Getting Sober Often Requires The Gift of Desperation
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
I can tell you from a great deal of experience that recovery from addiction—especially an addiction that has been cultivated over decades—typically doesn’t happen overnight. It often takes many attempts and relapses before the desperation becomes so painful that sobriety becomes a last and final resort.
It’s referred to as “the gift of desperation” because desperation is the only thing that brings us to our knees so that we can finally ask for help. Desperation becomes our saving grace.
I struggled to get sober for many years. I sometimes went to AA meetings while drunk. I went to drug counseling with drugs in my system. I went to an acupuncturist to try to stop the urge to drink. I went to a behavioral psychologist. I tried using exercise to avoid alcohol. I tried only drinking on weekends instead of every night, a resolution which lasted only three days. I went on Antabuse, a drug prescribed to stop you from drinking by making you violently sick when you consume alcohol. I drank anyway.
Nothing worked. Nothing stopped me from drinking. Then the gift of desperation descended upon me.
I was driving though Los Angeles one sweltering summer day with a skull-crushing hangover. I knew I had completely lost control of my life. As I came to a stoplight, waiting for the signal to turn, I felt miserable and depressed.
As I waited for the light to change, I began thinking about the night when I nearly died from alcohol poisoning in a cheap Los Angeles motel. I remembered my prayers, the pleas to God. I remembered the absolute heartbreak I felt, the guilt and disgust. And I remembered the promise I made to get sober if only I were allowed to live.
The light turned green. Without even thinking about it, I turned left onto Fairfax Avenue instead of going straight in the direction of my dirty shoebox of an apartment. It was like someone else was driving the car and I was just a passenger.
I began driving towards Santa Monica Boulevard, remembering a beautiful Catholic church where I had attended a friend’s wedding years earlier. For some reason, that’s where I was headed.
Now to clarify, I’m not Catholic, nor was I a religious person. But I had always harbored a secret faith in a Higher Power of some kind, even if I had no idea what that Higher Power was or how to communicate with it. I just always had an innate feeling that I wasn’t completely alone in the universe.
As I walked into the church, I felt complete and total discomfort. I felt stupid, in fact. I had no idea what I was doing there or what I was supposed to do now that I had arrived. Thankfully, it was in the middle of the day and there wasn’t anyone else there. I had the entire church to myself.
I made my way to one of the pews, sat down and looked up. It was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. I could feel myself begin to relax. I closed my eyes and listened to the silence surrounding me. I didn’t realize it then, but this was my first experience with a simple form of meditation. Then I did the unimaginable. I reached down and lowered the prayer bench near my feet.
Instinctively I opened my eyes and looked around to see if anyone else had come into the church. I was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to see what I was doing, as if people in a church would be shocked to see someone praying.
The coast was clear. I slowly lowered myself onto the prayer bench, clasped my hands in front of me, shut my eyes tight, and began to pray.
I had no idea what I was supposed to say or how to pray. So, I just improvised. Silently I rambled on and on for probably fifteen minutes. I asked for help, for peace in my life, for understanding, and for forgiveness. I asked why I was such a raging mess of a human being. I asked; where has my life gone wrong? How can I get it back?
I prayed and prayed. Mostly, I just asked for help. Finally, I stood up and left the church. I was shaking. My eyes were filled with tears. I stepped out into the warm, bright daylight and immediately sensed that something was different. Something had changed.
There was a shift in the axis of my being. For the first time that I could remember, I felt an enormous sense of relief. I knew, absolutely knew with complete certainty, that I was going to be okay. I could recover. I could heal. I could live the life I was supposed to live. I don’t know why I felt that way, but it was as clear as the day.
I called my friend, Guy, who had been working on his sobriety for a while himself, and asked him to take me to an AA meeting. We went to a meeting that night. This time, I wasn’t drunk. I listened, I cried and I began the process of recovery. That was over eleven years ago—over eleven years that I’ve been clean and sober.
Looking back, I now realize that I was brought to my knees--I had reached the point of desperation--not by any one specific event or tragedy, but by a series of events that happened over many years. Like so many people, I had allowed myself to wallow in a lifetime of self-indulgence and self-pity. I had become so spiritually bankrupt that I had lost all control of my life, emotions and my sense of self-worth. I was like an empty shell of a person who needed to be filled with hope, joy and peace. To borrow an overused phrase; I needed to be reborn.
And so my journey began, first by joining a 12-step program, and then by exploring the inner workings of my mind and spirit. What I learned along the way, this journey of discovery that has impacted every aspect of my life, is what I want to share in this blog. Perhaps you too will discover at least some of the serenity and hope that comes from this simple pathway of prayer and meditation that we will explore together.