"Tear down this wall," President Ronald Reagan declared in 1987, referring to the barrier which divided East and West Berlin. I was 37 years old at that time. It would be nine more years until that wall between addiction and recovery was first removed for me and I found my first period of sobriety. I lost most of the '80's and '90's to alcohol, yet I never quite really sought recovery. Didn't even know what recovery was. That's not how addiction worked in my case. I did not choose sobriety. It seemed to be bestowed upon me - the gift I never wanted or ever sought. I lived then, barely alive, unable to choose. Addiction silently anesthetized me. Lost in emptiness, living in a vacuum, all desire erased without a trace, except, of course for the ever-present alcohol.
Passed out, picked up, stumbling in - every which way imaginable, I had found my way into the emergency room of the hospital. "Where am I?" Followed by... "How did I get in here?"
I was a blackout drinker, continuing to drink far beyond my capacity to form memories. One time, I found myself emerging from a blackout outside the emergency room. Dying from drinking, wanting another and wanting none in equal measure, stunned, stoned, undone. Really, simply, I was on my way out of this life. The only thing I could think to say once escorted inside that last first time was "This is not working."
Odd, isn't it, that wanting to drink and to not drink was an emergency? The desperation to survive equalled by this, the drink that was not there. I.... I was in the crosshairs. Positioning, aiming, measuring each step as I stumbled into the emergency room. Wanting to get sober so that I could then get drunk again. Properly. The way I used to. The way it could never be again. Addiction would not allow that. A blissful oblivion just another of addiction's illusions. No bliss. Just this... nothing.
I did not seek sobriety, per se, I simply did not want to feel that way of feeling nothing, depleted. Sobriety found me, it seemed. But remaining sober, to recover, would have to be earned. Walls would have to be destroyed, a foundation in recovery would need to be constructed. Windows, doors, bridges, opened, crossed. So much time would have to pass before my senses returned to me, before I could feel again.
Nothing to be lost. Everything to gain, but even that I did not know for a long time coming. My recovery was to be earned. Each and every day a little more productive. Many setbacks. Many outlooks changed. Perceptions rewired. Gratitude. Held gently, closely. Fears, slowly released.
Was relapse really ever anything more than surrender to addiction? Rest and Recuperation, the military slang. That about describes my early failed attempts at recovery. Getting well enough to return to battle with the drink. R & R. That was about it those first few failed attempts. Under the influence still stronger than my building resistance. Each small, seeming failure part of my eventual success.
I never did really choose sobriety, but eventually, I did choose recovery.
Yes... Sobriety is a Gift. Recovery is Earned.
The price of freedom from addiction is responsibility and all the work that that entails. The gift of sobriety was not mine to keep. Once given, I would have to work hard to keep it.
I did. I have. I am. I will.
Trudge on, fellow traveller. The road to recovery is at our feet. Trudge on.
As each difficult day on the road to recovery progressed, it became a little easier, the options open to me a little wider. I would have to escape addiction's bottleneck. Time takes time. Wounds heal slowly. Lessons are not lessons until they are learned and lived.
I started out wanting only to get sober enough to get drunk again. My recovery has been earned and I keep it close to me, much as an alcoholic in their cups might clutch the bottle closer, my recovery is close to me and me to it.
I feel a gratitude that multitudes of us now feel, sober and alive, clear-headed, moving forward, proud and humble in equal measure... changed.
"Nothing matters more than that we remain sober because when we remain sober everything matters more."
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