One of the very first things I learned in early sobriety was that I was consumed by fear. Fear has played a prominent role in my life since I was a child. However, it wasn't until I got sober that I learned how destructive this part of my personality had become.
Looking back now at those early days of sobriety, I’m amused by the fear and anxiety that plagued my mind every moment of every day. In the coming years, as I developed a new and healthier life in sobriety, I would learn many things that would help me on my journey in recovery.
I’ve been clean and sober since 2007 and continue to learn many things about myself and about life each and every day.
I have been blessed in my sobriety. I have grown in many ways, succeeded in some areas of my life, failed in others. I have had ups and downs, highs and lows, great achievements, and dismal disappointments. Through it all I have remained, and continue to remain, sober, mostly happy, and always curious to learn as much as I can about myself and life.
Perhaps most important of all, I have been blessed by meeting so many strong, interesting, and accomplished people over the years of my recovery. From them all I have had the privilege of accumulating a vast wealth of knowledge, insight, and wisdom from those who traveled the path of recovery before me. Without these people I honestly don't believe that I would have stayed sober as long as I have, nor had so many joyful and fulfilling experiences.
To all those that came before me, and to all those who have taught me so much, I want to say thank you. I am forever grateful for your guidance. Many of you didn't know that you were helping me, nor even know my name or that I was listening to every word that came from your mouth. Many of you are strangers, many of you are friends. But from all of you I have learned so much and remain humble and grateful that we crossed paths.
Over the last few years, I’ve written several books that focus on various aspects of addiction and sobriety. While there are many books written about how to get sober, there are not nearly as many books covering the topic of how to STAY sober. Generally speaking, that’s what my books and podcast are about – getting and STAYING sober!
Staying Sober Takes Work
Sobriety itself is a huge topic. Staying sober over many years takes hard work and dedication. My books focus on the various elements of life in recovery once we get sober. There are many parts of our lives that we never mastered because we were consumed by our addiction to alcohol or drugs.
They say when we get sober, we are emotionally and mentally the same age as when we began to drink alcoholically. In my case that means that I was approximately 12 years old emotionally and mentally when I got sober at the age of 43. In many ways I was completely underdeveloped and unprepared for living life on life’s terms. I was immature, self-indulgent, self-obsessed, selfish, arrogant, and frightened by life.
But one thing sobriety has taught me, and one of the most important lessons I've learned, is that it's never too late to change. Getting sober provided me with an opportunity to get a second chance at life. I had failed miserably up to this point. Now, as I began my sober journey, I discovered that if I was willing to open my mind and receive new information without prejudice, arrogance, or fear my life could and would grow in many positive directions.
There are so many things that all of us can learn as we travel the road of recovery. What I wish to share with you are many of the life lessons that I picked up along the way in my own sober travels. Most of all, I want to convey that life is filled with an abundance of wonderful, beautiful, and interesting lessons and adventures.
Second Chances in Life
I believe that during our lifetime most of us are given a second chance to repair most of the mistakes we’ve made or even start our lives over entirely.
As far as my story goes it’s quite clear to me that I was given a second chance in life, an opportunity to redo what I had so badly screwed up prior to getting sober. Prior to getting sober I lived a life that was self-absorbed and self-destructive. I indulged a weakness for alcohol and drugs to the point where I was destroying my health, my personal relationships, my finances, and any hopes of a successful future.
As stated, I began drinking at around the age of 12. by the age of 14 I had advanced to experimenting with hard drugs. My first love remained, however, alcohol. This was a love affair I would continue to indulge in for the next 30 years.
My story is in many ways like so many other alcoholics who I’ve spoken with throughout the years. While alcohol and drug experimentation were fun and exciting for a long time, I eventually crossed an invisible line into addiction. By the time I realized I was a full-blown alcoholic it seemed like it was too late to turn around and change the path of my life.
At a certain point many of us who struggle with addiction simply give up and give in to our self-destructive nature. I had accepted the idea that there was simply no way out of my predicament. I could not have been more wrong.
By the time I finally quit drinking, I was very sick physically, mentally, and spiritually. I held no illusions about what my life had become. And I held no hope for anything different or better in my life. I simply assumed life would continue forward as it had for so many years, lost in a haze of substance abuse, bad choices, lower companions, health problems, financial problems, and ruined relationships.
I have written extensively about my experience “in the trenches” in my previous books, most notably Polluted: My Sober Journey. Nonetheless, for the sake of clarification I will briefly share why and how I got sober.
In the last few years of my drinking, I was headed for an early grave. There had been several frightening incidents where I needed to go to the hospital for various issues relating to drinking. My personal and professional life was in ruins. I was unhealthy, unemployable, broke, depressed, and worst of all, hopeless.
In the final years of my addiction, I drank every day. It was not unusual for me to drink 3 bottles of wine, a pint of vodka, and a 6 pack of beer in a single evening. Quite often my drinking was accompanied by cocaine.
Every morning was a living nightmare. My body and brain hurt from the moment I woke up until I took my first drink around 4:00 PM each day. The daily cycle was the same from day-to-day, week to week, month to month. I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a scrappy neighborhood in Los Angeles. I constantly struggled to pay rent and often spent any money I had on alcohol, cocaine, and cigarettes rather than food.
This was how I lived my life for the last five years of my addiction. The last year was particularly gruesome, dark, and depressing. How I managed to survive and not succumb to my disease is attributable, in my opinion, only to the grace of a higher spiritual presence that was protecting me. I am amazed that I lived as long as I did. So many of my friends from those days did not survive and I often struggle with survivor’s guilt mixed with overwhelming gratitude.
My second chance began on December 9th, 2007. I was suffering with a horrendous, brain melting hangover. It was one of those hangovers that are so intense that you wonder if perhaps you’d be better off dead rather than experiencing the pounding headache and wretched nausea washing through your body.
I was driving through Los Angeles when I heard a radio program mention something about a 12-step program. It was during that moment that something was triggered within me. I can't explain why or how it happened, but I decided at that very moment that I was going to try to clean up my life and get sober. It was as simple and as sudden as that.
To clarify, I had tried to get clean numerous times in the past. I had tried everything from Buddhism and psychology, to doctor prescribed medication. I'd also tried self-will which got me nowhere. On several occasions I had gone to 12 step meetings, but they never seemed to work for me, and I quickly gave up.
On this day in 2007, however, I decided that I had only one choice left; I needed to cry out to God and ask for help.
At that stage in my life, I didn’t have much faith in God, but I was so desperate for relief that I was willing to try absolutely anything. So that's exactly what I did. I was not religious by any means, but I figured a church would be a good place to get started. So, I walked into the first church I could find. I didn't care what kind of church it was, I simply wanted to find a quiet, peaceful place to communicate with spirit. And there I fell to my knees, clasped my hands in front of me, and I begged for help.
For the record, I felt like a complete idiot asking for help from a God I wasn't even sure I believed in, inside a church that I didn't belong to. Weirdest of all, I was on my knees begging with my hands clenched tightly into fists of fear and rage.
It was, to say the least, one of the strangest moments of my life. But here's the funniest part of all; it worked!
For some reason that strange act of prayer lifted my spirit, cleared my mind, and gave me a sense of courage that I had never felt before. I immediately left the church and called a friend who was working on his sobriety and that night he took me to a 12-step meeting where I began my journey into sobriety.
Today I remain sober and hope and pray that I remain that way for the rest of my life.
I was given a second chance. You don't have to believe in God to recognize that a major (perhaps miraculous) transformation took place that day. Something changed dramatically. There was a significant shift in my psyche the moment I reached out for help. From that day forward nothing would ever be the same. I had begun a journey of growth and change that, even today, fills me with wonder and awe.
Because of the second chance I was given I have learned so much. And that's what I try to share in my books and podcast.
Never Stop Learning
I decided long ago to never stop learning, and I hope you do the same. One of the most enjoyable parts of being alive, and being sober, is the ability to constantly learn and grow. Otherwise, what's the point of being alive? Life is filled with many wonders. There is so much beauty to witness while we are here on earth. I beg of you to go through your own life filled with a hungry mind and a curious heart.
I have made many mistakes in my life. This is simply a part of being human. We make mistakes quite often, and sometimes. quite dramatically. What is most important is what we learn along the way. If we are willing to continuously learn and grow, it is inevitable that we will prosper and emerge more successful, happy, and strong.
Sobriety should be seen as a journey not a destination. It’s in your best interests to continuously learn and grow.
Many of the lessons I’ve learned through my own journey are shared in my books and podcast. Many of them I learned on my own through trial and error. Many others I learned from people I met along the way.
The important thing is that I continue to remain filled with gratitude and humility for all the gifts I've been given over the last 15 years of my recovery. As I move forward into the future, I hope to never, ever, give up my thirst for learning.
The sober life is a very curious thing. If you’re considering trying sobriety, or you’re already sober, I hope that you find it as interesting and inspiring as I do.
For information on sober coaching and guidance visit: https://www.sobrietycoachdirk.com/