Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Human nature is a bitch!

I'm having a great morning. While out for an early morning walk, it occurred to me how incredibly fortunate I am. I have an amazing wife, two great kids, a job that I actually enjoy, my mortgage is current and I drive my favorite car. I enjoy an abundance of activities such as coaching baseball, basketball, football and I'm a member of several industry organizations. Yet with all of this good fortune I occasionally find time to complain or want for something better. At the time that I am complaining it makes perfect sense to me and I can rationalize my ungrateful attitude but it clearly has no basis in fact. Eventually i settle down and get on with my day but inevitably am left to feel both foolish and guilty at the same time.

After being clean and sober for as long as I have, it appears that I forget how strong human nature can be and that I need to be mindful of how lucky I truly am and enjoy every minute of every day.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Does my recovery piss you off?

I recently received a polite yet angry email from a gentleman named Dean (his last name was included in his email address but for reasons of anonymity I will not reveal it) who was very upset that I am "blatantly disrespecting the traditions of the program". He was referring to tradition 11 concerning personal anonymity and not mentioning that I am or have been a member of a 12 step group. He wouldn't elaborate on how or where my offense had taken place. I can only assume that he read my book, read my blog or my Sober Conversation Facebook page. He was upset enough to email me about it and wanted to know why I think I'm special and don't have to follow the rules.

This got me thinking about a few things. The first of which is that if no one ever mentioned that they were in recovery, I would not have had the pleasure of reading multiple books about people's experiences in recovery. Nor would I be able to gain insight and support from the hundreds, perhaps thousands of recovery blogs available to me not to mention articles in magazines and Tom Arnold speaking about recovery in Hollywood on Larry King Live. Would it be preferable to only speak of recovery in clandestine meetings that you can't speak of once you leave the building? It's certainly no secret that this nation has a huge problem with addiction, should one of the possible solutions be kept a secret?

Another point Dean's email brought up is the intolerance of some regarding how I maintain my recovery. I've been clean and sober for over 25 years now. I don't attend regular meetings (oops, there I go again mentioning the 12 step program) though I do occasionally speak at the rehab I graduated from. I don't speak about the program, the steps, traditions or how they should find recovery but I do tell them of my experiences and what keeps me sober. So if I don't go to meetings and I don't follow the traditions does it mean that my 25 years aren't valid years of sobriety and that I have no business speaking to anyone about recovery? Am I just a delusional "dry drunk" only moments from relapse because I have done it differently than Dean? If this is true then Dean and others like him will have a full time job monitoring other people's recovery. I certainly hope this doesn't distract them from theirs.

Aaron M. Duke

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm Clean and Sober. Now What?

Let me start by saying that the last 3 years have truly sucked. I was forced to close my business to avoid losing even more money than I already had, the economy has been terrible and the industry I have spent 20 years in has all but vanished. For years I earned over $100K per year and now after my 41st birthday I'm working for $40K. And in a bizarre twist, my mortgage hasn't gone down at all! Imagine that.

When I'm all done feeling sorry for myself, I remember a few key points; I have a healthy family, I have a home of my own, there are people that would be thrilled to make $40k, and despite all of the bitching and whining I hear, I live in an amazing country.

The most important truth I need to remember is that there would be no job, no wife, no great kids, no baseball team to coach if I hadn't gotten sober so many years ago. I would have been dead. Plain and simple. The fact is that getting clean and sober doesn't change the challenges I have to face, it only changes my ability to cope with them. I am extremely proud of the sobriety time I have accumulated but it only puts me on level ground with the rest of the human race.

I can't imagine going back to the person I used to be. I used to think I was so strong. I used to think that all of the trouble i got into made me tough but I have come to realize that real strength is going to work everyday, paying the mortgage on time, being the role model for my kids, doing the right thing every time and most of all - being grateful for everything I am blessed with.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Irony of Strength

I have often heard people speak of not having the strength to remain clean and sober or not having the strength to avoid temptation. While it is true that it does require both mental and spiritual strength to achieve any level of success getting and staying clean and sober, I have always found it ironic that people don’t believe they possess the strength to do so.

How much strength does it take to bear the pain of your addiction? How much strength does it take to keep fighting the awful truth that you have a drug and alcohol problem? How much strength does it take to continually lie to those who love you and are trying to save you? It takes an enormous amount of strength to continually live in misery.

Perhaps if all of that fight and strength was directed at not drinking or using for one single day you would be one day closer to true happiness.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Is A.A. the only way?

Is completing the 12 steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program the only way to achieve and keep a life free of drugs and alcohol?

I’m going to speak for myself on this question. When I finally hit bottom and realized that I did indeed have a drug and alcohol problem, I was introduced to A.A. by a fellow resident of the half-way house I was living in. During my first meeting I saw and heard things that made me feel both comforted as well as terribly uncomfortable. Most of the people I met greeted me warmly and seemed genuinely concerned for me. Others seemed to be annoyed by the presence of someone so young in their meeting. I heard catch phrases like just for today, keep it simple and let go and let God. At that stage in my life, let go and let God scared the crap out of me. I had absolutely no relationship with a God or any intention to begin one. I did believe that I was capable of embracing one day at a time and that was about it.

What really mattered to me was changing the absolute hell my life had become. I didn’t want to feel the misery that was with me every waking minute. The drugs and the alcohol couldn’t mask the pain I felt any longer, I wanted it to stop. I was willing to do anything at all to make it all go away. What that meant for me, was to continue to attend the A.A. meetings.

My view is this; if I was truly willing to do anything to find peace and all these people were telling me this was the way, then I had to at least give it a try. Sure there were things and people within the program to find fault with but if there was even a small chance that it would work, I had to try. If I wasn’t willing to try, then it didn’t matter what 12 step programs, book or medicine I tried. It was never going to succeed.
So is it possible to get clean and sober (and stay that way) without A.A.? Lots of things are possible, space travel, spontaneous combustion…etc. There seems to be a better chance of success with A.A.

I’m still clean and sober 24 years later. If I can do it, you can too.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How did you get sober?

If you have read my blog before, you know that I’ve been clean and sober for quite a while now and I typically write about my challenges and successes in staying sober. While I do speak to adolescents at the treatment facility I graduated from, my focus has been on “I’m sober, now what?” for the last few years. My nearly 25 years of sobriety have allowed me to become an average guy with a family, mortgage, goals, a fledgling writing career, ambition and all of the challenges that come with trying to live the American dream. None of which would be possible if I were still drinking and doing drugs.

I got sober at the very young age of 16. I spent 3 days in a coma after an overdose, spent time in 2 psychiatric hospitals, a half-way house and 5 months in rehab. I am extremely fortunate to be alive and able to put together a full sentence.

The one question everyone has for me is “How did you get sober?”

I don’t think it’s possible to properly describe my journey in a few paragraphs but here are some of the most important reasons.

Bottom – I reached my bottom with a coma. For me there really was only prison and death left if I continued the life I was leading. I admitted that my drug and alcohol use was out of control. I absolutely had to change.

People – I was fortunate to have met many level headed, patient, and dedicated people in treatment facilities and Alcoholics Anonymous that gave both their time and energy. Without them I may not be writing this.

Belief – Call it whatever your comfortable with; God, the Universe, your Higher Power… I believed that there was a better life for me. I believed that had to be some sunshine in my future. I didn’t know what it was or where to find it, but I believed that I would find it if I stayed clean and sober just for today.

Hard Work – I did the things that I had to whether I wanted to or not. I stayed away from people and places I knew were trouble. I went to meetings every day. I asked myself hard the hard questions even when I didn’t like the answers. I drank water and soda.

The good news is that if I can do it, anyone can do it.

How are you doing today?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Identity Keeps Me Clean and Sober

The last two years have been extremely challenging for me. I had to close my printing company to avoid getting further in debt, the economy has made it very difficult to find a rewarding job that pays anywhere close to what I'm used to making, my confidence has been shaken and I've begun to question many things I believe in. Perhaps it is a perfect storm of self doubt, bad economic times, getting laid off and the fact that I just turned 40!

What hasn't changed is my sobriety. If ever there was a time to rationalize smoking a joint or having a drink it would have been in the last year. Never once during that time did I ever considered drugs or alcohol as a form of relief or escape. Why is that? I took some time to really think about why I'm still clean and sober for over 24 years now.

During my struggle with drugs and alcohol, the thing that kept me using and drinking was my identity. A drunk and an addict was what I knew and who I was. I didn't believe that better things were ahead of me, I didn't have hopes and dreams, and I certainly didn't believe that I deserved a better life than I was living. I believed that I was a screw-up, I believed that any effort to better myself was a waste of time and that if I could just get wasted, none if it would matter. Those beliefs kept me looking for the next high to ease the pain instead of dealing with the source of the pain.

Ironically it is my beliefs that have kept me clean and sober for all of these years. I don't look to drugs and alcohol to solve my problems because that's no who I am now. Getting wasted isn't even on my radar screen because I'm not that person any more. My focus is on fixing the problem instead of running away from it. My thoughts and behaviors over the last 24 years have created a new healthy identity a strong as my old destructive identity. Years ago how I viewed myself kept me from getting sober, now how I view myself keeps me from being a drunk.