Q: What could others have done to intervene earlier and help get Robert on the road to addiction and alcoholism recovery? Filmmaker, writer and sober coach Robert McClellan shares bite-sized addiction recovery insights.
Glad to be alive
If you are sitting in a dark room, considering giving up or hurting yourself – this is a message you may want to hear.
I have been clean and sober for a long time. Sometimes, I think having so much distance between the last time I used and today comes across as a bit out of touch. I have friends who are still out there who say, “you don’t know what it is like” or “things are really different today.” I’ll give them that. The world is, indeed a much more complicated and technical place then it was when I was drinking and drugging. I would not want to trade places with any of them.
But, there is one thing that is universal, and stretches across time and space. The pain. The self inflicted damage every one of us alcoholics and addicts does to ourselves. What would it be like to not feel the pain? We mask the pain with drugs. We cover up our pain with alcohol. For some of us, the pain becomes more than we think we can bear, and we end it with our own hands. We commit suicide. Our troubled minds convince us that killing ourselves will, at least, make the pain go away.
I’d argue that committing suicide may, in fact, be easier than going through detox, and getting into recovery, for some of us. If you’ve been around drug addicts and alcoholics long enough, whether using or sober, you know of someone who decided to just give up and end the pain. Every time an addict takes their own life, they take a part of all of us with them.
Maybe I was just too weak, or too scared, or I intellectualized the outcome – but, there was a time when I sat with a pistol in my hand, and thought about ending the pain. I had relapsed again. I was on a drunken binge after more than a year sober. I was obsessed with a women who did not return the favor. I wasn’t happy with my family, my job, my health – I was in pain.
But, I reached out to a friend. A guy who wasn’t in recovery. I was too embarrassed to call my old sponsor, or go into my old A.A. home group. I didn’t think I could face them. I was ashamed.
But, calling my friend, a guy I was close with on and off over a period of many years, I felt I could trust him. He wouldn’t judge me. He’d listen. And he did. He came and picked me up. We went out to get something to eat, and he opened my eyes to how great life was. He was a VietNam veteran, who saw and did some awful things, that still haunted him. But, he learned to live in the light. He never took a single moment for granted. He found joy in simple things – like riding his bike, playing his guitar, fishing from the pier near his house, and cooking a good meal for his wife. He worked as a mailman, and he smiled and waved at everyone. He had seen so much death and despair and hatred in Viet Nam, that he made it his life’s mission to always find the light, always find the positive side of every situation. He met the pain head on – with love and optimism. He was a light in my darkness.
He told me that he was fortunate to have m as a friend and that he loved me. He stayed near by. Over the next few days he came by whenever he could. He called me. He had me over to dinner at his house. He just was present.
And most of my pain went away. I went back to A.A. I went back to treatment. I never again thought about hurting myself.
Over time, I’ve been able to help others who may have been overwhelmed by the pain. I’d like to think that my presence, my attention and caring may have helped ease another’s burden.
It is hard to not sound out of touch when I use such cliches and say things like “Life is a gift. Live in the light. Be positive, and so on…but all I can do is be here for you, and try to communicate that you are not alone, and encourage you, that when things are dark and painful, try just one more time to connect with someone who shines a little light in the world.
You’ll be surprised to find that the light comes from inside every one of us. Find your light.