These words are often softly spoken by the Trail Guide — the Sober Baddass to a fragile newcomer who may be struggling through the early stages of getting clean and sober. Sometimes, they might have had a relapse, and the formula is still a painfully puzzling question. They want to understand how it is done and what they can do to get a new life started substance-free. How can they finally break free from the constant strain of the day-in and day-out drudgery of lies and regretful behavior? How can they get it right… this time?
If I have learned anything on this journey, it is that no amount of pleading, begging, mothers’ cries, children’s tears, angry bosses or best friends’ wide-eyed desperation will convince an alcoholic or addict to get willing and stop using. It just doesn’t seem to work that way. Unless there is a moment of clarity that finally, once and for all, changes them somehow, in a deeply spiritual way, it never seems to happen.
For me, there were many moments of clarity that summed up and brought about that final willingness. Waking up in a foreign country coming out of a blackout, finding myself in a hallway of a hotel in my boxer shorts, not knowing how I got there. Sitting up in bed, panicked, rushing out to my car suspecting and seeing another bashed up fender. Staring with bloodshot, tear-filled eyes into the mirror and seeing another cut on my head and having no clue how it got there. Broken ribs. Another cigarette burn on my drinking-passing out chair. A stack of ATM receipts on my dresser I don’t remember.
You name it, any one of a hundred voices of reason spoken by my conscience with head in hands could have done it… brought willingness to knock on my nice front door in my upscale neighborhood. That haunted gloomy house that had ultimately and finally become my own personal, isolated, private bar.
In the end, what changed it all for me was the visit to a treatment facility down on my knees, out of chances or choices, as a really sick camper. It was there that my life changed, transformation began and my spirit started to lift. This was the moment of opportunity that I had been unknowingly needing: Total surrender. When that happened, I was ready for anything that would change the everything my life had become with the disease of alcoholism.
I was finally willing.
Willingness can be like the start of the new day. It’s waking at 4:30 am on your way to a coffee and the stumbling promise of a fresh start… not quite ready. It’s the gift of being granted another day in life school and the anxious, excited feeling something is about to happen and maybe it won’t suck. It’s that step of faith out on the limbs of chance, knowing they could snap but doing it anyway. It’s when there is no other option and that’s OK, ‘cause you don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks anymore.
Willingness to me is kind of summed up by push-ups. Did I mention how much I hate them? With a passion. I would rather sharpen a #2 pencil and stab it repeatedly into my arm. But, I drop to the floor when they cross my mind and do 5. Or 10. Or 25. The amount that I think I don’t want to do. I would love to say that I do this every day, but I am perfectly flawed and that is not the case. Still, I hit the floor when that thought hits me.
Why? Because willingness is like pushups. No one can do 50 without starting and doing just one. The first one is the essence of being willing.
Sober Living, for me, made simple. Start at zero. Start doing what you don’t want to do or what seems to be hard. Just try. Fail, maybe, then START AGAIN. Before you know it, you’re not failing anymore.
To those on this journey, I salute you. Head up, eyes straight ahead. Willing.
P.S.: By the time you are reading this, and if all goes well in my one day at a time world, I will celebrate five years sober on November 10. Yay.
Reach Marc Lee Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Angelo Merendino. Editor’s note: Marc Lee Shannon holds the trademark to “Sober Chronicles.”