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I work with people that struggle with addiction and are looking for alternatives to traditional 12-step recovery programs. I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to recovery and help people find the personal reasons behind their addiction, discover deep motivations to face their own struggles, and build a life so amazing that the desire to return to their old life simply disappears.
I also love to travel, experience new cultures, go to baseball games with my mom, and spending as much time outdoors enjoying nature as I can.
If drinking wasn’t so good at times, I wouldn’t have spent so many years trying hard to figure out a way to make it work. There were great times with friends, many crazy stories you truly had to be there to believe (we threw a beach party complete with sand and a pool inside our apartment in college), and I was able to be the fun and confident person I had never learned how to be until I discovered alcohol.
I never learned how to deal with the hard things in life. Like the things in childhood that have an impact well into our adult lives. The heartbreaks, disappointments, losses, unfulfilled expectations, deep traumas, the ever-growing list of consequences of my actions, and sometimes the seemingly unbearable weight of life. But when drinking was working, it was my escape from all of that.
I do not remember a moment when everything stopped working. There are often three periods of a life of addiction. You start off in a place where it is really good without too many consequences, move onto a period where it still is pretty good, but the consequences are starting to pile up, and then one day you realize it is almost all consequences. I personally jumped to stage two relatively quickly, spent a lot of time in denial that I moved into stage three, and finally only after many painfully obvious moments, I finally had the realization that I was in a bad place that I didn’t know how to get out of.
There is nothing like waking up in detox every morning to the distant smell of corn flakes being baked. I asked my mom to help me find a rehab and before I knew it I was off to Battle Creek, Michigan. I didn’t know if it was going to work (and to be honest I really doubted it), but I knew I had to try before completely giving up on my life. It was exactly what I needed. A break from my life, a break from temptation, a community of people that had similar struggles as I did, and a whole lot of clarity on exactly how much destruction years of addiction had caused.
The rehab I was in was self-paced. The pamphlet said you could stay as long as it took to successfully complete their program, so I had a plan. I enjoyed doing the work they gave us so I would complete the assigned packets but lied about them actually getting done. My problem is, that I found that I really enjoyed helping other people and after a while, they noticed I was helping people complete packets that were well beyond the stage of the program I was in. I was busted. I was coming up on 60 days in a rehab that most people spent less than 4 weeks in, and they told me it was time to graduate.
I had no intention of going to AA after rehab. They brought meetings into our rehab, and I knew it wasn’t for me. But as the days and weeks passed after getting out, I knew something was missing in my recovery journey. I knew in my heart that just going to rehab for 60 days was not going to keep me sober long term, so when a friend I used to drink with insisted I join her at a meeting, I finally gave in.
I ended up showing up to an amazing group of people who truly delivered on the “experience, strength, and hope” foundation of a fellowship. I found a group of people that I fit in with and who made me feel welcome. It was what I was seeking my whole life. It wasn’t long until I was all in. I did everything they suggested, and I truly felt that I find my solution. I dedicated my life to Alcoholics Anonymous, so much so that many people simply referred to me as “AA Tim”.
Through the process of working the steps, my life improved in many ways. I think many parts of the steps are great for restoring a life ruined by addiction. But there was a part in me that no matter how hard I “worked it”, kept nagging at me. I could never relate to the powerless aspect and the search for a higher power to save me. I didn’t like the constant focus on the “disease” and the fact that we were told that the only way for long-term recovery is to dedicate our lives to AA. I felt that my life still revolved around alcohol, it just switched from a life obsessed with drinking to a life obsessed with not drinking.
Meetings have become my higher power, and my only relief when I was feeling depressed or anxious was attending a meeting. I realized that those meetings had now become my fix. I would neglect other parts of my life to get my AA fix. I found that as the months and years passed, the power of the meetings dissipated so I tried even more AA. My anxiety and depression were getting worse and just like alcohol stopped working at some point, so did my new solution to numbing how I felt.
When I tried talking to people about it, I was told it was my alcoholism speaking. I was told that if I left AA, relapse was certain, and they would give me examples of all the people that left and came back with stories of destroying their life again. I would tell them about the parts of AA I struggled with and how my depression was getting worse. I usually just got random AA phrases thrown at me including the catch-all for all problems: “it works if you work it”.
I worked the hell out of AA. I got a sponsor, I worked the steps multiple times, I sponsored people, didn’t date for the first year (and then discovered that waiting a year didn’t magically make me good at relationships), I did all my amends, held book studies at my house, brought meetings into rehabs, spoke regularly at other meetings, and spent five years of my life where there was not a time that I didn’t hold a service commitment and often held commitments simultaneously at the district and group level. The harder I worked it, the worse my depression got.
I realized AA stopped working for me.
By far, my favorite part of Alcoholics Anonymous was inspiring others. I loved speaking at meetings and seeing in the eyes of other people that the message I was sharing was touching them and motivating them to make changes in their life. My dream was to one day become a circuit speaker (someone who speaks at conferences for free) so that I could inspire more people. But there was this growing feeling that the inspiring message I was sharing was built on a lie. No matter how much I tried to justify the positive way I was impacting others, I knew that the program I was telling people changed my life was no longer working for me. I had fallen back into my pattern of stuffing down negative emotions and justifying why I was doing it.
At this point, I had moved to Arizona and my sponsor was one of the circuit speakers that inspired me to want to be one myself. I loved this man and his words inspired so many. He often told me how great of a message I shared and that I was going to inspire many people, and then one day he pitched the idea of me starting to speak with him. This was my dream, so I was instantly filled with excitement and tears came into my eyes. But that excitement was quickly replaced with a pit in my stomach as I imagined living my lie on a larger stage. I knew I had to tell him the truth.
When I told him how I felt I expected a similar response as I had gotten from everyone else in AA, so when he grabbed his big book, it didn’t surprise me. “I want to read you something that I think will give you the answer you are looking for”, he said.
I respected and looked up to this man so much he could have convinced me to go speak with him and continue down the path that was destroying me. Instead, he told me he has known other people that continued to try to ignore their hearts when they knew that this path of recovery was not for them. He said that those people often ended up drinking or even worse, killing themselves. “The bigger the stage you live a lie, the harder it will be to continue to live”, he continued. He told me to go find my truth, my solution, and then find others that are struggling the way I am. “Those are the people you are meant to inspire”.
I wasn’t strong enough at that time to push through the fears that have been drilled into me that I would relapse if I left AA, and he gave me the permission I needed. I will forever be grateful for that man for what he did for me.
I felt like a huge weight was lifted off me when I left his house that day. I have only been to one meeting since that day when a good friend was in town and “needed a meeting” so I gladly went with him to support him on his own path.
I began reading more about addiction and other methods of recovery. I studied human psychology and behavior and learned why 12-step programs fail for so many people. I found an amazing therapist and worked hard on healing the wounds that caused so much of my pain. I started trying different ways towards working through my struggles and began building a life that gave me purpose. As I did this, I also found many other people that have had success in recovery outside of the traditional models that we are often told are the only way. As I went further down this path, people who were in similar positions as I began appearing in my life. I realized that I could inspire in a much more effective way when I was telling my truth.
One of the phrases thrown around in meetings is “If you want what we have, you have to do what we do”.
The problem I saw is that although a lot of people I met in meetings were accumulating sobriety, happiness did not seem to be in abundance. There was not a shortage of periods of happiness when life went our way, but the sustained joy didn’t seem to be the norm. This was even more apparent in the large group of grumpy old timers that seemed to be unhappy about everything most of the time. I didn’t want what most people had in those meetings. Yes, they were sober, but I wanted to be both sober and happy.
In my journey since leaving AA, I have created a life that fills me with so much happiness and joy that any desire to drink has been completely removed. I found that removing the focus from “not drinking” to healing and working towards living a life that provides fulfillment and joy has filled that void that has existed in me my whole life.
I want to share my story so that people who might have been in a similar spot as me can also be inspired to blaze their own path of recovery. I am not trying to disprove 12-step programs or convince people who have found that as their solution to do anything differently. If AA works for you, please keep doing that. I only want to share the same message my sponsor did with me years ago to follow your conscious.
I will share things that I find very helpful as I continue this journey, but my goal is not to create a new method of recovery. It is to help people find the inner strength to find what works for them and have the confidence to know that they can do that without the fear of relapse lurking with every decision they make.
Connecting with other people is the one thing I value the most and I hope we have done that. I invite you to read some of my blog posts, subscribe to my newsletter, and if you feel inspired, send me a message at [email protected].
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