Monday, August 29, 2011


On my way home this afternoon I ran into a friend. I’d already heard from someone else that he wasn’t currently sober, but I always like to give people the chance to disclose their lives themselves. I didn’t have to wait long. I barely had the “how are you” out of my mouth when he told me what was going on.

Of course I was curious as to what happened, but it’s a bit of a delicate situation to ask so again I just waited for him to offer. He said something that a lot of people have said when they’ve started using drugs or alcohol again after a period of sobriety. He told me he was doing everything he was supposed to be doing, but it didn’t work. The depression he was feeling got to be too much and he decided to “fix it”.

The way he phrased it (and the way it’s usually phrased) made it seem like the fact that he got depressed even though he was doing all the work he was supposed to be doing meant that what he was doing didn’t work. I can only speak for myself here – and anyone that has a different point of view is welcome to disagree in the comments section – but my experience is that the work I do to stay sober does not, and isn’t intended to, keep me from getting depressed. It’s designed to keep me sober.

The way it works for me is that the basic philosophy of the method I use for staying sober is: Trust God (however you understand God), clean house and help others (from here on – TGCLHO). It’s simple. That philosophy doesn’t keep me sober by keeping me happy or by keeping my life trouble-free. No one is always happy and no one has a trouble-free life.
What it does is gives me a template for how I should deal with my life on a daily basis. If my life is going great, TGCHHO. If life sucks, TGCHHO. If I’m happy, sad, hungry, angry, lonely, tired – TGCHHO. My drug problem wasn’t caused by the circumstances of my life. It was caused by my complete inability to figure out how to deal with the circumstances and the emotions that came along with those circumstances. Whenever something good or bad happened, I thought I had to figure out what that meant in the grand scheme of my life and how it should change how I was behaving from one day to the next. And if I couldn’t figure it out, than I panicked. But that probably wasn’t even the worst part.

The worst part was that if I figured out how to handle something – if something I did made me feel better once – than I just decided that was what would work every time. So when doing ecstasy for the first time made me happier than I’d been in months, I decided that ecstasy was the answer. Until it wasn’t. And on and on it went.

But now, instead of me figuring it out I have a template – TGCHHO. Now the helping others part is fairly self-explanatory. But what does it mean to trust God and clean house?
Again, this is only my understanding and it’s probably completely flawed. But it’s my blog so I’m going to tell you anyway. For me, trusting God (and I’ve said many times before that God refers to MY conception of the spirit of the universe and not necessarily to any conception that is espoused by others) means realizing that no matter what is happening in my life – good or bad – there is a lesson in it. It might not be a lesson I like. It might not even be one I understand right now. But I just trust that there’s something to be learned there. And since there is a lesson, my job is to just walk through the experience and hopefully learn something rather than trying to short circuit it and avoid whatever might be painful or uncomfortable. It’s not always fun, but if I’m in on this “trust God” thing, then I’m in regardless of the circumstances. And as I wrote the other day, the one thing my God and I are clear on is that the lesson is NEVER “use drugs”.

What about cleaning house? Well, I have to admit I’m still not real great at that one. It’s all still a bit fuzzy for me, but I think I’m supposed to identify the things inside me that keep me from trusting God and helping others and get rid of them. Things like selfishness, envy, judgment and the like. One of my favorites is wrath. Apparently I like to mete out punishment to all the wrongdoers in the world. I would say I’m being helpful, but really I’m just trying to tell the universe how to do its job. And if I’m doing God’s job, I’m certainly not trusting God. So, once I figure out (with a little help) what all those things are, I get to work on getting rid of them. I’m not going to go into the details of that here, but there’s a process.

So what’s my point? Well, here’s the thing. If I keep doing those things every day, regardless of whether the day is great or it sucks, I don’t really have to concern myself with the greatness or the suckiness. Tomorrow’s going to be different. Maybe not bizarro world different, but different enough to make it interesting. Maybe I’ll still be depressed tomorrow, but if I haven’t gotten high then at least I still have the chance to ask someone for help with that. And by trusting God, I may discover that asking for help is exactly the lesson I was supposed to learn.


  1. Well, my guess is that his program wasn't working for him. Period. It doesn't work for everybody. Some people just have to make a decision that they aren't going to walk around controlled by substances. Meetings and steps are great for the people for whom they work, but the statistics aren't great for the collection of people who have tried this route.

    For me, as with most things, the decision was one that I made and stuck by and I don't have any regrets about it. I don't go to meetings or take inventory. But I don't do drugs, either.

    I guess I have what is a rational recovery approach. I believe in God and pray and give thanks almost every day, but I don't put my problems in God's hands because God has so much else to deal with and I think that, for me, it feels selfish to ask him to hold on to something that I created myself. So, instead, I fixed it myself.

    I'm glad you found what works for you. And I'm glad I found what works for me. I hope your friend can find what works for him.

  2. I love this post. It took me quite some time, and many relapses to discover the program was there to keep me sober as opposed to making me happy. Yes, if I stay sober, most likely all that other shit will work itself out, but there are still days where I hate life. The great part is that I learned that I don't have to pick up over it anymore.

    I hope your friend comes back and gives it another shot.

  3. This post is interesting and somewhat helpful, but I think it is a question of degree. HOW depressed was your friend and for how LONG? As someone who has suffered from medical depression, it is often frustrating for me to hear depression equated to "having a bad day". It's not the same as having a bad day, nor is it the same as crashing. Both of those have a foreseeable end. But depression does not - it continues day in and day out. Thank God for the miracle of anti-depressants.

    I think that you are correct in stating that sobriety doesn't guarantee happiness, but I do think there is an unspoken guarantee of having a better life. If not - if life won't get better - why stop getting high? So it's reasonable to expect some level of happiness.

    I'm not saying that your friend is correct in treating his own depression. Almost certainly not. Even medical professionals have a tricky time getting prescription meds balanced. But I absolutely understand the seduction of drug-induced pleasure (albeit brief and false and followed by even more sadness) as an alternative to living an endless string of intolerably sad days.

  4. Bill M
    Your post was right on in my opinion. 12 step programs today dont show as high as they did much earlier but I think that is the nature of the beast. As the word reaches folks earlier and earlier. It seems as though one needs to have been knocked out of their booties in order to commit to change (with or without a program).