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One Thing I Learned in My First Year Sober

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Author: Justin Mckibben

“The first year is a gift.”

That’s what they kept telling me when I first came to the rooms of recovery. When I first got to treatment and heard people who had been through the process, when I went to 12 step meetings and listened to speakers tell their experience, it was that same tag-line it seemed every time… “The first year is a gift.”

To me that seemed strange. How?!

I felt in my mind I was going to have to fight just for 30 days… even 3 days or 3 hours was insanity for me without the drugs and the alcohol numbing me to my own obsessive and inexorable emotional immaturity. So 365 days of consecutive sobriety?! Sounded more like a nightmare, disguised as an urban legend and gift-wrapped in a paradox.

But it happened. That miracle did come one amazing day at a time, and before I knew it I had a coin in my hand that told me it all wasn’t just a practical joke or a “pink cloud”. I had actually survived myself for 1 year without a drink or a drug, and thinking back it didn’t make sense how much a gift the first year was until it was over.

I presumed it was going to be desolation and abjection trying to change, and at times it was not easy, but if I’m honest with myself the action suggested of me was not even hard!

Read, make lists, talk about stuff, make more lists, evaluate my defaults and habits, talk some more, etc. This stuff was not a collage or a science project… it was simple stuff. And through that process, and through reviewing my work with new understanding I realized one of the most important things recovery ever taught me:

Life is Not All about Me   

I’m the weird brand of narcissist with an inferiority complex, but deep down, in that pit of self-loathing and fear I still wanted to believe I was the center of the universe. I lived a life fundamentally selfish and self-seeking. I just disguised it well with false compassion and empty connections. I made everything about me, whether to feel better about not liking myself, or to manipulate the world into giving me what I wanted.

I got a sponsor, and when I complained one of his favorite pieces of advice was to shut-up, and do something for someone else. Help someone. To step outside of myself, and try to impact another life in a positive way, however I could.

In the steps there were things I had to do that were essential to realizing life isn’t about me.

  • Inventory

Looking at yourself through the honest reflection of your misdeeds can truly open you up to how much ‘not about me’ life really is. Taking an inventory on my actions showed me the hurt I created, and the truth behind why I did the things I did.

More often than not, it was selfishness, being inconsiderate, and fear.

This stuff helped me out in the end, but it was proven that my serenity and my happiness were real and authentic when it wasn’t just about that ME mentality anymore.

  • Amends

My sobriety came with understanding that I had done so much to those people who loved me the most. I had destroyed others, and I had hurt people, and I was still trying to focus on my own petty wants and resentments even in early sobriety.

Amends and similar actions showed me some much needed humility, and taught me what I now believe- humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking or yourself less.

Taking responsibility and owning up to the damage I did to others made it possible to identify with and avoid it in the future.

  • Relationships

Freedom came when I put faith in what was put in front of me, and a lot of that had to do with the opportunity to connect with others, by being honest, open and vulnerable. In friendships and in dating relationships.

The fellowship taught me how to learn through others, and how to truly relate to and appreciate those around me. I learned in my first year that there are so many people who want that chance, to be free from their addictions and to make honest and fulfilling relationships with people they can really care about.

In the first year of sobriety I learned my relationships mean more than what I gain from others. They mean what I put in for others, and what we accomplish together. They also mean knowing when to set boundaries that are healthy, and how to check my motives before I do things I have no business doing.

Those relationships I have are what they are because doing the work in the first year showed me that my ego and my will-power don’t make me a better friend, or a better brother or son. Actually caring about my friends and family, and taking the action is what does that.

It’s a Selfless Program

In the first 365 days of sobriety I learned that continuous action to serve and have an affirmative impact on others is the key to my sanity. The insanity of active addiction and alcoholism was the stuff of nightmares, and the isolated world of ME was killing me. You can do some things for you, but it was freed from the bondage of self by learning to live with consideration and respect for others. It is not about being selfish, but trying to strive to be selfless.

I don’t always do this perfectly. I still have an ego, negative or otherwise, but at least my first year showed me how to be aware of it. The gift of desperation showed me that I was in need of saving, the gift of opportunity to take action put me in a position to give, and the gift of giving has never been so imperative to my peace of mind.

1 year…

That’s 8,760 hours…

525,600 minutes…

31,536,000 seconds…

I need to give away as much of it as I can to helping someone else if I believe in making it to another 365.

While our lives should consist of the things we are passionate about, the things that we love and the people who love us, we are not the only ones in life that matter. One thing I learned in my first year sober is that it is not always up to me, and at the end of the day it’s not supposed to be. Sobriety saved me from myself when the drugs and alcohol that took the meaning from life, and that all started at Palm Partners. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

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