Chapter 4:5 The First Year Of Sobriety
< Chapter 4:4 Chapter 4:6 >
For the first year of my sobriety, every day I lived in fear. Living without alcohol and drugs was a new experience. It was an interesting internal battle. I was scared of facing life sober, but even more scared of drinking again and what would probably happen if I did. I went to 12 step meetings and grabbed for every ounce of strength and support I could from others until I was strong enough to stand on my own during that first year. There would be countless nights where I would find myself sitting in rooms full of strangers just rambling about what was going on in my life and how I had no idea of how I was going to get through it. I was paralyzed by situations that are forgotten now but were earth shattering then. I learned that to truly live life, I had to do it one day at a time. And I am constantly reminded of that lesson again and again as I get older, looking at those simple words “One day at a time” from new and amazing perspectives.
My guardian angel accompanied me when I went to court two weeks after I was released from rehab. My mother drove me back to NJ and I faced the judge again. It was quick and simple. He looked at me and asked my lawyer if I had completed the rehab. We both replied, “Yes, your honor”. He said, “You still have an outstanding fine of $2,500. Are you prepared to pay that fine?” I said I was. Then my miracle happened. I was standing there before the judge, ready to be taken by the bailiff to begin my 3 months sentence when he said, “Pay your fine, get out of my courtroom and don’t let me ever see you standing in front of me again.” With that, his gavel slammed the judge’s bench and I was led out of the courtroom. I paid my fine and was on my way back to PA.
It didn’t take long for me to experience many things that would give me a taste of reality without alcohol. In my first year of sobriety, my grandmother, the woman who raised me with my mother, who took a major role in my development and I loved dearly, died. Now death is something that everyone experiences, but this loss was the first for me. No one near me had ever died before. And what was amazing to me was that in the middle of the turmoil of losing someone so close to me, I didn’t want to drink.
I was actually proud of the fact that my grandmother died seeing me sober, and that I was able to share some meditations and visualizations with her that I had learned to help her through her pain.
Also in that first year, I suffered a $50,000.00 loss when the club my band was playing in burnt down with all of our equipment in it, and the club had minimal insurance to cover the loss. In that first year I also fractured a bone in my forearm, stretched the tendons in my good ankle and went through all of it without drinking. Now this may not sound like a major accomplishment to someone who never had a drinking problem. But to those who have been there, for those who have used some form of distraction to deal with their emotions whether it be drinking, drugs, smoking, eating, gambling, sex, the list goes on and on... they know the feeling of looking back and going “My God, I made it!!! I didn’t run away”.
In the 11 years since, one day at a time, many things have happened that once would have had me hidden in an alley passed out and hoping for death. But I have found strength in my Creator and others around me to pull me through. I have found that there is nothing in my life worth using over. I still find ways to run away sometimes, and my life has become a constant and never ending journey to learn to face all my trials without turning and running. I win some days and I lose some days, but I grow with every step and it does get easier.
Sobriety was a whole new world. Gone were the days of running to a bottle or pill when life intruded on my version of reality. It was like losing my best friend. For 11 years, alcohol and drugs were the only things that I felt I could trust. As insane as that sounds, that’s how you feel when you are in the grips of an addiction. No matter what was happening, I always knew I could go to that place of oblivion, and I wouldn’t have to deal with whatever it was that was bothering me. Now, I was going to have to face it, all.
One of the greatest gifts that God gives us, is other people. If we choose to look at them as gifts. Even some of the toughest relationships I have had, have had amazing seeds of growth contained in them. And my introduction into a twelve-step program, and the becoming friends with the people I met there was actually my initiation into personal development. It was the beginning of a life that would end up worlds away from where I had lived for the past 11 years.
In respect to the 12 step program’s traditions, they ask that you do not mention being associated with their name for reasons of anonymity, but I have to say that for someone at the point I was at in my life, it was a lifesaving group, so I will go out of line with tradition for a moment, and say that Alcoholics Anonymous was a vehicle that was instrumental in saving my life. Not only from death, but from a life of “existence”.
I was talking with a dear friend near the end of my first year of sobriety, and I was sharing with him that I didn’t know if I was really changing my life around. I was saying to him that the only thing that kept me sober that first year… was fear. It wasn’t a fear of dying. Death was something that I had actually searched for. I believe that I was constantly looking for a way to end the suffering. What I was scared of, was getting drunk again, going into a blackout, killing someone else, and having to live with that for the rest of my life.
He shared with me a profound statement that I constantly remember when life is a struggle. He said that he wasn’t scared of dying, he was scared of going back to just existing. Existing in the sense of no purpose, except to wake up, and find some way to function through the day. No love, no hope, no dreams, no connection. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been at that place in their life can imagine the depth of despair when you have lost God’s greatest gift, hope. There is no reason to function, nothing to look forward to; you just wait for the end. And I could relate to what my friend shared, because I had lived that life for years.
AA as it is called, gave me the opportunity to change all that. Now, I need to be cautious here, because many people have varying views on programs like these. I must restate, that I am talking about what worked for me, and why it worked for me. I do not claim that AA fixed me. What I do claim, is that AA placed some tools in front of me, and they said, “This is what has worked for us, it’s up to you to choose if you want to use them or not.”
So many people go to a meeting, then go back out and drink or use drugs, and say, “See, it didn’t work”. The truth is, you didn’t work. I had been introduced to AA and it’s principles when I was 19 years old. I was court ordered to attend meetings after my 1st or 2nd arrest for drunk driving. But at that time I wasn’t ready for the message, and definitely not willing to do the work that was going to be involved in changing my life. And that’s really what I am talking about here. This was the first step in learning that I was able to change.
In that first year, in the rooms of AA, I met other people who had been down the road that I had been down, and they offered to do one thing for me. They would share with me their experience, strength and hope. And that was it. They weren’t going to fix me. They were going to tell me what their life was like before they came to AA, then tell me what happened to make them change, the path they took, and what kept them going. It was my place to apply it, or disregard it. If I wanted, they would be there for me, but ultimately, it would be my arm that lifted the bottle or pill to my lips.
This is the first time I truly felt at home, the first time I felt that someone understood. It wasn’t that sense of “fitting in” that I had searched for before. It was something much deeper. There is a sense of oneness that you get when you finally find someone who has lived through the same struggles that you have. It is a connection that can’t be faked, and it is one that transcends all other differences; race, sex, creed, nationality and politics.
I can remember, years before when I was in my first rehab. I was sitting down with my counselor, and he began his questioning. I can still see the room, I was sitting to the right of his desk, the office was a peach color, with slogans hanging on the wall like “One day at a time” and “First things first”. As soon as he asked his first question, I said, “Before I answer your question, I need to ask you one. Are you a recovering drunk, or just a psychiatrist?” He responded that he was a psychiatrist and started reading off his list of accreditations. I stopped him, rather abruptly, and informed him that he could take his degree, and shove it up his ***!!!
I wasn’t that great with my “effective” communication skills at that point, at least when it came to diplomacy. My belief was this, unless you have walked the path, you can’t show me the way. How can anyone claim to understand what it is like to go to bed wanting to die, and waking up the next morning, passing by a mirror and wanting to break it because you can’t stand the person that you see looking back at you if they haven’t been there? Or what it’s like looking frantically for a pill, or a bottle to be able to start your journey to oblivion. How could someone who hasn’t lived that life understand wanting, no, needing to drink yourself into a blackout, where you finally don’t have to deal with being alive? How was anyone who did not live that kind of lifestyle going to be able to guide me out of it? I have had long, and heated discussions with many people who felt they could “understand”. They may be able to appreciate that there were some intense emotions, but it is my belief, that until you have lived it you can never truly understand.
AA was the first place that I found people who I could trust had been there, but more importantly, had found a way out of that hell. By listening to others in that first year, I started to pick up on what they believed about themselves, about what they believed about the lives they had lived, and where they wanted to be now. I learned from them what steps specifically they had taken in instances that allowed them to make it through a tough situation without running to a bottle to escape. This was my first introduction to what I would later come to know as “modeling”. In the coaching sense, modeling is finding someone who is getting the results you want, and modeling them, or “using their experiences” to allow you to learn from their mistakes and successes in order to get the desired result in a shorter amount of time, or with less effort.
Through the support of these wonderful people that first year I was able to maintain my sobriety while walking into the lions den 5-6 nights a week to perform in the clubs that used to be my drinking ground. I was able to make it through the loss of $50,000 worth of equipment in a fire, through the death of my grandmother, a broken arm, strained tendons, and much more without the aid of a drink or a drug. And that was only in my first year of quitting drinking. Year two led to even more new and uncharted territories. And with the love and guidance of some very dear friends, I was able to walk through all of the fires, and come out unburned. Changed forever, but unharmed.
And what it all came down to, was when these times of struggle came along, I would reach out, and in the network that was there for me, I would find someone who had been there before, or if they hadn’t, they were willing to walk with me through whatever it was, and together we would find a way. What an amazing bond, what a deep sense of commitment. I see those friends rarely anymore due to geographical differences, but I carry them in my heart always.
It seems to be that way with most people I have crossed paths with. There are very few people who are still in my “inner circle”, not so much because of any problems with our friendship, but more because of geographic changes, or shifts in directions in our paths in life. But even though I don’t see them physically, there is not one person who has been in my life, that I do not carry a part of them with me. I truly believe that.
I mean, take a moment and think about this. I want you to think of as many people as you can who have come into your life. In each experience, if you truly look for it, you will find some moment, some instance that still is a part of you. An experience you shared, a conversation that got you to open your mind to a new way of thinking, that allowed you to see things from a little bit of a different perception. And when you think about some of these experiences, or some of these people, they may not be the best memories, or the people you are most fond of. But if you are truly honest with yourself now, you can begin to see where even those experiences and those people had an affect on your life that was positive. That comment usually gets some arguments, but when you think about it now, from a new perspective, and you ask yourself, “What good came out of that?” I guarantee you will find at least one thing.
Now there is a point I touched on earlier, and sort of just brushed over, and I want to go back, and talk about it a bit more. It was the death of my grandmother in my first year of sobriety.
My grandmother and I were very close. She was the one who was mainly involved with the daily interactions while raising me. My mother worked to support the 3 of us, and was gone a lot of the time. She did the best she could to be there for me, but the truth is, that her working 2, sometimes 3 jobs to support us all kept her away a lot. She would work at a local meat packing plant during the day as a book keeper, then go to work as a nurse in the evening and on her days off, she would work at the family store. So for many years, I looked to my grandmother as more of my mother. She was the one who laid down the law, listened to my escapades, gave me directions to follow, and a comforting smile when she was pleased.
As I mentioned before, my drinking drove a wedge between all of us. I didn’t want anyone to really know what was going on when I was so deeply involved in the lifestyle that accompanied my drinking. But I can still remember being in Howard County Detention Center when I was taken out to the processing area for a phone call. It was my mother, and she was with my grandmother. My grandmother had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, and needed surgery to have a tumor removed. I can still remember her telling me “Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be here when you get out.” The problem was, I didn’t know when I was going to get out. I was facing charges in 5 different counties, and was expected to be extradited from one jurisdiction to another as my sentences were served. I wasn’t sure if my Grandmother understood the severity of the trouble I had gotten myself into. So I wasn’t sure she could keep her word, even though I knew she wanted to, to be there when I was free.
As I walked back to my cell, I began to feel the rage, the fear, the total whirlwind of emotions overtake me. I actually crumpled against the wall in tears and slid to the floor. I thank God for the understanding mountain of a man who was the guard escorting me back to my cell. He allowed me to feel what I needed to feel, for as long as needed to feel it. I remember him telling me, that it was ok and to let it out and that he would wait until I was ok before I went back into the prison population. He knew as well as anyone that in there, you don’t show weakness.
My grandmother did make it through her surgery and was alive when I got out. She actually survived for about 6 more years of my insanity. Shortly after I got sober, my grandmother suffered a stroke. I believe that she stayed with us in this human form until she knew I was going to be ok. And some of my earliest, greatest lessons about spirituality, the power of the human spirit, and the power of the mind were learned in her last days.
She had gotten very weak from the stroke, and the whole family spent a lot of time sitting with her doing the best we could to comfort her. But the cancer had returned, and between the pain that was eating her up, and her inability to do much of anything because of the stroke, she spent a lot of time screaming in pain.
I can remember my mother, and everyone else was trying to do something to give her comfort. But nothing seemed to work. Then I decided to try this new technique I had learned in rehab with her. It was a visualization, a meditation of sorts. What I learned later to be a deep trance induction. And I sat there, by her bedside, holding her hand, and walking her through memories of being at the shore, a place she loved. I talked to her about the sounds of the ocean, the smells, the warmth of the sun on her skin. And for the first time in weeks, she stopped screaming in pain, and relaxed. It was a defining moment for me. I knew that I didn’t want to leave her go; I had so many things I needed to make up for. But I also knew that she didn’t need to suffer anymore. I walked outside, and looked up to the stars. I had to leave go of my selfishness. I prayed to God, that he take her. I knew that her and I had at least made peace. I also knew that I would be ok, and she didn’t need to hold on for me anymore.
But from her perspective, she couldn’t leave yet. Our band was playing a heavy schedule, and we had some very important shows coming up. Even though she couldn’t verbally acknowledge it, she knew about it because my family and I spoke about the shows around her. We had a 5 night run coming up. One night was a live radio broadcast for a contest we were involved in, and 2 other nights were big shows at some of our biggest drawing clubs. We hit the road and I dedicated our performance on the radio to her. On Saturday night we played our last show in a small club in Hazleton PA. When I arrived home the next morning there was a message to call my mother. My grandmother had died at approximately 2AM. Almost exactly, if not exactly the time we were walking off stage from the last show of that hectic, important week.
Now you can choose to believe in things like this, or not choose to believe in things like this, but for me, I know deep in my core, that she was holding on to allow me to pursue my dreams. And when she knew I was going to be ok, she let go.
It was a very interesting time for me. In all my life, no one around me had ever died. Not anyone close to me. And the first person to leave this human form, was my grandmother. And I felt no loss. I almost felt guilty for not feeling any loss. But my spiritual beliefs kept me strong in the belief that in death, she only left a physical form, and became a part of the energy that flows through all things. So in essence, she is more with me now, than when she was in her physical form. I was asked to sing at here funeral, and to be a pallbearer. I know that would have never happened if I were still drinking. I may have been asked, but I wouldn’t have shown up.
One of the hardest songs I ever had to sing, was an acapella version of The Lord’s Prayer standing by my grandmothers casket. But I knew she was smiling her gentle smile. I love you Gram.
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The Warrior Sage Chapter/SectionWho Is Willard Barth?Author's NotesPreface - Exploring Strength And WeaknessChapter 1:1 - The Process Of Self-AwarenessChapter 1:2 The Stages Of Child DevelopmentChapter 2:1 The World Changed ForeverChapter 2:2 The Vicious Cycle BeginsChapter 2:3 Losing FaithChapter 2:4 My Dark SecretChapter 2:5 Where Is The Love I Was Promised?Chapter 3:2 The Road To Alcohol DependenceChapter 3:3 Leaving My Childhood BehindChapter 3:4 Escaping Responsibility; The Joy Ride EndsChapter 3:5 Living A Duality BeginsChapter 3:6 Out Of ControlChapter 3:7 Crossing The Line To InsanityChapter 3:8 The Black-out Drinking BeginsChapter 3:9 Facing The MusicChapter 3:10 A New BeginningChapter 3:11 More Lessons To LearnChapter 4:1 The Final PartyChapter 4:2 A Moment Of ClarityChapter 4:3 My New Life BeginsChapter 4:4 Sober, Time To Face The World
Chapter 4:5 The First Year Of SobrietyChapter 4:6 Major Change Comes In Year TwoChapter 4:7 My Daughter Is Born April 20, 1992Chapter 5:1 Life Changing Decisions Follow My Daughter's Birth Chapter 5:2 Recognizing The Voice InsideChapter 5:3 The Empress HotelChapter 5:4 A New Chapter In My Life BeginsChapter 6:1 Finding My Way HomeChapter 6:2 Falling Into PlaceChapter 6:3 A New AwarenessChapter 6:4 Personal Finances And Personal DevelopmentChapter 6:5 The George Washington StoryChapter 6:6 Letting Go So Others Can Grow Chapter 6:7 The Wrap Up
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