Recently I reached the milestone of a year in recovery. It was of course just another day, another 24 hour reprieve, as they say. But 12 months on, life in sobriety feels vastly different from the early weeks after my extended stay at Broadway Lodge.

 

The absence of alcohol in my life is really the least noticeable (albeit the most vital) of the changes. It's the emotional sobriety, the feeling of peace with myself, the indifference to thrill seeking, and the acceptance of life on life’s terms that have been the revolution for me. Healthier relationships with friends and family, sharper work focus, and, dare I say it, a lot more laughter. We alcoholics delude ourselves in our fear that being sober might make us boring, or make life dull. We forget how boring and painful our drinking was for ourselves and others. And the idea that a drink makes us happier is so obviously nonsense once we achieve sobriety, and recall that the last phases of our drinking took us to lonelier, darker places than most people ever imagine. Recovery is not about the absence of stimulants. It’s that bridge to normal living we could only dream of when trapped in the madness of our disease, and the tricks it played on our minds.

 

I reached the one year mark by following the simple suggestions of the 12 step programme, which were ingrained into me at Broadway, but which require real commitment and effort when back out in the real world. It is often described as a miraculous programme, but for me it truly has been just that.

 

In the rest of my life, whatever I have achieved was mostly by ‘winging it’, whether at school, university, work and career or even playing music. I am one of life’s born buskers. The AA approach is the only thing I have really had to work at. And it turns out the cliché that ‘you only get out as much as you put in’ really does apply here. If you stay close to the programme, work the steps, and follow the suggestions in the Big Book, you will stay safe, sober and happy. Not just happy – happier than you ever were. And that inner happiness of course means there is absolutely no need for alcohol or other stimulants. As the literature notes, we recoil from it as from a flame. We reach a position of neutrality on drinking – neither cocky nor afraid. Just indifferent. It has no impact on us whatever, whether we are surrounded by happy drinkers or not. I know what this feels like, and it’s wonderful.

 

Combine that sense of inner serenity with the memories of the rock bottom we would surely reach again, and possibly with even worse consequences, were we to delude ourselves that some moderate intake might now be fine.  Remember remember remember. The anguish we inflicted upon ourselves and so many others. We have an allergy to drink. We cannot use it responsibly or safely. And in many respects we are lucky, as we avoid the lesser troubles non-alcoholics encounter with a non allergic but often still damaging intake.

 

The most liberating feeling of all for me is the acceptance, finally, that I cannot control other people, places or things. We addicts believe we can play God, and conduct the orchestra of life to our whim and will. Of course we cannot, but it takes time to acknowledge this, and then to be at peace with it. All I can do is try (it’s progress not perfection, so don’t be too hard on yourself!) to keep my side of the street clean. I cannot force my will on others – my own self will did nothing to stave off this illness or get to any outcome I desired when I was drinking, so there is something joyful about the surrender of ‘handing it over’. Acceptance is the absolute gold dust ingredient of recovery that, over time, removes fear, resentment, pride and self-pity. All of which are quite literally lethal to addicts. They kill us.

 

I was told at Broadway, and have been told often since, ‘if you put anything at all before your recovery, be prepared to lose it’. So I decided to follow the advice, and life has become fuller, calmer, more contented and more productive than in any of the four decades before events conspired to get me to face reality. I am grateful every day that they did, because I have been given a second chance at life. And I know that if I keep on as I am, a day at a time, soon I’ll be counting my sobriety in years not hours, days, weeks, or months. Why throw that away for a substance that knows my illness and wants to kill me? No thanks!