Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life. Think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone.”
A few weeks ago, I celebrated 18 years sober from addictive sexual behaviors and 16 years sober from alcohol and drugs. But I never wanted to be sober. I never wanted to be in recovery. I only did this because my life was a complete mess, both internally and externally, and I had no other choice. For me, recovery was the proverbial last house on the block.
Even when I finally went to see a therapist for help, I resisted. I kept secrets about the full extent of my problems, I said I would take my therapist’s advice but didn’t (and then I would lie to him about it), and I only went to a 12-step meeting when he very politely but firmly told me that if I didn’t, he would have to fire me as a client.
My first session with this wonderful and persistent clinician was 20 years ago. If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice that it took me two years to establish sobriety from sex addiction, and another two years to walk away from substances. Mostly because I was still clinging to the belief that I had a choice in the matter. I still thought I could learn to drink, drug, and behave like a normal, non-addicted person.
In retrospect, I was a ridiculous idiot. I’d spent 25 years proving to myself and the world that if I took a sip of alcohol or a hit of drugs or engaged in even a smidgen of sexual compulsivity, I turned into a runaway train. I immediately lost control over my life and choices, and the only way for me to stop was to crash. And crash I did. Repeatedly.
But still I could not (or would not) fully commit to sobriety.
The good news is that I stuck with therapy and 12-step recovery and saw countless individual around me end their addictive maelstrom, changing from monsters into men. So I knew there was a solution, and I knew the solution would work if and when I decided to fully commit to it. I also knew, on some deep and unconscious level, that at some point I would indeed be ready to commit.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the obvious consequences – lost relationships, demotions at work, legal trouble, and the like – that pushed me over the edge. What finally got me was the simple realization that I was immensely unhappy and I didn’t want to live like that. At that point, there was only one choice to make. Go all-in on recovery. And even then, I was only willing to go all-in on my sexual recovery. I fought it for another two years with alcohol and drugs.
Again, I was a ridiculous idiot. Until a day when I found myself standing in a bar at a collegiate alumni event for a college I did not attend, realizing, as I sipped an overpriced cocktail, that alcohol and drugs weren’t working any better for me than compulsive sexual behaviors. So I put the drink down and went to an AA meeting (smelling of vodka, I’m sure).
From that moment on, I’ve stayed sober – from all of my addictions. Because that is the moment when I was truly out of choices. If I did not commit to long-term sobriety and recovery, I was going to continue to live an unfulfilled life, I was going to fail utterly and completely as a person, and I was going to die a miserable, lonely wreck of a man.
Have I done my recovery perfectly since then? Oh, heck no. But I’ve learned to stick with the process even when I make mistakes. I’ve learned that’s it’s OK to screw up in life and even in recovery, as long as I stay committed to sobriety and the process of healing. I’ve learned to pick myself up off the floor, dust myself off, and climb back on the horse, even when I really don’t want to, because I’ve got no other choice. I have to make it work, so I do. I hope that you will do the same – if not now, then when you run out of choices.