Prepare for Takeoff

Air-travel has been on my mind this week, likely as a result of the United Passenger whose limp body was dragged off a flight because of the airline’s overbooking error. Maybe it’s from an urge to make the sky’s friendly again that I write this post. It’s nothing new really.

I’ve compared recovery to a lot of things from climbing Everest (“Be A Sherpa”) to elephant training (“How I freed my elephant”) to visiting an amusement park (“Roller-Coaster Sober”). With this post, I realized I need a whole new category—recovery metaphors—to try and house my joy of comparing aspects of everyday life to the journey of recovery. I guess I just prefer them to lists. Like, who wants to read another post entitled: “Ten Things Similar to Recovery” or in the case of a typical news feed nowadays: “Ten Signs the World is Coming to an End.”

For this metaphor, I’d like you to imagine you are on a plane and the flight attendant is walking you through the pre-flight passenger announcements. Only instead of ignoring them while reading a book, or pretending to pay attention to the “how to buckle a seat belt” routine with earbuds in, really listen to what they say.

“Ladies and gentlemen the captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. Please remain seated for take-off.”

All we can do when our recovery takes off is sit our asses down and buckle up. The journey is beginning and we are to make no major decisions until we’re at least at a cruising altitude. Even then, our recovery is known to experience violent and sporadic turbulence that forces us back to our seats with an inconvenient urgency.

“Be sure your tray table and seat are in their full and upright position.”

God help you if you are comfortable for takeoff. God help you if you are comfortable in early sobriety. Everyone’s recovery is different, but I can write it is a unilateral truth that early sobriety is an uncomfortable process. Those safety nets of shame and guilt break from underneath us. We enter free-fall, with nothing to hold onto but the suggestions of total strangers that we, let’s face it, more often than not, would rather punch in the face than listen to. Comfort is for the private jet-setters who call their captain by his first name. We in the sober class? That’s right. Sit upright and get uncomfortable. This will be a long flight.

“Please take a few moments now to locate your nearest exit.”

Exit strategy? Good call. Early recover demands a full proof exit strategy. If you don’t take a few moments to locate the nearest exit, what will you do when that callous colleague pours you a drink at the Christmas party? What will you do when that drinking buddy—earnest as she might be—turns to you and says, “Really? Not drinking? Is that, like, forever?” Without an exit strategy, whatever will you do when the unsuspecting concert-goer goes, “Hey, want this beer? They gave me two.” You need a way out.

(The miracle of the mundane would like to take this opportunity to remind newcomers that if on an airplane in early recovery and offered a drink at 40,000 feet, you should not open the nearest emergency door hatch. That would be a tragic mixing of metaphor, even worse than this post.)

“In case of emergency, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you.”

This is my favorite part of the obligatory pre-flight script. It’s like if the plane is going down, a TSA wizard will wave his wand and “poof” in front of me will appear a life-saving mask.

“Put on your mask first before assisting the person next to you.”

That’s some grownup recovery wisdom for you. Not only to survive this illness ourselves, but in order to be of use to people around us, we must concentrate on our recovery first. This is the source of many a domestic disturbance. The newcomer is out of the house every night, going to a meeting, making new friends. The spouse can’t believe that getting sober requires their partner to be gone so often.

The next time you’re loved one asks, “You’re going out again?” You can say, “I’ve got to put on my mask first before assisting others”—in other words— “I’ve got to be sober in order to be your husband,”—or your friend, or your wife, or your pet-owner.

“Once we reach a cruising altitude the seat-belt sign will turn off, and beverages will be available at cost.”

That’s right. Once you up and get comfortable in this new sober seat of yours, on this new journey in recovery, you are free to move about the cabin once more. And that beverage cart sells liquor. Temptation is coming. It is perfectly suitable for you to head back to your seat, pull that safety strap firm across your midsection and take a nap. At the very least, before you buy a drink, consider all that it will cost you.

So on behalf of sober-folk everywhere, let me be not the first, but one in a long line of travelers to welcome you to the petrifying friendly skies.

13 Responses to “Prepare for Takeoff

  • Awesome awesome awesome post. I shared it with my therapist. I hope you don’t mind. ty.

  • Love the metaphors!

  • Excuse me for my lowbrow ejaculations . . . but . . . f*cking brilliant dude! This essay is exceptionally clever! I’m going to have to use your same style sometime. Also, I wanted to thank you publicly for being there when I needed someone’s writing advice.

    Thanks for this. Sharing now! – Danno

    • I can’t speak with you Danno without getting something out of it myself. I want to hear what’s next for you! I was thinking (as we have a sort of online group, maybe skype and some google docage could allow us to have a writers group at a distance?

      • Interesting idea! That’d be cool. Although, as you mentioned, there is something to the idea of working with others you don’t know as well.

  • It’s rarely I share blog posts on Facebook. After reading this post I couldn’t pass up the chance. I’m sure there will be those in my own recovery community who will enjoy it. I would like permission to reprint, if needed. Thank you for writing this! Great work!

    • Mikey, it’s great to connect! And glad to see you joined the clean and sober blogosphere. I think you’ll find it a good place to recover.

      I’m ok with re-prints etc. just throw me some credit on social media or whatever.

      I had a lot of fun writing it and it means everything that you find it helpful and you think it will help others. Truly, that’s what it’s all about! Thank you sir.

  • I LOVED this Mark!
    It made me kind of chuckle.
    I wish I could write this well!

    Do you think I should share my blog on FB?
    I don’t do twitter, as then I’d have even more time on-line!
    I already posted on FB about me being sober.
    It’s kind of hard, though, as I have former students as friends, and former parents.
    But they all know I am in recovery now, so I guess it’s not an issue.


    • That’s really up to you. I’d say trust your gut. My guy (although shaky) said share away! My job has been very supportive of it all.

      And thank you for your kind words, Wendy. They mean so to me!

  • Love this, Mark. Nice follow up to your tweet about “rule #1, don’t drink.” I end up sharing this anecdote often in a newcomer meeting I sometimes attend: when I first attended AA, I was terrified I would see someone I knew. (Of course, now I HOPE to see someone I know!) Anyway, at the beginning, the first 3 people who were friends outside of AA whom I saw said the exact same thing to me: “just don’t drink.” Steps 2-12 are obviously very important for personal/spiritual growth, but it’s all out the window if we drink or use. Anyway: clever metaphors! Happy Easter!

    • Thanks HD. It’s such sound advice. Dig the anecdote. We make things so complicated sometimes. It’s really just that simple isn’t it? The rest is great for growth and such, but man. Keep it simple for the newcomer! Happy Easter to you too, my friend.

  • Brilliantly written essay comparing a flight in the sky to recovery.

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