My Miraculously Unmanageable Life In Recovery

By Christopher Dale 03/09/17

Sometimes my recovery has to catch up with my increasingly happy-yet-hectic life. 

Christopher Dale and his family.

Five-plus years into recovery, sobriety has showered me with blessings. In chronological order, highlights include a restored marriage, an executive-level career, a house in a nice neighborhood, an adorable rescue dog and, as of last March, an even more adorable son. Along the way, I've become an adult mentally and, physically, shed 45 pounds through the dual disciplines of diet and exercise.  

Recovery also has driven me to pursue my passion for writing, a God-given talent that I had, for fear of failure, cowardly shelved. In the past two-plus years, my long-silenced voice has filled pages upon pages, landing in prominent outlets like Salon, The Daily Beast and the NY Daily News, and lending to a regular blogging gig on this wonderful website. Few things are as reassuring as the validation of your self-proclaimed top talent.   

Considering where this journey started - as a lying, thieving, unemployable anathema of a drunk - the 12 steps and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous have, as the program promises, brought me life beyond my wildest dreams, insomuch as it has made me a responsible, productive and respectable citizen. That wasn't just unlikely a handful of years ago; it was, to me, impossible.   

In active addiction I was short on seemingly everything: patience, compassion, reason, money. Today, amid a full and fulfilling life, I find myself consistently running low on exactly one commodity: time.  

Am I grateful?  Of course – because the program works, and my life is worth it. But it's undeniable that I'm also rushed, inundated and frequently running on fumes. The combined demands of a family, career, healthy lifestyle and prolific über-hobby require efficient, high-functioning effort. I am simultaneously enthused and exhausted. 

But alcoholics, perhaps more so than "normies," have bad days that sprout seemingly out of nowhere. On such mornings, my smartphone alarm sounds like a bell calling boxers out for the 15th; I feel punch-drunk, prostrate and passionless for the demands of another three-minute round, let alone 14-hour day. 

One Man's Blessing... 

Whether part of my disease of addiction or just self-centered human nature run riot, one of my most glaring current character defects is an ingrate's ability to view beautiful blessings as onerous obligations.  

I guess one man's blessing is anoth-... oh wait, I'm just being an asshole. 

The day's descent starts, innocuously enough, with an otherwise minor annoyance getting amplified by my prickly perspective. Something small goes awry, my first reaction leans toward resentment, and I build a malignant mountain out of a benign molehill. Voila! I'm in dry drunk territory.  

Once there, my busy life becomes both culprit and enabler. Setbacks snowball and start bleeding into my next action in a day packed with next actions. Why foul up one thing when I can foul up a dozen, feeding my anger high with a pathetically self-centered me-vs.-the-world mindset?  

The whole day is one long simmer. I find myself perpetually toeing – and occasionally crossing – established lines of personal and professional decorum. Assertiveness becomes aggression. Confidence becomes arrogance. Courteous deflection becomes cantankerous dismissiveness.   

Simply put, I'm a jerk. Even worse, owing to my time in the program, I know I'm a jerk... I just don't care. There's a splash of vengeance in my venom – against not only the day's particular problems but the whole of the enlightened, elevated and altogether better way of living I've come to learn, incrementally, in AA. 

A Progress Paradox

Early in sobriety, progress can be measured mostly by clear "before and after" comparisons. Before, I would run to a drink; now I do not. Before, I would lie to avoid responsibility for my actions; today I am accountable. So on and so forth.

As we continue in sobriety, growth metrics get muddied. Comparing my five-years-sober self to my five-days-sober self is both unfair and unhelpful; my life now looks absolutely nothing like it did then. What worked five years ago provides very little practicable insight today. 

As my life in recovery has bestowed blessing upon blessing, it has carried me into uncharted waters that, though exciting to explore, are being navigated by a novice. As I push forward, I find myself juggling more and more firsts - gratifying yes, but also intimidating. It's akin to getting a fancy new gadget without an instruction manual; sometimes my recovery has to catch up with my increasingly happy-yet-hectic life. 

This being a program of action, a key facet of my recent recovery has been sharpening those tools most relevant to avoiding the riptides of an inundated life. In doing so, I am mindful that each responsibility I've absorbed into my existence has brought far more value than hassle, more satisfaction than struggle. My busy life has been, and continues to be, completely worth it. 

One skill I’ve been practicing is compartmentalization, which at first glance seems like the simplest seven-syllable word in the English language. It’s not. My concerted attempts to give each new experience a fresh slate, each new interaction a fair shake, and each new task its deserved attention are incomplete on good days, unacceptable on bad ones. Unlike the AA cliché of “starting your day over,” effective compartmentalization instills a reset button that gives each item due consideration. That takes practice rather than platitude.  

And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the extreme fortune of having a sponsor and inner circle of sober men in my life – people ahead of me on the path to true maturity who stand uniquely qualified to provide sound advice. Though I’m prone to poor ways of showing it, I am grateful that the same program and fellowship that has given me so much can be relied upon to handle, manage and ultimately appreciate these gifts. 

Christopher Dale is a freelance writer who frequently covers recovery-based issues. 

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Chris & Nicholas Dec 2017.JPG

Christopher Dale is a recovering alcoholic and freelance writer who frequently covers sobriety, parenting and politics. His work has appeared in Salon, The Daily Beast, New York Newsday and, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDaleWriter.