Sunday, September 22, 2013

Never Give Up...just before the miracle happens

Never Give Up Just Before the Miracle Happens

My name is Steve and I am a gratefully recovering alcoholic. My sobriety date was not planned. I had previously decided many times “This is a great date to quit drinking…but the first day of my recovery for more than 6 years was 5-12-07.  To me, it is no coincidence that the year and the month added up to 12 and that the date was the 12th.  I did not even realize this until more than a year after my I really beleive in 12 Step programs, but I do not speak for any organization or program.  I speak only for my own experiences. 

When I was in undergraduate school I was selected by the graduating class to give the closing speech at graduation.  That was in 1984. In 2008, I was again selected by the graduating class of another educational institution to give the closing speech at graduation – but this one was in a federal prison camp.  So today, I will do my best to fill in the gaps and as is stated on page 29 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I will attempt to describe in my own language and from my own point of view the way I established my own relationship with God.” 

Getting sober has not been easy for me as it has not been with most people – ego, fear, doubt, delusion and denial have been the hallmarks of my resistance to surrender.  But the very first thing that ever stuck in my mind and kept me from giving up completely was a phrase that my aunt North told me back on Labor Day weekend in 1995 “Never Give Up Just Before the Miracle Happens.   Then I heard Chuck C. comment that a priest told him that “Miracles in AA are Common Place! Common Place!” So I bought it and I have prayed for miracles and I have remembered that for me “life is a miracle.”   For people like us there is no middle ground – it is either miracle or tragedy.  Today, I don’t ask for miracles as much as I try to be one with God’s doing his or her part and me doing mine.

I had a really hard time surrendering – I really needed step 2 “HOPE” in order to do step 1.  They say that step 1 is the only step we need to do perfectly.  However, for me, I needed to do the second step, if not perfectly, thoroughly: I needed to learn, understand and truly believe that a power greater than me, whom I will call God, could and would restore me to sanity. I needed you, my sponsor, meetings and the Big Book. However, in the end, it was only when I acknowledged that I was responsible for the mess I had made of my life and I needed to decide whether I was going to go on drinking or whether I was going to do whatever it took to change so that I would no longer need to drink. 

I had to believe that I could change.  I believed in God, though not the dogma attached to many churches or religions.  I just didn’t think that God cared whether I drank or not.  So, despite the efforts of MANY members of AA, various detox hospitalizations and three 28 day treatment programs, I could not stay sober despite acknowledging, accepting and conceding to myself that I was an alcoholic and believing that the Program worked.

I grew up in a family dynamic of the upper middle class – loving, supportive, ambitious and as dysfunction as most families – but I never felt that I really belonged.  I remember feeling different from a very young age.  It was probably sometime between kindergarten and first grade that I knew I was going to have to fend for myself and needed to figure out the rules of this world.  I had these dreams and passions that kept get stifled for some reason.  I was an artistic kid and a terrible team athlete.  I loved sailing, waterskiing, and swimming, but could not play baseball, basketball or football to save my life.  Still, I felt this endless restlessness and dissatisfaction in life – which I had to prove my worth in being allowed in my family, in my school, in my community, in my country and in the world.  I went to 10 schools in 12 years up through high school because of family moves and school changes. 

When I was in seventh grade, an incident prompted a major change in me.  I was in gym class and we had to run eight laps around the track.  By the time the other guys had completed the eight laps I was still last and just completed my 7th lap.  It seemed ridiculous for me to keep everyone waiting while I would run the 8th lap, so I lied and told the coach that I had finished.  All the other guys immediately admonished me and condemned me.  They called me a liar and a cheat – and I was.   It was a Friday and I pretended to be sick the following week – all week – in hopes that they would all forget me.  While I stayed home, I reflected on what a disgrace I was and how I seemed to be so unsuccessful in my day to day living.  I would watch movies and retreat into fantasy – I dreamed I was like James Bond leading a life of adventure and intrigue all over the world. The fantasy “me” knew the major cities of the world intimately and spoke several languages.  The real “me” memorized the maps of the capitals of Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.  The real “me” studied the histories and the cultures of the world.  The real “me” learned to speak several languages.  The real “me” did everything possible to travel around the world – going to places in reality and, if not, then through movies, books and pen pals. 

As a teenager, I resolved that I was going to become as close to the fantasy “me” as I could.  For the next 6 years of junior high school and high school I coped perfectly with the world by escaping to my fantasy world whenever I was unsatisfied with the real world or needed an escape.  When I started college, I went into a panic that I would not succeed and I would never be worthy of anything.  However, the next four years were years of tremendous success.  I was the Chief Justice of the Student Court, an honor student, involved in everything and very happy.  After my freshman year, I realized that I had not had to retreat to my fantasy life because once I was away from my family and in college, I felt free to become my true self and I sought earnestly to study, work hard and do anything that would prepare me to become the man of my dreams.  I did not drink much in college, but I remember getting drunk a few times.  I thought that is what college kids do.  Still, I graduated summa cum laude, gave the commencement address at my graduation and seemed on top of the world with a bright future.  The problem was that I had a secret – I was gay and that was not in my plan.   I had no idea how to solve it – I prayed to be “cured of my affliction.”

I took a year off between college and law school to study and teach English in Japan.  I also went to Japan to cure myself of being gay – I reasoned that Japanese women were hot and Japanese guys were not and I had a book that promised a cure.  Once I got to Japan, once again, I was gripped with fear that I would be a failure; that I would not succeed. I doubted myself and felt that I again would never succeed or amount to anything.  There I drank like the Japanese did - a lot.  One night at a club, I had too much to drink and decided to break dance.  It was the 80’s. I did break dance and I broke my ankle.  I was supposed to take my test to get my black belt in Shorinji Kempo and had to do it in a cast from the Red Cross hospital. I realized the cure was not going to work and I delayed dealing with the homosexual issue.  Nevertheless, I left Japan with a great sense of love for the country, a black belt, many friends, and I felt accomplished.

 I arrived at the University of Florida on a Sunday from my year in Japan and started law school on Monday. Apart from a great culture shock, I went again into panic at starting a new challenge.  I felt that I was a loser again, that I would never succeed and I was totally unworthy of anything good.  Plus, I had not found a resolution to the gay issue.  Well, after a difficult first year, I was accepted to clerk with a Japanese American law firm in Chicago and lived with my grandparents.  There, I discovered the magic of alcohol.   Every day after work, I would come home and have cocktails with my grandparents.  My grandfather was a prominent lawyer in Chicago, Harvard educated and kind of my hero.  I would drink Scotch with him and talk about the law.  I felt I had arrived and drank every night.  When I went back to law school, I stopped the daily drinking, but I sensed that alcohol had an unnatural power over me. 

Just as outward success had come in high school, college and Japan, it also came to me in law school.  I taught legal research and writing; I was elected to a national office as the Treasurer of the Association of International Law Societies and I served as the Editor in Chief of the Florida International Law Journal.  I also worked as the graduate intern in the International Student Center.  I dreamed of being a successful international lawyer.  At the end of law school, I was hired by an international corporate firm in Chicago and earned one of the highest starting salaries in my class.  It was a successor firm to my grandfather’s firm.  Once again, the future looked nothing but bright.

When I started practicing law, the familiar doubts and fear reappeared and I feared ever being a success and was certain of failure.  Nevertheless, I was able to bring in new clients at an astonishing rate and was soon considered a wonder kid rainmaker in the firm.  I was representing Japanese businesses and international companies in matters far above my skill and experience level so I learned to fake it well.  As a closeted gay guy, I had learned how to lie to protect myself and how to “create an image” for myself.  The real me could never be known.   I drank heavily but carefully. 

Once I was assured of my success, I came out to myself as well as my family and this was very difficult for my family, but they loved me and learned to accept this “shame” over time.  “At least, Steve is a successful lawyer”.  Within a few years, I was making more money than I knew what to do with and spending it just as fast.  I was traveling to Europe and Asia on exotic corporate transactions and all over the United States.  I went through a few short relationships and drank too much but without major consequence. 

However, I knew deep inside that I did not drink like normal people.  I often liked to drink alone and finally decided to go to Alcoholics Anonymous.  That experience taught me that terrible things happened to alcoholics and it was better not to associate with them or I would end up like them.  I drank in the closet like I had lived in the closet.  This went on for a few more years. 

I finally met someone I wanted to spend my life with in 1994 and he moved from New York to be with me.  We started a life together and I made sure that it was as perfect as possible by writing checks and drinking to solve all my problems.  I hid my worst drinking from him, but he knew something was wrong. In 1998, we had a commitment ceremony, my father had a stroke and lost his job as the president of a big company and my law firm decided to break up.  I went with a new firm and immediately knew it was not the right place for me, but I felt trapped and drank even more.  By 2000, my drinking was affecting my work and my relationship, actually everything.  Alcohol had taken over my life and I had to hide this from everyone.  I lied to my partner, I lied to my family and I lied to my law partners and clients.  Soon I was lying about my work and started to falsify documents to match my lies.  In 2002, my deceit was uncovered and I was fired from my firm.

I spend the next year and a half drinking, trying to work as an investment banker and going in and out of detox and treatment.  My partner had finally lost all hope for me and lost all trust in me.  I went to a 28 day treatment program in Chicago and did great.  I felt good for the first time in years.  It was recommended that I go to a halfway house, but I wanted to go home.  After leaving treatment and seeing the wreckage of my life, there seemed to be only one way to cope with it – keep drinking.   I was drunk again three days after treatment.  I was sent back again for a week and then went to a halfway house where I lasted two days and was kicked out for drinking.  I simply was hopeless – my life seemed lost forever. 

My partner called my parents in Florida and they came to get me.  I was basically poured out of Chicago and into Orlando where I stayed for three months going to AA and drinking whenever I could.  I went back to Chicago to try to get a job with Credit Suisse, but I was shaking so much that I had to go out and get some vodka just to finish the aptitude test.  I left and kept drinking – I was a homeless man in an Armani suit. By then, I would regularly go back to the loft I shared with my partner and just drink alone while he was gone.  In the middle of the night, I woke up and needed more alcohol so, still intoxicated, I climbed over my balcony on the tenth floor into the loft of the 82 year old lady next door and stole her vodka. 

I was sent to treatment in St. Pete Beach, Florida, not far from where I had gone to college and this is where I got sober.  I was in treatment 71 days and then began working at the treatment center.  I worked hard at my recovery and had a good sponsor.  We did a fourth and fifth step together on a cloudy day on the beach and were both crying in the end.  He said “No wonder you could not stop drinking…but you never have to drink again.” I said, “I may have to go to prison.” He replied, “Then you will go sober.” Suddenly the sun came out and we both sat in marvel at the timing as rays of sunshine burst through the clouds.  I also got a part-time job crewing on a dolphin watch sailboat. I literally lived with the dolphins.  I bought a Hobie-cat sailboat and started taking clients sailing to show them the thrill of living large in sobriety as dolphins popped up next to the boat.  I took them to the beach, kayaking and all kinds of activities that took their breath away.  Sober life is an adventure became my mantra.

I wish I could say I lived happily ever after, but my story is real life and alcoholism is a subtle foe that wants me dead.  After working in treatment for a year and a half and becoming the poster child for the treatment center, several things happened and I once again found myself hopeless and alone.  I don’t remember the details but I drove myself to the beach and started drinking in my car. I passed out and was awaken by the police and arrested for DUI.  Until that point, a DUI was the only thing that had not happened to me as a result of my drinking.  The treatment center I was working for wanted to keep me and sent me to its center in Laguna Beach, California.  I sobered up.  The last weekend of April, 2006, I attended an AA convention called “Miracles Happen”.  I was profoundly moved by it and prayed for a miracle.  About 20 minutes later, I received a call on my cell phone from an old law partner in Chicago.  The Chicago Tribune had an article in it that I had been indicted for document fraud.  I flew to Chicago and plead not guilty.  Once again, I was so full of fear and doubt – I was hopeless.  I drank on a rampage and was near death several times. I was facing years in federal prison. 

Finally, I did what so many of us do.  I crawled out of bed shaking, in pain and begged, begged God to help me.  I always believed in God, but I never believed He cared if I drank.  I promised I would do anything as long as I could be shown it was worth it, in other words, as long as I can have hope.  I learned that night that hope does not abandon us, we abandon it. I woke up the next day feeling much better than I anticipated and had surrendered to my fate.  For the first time, trusting in whatever outcome would come and still hoping for the miracle that I had prayed for.  I wanted the miracle to be that I was miraculously exonerated.  God had other plans. 

For the next several months I wrestled and struggled to stay sober.  In January 2007, I thought I was going to kill myself.  I did not want to drink, but I did not want to face my future.  I went to a Tuesday night meeting in Lake Mary and prayed for help.  Two other ladies came and one suggested we read a story from the big book.  Independently, we each opened to page ---, the first page of the story “Grounded” about a pilot who had to go to federal prison as a result of his drinking.  We read it and I learned that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the walking in the face of it.

The next month I was back in Chicago and getting ready for my sentencing.  I went to an AA meeting the night before and it did not help my fear and anxiety of what my fate would be.  I prayed again, “Look, God, I know I am always asking for your help, but I am so, so afraid.  Please just let me know you are with me! Please!”  I jumped in a taxi back to my hotel.  As I got out, a homeless guy asked me if I wanted my shoes shined.  I told him it was too cold and I just wanted to go inside.  He asked if I could help him out and I gave him some money.  “Hey, thanks!” he said, “what’s your name?” He held out his hand and looked me straight in the eye with a strange intensity.  “Steve,” I told him.  “Well, Steve,” he said, “my name is Emmanuel.”  Then, he shook my hand and walked away.  Realizing that Emmanuel means “I am with you” I looked up into the cold dark sky and smiled. “OK, I will give you that one,” I said, looking into the sky, “that one was good!”  No matter what was to happen, I felt that God heard my prayer and I would not be alone.

The next day I was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison.  I felt that God was with me and still hated the idea of it, but I felt hope for the first time.  It was a hope borne out of nothing but being sober and believing that a power greater than me could restore me to sanity.  Going to prison to me was my greatest fear since I was a child and all my nightmares involved concentration camps.  I arrived at the Pensacola federal prison camp, was strip searched, everything but my recovery bible taken away, and put into the population. I thought, “OK, so here is your worst nightmare...face it!” I could not talk to my family for five days.  The first morning, I met one of the other two members of Alcoholics Anonymous.  We were now three of a population of 700, approximately 500 of which were there for drug related crimes.

I was scared and, being gay, I was going to be back in the closet for as long as it took.  The following weekend though, the camp had a special program called “Insight” or as the inmates called it “Hug a thug” and I was allowed to go. During the program, this lady talked about facing fear.  She said that, when lions hunt, the male lions will come across a pack of prey and crouch down in the brush while the female lions carefully encircle the prey on all three sides.  Then the male lions let out their fierce roar!! When the prey hears the roar, they run away in fear right into the mouths of the female lions.  The lesson is “Run toward your Roar”.  During the course of the weekend, I had come to a point where I either had to lie about being gay or tell the truth.  I told the truth and it was all around the camp the next day.  Suddenly, many guys who had previously spoken to me now stayed well away.

There was this crazy ex-marine and FBI agent in for corruption and he ran a Navy Seals workout.  I joined up and took whatever physical test he dished out.  None of the other guys were willing to go to the lengths that I was.  I remembered that Clancy got sober when he got willing to do the things he did not want to do so whenever I faced a situation that I did not want, I got willing to do it.  My job was to work in the wood shop.  I volunteered to do wood working and I was assigned to carve dolphin out of wood because “Kiki” the dolphin was the camp’s mascot.  I made over one hundred dolphin carvings. 
Every morning I would wake up at 5:00 am and would go out to the weight pile to lift weights.  Every morning I prayed that I would get a miracle that would allow me to leave, but after about two weeks, I just prayed for a sign that God was still with me.  That evening, I was walking to the one AA meeting and heard my name being called to Dorm C.  I was told that I had been accepted to the Drug and Alcohol Program which would get me out in nine (9) months.  It was the answer to my prayer.  However, the original prayer had gone unanswered, the prayer when I had asked for a miracle at “Miracles Happen”.  Now this is hard to say, but after praying for the answer why, why did I have to go through all this, the answer that came to me was this: “Steve, I am sick and tired of your lack of faith in me and in you.  I am sick of carrying you from one part of your journey to the next with such doubt.  Look at your life!  Look at it! In every change, in every challenge, in every dilemma and in every difficult moment, I have been with you always and, damn it, I am tired of your doubt, so I decided that you need to spend some time in the worst possible place in your mind to know that I will always be with you and I will always protect you in all times until the moment I take you from this life.”  Now, I don’t know how that came into my heart and mind, but from that moment, I totally surrendered to who I was, and to where I was, and from that moment, I have been trying to be the best that I can be.  I realized that when I surrendered to who I really was, I became the person I always wanted to be.  When my group finished the Drug and Alcohol Program, I gave the graduation speech before the other 90 inmates and 25 staff.  It meant more to me than the graduation speech I had given at my college graduation 24 years prior. 

I was released in April 2008 to spend 6 months in a federal halfway house in Orlando, Florida and home confinement.  I was released from that program on October 4, 2008.  In March 2011, I was asked to come back to organize AA and NA meetings at the federal halfway house and lead a group every Monday night.

While I was on house arrest, I worked at a law firm for someone with whom I went to law school. I stayed active in AA with my sponsor, sponsoring others and taking various service positions.  

While I was in the camp I started running around the track to get away from the other 700 inmates and have God time. When I returned to Orlando, I would run during lunch and before work simply to feel free. 

Since that time, I have run 18 marathons, over 50 half marathons, 30 5K, 10k, and 15k races. I have done numerous triathlons.  In August 2009, I completed the Chicago Triathlon and I went back to Chicago where they had to pour me out and I was sentenced in disgrace.  In 2010, I did my first marathon, the Disney Marathon in January 1-10-10 and then did the Chicago Marathon on 10-10-10 and raised money for a school in Africa.  In 2012, I was able to run 12 marathons to raise money for the school in Africa.   

In May 2010, my three (3) year probation was terminated a year and a half early.  I had been working as a law clerk and legal researcher for an insurance defense firm.  I have a blog called Sober Adventure Steve and it is anonymous, but in February 2011, I was asked to resign from that law firm because of my blog.  I was very unhappy there and it was another example of God doing for me what I could not do for myself.

The day I was fired (2-11-2011), I incorporated a new business – Absolute Adventure Radical Recovery for Interventions and Addictions treatment. I became certified in the State of Florida as a Certified Addiction Specialist and became a board registered interventionist.  I completed a Substance Abuse Counselor program from Stonebridge College in England and graduated with Distinction.  

While I was in the prison camp in 2008, I heard a news report that a treasure hunting company in Tampa, Florida found a sunken Spanish ship in the Atlantic with $500 million in silver and gold.  The Spanish government filed a lawsuit to get the ship and treasure back.  I thought “that would be a dream case, my dream case, I look what I have done to myself.”  In October 2011, I was asked to work on the Supreme Court appeal to that case by a friend from law school.  I did and discovered, it was not my dream case.  My dream is to help people get clean and sober.  I drove by my old treatment center in St Pete Beach just to stop in a say hello.  When I went in, the director said she finally got permission to hire another counselor.  I told her I would be interested and was hired. So, in 2012, I returned to the treatment center that got me sober and helped numerous clients. Later I joined Intervention Specialists and became certified as a Certified ARISE Interventionist.

I had two dreams left after leaving prison – to start a treatment program and to reinstate my law license.  One day I was in the Tampa gay meeting and a woman was there whose story changed me so much I called her one day out of the blue and she answered.  I told her I was going to prison and I wanted to kill myself.  She told me she did not know what would happen if I went to prison but not to worry because “GOD WOULD PROVIDE”. As a result, I did not kill myself that day (obviously) and I remembered that.  I asked her to become my sponsor and the first thing she said was “I want you to get your law license in Florida and fight as a lawyer and lobbyist to allow gay marriage in Florida.

This month I am opening my own treatment program for lawyers struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and I applied for the Florida Bar.  There will be many more challenges and hurricanes before I reach home port, but I know how to steer my sailboat today and I am better about not sailing into storms or running aground.

Today, life is difficult, but I always have hope.  No challenge is too great.  Many financial amends are still before me and I have a lot of other amends to make. I have a lot of goals and dreams, but I trust that my higher power will guide me if I let Him.  Problems now are opportunities and I know that God truly has me best when He has me at His mercy.  I believe, truly believe, the first thing I ever heard in AA – “Don’t give up just before the miracle happens.” My hope will never die. AA will never let me down.  I have been restored to sanity and plan to spend the rest of my life giving what has been so freely given to me.  My greatest antidote for fear is what I learned in prison “Run toward your Roarrrrrrrrr.”

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