An aspect of my life that has been crucial to forming this version of myself that I don’t often talk about is being in recovery. In the program that I work, anonymity a founding principle, not because of shame nor stigma, but to avoid the conflation of recovery with any sense that the individual is entitled to full credit and thus, feed the ego.
That being said, recently, I was asked to tell my story. It got me thinking about the principle of carrying a message of recovery and in my former profession (journalism) there are many who were open about their own recovery in a humble fashion, the most notable I appreciate is the late David Carr. Many have written memoirs about their experiences of recovery, some to their detriment, some to be a source of experience, strength and hope for those struggling with their own recovery.
While my own story is as long as it is boring and tedious, in recent weeks, I’ve been reminded of practicing gratitude as an essential part of my program of recovery. Because when I start to forget that I’m not the center of the universe, I start to go back into old behaviors that leave me restless, irritable, discontent and most of all, angry. And for too many years, I was too angry and that hindered my progress in being a full human being.
The component of being grateful isn’t to marginalize or dismiss any actual challenges I face in my life, but it’s to help me understand the fullness of the journey I’ve made this far. There’s a saying that has always stuck with me, “It doesn’t matter how far down the road I go, I’m still three feet from the ditch.” It’s meant to keep us humble, knowing that life is a tricky exercise, always ongoing, always challenging and always fraught with the potential to search for instant gratification.
Sobriety as it’s regarded in programs of recovery has changed my life for the better. For many years, I was angry, bitter and resentful. I was angry at god for putting me through what I considered constant and unfair challenges: making me brown in a society that lives in the supremacy of whiteness; making me gay in a world that doesn’t even begin to fathom the arbitrariness of the sexual or gender binary; and making me believe in a god that would allow contradiction. I was bitter that because of my skin color, my culture, my faith, my body size, I would always be considered less than equal in the gay community. I was resentful that my brain worked differently from others, constantly wanting love and affection from people who didn’t respect me as a human being; and resentful that at such a young age, the family I loved fell apart around me.
In these last few years, I have experienced a change in my life that helps me to understand that all my anger, bitterness and resentment only ever hurt me. Sobriety has helped me to understand that I am not at the center of the universe and that I’m not even at the center of my own universe. I’ve come to accept that in order to be free of all these, I have to accept that life happens as it’s going to, that I have no control, nor should I seek to control people, places and things around me. I’m no longer the most important person in the world and that has helped me to be there for my dying mother, wipe the tears of my nephews and nieces and to be present for my friends as they go through their challenges: it’s no longer about me, it’s about other people.
Of course, my daily experiences are nowhere near that level of spiritual cognizance. Most days, I’m working under low lights, waiting for the next bright flash to happen. I have my challenges in sobriety, just like anyone else. When my sponsor relapsed this summer and then, a good friend this winter, I knew what was happening, the missed calls, the midnight texts, the proclamations of love, the last-minute cancellations with convoluted excuses and outright lies. It took all I had not to break down and to join with them in their sorrow, wanting to share with them in their misery.
But there in was how sobriety had helped me to understand that I am only as useful to god and to other human beings as I can be because my program helps me to understand people, places and things in their complications. Sobriety has helped me to understand that no one and nothing is wholly righteous or wholly evil. We all exist in modes of complexity that are both confounding and miraculous at the same time.
At my lowest points, I will spend days at a time with only myself and god. I ask god why I am the way I am and why things are the way they are. And god never answers, truth be told, god’s days of angels and burning bushes are so far behind us that to seek those answers are foolish. These days, when god speaks, it speaks in action, in demonstration and in opening doors where only I had seen walls before. It shows me that without action, my best thinking, my best prayer and my best intentions are meaningless.
Because my old behavior is to indulge my resentment, my anger and my bitterness, I work my recovery again. I meet new people, I make new friends and I strengthen the bonds between the people who honestly care about me. And in those actions of connecting and reconnecting, I am put into a place of joy and reminded that while I’m not the center of the universe, I don’t need to be, because in recovery, others are more important and when I hurt, I trust that god (as I understand god) will not let me wither away or sink too far into despair.
This world is full of hatred, anger and rage. As human beings, when we succumb to our darkness, we do more damage to one another than anything in nature ever could. But when we open the door to one another in hope and love, we can do far more good for one another. Because truth be told, all we ever have is the day in which we currently exist. There’s no justice in rehashing the past and there’s no security in making grandiose plans for the future, there’s only today and the people in it who care for us and who strengthen us.
In recovery, I’ve come to appreciate living from day to day and being there for others when they call for me, just as I call for them. In recovery, I’ve found a place I belong from one moment to the next, free from worry and regret, free from anger, hate and remorse. In recovery, I’ve found love and it affirms me.