CHANGING SEATS ON THE TITANIC
On January 2, 1986, I put the “plug in the jug” and walked into my first 12-step meeting. I didn’t walk into the room that day and say, "I'm home" or "I found my peeps.'' Unlike many of the newcomers I first met, an "attitude of gratitude" was far from my theme song. As a result, I felt even more alone with my addiction and didn’t feel the program would be an answer for me. I was resistant, angry and ashamed. My pride and ego was devastated. I was overwhelmed by the feelings, thoughts and consequences that developed as a result of me attempting sobriety. I didn't know what to do, and I didn't have a clue that I didn't have a clue. My job, my relationship, my community of friends and my entire paradigm of existence was in jeopardy.
A new client had offered me the opportunity of a lifetime and I became stuck in analysis paralysis, torn between two worlds: the counterculture of the ego-driven music industry and the spirituality of 12-step recovery. The choice crippled me and I didn't have my friends, Jack, Stoli and the “Devil's Dandruff,” to help me through it. How would I ever socialize? How would I ever do business? After all, weren't the best business deals made in the bars and restaurants? As the isolation set in, and barely 30 days sober, my childhood stuttering came back unexpectedly. I attended my first meeting outside my local community on a business trip in Vancouver. When they called on me, I left the room like I was ten years old, too mortified to speak to them. Even though business began to get better, the stuttering continued and further pushed me into isolation, anger and resentment - the perfect breeding grounds for relapse.
I had planned on doing this temporarily; I wanted to do it my way, while only superficially “following the directions,” a practiced habit of ego-driven, righteous dishonesty. Feeling unable to commit fully to living a sober lifestyle, a single motto stayed with me from my very first meeting: "Meeting makers make it." Though I knew I needed to find connection to this new community, that it was somehow the lifeline that might help pull me out of my paralysis, I still resisted. I couldn’t even consider the classic “coffee” with another alcoholic or hanging out after the meetings, my anxiety was so high that I would still run out of the room like I had in Vancouver.
Still, I perceived this to be a program of action; I knew that every decision I made would have repercussions, that it wasn’t really possible to stay in the same place, I could either move forward or fall backwards if I didn’t get any help, like pulling a car out of a ditch. And so, I kept going to meetings obsessively. But even though I attended 5-7 meetings a week, I still resisted developing a connection to the fellowship on anything other than a superficial level. I resisted because I had a fear of being vulnerable, a fear of the part of me that took me into the darkness originally, fear that recovery would destroy my ability to do business. I might get sober, but at what expense? I feared being unemployed, useless and ineffective without that common thread of substance use. I had the misbelief that the power was in the bottle and not in myself. I knew a sponsor was essential, but I was terrified to let someone in that close. It felt like I was asking a guy to go to a high school dance with me. I couldn't even stop stuttering long enough to ask someone. The Steps? I read the book, isn't that the same as doing the Steps? Service? I donated money to treatment centers and paid my AA dues, wasn't that enough? I got as many AA tapes as I could, watched Fr. Martin videos and read Grapevine Magazines, daily meditation books, and any recovery text I could get my hands on. I took action, my own “self-directed” action.
And that is how I became an incredible two-stepper, selling AA, so to speak, to others before working on my own recovery. I began 12-stepping newcomers with an almost evangelical fervor without really doing the work on myself. I fell into a host of other problems. I started to abuse food to relieve the anxiety. I became a workaholic. I became what one of the alcoholic counselors who touched my life called, “the highest paid codependent in North America.” It took me several years to realize that after all this continued effort, I had simply changed seats on the Titanic. Being an addict is like being on a sinking ship, you know it’s going down, but you just keep drinking and using, moving to the highest point on the ship, you turn to look at the sunset and say, “Isn’t it beautiful? Let’s have a drink!” These new addictions served me better than the old ones, they were more socially acceptable, far less expensive and kept me from handcuffs. But my lifestyle maintained that things outside myself, including money, power and fame were still functioning as the source of what I thought was my higher power.
I finally surrendered when I hit bottom. I lost my anchor in the old world; to be blunt, I was fired. Almost immediately, I was offered opportunities to work with several of my clients biggest competitors. As my conscience was reemerging as a result of the Steps, I was able to see the betrayal in that decision, and how it could lead me back to a world of darkness and addiction. I simplified my life and started to actually work the Steps. I got a sponsor who took me through each one. He helped me to connect with and become part of a community of recovering people, “my peeps.” I finally felt I was at home. My tether to the old world was fraying rapidly and ultimately coming to the end. I was headed for freedom. At times, I can be a stubborn learner, but I continue to learn everyday that you can't rely on external validation or sources. I learned what rigorous honesty really is and I stopped lying to myself to the best of my ability. I came to learn that people-pleasing was a dead end, as you could never possibly please anybody enough when pleasing becomes a drug.
With the help of my sponsor, I started to trust in the process of recovery. I started to develop faith in my higher power, and as a result, myself, my intuition, my talents and most of all the people I had chosen to be in a community with. There was no going back. I discovered a greater purpose I couldn't have anticipated; heck, I only wanted to stop drinking and snorting cocaine long enough to build the biggest band in the world, America’s “Rolling Stones,” a motto that would echo in my head ceaselessly. But through Steps 10 and 11, my consciousness shifted from one that had me at the center, driven by my ego, to one that was driven by a higher power and purpose. I discovered it wasn't about winning, it wasn't about gold or platinum records and better numbers, it wasn't about competition and market share, rather it was about “living with spirit in a material world.” In AA, they call it getting “right-sized.”
When I first read that, I had no idea what it meant - but now I realize it’s because I had to follow the Steps first. I’m excited now for the next phase of my recovery and I know that being part of this community will not guarantee that, but will give me the surest shot to not change seats on the Titanic again. And if I do, I now have the tools and the community to help me see it. One day at a time, I do my best. So I think I better keep coming, because I finally realize that being in AA and around AA are two different things. I might survive being around it, but I found that being in it could be the only way this guy could thrive.