My Knuckles Are White and I'm 18 Months Clean And Sober
I’m a 36 year old, Native American male and I’ve been off drugs and alcohol for 18 months. I stopped drinking October 9, 2018. I’ve done the majority of my work in recovery outside of any 12-Step Program. I personally do see 12-Step Programs as problematic for a variety of reasons that I think should be obvious to the average person in recovery, but these reasons seem to be missed by the greater bit of society, those outside of recovery; who keep encouraging us to go to 12-step meetings. The majority of my work has been done with the aid of a competent therapist, using one-on-one talk therapy and art therapy modalities; but admitting that I had mental health issues is the only reason therapy worked for me.
When I first quit drinking and taking drugs, after a particularly bad weekend. I stopped fairly abruptly, the area around my liver was tender and sore, I could barely walk when I sobered up, and I had the classic withdrawal symptoms of insomnia, cold sweats, heavy anxiety, and severe nausea. I managed to nurse myself back to health by eating a lot of spaghetti and meatballs and drinking spinach blended with orange juice and a ton of water. It took about three days before I felt comfortable enough to leave my home.
The next day was Friday and I did attend an AA meeting after going to dinner with a family member who was supportive in my decision to quit drinking. The meeting was at this huge Unification Church. The meeting itself was basically the same meeting I was to attend for the next 90 days. Every person reiterated that the 12-Steps were the only thing that works, which is not true; and there were a lot of corny, cliché thought-killing statements being tossed around about “stinking thinking” and “miracles”. I think it’s impossible for a true skeptic to walk into a 12-Step meeting without noticing the irrationality being pushed on everybody.
I did give it a shot, I got a sponsor and attended one meeting a day. My first meeting with my sponsor resulted in a debate, which ended with him telling me to be more open-minded because I disagreed with the lengthy description his book gave of the character of an alcoholic. Actually, I just didn’t see myself in that description, at least not entirely. I never stole from anybody or cheated on a partner for example, neither was I verbally abusive or spiritually sick. I laughed when he insisted that I had an allergy to alcohol. These are outdated concepts, not rooted in any hard science, which were in fashion in the 1930s. This is ultimately why I left the program after 90 days, because of dogma. I’ve lived my life constantly revising and updating my attitudes on a variety of subjects to fit new evidence and new developments, that is something that you do not do in a 12-Step program. I couldn’t ever get past that lack of rationality in the 12-Steps, and that’s not a negative reflection on my character, or on my recovery, that doesn’t make me a dry drunk.
I left the program after a particularly bad meeting where something I said was misconstrued as making a joke about depression. I briefly shared about attending a philosophy discussion where one of the attendees constantly talked about his depression in the context of Camus and it was the first time I felt like drinking in weeks. That’s what I shared about and it was a joke unrelated to the 12-Steps and somebody who wasn’t paying attention thought I was talking about one of them and then a game of telephone ensued and I left feeling so awful, because people were sharing and speaking and just staring me down as words like “you shouldn’t make light of suicide” poured out of their mouths. A friend in the program let me know afterwards that was a particularly bad meeting and he hadn’t seen anything like that in 20 years in sobriety, he apologized that had happened and tried to get me to go to another meeting and I didn’t. That was a little over 15 months ago and I haven’t looked back.
I immediately tackled sobriety with the aid of my therapist. We treated it as a process of healing and positive growth. We did deep work on my family, reflecting on my broken relationships with my sister and father and mother, and I eventually came to terms with the fact I wouldn’t be able to talk to any of them as long as they were still emotionally abusive alcoholics themselves, and most importantly, we worked on accepting that their abusive behaviors weren’t my fault. Eventually, I was able to forgive and forget my family, as strange as it might sound to most people to go through life without a family, that’s what I was doing for nearly a decade before I quit drinking, the difference is that I now understand why I have to do that, what I can do to not perpetuate their behaviors and how I can take responsibility for my own actions towards others.
As I did this deep work in therapy, I also poured myself into my artwork, creating over 300 pieces so far in recovery; canvases, collages, drawings, wooden sculptures, assemblages, video art, and music. Each burst of work deals with specific issues in my life and is relevant to my recovery, but it’s stripped of specifics in an attempt to make it more universal for all of us, whether we are sober, young or old, Caucasian or Native American, or anywhere else on the spectrum of diversity.
I took my physical health very seriously, which was important. I stretched in the morning and I ate balanced meals; lots of spinach and kale, lean protein and complex carbohydrates. I worked out 4 to 6 times per week. I trained like a bodybuilder, then trained like a powerlifter and now that the CV-19 Pandemic has closed the gyms, I train with bodyweight exercises at home. My blood pressure is the lowest it’s been in close to a decade. My liver functions are normal, my doctor says I am doing good and he has encouraged me to keep up the work. I appreciate the physical aspects of recovery because the metrics are so tangible, you either are healthy, or you aren’t healthy. It’s as simple as that.
I do integrate spirituality in the form of prayer and meditation into my recovery, and that’s rather personal, but what I can say, and this is the key to recovery, in my opinion, whether you do a 12-Step program or see a therapist or go to HARMS or anything else, it’s about having faith in your ability to recover. Asking god for help during prayer, or meditating and clearing your mind in order to find that center inside yourself, whatever it takes, that is something that will enable you to move forward.
These specific things are essentially how I’ve managed for 18 months and how I plan on moving forward from here on. Sure, relapse could happen, but I think worrying about relapse is more harmful than just living in the moment and enjoying life clean and sober. For anybody who has read this, and maybe is having doubts they can manage without a 12-Step program, I just want you to know that you can do it, you just really have to want to do it. You are not powerless unless you believe you are, and as long as you put in the work, consult with a therapist and work on being healthy and changing the direction of your life, it’s completely possible. Admit where you’ve been wrong, admit why you drank alcohol, admit why you got high, and move forward from there, working on those specific things and getting past them. Make a personal growth bucket list and start checking off one item per week, and in one year you won’t want to drink or take drugs. Take an inventory of the things you’ve accomplished, the things you’ve changed, at 90 days, at 120 days, 150 days, 180 days, one year, 18 months and two years. Write down what you’ve done and put it next to your bathroom mirror, next to your bed or on your fridge, you’ll see it and know that you have moved forward and can continue to move forward.