Note from Chris: I’m honored and humbled that, on his sober anniversary, Hearon reached out to me and TheRecoveryRevolution.Online to generously share this searching assessment (I guess some might call it an inventory) of his journey thus far.
Well, it's been a year.
It may sound trite, but it's true: in some ways it seems like no time at all and in others it seems like a lifetime. I think it is important to preface all of this by saying the following: I was sober for eight years from 2001-2009. Sometime in 2009 I began drinking again and did not stop until August 2015. I now know fully well what I did not know a year ago: I had a full blown 5-6 year relapse. Who knows what would be diﬀerent today if that had not occurred? Important: from 2001-2009 I was "sober," but I was not in recovery. I can say now that I am joyfully in recovery.
I was thrilled recently to read Kera Yonker's piece here. As I wrote previously on this site, last August ended several years of vigorous seeking relative to my alcohol usage. ("Do I have a problem?") Kera's essay in the New York Times was the one that pushed me into action and/or over the edge. In all of my seeking, I was looking for answers elsewhere: books, articles, quizzes, etc. What she stated is true, "No one could rescue me from my drinking." Knowing you have a problem, but still trying to ﬁnd alternative answers or trying to justify continuing to drink, is the most exhausting behavior I've ever exhibited. It's hard for me to believe I "decided" to start drinking again in 2009 after going through that exhausting discernment process eight years prior. Empirically, this is evidence for me of an addiction: I knew how bad it was and did it anyway.
The past year has been an interesting ride! Once I discovered the Twitter community and had created my persona, I jumped ALL IN! The support to be found there is nothing short of miraculous. At the same time, I also realized I needed actual face to face support, so I also jumped ALL IN to AA. I didn't literally do a 90/90, but I came very close to it. In April, I left the company where I had worked for 30 years. I was becoming the “bitter old guy” and once I realized that I could not accept the things that I could not change, I knew I had to leave. I find this hilarious: at my old company I was the old veteran who could be counted on for a "good time" (or at least hours long war stories) at trips and meetings, always willing for a few more drinks and to pick up the tab. At my new company, I am the "new guy who doesn't drink." I am sure my age (54) and associated "maturity" (lol) contributes to this but I do not feel any stigma at all about not drinking. I take pride in being the designated driver, in being known as being the guy who turns in early, who has the reputation for being up with the sun. Either way, without sobriety I never could have made that career change. A few weeks ago I had dinner with my old boss. She had confronted me about my reputation within the company for "drinking too much at business functions." I told her the above regarding being the "new guy who doesn't drink" and she laughed. "But that's not true at all," she said. Ummm, yeah, it is.
In May I wrote for (I Love Recovery Cafe) about my experience with the little-talked-about but very common occurrence of male depression. I had never previously considered myself depressed, and I had actively ignored suggestions by a professional that such might be the case. Like accepting the reality of the 5-year relapse, I also accepted the fact that my drinking was related to my covert depression. It's a classic "chicken or the egg" scenario: without the clarity of mind of sobriety, I was unable to face this depression. Thankfully, RIGHT NOW, I am in a good place with this. In fact, overall I believe I am as happy and content as I can recall ever being.
“I find myself at an interesting crossroads of #recoveroutloud and anonymity.”
I am unbelievably lucky as it relates to my family and my good friends.
My family is a drinking family, and alcohol is a centerpiece of all gatherings. They are 100% supportive and respectful of me and as a result their drinking is not generally problematic for me. Yes, every now and then something irritating occurs, but surely that comes with the definition of family. One time this summer I had to leave a family gathering because it was just "too much." No one said a word when I left or afterward. My friends are the same. They accept me for who I am and are respectful of what I need to do. If you are reading this as part of your own "seeking," please believe this statement: NO ONE CARES IF YOU DO NOT DRINK! Thinking they do care is symptomatic of the entire issue of being self-centered, and I will allow someone else to tackle that topic.
I ﬁnd myself at an interesting crossroads of "#recoveroutloud" and "anonymity." I don't care if people know that I am in recovery, but I do want to be the person who tells them so. Sober is just one thing that I am; I am also a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a runner, a cyclist, a traveler, a reader, an adventurer, an employee, an employer, etc. This list goes on. I am not willing to say that being sober is the most important of these, though I can say that being sober makes me BETTER at each of the other.
For quite awhile I kept a running list on my phone of disturbing incidents that occurred because of drinking. There are some doozies on there. I kept another list of benefits that would accrue if I quit. I no longer need those lists (though I am saving them) but I have had a few significant things occur in the past year:
- First and foremost is the career change I made. I could never in a million years have done this if I were drinking. Sobriety enabled me to see the situation clearly and to react in a positive manner. I had been very stereotypically in an endless loop cycle of anger, resentment, drinking to "solve" those, acting out, etc. My previous boss, mentioned above, tolerated behavior from me that I doubt I would have tolerated from someone working for me.
- I've lost 15 pounds
- The sharp pain under my right rib cage has gone away
- I am sleeping incredibly well
- My personal relationships are better and stronger
- I am (rarely) sweating the small stuff
- I travel for a living and one evening during a particularly bad delay, the gate agent told me that she could not believe how serene I was. I literally teared up right in front of her.
- I own a boat and once this summer, out with friends who had been drinking, we got caught in a terrifying thunderstorm. Lightning everywhere and literally no visibility. Had I been drinking, we easily could have had a terrible accident. I was able to calmly lead us to safety. (One week later, in the exact same area, 4 boaters who had been drinking hit a rock jetty, with one fatality). The list of small daily miracles goes on and on.
I'm a believer in AA and it is hard for me to foresee a life without AA.
That said, I'm going less frequently than I did at the beginning. I'm still in awe of the fellowship. Last week (8/17), I went to my "regular" meeting for the ﬁrst time in about a month. Prior to the meeting, I saw a woman who had entered AA at nearly the same time I had and I said to her, "hey, we are closing in on a year!" She immediately teared up and shook her head silently, implying, "No." During the sharing she tearfully told us how, seemingly out of nowhere, she had "decided" to drink on the previous Sunday. Drove drunk, woke up the next morning outside in a park, etc. Hearing this led me, for the ﬁrst time, to tell the group about my previous 8 years of sobriety, about my relapse, and about the fact that shame and guilt about my drinking had caused me to continue to drink for 5 more years. I told her in front of the group how proud of her I was that she dusted herself oﬀ and came back in, rather than being consumed by shame to the extent of "staying out." It was a meaningful moment for me. For the ﬁrst time, I felt like I was the one spreading experience, strength, and hope. Others chimed in regarding their own relapse stories. I left the meeting aching for her and her pain but totally lifted up by the deep sense of non-judgmental fellowship and community.
One thing I love about the online recovery community it that it makes available the fact that there are many ways to do this. I do not believe any particular way is the “right” way, but I do believe that there is one wrong way, and that is trying to do this ALONE. I tried that before, without success, and my relapse was made all the worse (for me) because, alone, I had to confront that shame, guilt, and embarrassment. The 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about "carrying this message to other alcoholics." This is no different, to me, than any manner in which we help each other with not only our addiction, but also with underlying issues which impact those addictions. We do this together, and I am filled with gratitude for those who have supported me on this journey. I am hopeful I can stick around this time.