Step 4 “Made a searching fearless moral inventory of ourselves” might sound like a lot the first time we glance at it. So if tried to loosely identify it, what we’d have is we need to do the work of looking into our own mistakes and denial to see what was wrong and what was right. It could be a tedious scary task, and we’ll have to face our fears and resentments, before and during our addiction, but we need to get on with it nevertheless, because not taking care of this baggage we’ve accumulated through the years this could cost us our sanity, sobriety, and the good life ever after.
If we chose recovery from addictive and destructive behavior, primarily substance abuse, by the time we are to do Step 4 we’ve got to be quite sick puppies. This step is a great opportunity to face all the break-downs, anger, fear, misunderstandings that we have collected up to this point.
I want to specify that we’d be looking not only into what went wrong during our abuse of substance. It is very important to keep in mind that we need to look into our childhood and youth as well. Lots of things that have happened to us in the early life could (and would) affect us to start using/drinking.
Addiction is always an escape – from pain, frustration, responsibility, confusion, loss… We need to face the painful experiences, resentments, and fears of the past to live on healthily. Therefore we need to look deeper. Being abused and abandoned by parents, relatives, classmates, friends, – all this happens often and sets up a foundation for a fragmented life. Don’t forget to include these on your Step 4 inventory list.
Resentments. AA book says that resentment is a number one killer for an alcoholic, and it is true as well for any addict out there. We make resentments easily – things don’t go the way we want it and since we have a problem with accepting people the way they are and accepting life on its own terms, we tend to have a constant conflict with reality.
Like all people around the world, we get agitated, frustrated, hurt, confused. And like all people we sometimes get hurt by people where we cannot see how that could possibly be our fault; that we did nothing to cause such action. But perhaps not like all people we react in a very different way. Instead of trying to find out what happen, we crawl into a shell of our inner comfort and sit there, reliving the pain, nurturing the sense of hurt. The more we keep the anger and frustration around, the more it grows. It is no longer just an emotion that we can easily brush off. It keeps coming back and each time it kicks us harder.
I remember having a relationship with one girl. We’ve been together for several months and each time we had a conflict we had to bring up to light all the other problems we had before, all the nitpicking and little conflicts. We never spoke out a solution, but we kept bringing to life the problems we thought we’ve buried. So our conversations would last for hours and by the time we were done talking them all out, we’d be exhausted and would decide to bury the hatched and start anew. And next time we’d argue, we would bring all of that trash back.
It is similar with resentments in which we dwell alone. These are the pains, rumors, hearsays even, that we don’t let go. They bloom like poisonous plants and they hurt us more. It is insane, really, to keep going through these, because we don’t let it out, and so we keep going in circles. There is no way out if we try to solve this riddle on our own. That’s why we do Step 5 with another person, for they can give us expertise on what might have really happened. So for Step 5 to go well, you need to prepare Step 4 – keep the list clear, write down everything you can come up with.
Recalling could be painful, that’s why we have to do the “fearless” inventory. Some things we wish we never did. We hope we could just have it swept under the carpet. Often we are terrified of treating someone the way we did. We are ashamed that we couldn’t take better care of ourselves. We are also terrified to look back into the times when others hurt us, stole from us, left us alone, betrayed our trust. Those experiences, all of them, hurt us and we don’t want to relieve some of them. We wish we would never go back to face them.
If we are still afraid of doing Step 4 because of these reasons, we should remember that we didn’t create the addiction to come into our lives and mess with us. It is something as externally created as flu or cancer diseases. We didn’t make it. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for what we’ve done. It is now that we are aware of how things work with addicts and have to act on it accordingly. Back at the time we were active in our we clearly didn’t realize what we were doing and we have to remember that.
Also, we shouldn’t forget that if we never were addicts and didn’t find help and didn’t, consequently, achieve sobriety, didn’t recover, we would never know true serenity. We wouldn’t know that the people that seemed to be marching straight into jail or being dragged into a mad house had a chance to re-establish their lives in the positive manner. If we weren’t sick, we wouldn’t work hard to recover and we would never come to contact with our Higher Power and find balance in life. We would never see what our lives were and are, and we would never see the true nature of things and how we should act toward life in general in the new light of day. What you have by doing Step 4 is going through not-so-fun experience toward a better healthier and sane living.
Remember the Buddhist approach to living – pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Our drinking and drugging days and years were terrible, but we’ve had them for a reason – so that we’d learn from that experience and try to make our future life better for ourselves and others.
So we have to be brave. Brave doesn’t mean we don’t have fear. It means that we have to go anyway, because this needs to be done with. Otherwise we’ll carry all this trash onwards and let our past terrors keep haunting us. We cannot build clean and sober happy living on the rotten foundation. We need to do some fixing.
When I did my Step 4 first time it took me about half a year of procrastination. I am usually very good with procrastination (I mean, I am the Master of it, don’t try to outdo me!) I guess I didn’t want to do the work. But my sponsor was persisting and kept kicking my butt so we did what he called the detailed Big Book study and doing Step 4 was part of it.
“We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p.66)
Doing Step 4 is making a careful inventory of our life foundation. Like AA book proposes it, you’re basically checking your storage, again, and seeing what can stay and what is past due date. Some things might actually work, but at first sight they look bad. If this sounds confusing, it will be cleared out for you by doing Step 5. I’ll just say that when I sat down with my AA guide/sponsor for the first time to do my Step 5, he showed me that some things that I did were the good things, that I felt for people, and wished them good, trying to be there for them but it appeared that I was the one to be blamed. If we are confused about what really happened and it keeps bugging us, these things certainly should be on our list.
My sponsor gave me special sheets that were lined and marked for all different things we’d be looking at while doing the Inventory. It had sections for fear, for resentments, sex life issues, etc. I needed to fill those ones out to be ready for Step 5. Those two steps are interdependent. You can’t do Five without the Four, but I was impatient, actually, to do Five right after Four was complete, because I realized the need to do it, and I was ready to let go off all that junk I’ve looked through.
Step Four requires us to list people, institutions, and principles with whom we were angry (AA, p.64) My Step 4 list was very small first, maybe 20 items. My explanation for that was that my later years of heavy drinking didn’t involve many people. I usually would drink on my own at home and wouldn’t go out a lot. I didn’t have many friends and my private life wasn’t very rich. And still my sponsor kept pushing me into looking at who else could I be angry at, and who I could’ve had a biff with. So I looked farther and realized that I was angry not just at my parents, girlfriends, employers, and friends, but also at God, bus drivers, telemarketers, kids, dogs, false state of democracy, my physical health limitations, etc. My eyes were bulging as I kept writing all of these out, but my sponsor encouraged me to put all of it on the paper. Writing out these things helps a lot.
Speaking of writing. I must warn you that doing Step 4 has nothing to do with journaling. I love journaling, and keep telling people that it is one of the best things that we can do to keep our recovery healthy. Journaling prevents issues from growing into resentments. Journaling lets you vent in a safe manner, and it also helps you see what you’ve got on your mind. Journaling helps you organize your thoughts. It helps you to recall things and come up with new ideas you never thought you had. It is all great stuff. But when you do your Step 4 you need to keep things concise. Keep just necessary stuff, write it out in short form/bullet form. Otherwise it will take a long time writing all of these out and then take you and your Step 5 partner days to deal with that stuff.
So writing out a lot helps a lot, as long as we don’t force it on others. Once we listed the behaviors we weren’t proud of, we can analyze them and see why we possibly could behave like that, how they damaged others, and how we could have behaved instead, and how we are to behave in the future. “We have begun to learn tolerance, patience, and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.” (AA, p.70) If we are truly sorry for what we’ve done, and we are ready to do the utmost to fix the broken, we are going to be OK. We should consider praying about it, to become better people and be of service to those we’ve left hurt.
Step 4 might feel like a nuisance in the beginning, even for a while in the process, but in the end it is a large step in the process of liberation, of spirit, mind, and eventually body. Recovery is a journey, and not all roads are clean and neat and easy to walk. I heard this at a meeting last weekend: a plaque on the wall in a hospital said “the recovery elevator is broken and you have to take the stairs.” But it is all worth it in the end. First of all, you know you and nobody else accomplished it and you deserve the good you are working for. You made an effort. That always counts for something. Secondly, you are working toward something good that cannot be easily lost or broken.
This poem is the message for those who I often run into. But it is also for me. For I am not perfect… and sometimes I forget.
You speak to me and tell me how to live,
But do you have no idea of who I am?
You don’t know where I came from
And how long I’ve been around.
You don’t know about my pains, tribulations, and joy.
You weren’t there when I was losing my mind.
You weren’t there when I was searching for myself.
You haven’t seen yet what I am,
And yet you have a nerve
To get in my face and tell me
What I better do and how I should live.
Have a wonderful day… somewhere else.
So I watched this movie called Seed of Chucky which besides being a good horror, also made me laugh quite a bit, because of the way it presents the Twelve Steps, believe it or not. I could get angry, I suppose, but I laughed all the way through and had a good time. Among other things, there was a great scene which made me think of writing about “how not to do Step Nine.”
In the movie Tiffany contemplates on having a little problem. She is a doll, possessed by a soul of a human. Thanks to some revenge/jealousy issues she got involved in a witch ritual gone wrong and now lives as a doll, just like her lover from the past who is a doll too now. His name is Chucky and in the past he was a sorcerer Charles Lee Ray. Both Tiffany and Charles used to love spilling blood of the others and they brought their passion for killing into their doll lives.
“I am Chucky – the killer doll! And I dig it!”
Strangely enough their re-connection in different shape and form doesn’t stop them from having children. But hey, it’s a horror movie, so anything’s possible! Their child Glenn (sometimes Glenda) is terrified with his (her) parents being so brutal. So Tiffany decides to mend her ways. While Chucky refuses (“I’ve got no problem with killing! … I am not ashamed to be a killer. It’s not an addiction – it is a choice!”), Tiffany thinks she needs to control her urge to murder.
She picks up a self-help book and reads about beating an addictive and compulsive behavior! One of the first things she pays attention to is Step Nine, making amends. So she phones someone and says to the person on the other end something to the effect of “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve murdered your husband ten years ago. I want to tell you that I am so, so sorry!” When the other person starts screaming and sobbing, Tiffany hangs up and says she is feeling much better.
I watched it and laughed. I thought, “Man, this makes me think of something!” Mostly because I remember what the Step Nine says: “Made direct amends to [people we had harmed] wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Tiffany’s approach was purely selfish – she allowed her burden to be lifted off, but the person who she addressed was left terribly hurt. We have to make amends in such a way that we approach people kindly and let them know what we’re trying to do. We shouldn’t dump our crap on them and let them deal with it.
There was one time when I had to make amends to my parents. After two or three years of my recovery it dawned on me that now that I am going for the family reunion I could do my Step Nine face to face with them. I wrote stuff out and presented it to them, with my explanations and apologies. I felt good in the end, but they were upset because they had no idea how crazy my drinking life was. I feel we talked it out for some days after, but in the beginning they were hurt and I wish I could’ve handled it a bit differently.
And there I said it: explanations and apologies. The thing is that making amends is not just saying “sorry.” After some of the wreckage we might have caused, simple “sorry” won’t work. We’d need to explain why we did that, that we were sick people and didn’t know the right way to walk and breathe. We were making poor choices because of our disease. And this is why we did for what we are truly sorry. We have to let the other person what was wrong with us and that we are now on the path of restoration and recovery, that we are willing to repair the damage we have caused.
My AA sponsor used to say that what matters is that we did the Step or at least that we tried. If we approached a person we wanted to make amends to and they didn’t want to talk to us, or kicked us out of their house, it still counts as done, as long as we did everything correctly, respectfully, with a positive attitude. After all, we cannot force the other side to forgive us. It is up to them to decide whether to accept the apology or not. But it is up to us to make the step forward to make one.
We might write an apology letter and never receive an answer. That happened when I sent an email to my ex-girlfriend who was living in Europe while I lived in Canada. I never heard back from her about that email and she avoided talking about it every time I emailed her after. I consider this as my part done. I approached her, I did it in the right matter, I apologised and explained what it was about. That was nothing else I could do about this and my motive was right.
It must also be added that “making amends” shouldn’t hurt us as well as them. From one point, we do put ourselves on the spot and we might expect we’ll be laughed or yelled at. That can happen. But I am talking about something different.
Five years ago I was exchanging letters with one guy who was incarcerated. I contacted him through a music magazine I was often buying. I figured I could make somebody’s life a bit easier by chatting with them about things they liked to do. Plus I didn’t have many people to talk to about music at that point of my life. We wrote back and forth and then one time I mentioned that I was in the Twelve Step program and he said that he was actually working on his Step Nine and he was going to write letters to make amends to the people against who he committed crimes before. That’s when I warned him that if his letters were read by the prison administration before they were sent out, he might be charged additionally to what he was doing his time for already. It would be wiser for him to wait until he is out and write letters then or make contact face to face. He was trying to rebuild his life and could do plenty of good after his current time was done. No point locking himself forever just because he wanted to make right things faster.
[All the Chucky quotes taken from ‘ere]
I went for a presentation called “Ashamed: A Conversation about Addiction and Stigma” in Edmonton last night. There were about 400 people there, ready for education about the said things and it was a great time. They had several mental health workers, psychiatrists, network for youth, and recovering addict speakers there to talk. They also had a medical education director from Betty Ford rehab program. I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of new things, but interpretations were great, stories were cool, and repeating things helps. Plus it was great to see so many people caring for the issue.
As the title of the presentation puts it, they talked about stigma and shame and having listened to that, today I was thinking about what I thought of stigma in the lives of addicts.
These folks kept talking about how we need better education about substance abuse, addiction, and harmful behavior. I think education is great. But with all the knowledge we still cannot make right decisions all the time, have that positive change work well in our lives. For how many years we had anti-tobacco smoking campaigns world-wide and people still smoke and die from lung cancer? For how long we talked of drinking and driving and yet people still drink and drive? Worse, they also text and drink and drive now. I’ve recently learned that there is a course of life skills in the last year in Canadian schools that teaches youth about dangerous behaviors, and people get into all of these things anyway. We learn about drugs, prostitution, verbal abuse, violence, lying and cheating, bullying, stealing, not just in school but from families and friends. But being taught doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve learned. And still we do all of these things.
How come? I think we only really learn from personal experience. When we do it and hits us like a ton of bricks, then we understand. Or get a bit closer to understanding. Then we might start learning from our mistakes.
My learning about alcoholism was slow. Seeing people on the streets drunk out of their minds wasn’t helping. Seeing my grandfather fallen drunk on the floor, unable to get up, didn’t help. Seeing him hiding booze in the apartment didn’t divert me from doing the same thing ten years after. Learning of his death due to severely damaging his liver due to massive alcoholic consumption and smoking didn’t make me see it could happen to me. Kids and youth usually don’t care when you tell them of such things. They might get terrified for a while but unless they are constantly exposed to it, it doesn’t bother them too much.
Yet again, and it might sound like I contradict myself, some kids do get exposed and they end up living like that through their formative years in a family where everybody shoots dope and drinks a lot. That’s not a very good education, is it? I heard the stories of many people who come to Twelve Step meetings, sharing that their parents were alcoholics who’d quit when they started having kids and that these kids would spend their childhood and youth going to Alanon (AA meetings for families) and through those settings learn about alcoholism and abusive relationships, balance in life, and so on. So they learn of how these behaviors are dangerous and yet somehow they end up drinking anyway and lose control over their lives and eventually come back to the AA rooms. How does that happen? What should we learn from to really understand?
But the problem is not just education, because when we finally understand that we need to make a radical change in our lives and we reach out, help is not always on the way. One of the speakers at “Ashamed: the Conversation…”, the recovering addict with 5 years of sobriety and clean time, shared that he felt stigmatized for being an addict when trying to get a job and going to college. People who he tried to get in touch with brushed him off when they’ve learned he’d just finished recovery. In their eyes he was a failure and unreliable and in the end there he was, a person ready to make his utmost to become a better person with all the skills learned about living clean, sober, responsible, etc. and yet the doors were closed for him.
I can relate. I remember how I was finishing college and thinking about going to work in the field of recovery form substance abuse addiction. I was planning to do some volunteer work first so I applied to several places and I’ve got an appointment at the place that served as a shelter/detoxification centre. I looked around the place and it seemed familiar to me which I expressed out loud. When the person who conducted the interview asked me what I meant, I said that there was a point in time when I had to spend a night in a homeless shelter or detox shelter like this because I had serious issues with drinking then. When she asked how long I was sober I said I just got two years and she informed me that with two years of sobriety I couldn’t work at that place. The requirement was three years. I then informed her that first of all, I was only volunteering. Secondly I didn’t just get two years – I have completed Twelve Step recovery, was going to meeting all the time and that I am seriously planning to work with addicts as my career. None of that did anything for that worker and their rules. I asked them for a list of places I could go to and they said they’d get it for me but they never did.
Imagine me back then, with two years of making my best in restoring myself to sanity and then the effort like that was not good enough. It was not the end of the world, of course. Couple days later I found another place and scheduled an interview for a volunteer position. But the feeling on unfairness, stigmatization for being an addict without taking into account I was on the path to be a solution, no more a problem, and basically brushing me off without any alternatives – that stung. The other organization two days later embraced me the way I was, with all my sober time and beliefs, and having done some volunteering there for two months, I then got hired by them and I still work there. But looking back at that detox place, it still does make me wonder: how many others could identify with how I felt?
Being stigmatized for being something that is plagued, not talked about, and avoided as bad breath is hurtful, disappointing, and dismissive. You try your best to finally get back into life and you feel brushed off by the revolving door. Trust me, the change that recovering addicts of all kinds have to go through is harsh enough. We have to change everything we knew, and it is a huge stress, because when you make a step away from what you know you must change towards something you want to be, for a while you end up in complete unknown territory and that can last for days before you start understanding you are slowly getting better. Breaking away from old habits, behaviors, and attitudes is extremely unsettling. So to get forward we need to have help, an assurance, an advice. And if we don’t have that, how can we make ourselves to keep going forward when it seems like no one cares?
A couple weeks back I was watching the movie “Last Days Here” about Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling who was battling with substance addiction for decades. There was a scene with him and Phil Anselmo there, and my girlfriend said “No matter how much I can’t stand Anselmo, I gotta give him a credit for his beating a heroin addiction.”
I remember I thought along with that “unless he is lying.” And then thought again: he can’t lie, because looking at the way he is, working several projects at the same time and touring and meeting people, there is no way he could still be doing heroin. Substance addiction is a full time job. It keeps you busy for drugs/alcohol and against life.
I used to think of getting satisfaction constantly. In my insane drinking days, unless I was fully wrapped in doing something that I enjoyed, and certainly all the time at work, in class, etc., I’d be thinking of chugging a beer down my throat. Drinking was a mission and I felt the undying need to complete it.
Thanks to the “drinking mission,” I was stealing time from being with my significant others, from the work and assignments that needed to get done. I’d call work and pretend I was sick. I’d call my girlfriend and say I’ve got plans with someone else. And all I’d do is go buy a 12 pack of beer and sit at home, drinking it. I was basically running from people and responsibilities to the liquor store! It was a 24/7 obsession, like an ADHD (which I think I have as well, though I was never diagnosed with it). Once an image of beer or all the good things connected to it would enter my mind, I couldn’t sit still and listen to anything. The desire was tremendous.
I loved drinking and loved the fictional “fix” and that’s why I drank most of the time – illusion of having a good time erased everything else that needed to be dealt with, talked about. After two or three beers drunk in serenity I’d be hooked to completing the circle. I couldn’t just say “stop” and do it.
So many things had to be done and my closing the door on them wouldn’t prevent responsibilities from piling up. I had to drink more to forget more, thus causing a vicious cycle.
Funny thing is that when I sobered up and stopped drinking for good, sobriety and recovery became my full time job as well! Cravings had to be beaten for quite a while in the beginning, so I needed to go to sobriety meetings to stay in sync with the positive and the wise. I had to do Steps to learn how my body, spirit, mind, and addiction work. I had to pay attention to my relapse prevention plan. I had to talk to others and speak to newcomers. I was writing poetry and essays about sobriety. Then I got an actual job at a rehab!
So I am quite busy with my sobriety being a full time job, but it is much less stressful and much more gratifying and liberating. Once over a couple of years of sober and clean time I allowed myself to relax a bit, because I realized how things worked. I had to establish the skeleton on which my sober living would build up. That was the most important part and something I had to pay close attention to. After all, I was drinking hard for such a long time that I now had to restore quite a bit of mental and spiritual damage. And the ADHD moments? They were (and are) still there, kicking my butt in the classroom or at work. Yet I knew I was holding my freedom by the balls and I believed strongly that I wouldn’t let go anymore.
I get it that sometimes people might look at us, the recovering and recovered addicts and alcoholics, and shake their heads and say: “Boy, these folks are something else. They get together with strangers and tell them the stories of their lives, and they talk about God, and they live like they are on a crusade or something.”
The thing is we are on a crusade. It is extremely important to us in recovery to keep it serious and do our best to stay clean and sober, otherwise we have no life. This is the point – we don’t just “not drink or use drugs.” We don’t drink or do drugs to have life. But to have that good life it has to be life of abstinence, free of intoxication. And many of us have to be reminded of this, because plenty of times people forget how to live a life of recovery. When things go wrong, they turn their back on the doing the right thing and take their will back, that will that they have placed under their Higher Power in Step Three. And this is why I keep writing about recovery and remind to myself and to others (including some folks in our recovery program who read this) of how sobriety and recovery work. It is a job, a full time one.
There are still people who have no idea how substance addiction messes people up mentally. They only see the physical part of it and they probably have no idea how deeply addicts are involved in supporting their addiction and what are the reasons for their doing that.
So when addicts clean up/sober up, with the efforts that they make, they deserve much more credit when rebuilding their lives after destroying them relentlessly for such a long time. After a full time annihilation of serenity and physical health there is a long journey of full-time rebuilding the wreckage. For many the recovery never ends. We have to practice and live it to have it.
Overkill’s I Hear Black album was not just a great record. Its song titles gave me two expressions I haven’t heard before and now I use them a lot in terms of talking about recovery. The other titles still made a lot of sense for how I used to live and so I’ll give them all a tribute with this post. Even though the lyrical content of the songs don’t always support my ideas, the music is great. Here we go now!
I often think about what is it that makes us substitute right things with wrong things. Why do we drink instead of “getting our act together”? Why do we smoke instead of a workout? Why do we shoot up instead of expressing how we feel in writing? Why do we download/buy/watch porn instead of improving social skills and talk to our partners? Why do we worship artists, musicians, comedians, politicians, or TV evangelists instead of building up ourselves or making a direct contact with powers greater than ourselves? Why is it that we have to put our hope, desires, and beliefs into something that really has nothing to do with us?
Alcohol gave me a sense of non-care, some sort of security, or rather when I drank, I cared less about security, about watching my back or giving something a good thought. Alcohol made me feel like the weight of the world, the problems that were constantly on my shoulders have been lifted and thrown away for a while. When I drank I felt happier and I loved that and wouldn’t want that to go away. I loved the taste (I know some people don’t like the taste of alcoholic beverages, yet they still drank to ease the pain and escape from responsibilities) and I didn’t want the solitary party to end.
But I drank not just because I had too many problems and need an escape. I was lost to myself. I didn’t know who I was and where I was going. By the time I was about to graduate from high school I hated school with passion and obviously didn’t feel like going to college. Yet I had to if I didn’t want go to Army. That’s the way it worked in Russia: you either went to Army with awful conditions for two years or you went to college. Tricky for a person loathing school, hmm?
I also didn’t have any idea what did I want to do in life without a college on the horizon. All I wanted to do is play music and party like so many of my rock heroes. The fact that I’ve put very little effort into learning to play a musical instrument is beside the point (or is it?). I didn’t feel like making an effort to have my tons of written poetry published either. And I had no idea what I would do if I didn’t get my music or writing career started. The political situation in the country and around it made it one nasty world of hurt for me. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything in ten years from then. I wasn’t even sure what I believed in except for a good heavy metal album and a dark beer in the morning before school. I had no idea why alcohol was so attractive. I just needed to drink. Sometimes it was just fun, but sometimes I felt this weird need, a craving, to have a beer. Once I started to drink I wouldn’t stop. I knew I had no money to buy more, but the desire wouldn’t leave. I was in the state of spiritual void and nothing seemed to be strong enough to pull me out of that. On contrary, I felt the dreadful reality was closing in on me and it only made sense to drink more, and then I just wouldn’t stop.
With time passing by and a couple of good instructors in high school I started looking into something to believe in. Strangely, heavy metal poetry touched on some philosophical problems and spiritual concepts and I had something to choose from. Pagan, Satanist, Humanist, Christian, Hedonist, Anarchist, Nihilist, Totalitarian, Taoist, Asatruan… I studied a lot of paths I could go and I often ran in circles. I’d eventually land somewhere and stay there for a while. But I kept drinking, and that made me mellow, made me relax and let go of things that had to be done. I’d slip through the cracks of meaningful life into existence with a meaningless smile, slouch comfortably somewhere.
Often drinking was getting me into strange places where I wouldn’t remember how I got there or situations that made me think of how I made it through unscathed. Some other times I’d have weird sensations, cramps, nightmares and I’d hear black and it seemed to have no mercy. With all of these instances I’d somehow make it through and even though sometimes I’d think was an ordinary person, just like you, the other time I’d think I was supreme creature whose talents just weren’t discovered, or whose special skills weren’t yet revealed.
So for a long time I dwelled in ignorance, innocent at times, wondering why things weren’t working out. Romantic relationships either weren’t working out at all, or worked out into a major headache. I’ve been moving around the geographical map often, but I had no idea where I was going. I was losing jobs, losing sanity. Hangovers were getting worse. Depression was getting darker. By the time I finally stopped the crazy ghost dance I did (on the legs weak from drinking and eating crap) and quit drinking for good I was even more empty than before. All the ideas I believed in, all the spiritual concepts made no sense. Talk about major spiritual void. I stopped because I was empty and going nuts. Going further would make me go to either a jail or a madhouse. All was left was hope. But that was a good brick to start building from. Building life, not just existence.
AA gave me a lot, but I had to do the work. And part of the work, as my advisor explained, was not to overcomplicate things. I loved going over the top, so there was an issue that I had to watch out for. Among other things, living spiritually means living easy, worrying less, and wanting less as well.
I am not going into details of how I found my Higher Power and the aspects of it. I wrote about it before, here and here What matters is that having done the work I felt wholesome with knowing who I was. I knew why I drank. I knew plenty about my nature. I knew how I’d start drinking and I knew how I’d stay away from that. I made a relapse prevention plan and I followed it. I started writing about my problems with and insights about sobriety and recovery. I started working with other alcoholics and addicts. That way I learned even more of what I was. Thanks to that work, I now worry less. I have no desire to make myself sorry for stupid actions, and I have less problems with saying “sorry” or “thank you” and let go of things I can’t control. These all are spiritual things and it works well to make me content and not poison myself with things my body and mind don’t need.
My desire for sobriety is undying. I don’t want to be a slave to anything. I see a lot of people falling in for the worship of things, ideas, and other people. It still happens that sometimes I watch the world crumbling down and rules breaking and people losing their minds completely, and I think “Who cares if I go and get hammered, the life is weird anyway!” Sometimes resentments mount and I feel that avoiding eye contact with people is the best way so I won’t be provoked into a fight. But then I pray, and write, and go to the gym and the shades of grey give room to color again.
My void was filled. It took years to find the right stuff to fill it with. I could say it was worth waiting, and then there are some days when I am not sure if it was, for some of those days sucked big time. Yet I wouldn’t be happy here now if I didn’t feel like crap then. You always have to pay the price somewhere sometime somehow.
Today I think it was worth it.
[the picture was copied from 'ere and altered by me. thank you]
At the meetings I usually say I am an alcoholic, because I consider drinking my main addiction. However I am also a tobacco addict. I have to remember that as well. This month I am five years off tobacco. Here’s how.
Smoking for me was a weird thing. It didn’t seem to give me all the obvious things alcohol did, for example a longer lasting and pleasant intoxication. That intoxication was something I loved alcohol for and couldn’t let it go for a long time. Tobacco smoking didn’t do that for me. It would give me a slight kick of relaxation that would last for a very short time, and I wouldn’t even realize it, because I’d receive it in the process of smoking. It wouldn’t last. If I needed more of it, I had to go for another cigarette, I guess. For a long time, however, I didn’t realize how and why the cigarettes worked for me.
First couple of cigarettes I had tasted awful and made me stink. I tried in the third grade with some kid that I barely knew from school. After I did that I came home and brushed my teeth with tooth paste and then rinsed my mouth with soap. I didn’t want my Mom to find out. Second one was probably three years later, with the same effect. But then I started “getting into it.” Probably because it was one of those things about which everybody said “don’t do it” and everybody did nevertheless. So you had to wonder.
Another thing that made smoking attractive to me in the early age (besides the fact that I found the smell of some cigarettes attractive) was that people who smoked, mostly adults, looked cool. They were serious and seemed to speak about important things. I wanted that. I had nothing of my own and I needed to belong. I had little opinion of things because I rarely cared when looked around. If I smoked, I figured, I could be important.
Needless to say, a 14 year old smoking cigarettes looked nothing like important. Nevermind the idea of looking cool I held dear deep inside, I was very aware of the stigma about smoking. So when I went for a smoke, I had to hide from people who I thought would judge me. Obviously, there was a huge internal conflict because of that. Conflicts cause stress. Smokers got for a cigarette when they are stressed. So life seemed even more complicated to me those days and days looked grey more often than not. Hence, I guess, my alcoholism had plenty of reasons for blooming wildly.
For quite a long time I’d smoke when hung out with others, mostly with kids at school in between classes. That’s how I started and that’s how I carried on. Soon I started buying cigarettes because I couldn’t ask others for smokes anymore. It would ruin the relationship. Even though it was not a meaningful friendship relationship, it seemed to be all I had.
One night when I was about 18 years old I had a dream that my friends I hung out with and came to a theater or movie place with have died from cancer because they smoked. Even more bizarre was the fact it was my grandma who told me that (in the past she worked as a nurse). I woke up and freaked out. It was only a dream, but again, the stigma about smoking was harsh, so I knew I was doing the wrong thing from the very start. I threw my cigarettes into a trash can and stopped smoking for six months. I must say that after three or four days it was easier for me and I don’t remember much of the cravings. Although I was also younger, so it was not too difficult.
I had the slip on the graduation day. We all got hammered and I felt like I needed a smoke. I bought a pack from the waitress at this bar we reserved for the event. I later noticed I had a craving for smoking every time I’d get quite drunk. I also noticed that smoking was allowing me to start conversations easier with others.
I was smoking on and off in States and quit every time I’d start running out of money. Surprising it might seem that I wouldn’t cut on booze! I also remember that on the days I had to study the hardest due to a midterm coming up and I had to catch up on a lot, I’d give myself a permission to go for a smoke every half an hour. I wasn’t much into studying and needed an excuse to get away. Going for a smoke was always a perfect excuse!
The day I quit drinking for good I started smoking a lot. The person who introduced me to the recovery was a smoker and I smoked half a pack from him while we cruised around the city, sharing experience. I guess I’ve replaced one harmful addiction with another. It seems only natural. I surely knew I was doing the right thing quitting drinking, but I guess I wasn’t completely ready to stop messing with my head on the physical and mental level. It seemed like a good bargain, though. I started getting to work and school on time and pay attention and stay for the whole periods it required. I was spending less money. I wasn’t having hangovers and terrible headaches. I was getting back in balance with myself after ten years of insanity that drinking had caused me. It felt right and I was happy about that change.
My summer was crazy, nevertheless. You can read about it here. Things weren’t going as smoothly as I thought they would, for after all, I made one of the most significant changes in my life. Things were stressful which caused me to keep smoking for a while. Then I quit again. It was around that time that the news were coming through about smoking in bars and concert venues to be banned. I went on a vacation in the Rockies for a while and one person there smoked, so I started again. I was in and out all the time. Next year one guy moved in with me for a couple of months and he smoked in and out. We were quitting and starting together. Same thing with my AA sponsor who moved in with me next year. We were talking recovery a lot, going to meetings, doing Steps. We both had no girlfriends and we smoked a lot. We had an AA related project and every once in a while we’d talk for hours and drinks gallons of coffee and smoke half a pack. Then a month later we’d try to quit. Some day I’d quit for a week because I’d freak out after reading on the cigarette pack that it contained cyanide related chemicals, but I’d always go back to smoking again. Relaxation, image of other people smoking, and wanting to have a chat would always come to mind as a good excuse to lit one up and join the club.
One day my sponsor/roommate got a book that taught quitting smoking while still smoking and reading about all the terrible things smoking caused. You also had to collect your cigarette butts in a jar that you’d keep under your sink. So every time you’d throw in garbage, you’d smell the butts and what they turned into. After I read about ten pages of that book I was ready to quit. So I did. My friend still went for a while. It didn’t last long for both of us.
Then our common friend in AA got diagnosed with lung cancer. She was selling cigarettes, she smoked, and it caught up with her. A couple of months after that she was hospitalized, she refused doing chemotherapy and wanted to die with dignity. We’d visit her in the hospital and go out for a smoke. It was a weird situation – all three of us in the hospital yard, she’s in the wheelchair, like many others around us, and she’s dying from smoking and we’re all puffing away! It was a strange thing to look at!
When my roommate phoned me to say that this friend of ours passed away, I was standing by the slightly opened balcony door, smoking. The air was coming in and playing with the way cigarette smoke moved. I was watching smoke slowly wrapping my hand in which I held the cigarette. It was a frightening vision. I quit that day for another two months. I remember I also wrote a poem for her that day. The change felt right.
Then I met this girl who was smoking and didn’t seem to have an intention to quit. The relationship was going good and every once in a while I’d talk to her about quitting, but it didn’t get anywhere. Soon I started smoking again, but only for a couple of months. Those were the last months of smoking for me.
The way it worked was… well, weird. I worked in the homeless shelter where it seemed every single person, visitor or staff, smoked. Plus, at that time we had a “smoke room” in the building, so you could have a smoke without going out in the cold or in the rain. After working hard for a couple of hours I felt like I deserved to have a cigarette. Our workers were allowed to go for a smoke, and since I needed the breaks, I’d use them. One time I was still not smoking but I needed a break and I asked somebody for a cigarette, since we hung out together and he lit one.
I was trying to cut down the amount of cigarettes I smoked. I was stressed out about a couple things at work so there was a good reason to smoke, but when I was off, I’d tell myself I wouldn’t smoke. I’d go home at night, having one last cigarette on the way and at home I would not smoke at all. I also wouldn’t smoke most of the time off. I’d smoke almost immediately when got back to work.
My health was letting me know it’s sick of my poisoning it with nicotine. My lung and my stomach were aching from time to time. I moved a lot and was active and yet I was screwing myself at the same time by inhaling poisonous chemicals. One time I went to play squash with friends and getting there by walking fast up the stairs, I realized I realized I was breathing heavily. As I got to the top I wondered how in the world I am going to play in this condition. I had to tell myself that, after all, it was the cigarette that smoked you (me), not the other way around. Understanding this, on one level or the other, would kick my butt to quit for a while.
Then one day I walked to work and threw a cigarette butt on the street. As I was walking away from it, as I did thousands of times, I thought of it for the first time. I was killing myself and I was littering the world around me. The seeds of doubts and discomfort finally fell on the fertile soil (pun unintentional!). That afternoon at work I was pacing from one corner to another, while I was assigned to answer the front door for several hours. At that time we had an AADAC (provincial addiction recovery committee) posters in the building. One of them was by the front doors and it was called “What’s in the cigarette?” It had a very peculiar description of what we smokers inhaled and it had good pictures, illustrating the point. I had plenty of time to read about stuff that a regular cigarette contained, which, among other things, was used for cigarette lighter fuel (butane), paint thinner (turpentine), preservation of dead bodies (formaldehyde), nail polish (acetone), wood preservatives (arsenic). While I was writing this post, I had to go online to look up that poster. Instead of the original, I found another one, rather similar, that shows that another one of the ingredients, hydrogen cyanide, is a poison used on death row. Back in the day I knew of nicotine, of course, yet for a long time I failed to read into the fact it was used as a pesticide. As if learning of all these wonderful things wasn’t enough, there was also an element that cigarettes contained and that was used for washing toilets (ammonia), which completely disgusted me.
That day I quit for good.
It wasn’t easy. I was constantly running into smokers, smell it off their clothes as they passed by. I had to chew pencils for a while when I was in distress and needed a break. Mind you, I couldn’t go for smoke break anymore, so I’d go for “fresh air” breaks instead and I’d spend them all by myself. I soon changed pencils for chewing gum (not Nicorette!). I’d carry lots of gum with me.
I also started to pray more and did First, Second, and Third Steps for my tobacco addiction. I felt it was really hard to do the rest of Steps for that, because I’d usually smoke when alone or among other smokers, so I couldn’t see who I’d make my amends to. But the first three Steps weren’t optional and doing them helped a lot.
My addiction to tobacco was a substitution of something I couldn’t have. I’ve beaten alcohol, but somehow tobacco/nicotine was stronger. It took some time to get to this current point without smoking and I had to talk to plenty of people on the way. And I did. I did more meetings with people early in recovery and I think it helped me to reach out and share more. That way I got a bit more over my inability to talk to strangers whom I’d previously approach with or for a cigarette.
I still live with a person that smokes and she has a hard time quitting. She knows a lot about smoking, and she knows it is not a habit, but an addiction, but she is not there yet to quit for her own sake. I also try to avoid people who walk smoke on the street. When I smell it, I get very uncomfortable. I try not to play the “holier than thou” attitude, but sometimes it just doesn’t work and I have to clench my teeth and hold my breath as I pass the smokers, blowing poison into the air. I realize very well that they are addicts, people who are killing themselves and most likely suffer a lot form it. I wish I could help them somehow. Yet it is still weird to see their smiles as they offer cigarettes to each other, ever ready to light a smoke for each other and stand there, seemingly enjoying the time.
Smoking is one of the worst things out there, because nevermind the research and stigma, followed by banning smoking in public places, it is so widespread. Smoking, from the first sight, is not as dangerous and personality-degrading, as doing drugs or drinking a lot. So it can carry on without making a person sick and damaged for a long time. By the time the health start suffering, it is so hard to stop, for it became a part of personality. A cigarette with a coffee in the morning feels as mandatory as breakfast and sometime might make you feel it is so vital, that it can replace breakfast on certain days! I still remember perfectly content having a cigarette after a meal. It always felt right! A smoker can always feel like he/she searches for calming their nerves while having a puff, and with that argue “well, I am not like those guys on the street smoking crack, so don’t put me in the same row!” And what can you say to that? A person can only beat something when it gets too much. The worst thing is they can see it got too much, but have no forces to beat it, or remove this behavior that was such a large part of what they are, which could be a very kind and positive person.
I am so glad that I quit before I couldn’t remove it from what it meant to be me.
[the picture was copied from 'ere. thank you!]