By Patrick Hensley
My favorite method of explaining a topic or concept from my experience in recovery is through stories. One story that comes to mind was my first “ah ha” moment in the program. The long and short of it revolves around how freaked out I was when I first got to rehab, and all I could hear when anyone spoke or gave any sort of lecture was, “You can NEVER drink again”. That was a strange thing to think about, and I could not really wrap my head around it. NEVER?? Like, EVER EVER? It put my brain on “tilt”, just imagining NEVER drinking again. I was very scared and freaked out about this notion of never drinking again. I simply couldn’t imagine life without alcohol EVER AGAIN. This idea consumed my thoughts and permeated my psyche.
I was basically walking around like a zombie for the first three days I was in rehab until one of the staff members finally noticed how lost and puzzled I was and pulled me aside to have a talk. He began by telling me about some of his experiences with addiction, and after filling me in on a couple of episodes from his using days, and convincing me that he was qualified to be there, he asked me about my drinking. I told him about my favorite drink of the day. Before work, I would pour a liter of tequila into a wide mouth styrofoam cup and would leave it on the counter next to the front door, so it would be ready and waiting for me when I got home from work. The moment I would walk in the door, I would put my sunglasses, keys, and wallet into a little tray on the stand, and would grab my liter of tequila and go bottoms up on the big large-mouth cup chugging the whole thing down before slamming the cup back on the counter with a long and audible exhalation breath; sensing my shoulders drop five or six inches, at least, as my body felt the release that came with the drink.
I went on to explain how that was my favorite moment, that moment when everything slowed down for a moment and everything was right with the world. The battle of epic proportions in my head would just stop for a bit, and the hamster wheel flying at 2000 rpm would finally slow down and stop. The moment I explained this to the staff member, he stopped me abruptly and said, “Hey, you know that feeling you just described? I can show you how to feel that way without drinking!” And then it dawned on me, I wasn’t addicted to a brown liquid in a glass bottle that said Tequila on it, I was addicted to how it made me FEEL. I wasn’t scared out of my wits thinking I’ll never get to drink again; I was scared thinking I was never going to get to FEEL that way again. So, when this guy looked me in the eyes and told me he could show me how to FEEL that way WITHOUT drinking, I felt my very first glimmer of hope and it turns out he was right!
I had an early dislike of the steps and all the chores that were suddenly added to my already busy plate. I just wanted to quit drinking. I didn’t want to have to get a giant list of chores added to my daily routine every day. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of waking up earlier than usual to pray and meditate. I also wasn’t thrilled about the idea that each night before I went to sleep, I would have to spend thirty minutes writing a bunch of daily inventory. Lastly, I wasn’t super happy about the chore that involved me having to stop and pray and talk to another alcoholic every time I felt any resentment, selfishness, dishonesty, or fear throughout my day. But I had an experience in my first couple of weeks in sober living that changed everything.
I had this roommate named Ryan. Ryan was a gigantic beast of a guy and continually asked me to go to the gym with him. I despised the gym and told him he was high if he thought I would ever be caught dead in a gym. He kept bugging me about it every day and he just so happened to ask me to go with him on a day when my sponsor and I had just had a talk about being open to suggestions, and to try to be open to God’s will rather than always dictating with MY will. So, giving this some thought, I finally agreed to go to the gym with Ryan. And… it was exactly like I remembered. I hated it. I didn’t like being sore. I didn’t like having to get up earlier to fit it into my day and adding another shower to my day. I didn’t like how it smelled. I didn’t like all the people in there taking selfies. Just didn’t like it.
On the day of my 9th workout I got home from the gym, took a shower, and as I was walking past the mirror as I was drying off, I saw a tiny itty-bitty miniscule little bump on the back of my arm that wasn’t there before. I started looking on my other arm to see if the same bump was there and it WAS! Then, I started flexing in the mirror excited to see even the very minimal results! Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get to the gym the next day. I was up before Ryan and couldn’t wait to get started.
So, what happened? One day I’m dreading going to the gym and look at it like a giant pain and suddenly less than 24 hours later, I’m excited and can’t wait to go??? A result, I saw a tiny result and it got me excited about the workout and excited about going to the gym. The same thing happened with my life in recovery. At first, I really disliked all the chores I had dumped on me that I had to address each and every day. But then, suddenly it happened. I saw a RESULT! After seeing that tiny little result, I couldn’t wait to pray and meditate the next day. I spent some EXTRA time writing my nightly inventory that next day. I “tenth-stepped” about twice as much as I did the day before. I was suddenly excited to be working this program of recovery because I could see that it was actually WORKING. And, suddenly this thing that I used to consider a chore, became a pleasure!!