So, I've been in Cape Town, South Africa for three whole years now and for the vast majority of that time (re-lapses apart) I have been alcohol free and the freedom of life that sobriety has given me is something that I try not to lose sight of and indeed something for which I am bursting full of gratitude. At times like this I am able to look back on my adventures here and today I have been remembering how I was when I arrived on these shores. Coming into rehab is a frightening experience for anyone, at the least it is time away from loved ones, a time spent in an institution and governed by the rules of others. To most addicts, rules and structure have become an alien concept, why do things for other people or because others say you must? Weird! I, like many I have met along my rehab and recovery journey, had been hard wired to do the exact opposite of that of which I was asked, even as a small child. Although a part of this comes from rebellion I don't believe it was ever done purely out of spite. It runs deeper than that and many addicts talk freely about never fitting in, so much so that it's become a bit of a cliché in recovery circles! I however like to steer away from clichés because I believe that although we do have our similarities, ones that enable us to interact and relate, we are all unique and one persons experience, although similar, can have a totally different affect on another. I find examples cropping up all the time at meetings I attend as I listen to people sharing and without wanting to judge or devalue their personal experience, I often find myself thinking that what they are sharing is not really that bad or even that they should just get over themselves! I feel bad admitting this and I would, of course, never say it to them face to face unless it was in an attempt to help but I do have to remind myself that it is human to think like this, one persons minor glitch is another's tsunami. It does give me an insight into the way many non-addicts view addicts though and amongst a minority there is a belief that addicts choose their way and create their own problems. Obviously these people are full of shit but it's their opinion so however narrow minded it may be, it's still valid. Most people I come into contact with are a strange mix of hardened yet entirely vulnerable and that is still how I see myself. I guess that is why I still have to work my program every single day of my life and why I have an inherent sense of duty to help others have what I now have, a life. I guess what I'm saying is that we cannot say what is or what isn't important in another persons life. I can only take their word for it and listen without judgement.
I came into rehab three years ago as I mentioned and I want to talk openly about how that was for me. Looking back, it was fucking hard, a place as close to a living hell as I could imagine......and with further thought and inspection that is exactly what it was. Even my worst times, the times I've lost people and the times I've nearly lost my own life, were preferable to simply existing amidst the confusion and loneliness of my world during the first full year of my recovery journey. Pathetic, ineffective, invective would just fly out of my mouth at anyone and any little thing, I could barely identify what I was feeling let alone put it into actual words! I was the very picture of a broken man with only a lifetime of regret and retribution to look forward to. It doesn't surprise me now that it took so long for me to even start to look to a possible future, 25 years of drinking and active addiction naturally takes time to undo, regardless of the hard work put in. Working a program has however got me where I am today and I cant knock the basis for just living a 'good' and 'honest' lifestyle that it gives. At the point that I landed in Cape Town however and for over a year after that, all I could bring myself to do was to try to pay it all lip service. I was full of shit and self-obsessed but couldn't see the wood for the trees. I'm aware that this was frustrating for my councillors and the people with whom I lived but I was so broken that it was all I could do to just about toe the line. This doesn't come from a place of ignorance or from a place of deep rebellion, just from a place of only being able to breath and exist, nothing more. When you have lost everything you've ever loved or worked towards how do you brush it off and adopt a positive outlook on life? The simple answer is that you don't, not right away! You just do what you can to get through the minutes, hours and days. My problem in early recovery was that I only had one coping mechanism, one that had served me so well for decades, and that was to drink. When things were hard and overwhelming, I'd drink and things weren't so overwhelming. When things were going well and I was happy, I'd drink to the relief that momentary happiness gave me. Therein lies the problem, if I was a machine, I'd be hard wired to act in one way and one way only. My brain knew of nothing else, I knew of nothing else. I was a pain in the arse at the beginning of my process, this was partially due to the intense anger born from frustration, shame and regret but also because just to breath to exist was painful. That's a hard thing to explain to someone who hasn't been there but when the emotional pain is so intense that it drowns out anything that's going on around you, living even a base life is impossible. I think given the place I was in during my early days here, what with my wife filling for divorce and my amazing father being diagnosed with Cancer and subsequently dying all in the first few weeks of attempting to battle a 25 year addiction, relapse was regrettably inevitable. In fact not even regrettably as I don't believe I would have got through it any other way. It's part of the process and I've personally known people with many years of sobriety under their belts, to relapse with no tangible reason other than they had a difficult day and somehow picked up a drink. That's the nature of this disease, it plays on our insecurities and it is controlled often but never ever beat.
I think I need to go off on a tangent here, just to nail that point home. This is a true story that happened to someone here that I know. This man was a couple of years sober, it hadn't been easy but he was getting there, living a good life and was rewarded by regaining his job, his wife and kids and everything else that comes with it. Things were going well. He approached his sponsor one day as he was feeling vulnerable and experiencing overwhelming cravings to drink again. No real unsurmountable reason, things were just a little hard at work, although the sober life was giving him everything he had previously wished for, it still didn't feel like enough. He said he wanted to try drinking again so his sponsor set out two scenarios, what would happen if he were to drink again and what would happen were he to remain living the sober life. It wasn't complicated. The remain sober route entailed keeping his wife and his children, his car, home and good job along with a future and financial security. His family adored him and he was a good man. The drinking route involved losing his wife and children, his job, house, car and financial security but most of all, as he was an chronic end stage alcoholic like myself, he was likely to lose his life. His sponsor looked at him and said 'this is your choice, I cannot control it but it is essentially a choice (I don't agree fully with the choice argument but thats for another time). My point here is this, given a choice like that, a choice between happiness and total destruction, it would be a no brainer to most people. I believe this is where addicts differ from other people and research does prove that their brain chemistry alters so what seems like a irrational choice to most people can be made rationally by an addict. I don't even believe that it's that complicated, simply that consequences don't come into it. That was certainly the case with me, I was aware what would happen should I drink and it did, it was a fucking nightmare. Would it stop me doing it again, probably not and that is why I must keep doing the next right thing and remaining vigilant in order to lessen the chances of it reoccurring. Anyway, there would be no point to this story if the chap decided to overcome the lure of that drink and continue in his 'happy and fulfilled' life would there? Not wanting to disappoint with a mundane ending, the man chose the destructive route which led to everything that was predicated coming true. His wife left taking the kids, he lost his job and sold the car. Now he has that to deal with and he's still out there in that lonely place, drinking again. I hope he's still alive and I pray he lifts himself again but this is the reality of the situation that myself and all other addicts and alcoholics find themselves in. It's inexplicable to people close to them and the real tragedy is that its also inexplicable to the person living and doing it. I've had many friends, whom I've met over the last three years, take their own lives or have had their lives taken as a result of this disease (one and the same to me, both equally tragic) and it's heart-breaking but it's the reality, the odds are against us. I know in my experience, nothing I did or said was truly out of malice, purely confusion and anger for being in a situation against which I had no control. As I mentioned I've lost many friends over the last few years, I've seen people, stalwarts of AA groups go down after years of sobriety under their belts and this is the sad reality. All I can say is that it gets better, my life is immeasurably more fulfilling than it ever was. I live in what is in my opinion the most beautiful city in the world, I have the support and love of my family and my friends are second to none. That's what recovery can give me, why would I ever go back?! I'm not that naïve, I can always go back and it can always get worse. I have been there and done it but it's only because of all that pain that I can now focus on the positives and write openly in this manner.
That was quite a tangent but it's a point that needs drumming home. Although accepting responsibility for the things we've done is a must, losing any sense of blame and resentment towards oneself is also essential, without that I could never live with myself and a sober life would be impossible. One thing that annoys me about some people in recovery is the attitude that they are somehow cured and are no longer vulnerable or are somehow immune, this is of course bullshit! I no longer have to drink to function but that doesn't stop me from thinking how splendid it would be to sit in the sun, outside a pub enjoying a pint or two. I can live with that, it would be lovely, now I know that for today only, I don't need to do that, I have other things to do which give me equal pleasure. What comes after that couple of pints scares the shit out of me but without exploring it too much, that ain't gonna happen again as long as I do the right stuff. It is the most intensely complex disease ever but the way through it is simple. This is why I am devoting my time now to making the whole process easier for addicts who are new in recovery. I landed here, not only broken but alone and I would not wish that on anyone embarking on such a trying journey towards sobriety. I'm putting in place a recovery model for people coming to Cape Town from the UK and around the world. I'm not in the rehab game anymore but rehabs are readily available here and I can find the right one for an individual. My job will be to guide that person through the often confusing bigger picture of recovery, from meetings, social life and most of all new friends in recovery. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else getting and staying sober and I genuinely believe that the Cape Town recovery community is on a par with anywhere in the world. A bold statement but one I know to be true.
I love my family, friends and girlfriend more profoundly than ever, I love my life and most of all I like the person that I am. I did get stabbed through the lung only six months ago and yes, I nearly died but even that hasn't fazed me, in fact I believe it's made me appreciate people and life and everything that I do a whole lot more. IpThis is a happy time for me and a time to live life and embrace the alcoholfreeme.com