My first first step
I remember the moment of my first admission. I never so much as joked about being alcoholic until that day, my 3rd in rehab. I blogged about my strong denial here. Unable to see myself honestly landed me in the psychiatric ward—that and my round-the-clock drug usage.
So there I sat, 3 days from my hospital stint, diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis, in a circle of 27 men, admitting their alcoholism and addictions one after the other to open a morning meeting.
At 24, I was the youngest. I had also spent the first 72 hours in belligerent silence.
When I traded those hospital slippers for sneakers, I thought I was heading to a compound to solve the world’s post-apocalyptic problems. I can see I’ll have to blog more about this psychosis later. The reality that I was in treatment for my drug and alcohol use was developing slowly, like a Polaroid picture.
They gave me a prayer to read that morning. A prayer called “Slow Me Down Lord.” The laminated paper, frayed at the edges from the thousands of desperate men who clung to it before me, shook in my hand. My pride was my greatest enemy. I had gone to work every day during my last bender. I had stopped sleeping because no drug could put me to sleep, but if someone asked me how I was doing, I would reply, “I’m fine.” I wanted to believe there was nothing I couldn’t manage.
The words of the prayer drifted in and out of focus. When I was cued to read, no words came. All my intellectual pride had left me illiterate. A stranger’s voice rose from a desperate place:
“My name is Mark and I’m an alcoholic.”
The tradition for first time admissions calls for a chorus of men to reply in unison, “YES YOU ARE!”
I laughed in surprise and recall a feeling I need to never forget. A weight off my shoulders is an apt description. I felt lighter, like I dropped a heavy suit of armor I never knew I wore. A feeling of fitting-in steadied my shaky nerves. It was what I’d been searching for. That feeling of being acceptable—ironically the feeling drugs and alcohol induced. But this was something true, not synthetic or fleeting. I entered a place of peace, laid a cornerstone to my soul.
I had spoken the truth for what felt like the first time in my life.
I try to keep this memory fresh. As the length of my sobriety increases so do the quality of my problems. How easy it is—with a loving wife, steady job, beautiful family—to forget how it all started.
There is nothing like laying that first stone in your recovery’s foundation. As your sober house is raised above it, don’t neglect what unites us, the strength in the admission that we are alcoholics and addicts.