Tag Archives: recovery now

Vegas Revisited

This post first appeared in October 2012 on Sobriety Junkie at reneweveryday.com.

Anyone who’s seen the movie “Leaving Las Vegas” might think Vegas the last place a recovering alcoholic should go on vacation. “Too much temptation, no?” my “normal” friends sometimes ask. Quite the contrary, I tell them. In my experience, anyway, Vegas has become a place to find not only gratitude but, more important, compassion.

Like many of us, I squandered plenty of time, money, and morality as a young, functioning alcoholic roaming The Strip back in the 80’s.  I drank too much, smoked too much, stayed at the same blackjack table too long, and sought the company of the all the wrong people in all the wrong places at all the wrong times. I came for the glitter and gold and left penniless, besmirched, and destitute. And like any good alcoholic, when given the opportunity, I went back for more, telling myself each time I returned that “This time, it’s going to be different.”

But that was the 80’s, and I was in my twenties, and the only people who thought I had a problem with alcohol back then were all of you—but certainly not me. The last time I took a drink in Las Vegas was in 1987, and I took it at the airport, at the last possible moment, before I had to board a plane and get out of town.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that, generally, there are two types of people in Vegas: Those who can (handle it because they can take it or leave it, all of it) and those who shouldn’t (because they can never get enough of whatever it is that draws them there in the first place–gambling, booze, drugs, sex, whatever).

Back in 2007, after a 20-year hiatus, I began making bi-annual trips to Las Vegas with my sponsor, who had bought a house in nearby Henderson. We basically punctuate our Midwestern golf season each year with a trip in late winter and another in early fall, and golf, above all else, is our primary purpose when we’re there. But you can’t golf day and night, so, invariably, after dinner each night, we usually find ourselves roaming one casino or another for an hour or three–rarely more, never less.

On my first trip back in ’07, I quickly realized both Vegas and I had long since been transformed. I was 9 years sober then and no longer a 20-something as full of lust as I was thirst. The Strip was no longer a strip but rather a cluster of higher rise resorts and casinos than my spotty memory could recall, and the surrounding desert itself was pockmarked with exponentially more residential housing than I’d ever imagined possible.

But that’s where the differences ended for me. Everything else about Vegas–the endless sea of visual temptation and boundless energy of the place–was in tact. If anything, the city seemed more intense and sophisticated than ever before. And at almost every turn in almost every casino, I caught glimpses of my former self: the drunken young man too loudly and proudly announcing his winnings (which he’d soon enough give back) at the blackjack table; the bleary-eyed but cocksure kid currying favor with the cocktail waitress who’d sooner give him a swift kick in the ass with her sore feet than give him the phone number he was soliciting; and all too frequently, the lone ranger wobbling out of a casino empty handed or bobbing and weaving down The Strip as though the sidewalk were made of Silly Putty rather than concrete. “There but for the grace of God … ” I’d tell my sober and wiser self, “There but for the grace of God.” Vegas became a source of gratitude more than a source of temptation.

Last month, only a week or so before my 14th sobriety birthday, I returned once again to Vegas with my sponsor, five other men in my line of sponsorship, and one of the men I currently sponsor. Like every other trip we’ve made since 2007, our days were filled with an overdose of heckling on the golf course, we ate well every morning and every night, and for a couple of hours before turning in each night, most of us tried our luck at the casino du jour.

But this time around, for no apparent reason, my eyes were turned not to the young men who reminded me of my desperate youth, but rather the men who represented what my future might well have been if I hadn’t found Alcoholics Anonymous. Mostly, they were men my age or older, disheveled and unshaven, feeding dollar bills or plastic cards into slot machines, hands often shaking ever so slightly as they hit the Repeat Spin button, over and over and over. Now and again I’d make eye contact with one of them, and wonder what they saw.

For whatever reason, this time around, “There but for the grace of God … ” didn’t play in my head as it had on so many trips before. Sure, I’m grateful their lot in life isn’t mine. I’m grateful that, unlike so many, today I can take or leave whatever it is Vegas has to offer, and therefore truly enjoy the place. But this time around, gratitude for my own freedom from the clutches of alcoholism, for the daily reprieve a life of recovery affords me, simply wasn’t good enough. Instead, the phrase that kept playing back in my head was “still suffering alcoholic,” and my mind and my heart stuck on the word “suffering,” because like any recovering alcoholic, with just a moment or two of intense concentration, I can very easily conjure memories of the depth of that suffering and the sense of hopelessness that goes with it. I only hope that those with whom I did make eye contact saw not a countenance of judgment but rather one of understanding and compassion.
And if they didn’t, I realize now more than ever before that I have a life-long obligation to make sure every newcomer who walks into a meeting where I take up space knows the instant I extend a hand to greet him or her that I am and always will be an alcoholic who understands and has empathy for their suffering. Until that common ground between us is firm and secure, until the still-suffering alcoholic knows that I care and that I do not judge, I have little chance of sharing effectively the boundless sense of hope Alcoholics Anonymous has freely afforded me these past 14 years.

I can only hope that every time I find myself  “leaving Las Vegas” in the future, I leave with the same acute sense of purpose I left with this time, that sense that gratitude alone is not enough, that the only way to keep the gifts we’re given is to actively find opportunities to give those gifts away.


Honesty: The Measure of Our Success

This post first appeared on Sobriety Junkie at reneweveryday.com

It pains me when I hear people say that Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work. It pains me even more when I hear members of Alcoholics Anonymous say that treatment programs are a waste of time and money.  Really? If someone joins a weight loss program and loses 30 pounds, then stops participating in that program and regains the weight they had lost (and maybe a few pounds more), do we blame the program, or the person who failed to stay with it?

And what exactly does it mean to be successful at recovery anyway?  I’m sure that government agencies and insurance companies would collectively give me a quick and simple answer: Total and continuous abstinence. And I would argue that abstinence is and should be the “goal” of most treatment centers and recovery programs. But is it necessarily a measure of success? Some statistics tells us the majority of those who enter a program of recovery–as many as 90 percent–will relapse at least once in their first five years. Does this mean that programs like Alcoholics Anonymous fail?

The book Alcoholics Anonymous (a.k.a. The Big Book) tells us this: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

“Constitutionally incapable of being honest.” Nothing says it better. I’m not an expert on recovery nor am I’m professionally qualified to define what it means to be successful at recovery. But I do have my own experience, and my experience tells me that my own success at recovery (my own ability to stay sober 24 hours at a time) is directly proportional to my ability to be steadfastly honest with myself about my own condition and my daily behavior. The only way I’ve found it possible to do that is to go to meetings, to work the steps, and maybe most important, to sponsor other men and be sponsored myself.

Nothing else has worked. Waking up in jail without knowing why, being hospitalized, failing at marriage, the threat of losing a job, none of these were enough to keep me sober, though I’ve suffered them all and some more than once. It was not until the morning that I awoke (after nearly 7 years of bouncing in and out of this program) and admitted plainly and simply to my innermost self that I was powerless over alcohol, that my life would never get better (and that it was likely to get much wore) if I kept drinking, that my recovery could begin. No drama, no jails, no hospitals, no courtrooms. Just an honest and open admission that I was alcoholic and that for me to drink is to die. I could not have made that admission openly and honestly to myself and other human beings if it had not been for the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and my repeated failed attempts to stop drinking on my own.

In my world, Alcoholics Anonymous succeeds every time it introduces someone with a genuine desire to stop drinking to a level of honesty that person had not previously experienced … no matter how many failed attempts it takes to get there.


People get broken. Broken hearts, broken bones, broken dreams, they break down, they break up, they break the bank, break promises … break, break, break, we all fall down.

People get broken a lot, in a lot of ways, for a lot of reasons. Some good, some bad, some just because. But how do they mend?

Sometimes I think those of us who live a life of active recovery take what we have at our fingertips for granted. When we get broken, we have instant access to the healing process: people like ourselves who intuitively understand EXACTLY what we’re thinking and feeling.

The other night after dinner I asked a younger man, someone new to Alcoholics Anonymous and whom I was encouraging to attend more meetings, “Where else can you go for an hour and know, with certainty, that the topic of conversation will be significant?  Where else can you go and know that the people in the room have to care about you if they have any hope of saving themselves?”

Please Note: New Address

Realtime Recovery has a new address. It is now realtimerecovery.wordpress.com. Thanks, Kayko.

Moment of Clarity #2: True Love

In true love, there are no victors and no victims—only the genuine pursuit of time well spent.

Not A Glum Lot

“We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life” (“The Family Afterward,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 132).


I’m certain I’ve read or heard that passage at least a thousand times since the day I walked into Alcoholics Anonymous. Tonight, however, is the first time I’ve paid attention to the fact that it appears in “The Family Afterward.” Makes sense, I suppose. The family usually bares the brunt of the “serious and sometimes tragic things” that happen when an alcoholic inhabits the home, so it only makes sense that the family be the primary recipient of the joy that often attaches itself to recovery.

But no family should be duped into believing that just because their alcoholic gets sober life’s going to suddenly roll over and be a bowl of cherries. That seems an obvious caution, I’m sure, yet I’ve sponsored more than one man whose wife came to me days, weeks, months, even years after their spouses sobered up to complain that things had gotten worse, not better. Unfortunately, some couples find that, sans alcohol, they’re really not all that compatible. They hooked up because they liked to party together, one partners drinking overwhelmed them and became a problem, yet sobriety made both partners realize the only thing they had in common was the partying before the party finally got out of control. In other cases, the sober party starts off all gung-ho about the 12-steps only to decide that they need little more than an occasional meeting to stay dry, and with that philosophy leading the way, they get dry and miserable as hell and drag everyone down with them. Or, as in my case, two sober members of AA seem to do fairly well together until drinking becomes a priority in one of the partner’s lives again, and the sober partner no longer seems that attractive. The sober partner is not necessarily boring and glum; they’re just not interested in finding fun in the places where they were once reduced to incomprehensible demoralization—the very places the other partner now values again.

So be it. As I look at the photos and videos from this past summer, such as the videos that open and close tonight’s blog, I realize what fun we did have this summer, we had as a family. Usually simple, often silly, but fun nonetheless … fun with no melodrama attached. None of this would have been possible from my perspective without Alcoholics Anonymous, a sponsor, and a God of my understanding. If those three elements and alcohol were absent from my life, I’m certain I would have spent the summer morosely resenting my spouse and plotting ways to seek compensation for what I might deem her failure to show up to the marriage. As it is, I’m willing to accept the things I cannot change and to seek ways to change the things I can. It is not an ideal situation, but every time I begin to think of ways to exact unnatural changes, I realize I’m not the one who wants to change our circumstances, that the one who is working through a difficult set of emotions and valuations is not me but my wife who isn’t sure she loves me and isn’t sure she wants to be in the marriage anymore. I can’t force her to return to counseling; she’s gone with me twice and clearly stated she has no interest in going again. When asked what she wants to do, she repeatedly says, and I believe her, “She doesn’t know.” Immature? Yes. But her reality nonetheless. And I can’t change it.

But while we’re together, I can try to put the best possible game face on for my children and anyone else who happens to be around. Trust me, that doesn’t come natural to this alcoholic. That comes due to a lot of prayer, meditation, and sponsor direction. My will would take me straight to a lawyer and as vengeful a divorce as I could muster. But that only removes any hope for all concerned and leaves lasting scars on two beautiful little kids who tell us far too often how much they love their “family.” It is the family afterward that benefits most from sobriety, and those who are in a period of joy in their family life should cherish it. Cherish it now because life happens—the good and the bad—and at some point it happens to everyone. Just because we’re sober doesn’t mean we don’t have to face life’s trials and natural tribulations just like everyone else. It just means that, if we continue to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools placed at our feet, we have a better chance of dealing with life like adults and without alcohol.

Just Living Life

I recently posted this photo as my avatar on Facebook. Shortly after it appeared, a friend wrote and asked if I “made the catch.” I told her I couldn’t remember. It was one of many attempts, I told her, and, Yes, I’d “made the catch” most of the time. I also told her it really didn’t matter whether I’d made the catch anymore. I’d posted the photo because it reminded me that, at 10 years of sobriety and nearly 50 years of age, I’m still soaring; that even though profits are miserably down, my 83-year-old mother’s health continues to wane, my 6-year-old daughter’s chin is sporting 10 stitches following a bicycle accident, and most everything else in my life, including my marriage, is frighteningly at risk, I have everything to be grateful for.

I also reminded her, and myself, that I wouldn’t be saying that if it weren’t for God, a good sponsor, and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I can’t even imagine how fearful, how paranoid and unmanageably skeptical I’d be, if it weren’t for the grounding, guidance, and camaraderie the Fellowship provides. Some people deem AA a “sufficient substitute” for drinking. I’d sooner deem it an antidote to the fear and self-loathing that made habitual and excessive drinking seem reasonable for far too many years.

Even in the worst of times these days, my problems are high-class problems—problems made imminently manageable and tolerable because they aren’t generally problems of my own making. Most often, they’re “just life,” and in a sober world, there isn’t a day of life that isn’t worth living.