In the long haul of recovery, times come along when life’s day-to-day stressors feel overwhelming. There’s something chafing, some problem we can’t quite name. We’re still functioning okay, wearing all our hats, fulfilling our responsibilities – check! So frankly we don’t see the need to tell anybody we feel lonely, anxious, and discontent. Spiritual pride urges us to just wave away whatever’s up without bellyaching — we’ve survived far worse, after all. But if we slow down enough to look inward sincerely, maybe in Step 11, we can acknowledge a growing pain around our heart, an ache almost like a sore muscle.
Here’s the root of the problem: we’ve forgotten god. Living as societal pawns, we’ve unconsciously allowed the messages bombarding us — ads, media, faddish friends, and fluctuations of culture — to define what life’s all about. We’ve inadvertently immersed ourselves in a world of habit and conformity, as if the externals of people, places, and things were the whole story.
Whenever we do that, our reliance on god shrinks. And the instant god shrinks, our dis-ease takes up the slack. Alcoholism slinks up from the unconscious, from the brain stem where it’s holed up throughout recovery, and resumes the work of making us sick.
To personify alcoholism in this way makes sense only to those who have lived with a presence in their psyche that relentlessly urges self-destruction. It’s me, and yet it’s not me. Its goal is to separate me from life, to poison my perceptions so that I’ll begin to resent life in the old way: as an opponent, a bully. And what does it propose I brandish in response?
A drink. Many drinks. All the fuckin’-who-gives-a-shit drinks I damn well please. Because that mental twist in my brain, which has weirdly survived 22 years of abstinence, is ever primed to plunge me back into the endless hell of resolving absolutely not to drink today — except, hey! Let’s have a drink! (and another…)
At my home group recently, several people contrasted their strong connection to recovery during early sobriety with their current sense of detachment. Funny how early sobriety, one of the most excruciating gauntlets ever run, can be glossed over in the rose-colored glow of nostalgia! Nobody misses those early days of chemical and emotional withdrawal — the psychological equivalent of being dragged through an automated car wash naked with an all-over sunburn. Nope. What we so fondly recall is the free-falling dependence on god that was — in those difficult times — our sole choice.
Early sobriety is lived one day at a time. It’s a continuous process of abandoning our own will in favor of a faith that doing so — going to meetings when we don’t want to, calling a sponsor when it feels weird, praying when we don’t know what the fuck we’re praying to — will change us for the better.
And it does! Living by faith heals us to the point where we feel strong and useful, because people now value our opinions and trust us, so we have a new identity as a person with their shit together.
At this point, we begin to imagine our spiritual state is up to us. Positive self-will messages surround us, from motivating Facebook memes to the ingrained self-help assumptions of our bootstrap pulling society. Be happy: Abraham Lincoln once said — well, actually, no, he fucking didn’t! No record exists of Lincoln ever saying folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be, but our society’s all over the idea anyway because we’d love to believe happiness is just a light switch, an app. BING~!
In truth, happiness is an art. And like all arts, it requires cultivation. Much of that cultivation transpires in acknowledging and working through pain, discontent, and loneliness. It entails the Honesty to admit to myself and others that I’m hurting; the Open-mindedness to believe my feelings are not facts; and, most importantly, the Willingness to implore god to help me.
I must turn toward, not away from, the pain concealed beneath my nervous discontent. I have to wade into it. But let me caution, there are ways to wade and ways to wallow.
If I take the hand of ego to accompany me, we’re gonna camp out in that shit and throw us a big ole pity party. You know? We’re gonna bitch and complain and scratch that itch, because it’s all about me and it hurts soo good to be a victim!
But if I take the hand of god, we’re looking for the path through it – and only god knows the way! I sure as hell don’t, or I’d have taken it! Here’s where that early sobriety piece fits in: I have to get it that I am still as helpless in combating my pain as I was at the outset of this journey: I know only what I know, and it has brought me to this impasse. My vision of life, not life itself, has trapped me in discontent.
I need a miracle, yes, but a miracle can be simply a new way of seeing. What I think matters, where I’m heading, who I want to become — all these can be transformed with god’s guidance. I have found that, when I’m most uncomfortable, it’s often because I’m morphing.
My most kick-ass morph prayers (best preceded by meditation) go something like this:
God — I hurt. Please help me.
God — I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Please guide me.
God — This being human job is effing hard, I gotta say! Show me the point!
The change, the guidance, the point usually come down to some version of…
… yet it’s inexpressibly intimate between me and god. This is a point I wish to smash home on my readers: We loved and trusted booze. We were stoked to hang out with booze. Now, to thrive despite alcoholism, we have to become every bit that intimate with god, every day, every moment. God is love. Let it in.
Spiritual renewal is god’s work, not ours. To continue growing, we have to humbly admit defeat and seek god’s help, same as always. That’s choosing joy. That keeps us sober.
2 responses to “Long-term Sobriety: Always Seeking”
Thank you. Really been struggling lately at 2 1/2 years sober. Everything felt great in my relationships and job. I work with alcoholics everyday managing a sobriety home. Attend meetings regularly and have service positions. Saving money for my next move and all of a sudden I just hate everything. Every single thing I do now feels forced. I just want to quit my job and run away somewhere and live in a cave. The worst part is that I know I’ll hate that cave too. I’ll take this feeling with me wherever I go. I’ve talked with tons of people in the rooms and out of them about the way I feel. Got a lot of good advice, but nobody asked me how my relationship with God has been. I didn’t even notice that it’s non existent. I pray but I haven’t been working a third step at all. My prayers became a chore. I’ve been relying on myself to fix this feeling and that’s the problem. Somewhere along the line I put the world on my back. I need to rely on God. Thank you so much.
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Hi Dan – I’m so glad to hear from you and that this piece helped. (I need to get off my ass and write a post this weekend!) I just want to add that this pain – and it IS pain, with loss and grief for something underneath it – is a signal that you are ready to shed a skin, ready to grow. And the WAY you need to grow, IMO, is in sincerity with your god, with the degree to which you’re ready to lay yourself open and share your inmost pain with god. It’s a time to grow in sincerity with yourself, too – or you can’t achieve it with your god. What do you love? What do you really, really love about being alive? Conceive of it. Know that god powers it – pretty much IS it.
One other thing I’d recommend is to set up some time to go to a beautiful “cave” – alone. Arrange now for a week or even just a long weekend of solitude somewhere beautiful this summer – a cabin, a long hike – where you can drop your all that you carry, even loved ones, for a short time and remember who Dan is without them all.
Love to you! ❤