I wouldn’t wish alcoholism on anyone. But…but…if I had it all to do over again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.
Do you remember the Kiefer Sutherland advertising campaign for Jose Cuervo? One of the taglines was, “Just don’t have any regrets.” That’s more than a little ambitious for a pusher of tequila, don’t you think? I have always assumed tequila was the Spanish word for regret. Has anyone ever started a night with, “lick it, slam it, suck its,” that didn’t end in regret? My life is chalked full of regrets, and more than a few of them can be directly attributed to Jose Cuervo.
After those TV commercials, I blame all of my regrets on Kiefer Sutherland. It’s his penance for speaking into existence one of the monumentally stupid mottos in big-beverage advertising history.
I have sober regrets, too – things I said, decisions I made, times I ignored my instincts and pushed forward to my considerable detriment. I guess the benefit to piling up as many regrets as I have is that making mistakes doesn’t scare me anymore. My opinion of myself is not so glorified that I’m afraid to be wrong.
There’s an unspeakable benefit to a life featuring a debilitating addiction and innumerable regrets. Let me tell you all about it.
Life is a race, but not the competition we all think it is. It’s not about accumulating wealth, power and fame. With those material, superficial symbols of cultural success, enough is never enough. An unquenchable thirst is not a sign of drive and ambition. It is not a sign of greed or selfishness, either. An unquenchable thirst is a sign that we’re chasing the wrong goal. An unquenchable thirst just means we are drinking the wrong Kool-Aid.
Life is a race of understanding and enlightenment. It is not a competition between me and you. In fact, we are all on the same team, all racing toward a peace that’s only found in knowledge about purpose and the reason behind the human experience. I’m not there yet, or I’d explain the destination. I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress thanks to my addiction and many of my regrets.
It is widely agreed that we humans learn more from our failures than our successes. That’s why I’m so grateful for my alcoholism, and all of my concurrent and subsequent regrets. I’m making progress. Stubbing my toes helps me learn where the invisible obstacles are. A smooth life cannot possibly lead to enlightenment.
I’m so thankful I didn’t get stuck in the trap of successful moderate drinking. Numbing my life just a little bit, smoothing out the rough edges and lowering inhibitions, that would have been a recipe for repetitious dissatisfaction. It would have been like being chained to the hamster wheel, just medicated enough to ignore the perpetrator of my pointlessness.
I was an alcoholic. I resisted that inevitable diagnosis for a decade. Then I spent a few years escaping the incarceration of addiction. Now I’m free. I don’t ever have to drink alcohol again. I don’t ever have to wallow in pointlessness. I don’t ever have to wonder what this human experience is all about. The shackles are broken, and I can move toward the answer.
Religion has corrupted spirituality (how about that smooth segue). Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa: all of them and many others got much further toward a full understanding of why we continue to spin around on this orb than I have. They sought the answers, and as I understand, were all willing to share what they learned with others. Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell (Sr. & Jr.), Joel Osteen, Jim Bakker: all of them and many others made it about money by convincing people they could buy their salvation. Then there are the pedophilia cover-ups by the original Christian denomination, radical terrorism in the name of peaceful and loving religions, and evangelists backing politicians that flagrantly violate the principles the evangelists pretend to hold dear. Is it any wonder why people are turning away from churches in record numbers?
What does that paragraph have to do with alcoholism and sobriety? A lot, actually. Everyday I meet people who struggle in recovery because of their personal battle with spirituality. That makes me sad. Actually, it makes me angry. Spirituality isn’t something to be battled. It exists to help us accept that which we can’t understand. Spirituality should be a tool in our sobriety toolbox, not a weapon used by corrupt men that just makes us want to drink to escape the inconsistency and hypocritical nature of religion.
I meet a lot of people who struggle with the “higher power” concept in Alcoholics Anonymous. Personally, I eagerly embrace that there is a higher power. God is the only logical way I can explain the beauty, interconnectedness and mystery that abounds on this blue sphere we ride around in our corner of the universe. I just don’t think this is an accident. Someone’s driving the boat.
But I understand why religious trauma and observational awareness would make people push back at the concept of a higher power. It’s not the higher power’s fault. It’s men who earn, or are given by birthright, positions of religious power, who fuck it up for everyone.
I believe God is all about love and service to each other. When we corrupt a spiritual connection with man-made and man-serving rules, money, power, and an easy life at the expense of a hard life for others, that’s when we lose people – people who deserve recovery from addiction as a stepping stone on their path toward enlightenment and understanding.
Alcoholism keeps people stuck. Religious inauthenticity keeps people stuck too. The problem can’t also be the answer. If people don’t want to let go and let God, it doesn’t make them unworthy heathens. They’re just confusing God for the man who proclaims to represent God and also inflicts pain on an already hurting world. Can you blame them?
I don’t write or talk about religion or spirituality much, for one simple reason: I believe God loves us all, whether we love him back or not. I believe everyone deserves understanding and enlightenment regardless of how they spend their Sunday mornings or what direction they face to pray. Michael Jordan famously stayed out of politics because both Republicans and Democrats bought shoes. It’s kind of like that for me. My spirituality and belief is extremely important to me, but I don’t want to alienate you if your relationship with spirituality is messy or painful.
There are lots of different ways to do recovery. I know people who have decades of sobriety who go to meetings weekly to tell their rock-bottom stories because it keeps them humble, and humility keeps them sober. While I applaud their longevity, that sounds miserable for me. I want to keep moving forward. While I believe in a healthy respect for my own traumatic history, wallowing in it on a weekly basis sounds gross and unhelpful. If I’m going to keep making progress on understanding and enlightenment, I’ve got to release the hold alcohol once had on my life. I am recovered. I’m not in recovery. I’ve got too many current and future hurdles to overcome to claim an allegiance to a dirty old one that already stole a chunk of my life. Onward.
With alcoholism behind me, I don’t want to control the world, but I do want to understand as much of it as I can. My regrets help my understanding. So does my belief that Jerry Falwell and Michael Jordan aren’t the least bit interested in how my personal story unfolds. But there is a divine force that is tuning in for updates, and to nudge me along the way. For me, enlightenment and understanding are only possible if I’m comfortable knowing that I’ll never figure it all out. There is no finish line. I just want to get as far as I can before my time runs out.
If you struggle with your spirituality, or you battle the concept of a higher power, I encourage you to embrace the challenge. The path to enlightenment and understanding is full of struggle. If it was easy, everyone would make it. Just keep an open mind, and cling hard to the belief that you don’t possess all the answers.
And celebrate the fact that you never will. There is no finish line to cross. Keep going anyway. Try to figure out the next right step. Maybe you’ll start to feel like you’re not alone. Maybe you’ll start to understand that the journey is the destination.
If you are ready to move past the constraints of alcohol and make progress with us, please check out our SHOUT Sobriety program for high-functioning alcoholics – past and present. No matter what you believe, it will feel good to have a group of friends who believe in you!