On April 5, 1999, I surrendered for the last time. I spent that first week on my parents’ couch. A friend drove me, on a weeknight, from Yorktown Heights, NY all the way out to Commack on Long Island. He was coming from Nyack. That was quite a trip for him. This was an early lesson – this is what we do for each other. We drop everything and help another addict / alcoholic. Nothing is more important, and nothing is more sacred. Nowadays when someone calls me for help with their addiction, I show up. Anything else gets canceled, or otherwise pushed aside. People were there for me when I needed it, so I make sure I am there for them.
Today it is exactly 17 years since I got my first day clean, for the last time, so far. People want to know how I did it. You’re not going to like my answer. I did it one day at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time. I can’t be too much more specific than that, without going into a lot of detail.
First I had to get clear of the drugs and alcohol. Then I had to learn to live my life without them. It didn’t happen overnight, and it certainly wasn’t going to come undone overnight.
Willpower has nothing to do with it. I’ve had conversations with people, who have no experience with this. They tell me that when I had enough willpower, I finally stopped. They’re ignorant. From a “normal person’s” standpoint I’m sure it looks like that.
The intake nurse at my first rehab, asked me if I believed this was a disease. I said,
“Absolutely not! It was my choice to put the stuff in my system. I did this to myself.”
The nurse replied by asking me a question.
The nurse: “How many of your friends partied like you in high school, and college etc…?”
Me: “Too many to count”
Nurse: “And how many of them wound up where you’re sitting right now?”
Me: “None, as far as I know.”
It sort of made sense, but I still wasn’t buying it. I thought it was just a cop out. Just a way for people to say they couldn’t help it.
The thing is, we learn that we couldn’t control it – that by the time we realized it was a problem, it was too late to do something about it. It’s not a cop-out, because it doesn’t excuse us from accountability for our actions. It helps explain things that we otherwise could not account for.
It’s like an allergy – some people can drink, and do drugs, and at a certain point, they know they have to stop, because they have to go to work the next day. Those people can stop, when they really need to.
Not me. I couldn’t stop, even when I wanted to. I react differently than “normal people.”
Once I take the first one, a physical craving kicks in. Then I have to keep going. No matter how aware I am, that I need to stop, I can’t. I remember driving down the freeway on the way to pick up, and telling myself, out loud, in my car, that I needed to turn the car around and go home. I was that conscious of it, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I’m a smart guy. I think most people who know me these days would attest to that. All of that intelligence was insufficient to stop me, when I needed to most.
So why, when I did manage to stop for a couple of weeks, would I take the first one?
This is after doing it for years, and knowing full well what would happen, once I did. What on earth would drive a guy as intelligent as me, to take that first one, stone cold sober? You’ve heard the expression that insanity is doing the same thing, and expecting different results? How about doing the same thing, knowing full well, what will happen, and doing it anyway?
This is the mental obsession. An obsession is a thought that crowds out all other thoughts. Once I would start thinking about getting high, that would quickly turn into an obsession. At that point, nothing will get in between me and the next hit.
I needed to have this obsession removed, but I had no idea how. I didn’t even know I had it. I thought I was just weak. A loser, who lacked willpower!
This is from the very first paragraph, of the very fist step, in the approved AA literature, called, “12 Steps and 12 Traditions:
WHO cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of providence can remove it from us.
It was only when I was finally, and truly hopeless, that I was ready to accept this. I had to look up the word providence. We’re talking about an act of G-d. This may scare some people off. It may help to know that we define this, in the rooms of recovery, as simply a power greater than any human power. Oh and it can’t be YOU! You can choose your own conception of G-d. If you do have religious inclinations, that will certainly work too. We are not a religious program. We’re spiritual.
I did eventually have the obsession removed. Further on from that, I realized I reached a point, where I would not have it, even if you told me I could do it safely. If medical science came up with a pill, that enabled addicts to drink and use, but stop when they wanted to, I would still have no interest. My life is just too good without it. I used to desperately need it. Now I have absolutely no use for it.
Welcome to the first post in another column on SethDavid.com. This is my life. This is my journey. My only hope is to learn, so I can teach, and inspire others.
You can post your comments, and ask me anything you want. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an open book.