I sit in metal folding chair. Styrofoam cup of strong coffee in my hand. Sweat drips beneath my shirt. Ceiling fan blows weak air on my red face.
I shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong here. This room, this meeting, is for people who have a problem. I don’t have a problem.
I simply can’t stop drinking and I want to kill myself.
Words come through the haze of my hangover in snippets:
One Day At A Time.
God grant me the Serenity.
First Things First.
For two months, I’ve been attending these meetings while still actively drinking. I had a system. I would attend the 3:00 PM meeting, leave before the prayer (God didn’t hear me anyway), get to the bar by 4:00 for happy hour, drink until 2:00 AM, go home and sleep, wake up at noon and be sober in time for the meeting. Then do it all again.
But, for some reason, on that July afternoon, something got through my fog.
“Do the next right thing,” someone said. “Try not drinking right now.”
So, that day, I didn’t go straight to the bar after my AA meeting. I stayed for the prayer. I didn’t know what I was going to do that afternoon, that evening, the following day, the day after that, on and on. I had no idea how I was going to get through the night not drinking, but I didn’t have to worry about that. All I had to do was not drink right now.
So, I stayed at the clubhouse to smoke a cigarette and meet some people.
Then, I went with my new acquaintances to a park to play volleyball. We went to dinner. Then another meeting. Then someone’s house to watch a movie. All of these little steps taken one at a time, not knowing what I was going to do next, or how I was going to get through the long night of sobriety.
A year after my first meeting, I was still on this slow journey. I would take a few steps forward, get 30 days sober, 3 months, two weeks, then take a few steps backward with a drink or a weekend binge. I won’t try to tell you that it was all rainbows and unicorns. That was the most difficult year of my life. I had gone through a divorce, moved twice, nearly lost my job, and had my identity stolen.
In April of 2010, though, I came to the bottom of my pit. I went out drinking one night, determined to drink until I had killed myself.
In the morning after my binge, my roommate decided to take matters into her own hand and drove me to rehab. I was so mad. She drove me to a rehabilitation facility in the mountains, hours away from where we lived. She had already packed a bag for me, called them for an opening, and arranged for drop off. She dropped me off and drove home, leaving me in hell.
And it saved my life. It was the best thing anyone had ever done for me. I stayed mad, refusing to participate in the rehab activities, for a week. All the while, hearing the mantras I had come to hate.
One Day At a Time
Trust your Higher Power
God grant me the Serenity
First Things First
Do the next right thing.
Finally, one morning, as I had my morning cigarette and coffee, staring at the magnificent snow-capped peaks surrounding the facility, I suddenly saw the beauty of life. I suddenly wanted to live. And I didn’t want to drink.
First things first. Do the next right thing.
The power in those words motivated me to act. I woke up on time. Attended and participated in morning prayers instead of sitting in the back. I spoke in group therapy. I ate full meals, socialized with the others, opened up to my counselor. Every day, I looked at just that day. Just that step, that choice, that action which was right in front of me.
What’s the next thing I need to do?
I finished rehab and went into the real world with this thought guiding every move. Is it eat, or pray, or sleep, or move? Don’t think about tomorrow, next week, month, or year. Each time that anxiety about the future returned, I brought it back to “What action do I need to take right now?”
Anna, from Frozen 2, is no stranger to the darkness of a cave. After having lost everything and finding herself at the bottom a literal and figurative pit, she sends a message to all of us in these dark times.
Just do the next right thing.
She lifts herself up off the ground, one step at a time, one choice at a time. She says, “I won’t look too far ahead. That’s too much for me to take.”
When we are in a dark place, wondering about the future, lost in uncertainty and fear, all we can do is look at the step we must take in front of us. What do you need to do today? Not tomorrow, or next week. Things are changing rapidly around us. I’m in a different place today than I was a week ago, or even a few days ago. The future has never been more uncertain as we globally battle this enemy together.
So, we break our actions down to “this next breath, this next step, this next choice.” What do you need right now? What do your kids, your significant other, your work, or your family need right now?
Look at the simple steps in front of you. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Do something you like. Go outside. Go to work (if you’re still working). Take a walk. Call a friend. Set up a Zoom meeting. Do work from the office. Play with the dog.
This is how we’ll get through this together. One step at a time. One choice at a time. One action at a time.
This April, I celebrate 10 years of sobriety. It’s unbelievable. How did I do it? I really don’t know. I’m still in awe that it’s been that long. I know it’s hard to believe that I did it one step at a time, but that’s exactly what I did. I made it one day without drinking, then one week, two weeks, a month, a year, and on until I found myself in this place.
This situation will pass. Although it feels very frightening and it feels as though the world is ending and it will be like this forever, it will pass. We can build each other up through this unprecedented time or tear each other down.
We can walk through this night together. Just do the next right thing. Whatever that is. Maybe right now it’s getting a cup of coffee. For me, as I write this, the next right thing is to wake up my kids so we can get started on our homeschool schedule. They keep me sane. The homeschool schedule I put in place keeps me sane. In a year, or two, or ten, we’ll look back on this time and be able to share amazing stories of survival and love.
So, choose today, in this moment, to spend this time in our collective cave in love rather than fear. As my five-year-old says, “We got this.”