For most of my life I was incapable of taking direction and listening, especially to anyone in a position of authority. I can now trace this back to when I was a kid. After being let down so many times by my dad, I believed utter rebellion was the medicine and corrective action to take. This came in the form of acting out in school as early as the first grade. One time my buddy Preston and I thought it was a good idea to leave the school grounds and walk the 150 yards or so to his house.
We turned on the television and proceeded to eat Ding Dong’s and Twinkies in the family room while watching cartoons. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes when we heard some knocking on the door, it was our school principal yelling for us to come outside. I doubt it took much effort for him to realize we were in there, I don’t know, maybe he happened to notice two little smart asses wolfing down Hostess snack cakes on the couch with the living curtains wide open!
This guy was livid, but I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel by any stretch of the imagination. Preston and I hid behind the couch as though that was going to make Mr. Principal leave us alone. What happened next still cracks me up to this day, in the kitchen there was one of those doggy doors, the principal had put his head through the doggy door and yelled at us, “Get out here immediately you little rascals!” I believe it was more like “You little shits! Get your asses out here!”
Either way the point was made, and we decided to surrender. We were ushered back to the school where our parents were called, this caused a slight problem at home as we were both severely scolded. Stuff like this became exciting to me despite the consequences. It’s not like I didn’t know it was wrong, I absolutely knew it was wrong, but I enjoyed the roll of the dice just to see what the outcome might be and if there were repercussions so be it. I know, you’re thinking, this kid’s a little asshole, and you maybe right. However, pushing the envelope was something I earned a PhD in by around the age of 11.
One time in class, maybe it was 4th or 5th grade I was clowning around with some classmates and the teacher said, “Zalkins, get back in your seat and if you open your mouth and make one more sound it’s straight to the principal’s office!” That to me was a sign, I leaned back and opened my mouth as wide as I could but didn’t say anything, not even a peep. “Dammit Zalkins! Go to the principal’s office immediately!” When I got there, I was in big trouble, that was evident. But this was a chance for me to state my case and negotiate with the boss of the school. I had to point out that the teacher told me not to open my mouth and make any sounds, all I did was open my mouth. I can remember it like yesterday, the principal replied, “Zalkins, if there were careers in the business of being a little wise ass you would make millions. But there is no such thing, so I am warning you for the last time!” Many more warnings would occur during my tenure in school.
Now you’re probably wondering, “what the fuck does any of this have to do with getting help, interventions, recovery, or drug and alcohol counseling.” I am gonna get to that right now. Forever I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I took lots of risks, especially when I started to drink alcohol and use lots of drugs. When I came into recovery, I actually thought that all I needed to do was not use drugs anymore, maybe I could still drink.
The men at my twelve step meetings would just laugh at me, in a loving way I might add and say, “dude! You can barely speak in complete sentences; you are official done and have lost the privilege and right to drink or use ever again!” They had a good point here and that’s when I started to realize something: I was actually listening with intention. I believed these people and that they came from a place of love and compassion and that made me really like these guys.
I had to start “letting go” of all my old ideas. I had no idea what it took to get sober or stay sober. I had to let go of any type of self-given advice as my brain was broken and any advice, I could give myself is what got me into recovery in the first place. Although my detox lasted forever, I found comfort in the rooms of recovery as I was drawn to the message being shared, the power that I could feel by way of identifying with others and the idea that where truly was a solution for my problem with drugs and alcohol.
I would hear things like life worth living; freedom from addiction; laughter and joy; and staying sober despite tremendous loss and heartache. In looking back to my younger years, I starved for attention and didn’t know the right way of getting it. When I discovered the drugs and alcohol it really allowed me to not be so consumed with what you thought about me, and that was a full-time job in itself.
I am starting to grow up now a little bit and to think I could have missed all of it. Some friends of mine from time to time will bring moments of my being out of control and how it made them laugh. At the end of it all I always felt a sense of shame in that I just couldn’t conform to rules and suggestions from people who knew better than me, and they ALL knew better than me!
One of the remarkable things in sobriety is to truly be able to let go of so much negative baggage I carried for the first 39 years of my life. I got sober at 39, but probably didn’t start to grow for a few years and I’ve still got a long way to go. Back in the addicted days there was a few things that were always “known”, I knew I had to get drugs to stay well, I knew I was a failure, I knew I had no solution for my sickness, and I knew I needed help. These days I love the “unknowns”: I have no idea what the day is going to bring me, but the associated depression that was always with me while active in the disease has long left me. I really like knowing that I have no clue what’s around the corner.
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