No One Hopes to Become an Addict
The Secret to Staying Sober: A Single-Minded Focus and Service
By Brian McAlister
No one hopes to become an addict. People slide in.
What I learned in recovery is that there is a great difference between faith and hope. Hope is a someday concept. Hope is wishing for some future event. Faith is an unshakeable belief that things are happening right now, even if they are not yet visible. Faith is today. Faith can move mountains, but you have to bring a shovel and lunch. To live an abundant life in recovery you need to take your faith and combine it with action.
On the other hand, most addicts hope to – eventually – recover. Yet no one slides in to recovery. Recovery is a climb with an intentional daily focus. What I also learned in recovery is: In order to succeed (stay sober), you have to get out of your own way.
I crawled into rehab on my hands and knees in 1990.
When I left the addiction rehab center, I was 28 days sober for the first time in 20 years. I was also broke. I did not have a college degree. Like most addicts, I had no idea what to do next. I couldn’t bear the thought of a dull uninspired life. I came to the conclusion that in life, just as in recovery, if I’m not moving forward, I start slipping backwards. Recovery does not mean mediocrity. I live abundantly. I think big.
Since my sober date, August 2, 1990, I have become, by all standards, a success.
- I’m about to celebrate by 41st wedding anniversary with my childhood sweetheart.
- I have a great relationship with my son. I climbed the corporate ladder, moving from a low-paying hourly position to top management in the same company.
- I launched a real-estate company.
- I wrote a best-selling book (about how to have a full life in recovery from addiction).
- I opened a licensed clinical treatment center specializing in addiction treatment and recovery.
Most recently launched Freedom 365, a digital recovery solution that offers addicts seeking a full life in recovery 24/7 support on their phone, tablet or PC.
Why do I start this story with so many “I’s”? Not to try and impress you, but rather to impress upon you that massive change is possible. The only magic that made this happen was that I took all the same traits and skills I misused in active addiction to drive my life into an unrecognizable dark and desperate situation and focused them on my dreams to build my way up to this beautiful life I have in long-term recovery.
No miracle is greater than the first miracle, the miracle of getting sober. Yet I learned that if I could achieve, accept and build on that miracle, I could experience other miracles that life has to offer.
My life wasn’t fixed simply by getting sober.
Here’s the scary thing. My life wasn’t fixed simply by getting sober. Surveying the damage was depressing. My addiction had been a decades-long storm, and everyone I knew and everything I touched had suffered – my finances, my marriage, my family. It would be a long road to rebuild.
Here’s the other scary thing. I needed a long-term plan to succeed, both in my sobriety and in my life. This is scary because addicts are taught to think one day at a time. It’s so critical to say no – to that next drink, that next hit, that telephone call from the old crowd. The one-day-at-a-time strategy is a sound and necessary strategy. Yet I discovered that “one day at a time” wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. I needed an action plan for my future. And I needed a way to say yes to my life.
I began my recovery, like everyone, in a negative place, stressful, rigid, angry. My early recovery, like everyone, working to put one sober day on top of another. I had resolve, I was fierce, I had something to prove. That determination took me far. As an addict, I knew how to find a drink when the bars were closed and my refrigerator was empty. After rehab, I applied that same take-no-prisoners approach to my job hunt, and then, when I found a job, I doubled-down on my discipline to assure promotion after promotion. This worked for me only because I had an action plan. My action plan gave me a measurable outcome for my efforts and helped retrain my subconscious mind to focus on the positive.
But sobriety can be a precarious thing, and sometimes even I wondered how long it would last.
Especially when trouble hit. I had an action plan, but I didn’t yet know how to say yes to life.
Finding life’s answers in the quiet times – after chaos and pain
Today I solve a lot of my business problems in the hot tub. When my body is relaxed, when my mind is relaxed, when I’m not thinking about a problem, it hits me, suddenly, just how to fix it. It’s happened so often that these days, when I’m faced with a difficult challenge at work, my colleagues actually urge me to go home and sit in the hot tub.
The hot tub solution is nothing novel, it’s the kind of thing that happens to everyone. The answers come in our dreams, when we’re sitting on the train, when we’re least expecting them. In other words, the answers come when our minds are open. Being relaxed, at peace, meditating and not keeping our own counsel allows our minds to expand and create. During the quiet moments we experience intuition.
Yet for some reason, we don’t apply this logic to our day-to-day lives. We don’t make time for the answers to come, we don’t open our minds. This is particularly true of addicts, who are stubborn people. Yet this how the miracle begins.
I didn’t set out to become a wellness expert, nor did I set out to write a book. Truth is, I didn’t set out to become a real-estate expert. Each of those endeavors was the direct result of chaos and pain in my life, the kind of chaos and pain that can often lead an addict like me right back to the bar, toward the relapse that everyone fears. What does an addict do when he loses his job? When 9/11 hits? When the real estate market collapses? When his sister dies of an opioid addiction? What then?
The first big test to my sobriety came in 1998 – a perfect storm
When my carefully constructed career suddenly collapsed. I had been a top producer in my company. But suddenly, thanks to new management, I was out of work and over extended financially. In addition, I had to have spinal surgery, and was bedridden for months. And my father-in-law was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. It was a perfect storm. I was facing family, career, financial and health challenges.
Amid all this, an addict asked me for help. Ann had experienced a particularly harsh childhood, and she had chosen drugs and alcohol as her escape. The irony to this story is that Ann actually rescued me. By helping someone else, I wasn’t worrying about my own problems.
Adversity, chaos, and pain are opportunities
Adversity, I learned, created an opportunity. Chaos was an opportunity. Pain, another opportunity. No one gets through life, drunk or sober, escaping adversity, chaos and pain. Every adversity contains an opportunity to be of service.
By helping Ann, I realized something else. Very few people in recovery talk about the second miracle, the miracle of staying sober, the miracle of an abundant life. To me, this is the point of recovery, to say yes to life. That lesson has hit home many times since 1998, but especially so when my sister died. I could not save her, but I promised myself, in her memory, that I would share – with everyone and from the rooftops – every recovery lesson I have learned. An opioid addiction need not be a death sentence.
Today I stay sober because I am happy. I am not rigid. I am not in a negative place. I stay sober because I choose to let go of my anger. I stay sober because I have an action plan, but also because I have learned that chaos and setbacks are inevitable, and today I view them instead as opportunities.
I like to quote Lincoln: “Most folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the President and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery, The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure, and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and life-saving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4% of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.