the person I was discovering, perhaps for the first time.

Today I focus on gratitude. I am learning to be grateful that I have all of those qualities that I had been running away from. I have come to understand that I can’t change my past or those qualities, nor to I want to. They are part of my make-up and they are something to celebrate rather than escape from. My ego is a bit tamer these days. Oh, I still fall into the trap of thinking that I can’t make it through whatever I am going through. But, I have survived every challenge that has ever come my way. How do I know? I am still here.

I have learned that accepting what happens as ‘life’, makes it neither positive or negative. I live my life on life’s terms, not mine and that allows me to remember that I can and will make it through.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

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Acceptance is the Starting Point

In my addiction I would often scold myself and tell myself when I came to in the morning that I wouldn’t do that ever again. But by noon, all bets were off; my head was clearer(?) and I could tell myself with just enough conviction that it wasn’t that bad and I would do better today. Of course, during the last few months of active addiction, there was no morning regret. I had no dignity. I had little emotion. I had but one goal: the continual desire to seek and find oblivion.

I knew before I arrived at my first recovery meeting that I needed help. I just couldn’t stop on my own any more. I figured that if I could use the meeting to keep my head on straight for one day, then perhaps I could quit for longer. I thought that I just needed that push to get me up onto the ‘wagon’ and I would be able to handle it by myself.  After all I had quit on my own in the past for fairly long periods of time. I could lick this on my own.

A member of the group invited me to return to the meeting the next day and since I wasn’t doing much of anything and perhaps because no one really wanted me around any way, I took her up on the offer. And I kept going back. I started reading Twelve Step literature. I started counting my clean and sober days. Time in the program because important to me. I always chased the gold star in school; now I was chasing the 30-day chip, then two month and so on. I stayed. I began to work the steps and my life began to change.

Why did this work for me? I think that when I came into the program I was finally ready to accept that I was powerless and that I needed help. I was ready to surrender. My acceptance of the situation that I found myself in (and which I know was of my own making) became the jumping off point into recovery. The evidence of my addiction was before me. I could no longer deny it. I couldn’t pass it off as a bad night or a difficult week. There just wasn’t an end to what I was going through. Once any of us decide that we have hit our bottom, then we can start moving forward again.

I’ve learned since I’ve been in Recovery that what I resist will persist. As long as I was resisting my disease, fighting it, not acknowledging it, I was giving it the upper hand. The heroin addict, the compulsive gambler or the two liter a day alcoholic are doing the same thing: fighting against the facts, denying that they have a disease which keeps them in their addiction. Admission and acceptance are the foundation of  recovery. Once I accept, I’m saying to myself that there’s nowhere else to go. I have to deal with the situation or it is not going to change. Acceptance of the situation made me willing to do the work to move forward.

And I am learning that this applies to all situations in life. Once I accept a that I cannot control persons, places or things, then I can work on the one thing that I can control: ME.

I am grateful.

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