Lessons Learned From The Bottom Of The Bottle

Early in my recovery, I kept hearing the phrase “grateful recovering alcoholic.” I hated it. What was there to be grateful for? I had lost my job, my young children were confused as to why everything was so different, and my wife didn’t trust me. We were in danger of losing our house and I took a part-time job working overnights. Our church home changed. People who had been hurt by me were still figuring out how to interact with me. I was an embarrassment to myself and to my family.

And you want me to say I’m grateful?

It took me a while to learn, but yes. I was growing in gratitude. It took me a while to realize it, but I could indeed be grateful for everything that happened. As many people in 12 step groups put it, “Everything that has happened to you has brought you to this point in your life.”

And there was some good in my life. And there has been even more. So I learned to say that I was a grateful recovering alcoholic.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wish I could take away the pain I inflicted on other people. I wish the hurt that I caused had not happened. But, I learned a lot from my addiction and continue to learn more in my recovery.

First, I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. If anyone ever thinks that an addict is lazy or lacks determination or has no drive, that just reveals that they don’t really, truly know any addicts. Do you know how hard I had to work to keep my addiction a secret? Do you know how difficult it was to hide my bottles and credit card bills? Do you know how difficult it was to inventory and schedule restock trips so that I never ran out?

I do not say any of that to be flippant. I say that because when I was drinking, I was determined to make sure I could keep drinking. And I would do anything I could to continue. And if I could forth that much effort on something so destructive, just imagine how much I could accomplish if I would apply all of that on things that were constructive.

Second, I learned that when it comes to addiction, I am really no different from anyone else. I love the anonymity of 12 step groups. But do know why anonymity exists? It is not primarily to protect the identity of people who attend. The main purpose of anonymity is to say, “We are all here for sobriety. It does not matter who we are or where we come from. We want to get well. Titles, fame, money, status, all of that is not important here.”

It does not matter that I was a middle class, white, preacher’s kid. It did not matter that I was college educated. It did not matter that I still lived in a house with my wife and kids. I was a drunk. And I needed help.

Third, no matter how far you sink, God is still there. And this is a very annoying truth. God’s back is never turned. Even when you want it to be. Even when you are ready to give up on yourself. Even when you think you are unworthy of any love or grace. God says, “Sorry. I am not ready to give up on you.”

There is so much more. There are days that I wish I did not have to go through the bottle to come to these realizations, but most days I realize this: I am grateful for the lessons I have learned; I am grateful for the ways I have been changed; I am grateful for what I have in my life.

And that gratitude only came when the bottle was finally empty.

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