Thursday, March 11, 2010

Drop the stick, I no longer chase carrots....

You know, before you enter a rehab program, it feels like people in your life will tell you just about anything to make it happen. There is a certain amount of suspicion that follows all the grandiose promises that I was fed before I set one foot on the path of this journey.

When I arrived at the ranch, I was fed even more tales of all these wonderful things which would just happen to fall into my lap if I decided to put in the effort to get myself better. The least of which were my health, my self-esteem, and renewed opportunities in life.

A year of your life is a huge investment. I remember when I went in to buy my car, I was told by the salesman how wonderful my life would be if I was in this car. It would take me places no other car on the planet possibly ever could take me, and it would do it at 30 miles to the gallon. It would certainly be a reliable way to get around and of course it would probably make me more attractive, in fact, I would probably realize the love of my life just by SITTING in this car. I just had to make a huge investment.

WOW! How could I say no to this? And, so I entered the program and began to do the work, I heard of all the things at the end of the program which would be waiting for me. I would invest.

It should be noted, none of these things I believed. To be quite honest, I entered because there was a moment right before I came in that I thought I would certainly die if I didn’t do something about this, and if I died from alcoholism, I would be pretty pissed at myself! That is not how I should have to die, alone, on a bathroom floor, in some drunken pool of my own vomit.

Sometimes at the ranch, the way they convince guys to stay in the program is the ‘carrot at the end of the stick,’ approach. The promises of what life has to offer may not be enough for other guys either, so they throw in a car… and they throw in free dental work… and glasses… and the chance to work or go to school and save money… then there is rental assistance when we leave… and lest we forget the house full of furniture they provide… and of course there is the anytime $2000 loan they will give us.

Suddenly the year doesn’t seem like that long, this seems more like a sweepstakes than a rehab, and I have just landed the grand prize. I wasn’t buying a car, I was being GIVEN one.

It is easy to have some pretty screwed up motivation when all this is unloaded on you, and I am not an idiot, I know that much of this is because graduates of the program are good for the program. Donors love to hear stories about success rates and guys who complete the program, so there is incentive to the ranch to keep us going and completed.

This isn’t the main motivation, of course. But it certainly helps.

And so this week, a couple things happened to me that really tested not only what I have learned in this program, but the benefits of living sober. I wrote last week about integrity, and mine was certainly tested. I also wrote about reputation, and mine would certainly live up to its name, and I wrote about the fact that there is wholeness in living a good life and this wholeness brings goodness to you, like a gravitational pull.

The ranch recently adopted a policy that allows us to park our personal vehicles on the ranch when we get to phase 3. This is great news for me, as I have that car I mentioned, and I drive to and from work. I used to park the car miles away and either ride my bike or walk or take a shuttle to and from the car. This was tedious and cumbersome.

So, the policy went into effect on Monday of this week, and so I had my car ready and waiting, parked in the empty sod field across the street from the ranch, waiting for Monday to roll around.

Monday morning, I went in, paid for my monthly parking pass, gave copies of my current registration and insurance, and went to work. Later that day, I was informed by my case manager that I was being put on probation for 30 days because an administrator may have felt that I was thumbing my nose at the system, that I was pushing my limits by parking it so close to the ranch up until I could get my pass.

I was shocked to say the least. This was hardly the case. This could have meant a postponement in my graduation, it means that I was on the wire to being dismissed, it had some implications.

My chaplain, who I speak with every week, and knows my character, was a passionate advocate on my behalf. I spoke to another chaplain who asked me how I felt about this and my response required absolutely no thought or preparation.

I felt a little railroaded, BUT…...

There have been rumors about me, that some on the staff believe I might be someone who will leave the ranch early, that at any moment I am planning a departure. I mean, I have a job, I have a car, I don’t truly NEED a place to live, the carrots at the end of the sticks mean nothing to me. The chaplain asked me why I stay.

There are several reasons. The first is that too many damn times, I have robbed myself the satisfaction of success because things got a little tough for me. If life was mean, well, thank God there was one small reprieve from all that cruelness and it conveniently came in a $5.99 plastic bottle. I am not going to do that this time. I am not going to pack up and leave because things are not going according to how I expect them to play out.

I am not built to break, I am not built to bend. At some point I have to stop looking in the mirror and saying to myself, “What kind of man do I want to be?” and instead say, “What kind of man AM I?” And, I know now, I am not the kind of guy who quits at life anymore because it’s a little rough around the edges. I don’t have the safety of the bottle to cushion my blows, and so, well, I just need to put on my big boy pants and face it head on. Even when I am tied to those tracks I feel railroaded on.

The other reason is that many of the guys on this ranch have looked at my program and have decided to emulate it. To them, I work a good program, to them, my successes in this program are equipping me with the skills to maintain a lifetime of sobriety, too. What the hell kind of weasel would I look like if I demonstrated that I am the kind of person who sticks around when its easy to do, and high tails it out of there when its rough.

I have asked these guys to trust me for 10 months, I have talked the talk, I need to walk the walk. Hmmm, what do you know, I do have some integrity.

But you see, none of this required a second thought. For one of the first times ever, doing the right thing did not require a second guess. It felt exhilarating to hold my head up high at the ranch and take the probation and know I was doing this completely by choice. I was not going to challenge the decision, I was not going to try to get out of it, I was not going to play the ‘I am a victim here’ card, I was not going to leave because this screwed up my summer time table. I had been railroaded, but instead of getting pissed, I lumbered up on the train and decided to take it where it lead me. None of the reason I decided to stay with it had anything to do with those carrots at the end of that stick.

All of those responses are the typical responses of an addict, by the way. To try to get out of something, the decision to leave because I didn’t get my way, “everyone hates me so that’s why they are picking on me,” these are all addictive responses to challenges.

Addicts as a rule don’t like authority – authority takes away the opportunity to get loaded – you gotta answer to authority. Screw them, right.

But there is one authority on my life that I can not escape, and that’s myself. I am accountable to only one person, me. And here is where I begin to complete the circle I was drawing last year. You may remember there were some blogs about the fact that it is OK to be accountable to other people for your sobriety. I detailed how this was OK, that you have commitments to other people and so if you decide to live sober because of these commitments, this was as good a reason as any.

I also said that the idea, to an alcoholic, that you needed to do this ‘for yourself’ was ridiculous. I wrote that we are perfectly good with the intention of self-destruction and so deciding to get sober for ourselves wasn’t really a good carrot at the end of the stick either.

But trying this for the people I loved, well, that’s something I could live with at that time, that was certainly a reason to give this a shot. So I put on those big boy pants, and I gave it a shot.

And now I am noticing more and more that my motivations are, indeed, because I am no longer ignoring the good angel on my shoulder who is whispering a pretty decent code of conduct to me all the time. I am accountable to me, just me. And my fears about staying sober for a lifetime because I didn’t know who I could be accountable to, well, these are subsiding.

I can stay sober because I am accountable to myself. I was promised I would achieve this. I was told, among other things, that I would have this amazing ability to do the right thing, including not drink, because it was the right thing. I even had hints that I was developing this, but to actually see it put into practice, well, this was a really unplanned opportunity.

And so, I think about the ‘incentives’ that this ranch offers. I think about all the ‘things’ that I have been promised because I am here and upon my completion. There is more to me, though. What I got was what I was promised, and more. My health – physical and even emotional and spiritual, the health of my relationships, the health of my heart – my health is in the best shape. I was promised better self-esteem, and you can see how I feel about myself, I love me. I do. And I was promised renewed opportunities in my life. I feel like the world has rolled out a red carpet for me and I finally have the confidence to step up on it.

So the resolution to all this, you might ask. Well, I am still on probation and thanks to a chaplain who knows me well, these are the terms. Thirty days probation adds thirty days to my minimum phase requirement; phase three minimum is 12 weeks. I now have a minimum of 16 weeks in this phase. I will be at 16 weeks the end of this month, long before I graduate. Probation also means that I can be dismissed if I break the rule that got me on probation in the first place – which is parking in the sod field across the street. So I won’t be doing that. And this was achieved because my reputation was bolstered by my integrity, and a chaplain recognized this. I wasn’t trying to escape the probation, it was an opportunity to test what I was made of, and I think I did OK.

And so those promises were real. More than I expected, more than I had hoped for. It was sort of magical how all this came about inside me. There were some really dark days when I couldn’t even feel the life inside me enough to hope for anything more than the strength to get out of bed long enough to throw up. Hope has returned.

My mom shared with me the other day three things which she believes make a happy person – First is someone to love, second is something to do, and third, is something to hope for. I have so many people to love I feel as if my heart may explode, I have a renewed sense of my own purpose, there are so many things in my life to do that I have to actually live to be a hundred, I have so much to hope for, things bigger than the carrots at the end of sticks that might be waved at me.

This is happiness, I was promised this at the beginning, I should hardly be surprised that its here, but I am, a little bit.

The wholeness of all this has a gravitational attraction that you can’t deny. I am like a magnet these days, events in my life are working to build me up and catch me up. And so I received an unexpected email from my mom last week and my whole family has decided to help me with a bit of happiness by sending me to the Bonnie Hunt Show before she goes off the air in May.

I am beside myself! Touched doesn't begin to describe it. I immediately wrote to Bonnie Hunt and asked her about tickets (if you feel compelled, please write to her too, and ask her to send me some! – I explained to her that in the throngs of addiction, there were days when I would get lost in her hour of television, that it provided me with a window to the world and a reminder that the rest of the world was going on, and the world was pretty happy about it. I know it seems silly, but life was pretty empty back then. And I mentioned that I keep a count of the loss of this hour, not the loss of drunkenness, and this is why I mention the days since I saw her show on this blog.

I mentioned that you can only be successful at something if many people want you to be, it fills my brain with more molecules of hope than one person should be allowed to have, to know that my family wants to offer me something like this. It also means that they believe in me.

I was promised this, too. And here it is. And do you see the beauty in this gift, because I have to attend the show before I graduate, this is not a carrot at the end of a stick, this is a gift because I am loved and because the people in my life want me to be successful, and they want me to kow it. Another promise, made good.

I was thinking about this as I drove into work this morning, and I stopped at a light and looked at myself in the mirror and I realized another promise that was made to me that was made good on… as I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized, indeed I had seen the love of my life just by SITTING in the car, and it was me.

Have a good week all.





  1. Roman,

    I don't know exactly what to write here, I wish I had your email. You're writing is incredible, I'm really proud of you. You sound and look wonderful.

    Jessica Kouba