There I was, sitting on the bathroom floor, legs crossed.
I hadn’t showered or spoken to anyone in a few days and can’t remember the last time I ate. I was staring up at the empty spoon on the counter wondering how I ended up here again. How was this possible? A few months ago, everything was fine, and my life was starting to head in the right direction. Just when everything was balancing out it was like I took a torch and lit it on fire. I thought about my Mom and Dad and how much I had distanced myself from them. I thought about how alone I was. I thought about how I didn’t know who to call. I thought about how many times I had done this. What had I missed? Why couldn’t I stop? All this and then a sense of complete hopelessness poured over me and I broke out into a torrential downpour of tears. It was one of those ugly cries you don’t want anyone to see.
That was my story a few days before getting clean.
I still felt a deep hopelessness in very early sobriety too. I had failed so many times that the idea of getting back up again started to seem pointless for me and just outright discourteous for everyone else that had a little hope that one day things would change. The idea that somehow this time would be different than any other time or attempt was ludicrous considering my track record. I was just buying a little more time in a miserable existence that seemed to have no end and no purpose. I just couldn’t get it.
“You should try helping some of these guys.”
I remember one of the counselors at my rehab telling me that. The idea that I was in any position to be helping anyone was laughable at best. Nevertheless, I agreed to start doing little things here and there. Not because I felt like I wanted to, but because when I was in detox I brought some extra “medication” in with me and it ended up causing quite the commotion when they found out. They were nice enough to not kick me out. So, I figured I owed them one.
I was instructed to do one act of service a day.
It started out with little things like doing other people’s dishes and not telling anyone that I did it. Or telling the recurring dirty dish culprit that I wanted to hit them in the face with the skillet I was washing.
A complete test in patience and service.
Days when I would have forgotten or decided not to do it out of laziness they held me accountable. They stayed on top of me, making sure that I lived up to my word and did what I said I was going to do. The more days I did the little things in a row the more it became a routine and the more sense of self-worth I began to feel.
It was all about the dishes and then it began to magnify.
When I had 28 days clean, I was going to detoxes and sharing my story with people that were even more freshly sober than me. I was very opposed to doing this in early sobriety but nevertheless I went and shared it because I was told that “the man with 2 days can help the man with 1.” I felt this was grossly irresponsible to suggest. I remember thinking to myself that I had nothing of value to share with anyone.
I mean, all I had done so far was clean up dishes after people that were just learning how to do their own laundry. After I had shared my story one night at the detox, I was getting ready to leave and a curly haired surfer looking kid came up to me after and said, “I related to you a lot. Can you help me?” My immediate thought was “I can’t help you!” Better thoughts prevailed and I gave him my second-best answer, “Um…. are you sure?”
This began the first steps in the new direction that changed my life.
Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing yet, I suddenly had a new responsibility; an obligation. I had made a commitment to help someone else do what I was attempting to do and had failed so many times at. What happened?
My thinking began to shift as my actions did.
I had never really helped or been interested in helping anyone my entire life except myself; or at least not unless helping someone else would in some way benefit me down the road. I gave this kid a simple set of 4 instructions to follow every day figuring that he would probably not follow through with them anyway. Surprisingly he did, consistently. Even when he fell down a few times, he got back up and continued with me. The more time and effort I put into helping him, the better I started to feel. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel so lost.
I felt like I had a reason to get up in the morning and “act as if.”
Someone was relying on me to help them now so I had to stay consistent for them. This quickly magnified into something much greater!
Before I knew it, I had more and more people asking for help.
A friend of mine that worked for a rehab that had watched me fail again and again started calling me and putting freshly sober people on the phone with me. He would just say, “Hey, Glenn, I’ve got so-and-so here and you’re going to help him, here he is.”
He didn’t ask me if I wanted to.
Not only was this happening, but then it started compounding. One night at a meeting, a guy I had been helping was flagging me down from across the room. He’s a big kid, you can’t miss him. He walked up to me with another guy and said, “Hey Glenn, this is so-and-so. Can you to help him like you’ve been helping me?” I never had an opportunity to say no. Here’s the crazy thing, people started getting better.
I remember there was a time when my faith started to waiver a little bit.
I started having unfounded doubts about whether or not this was really for me. Life started getting a little busy with work and other stuff I thought was more important at the time. I got a little more consumed with myself and a little less concerned with doing what I loved and has saved my life up until this point. I was talking to a friend about how depressed I was feeling one night. Self-pity at its finest. He let me rattle on until I told him that I wasn’t sure if this whole recovery thing was for me anymore. He cut me off mid-sentence and said,
“Glenn, relapsing would be the most selfish and self-centered thing you could ever do now. People are depending on you to help them. You can’t afford to be selfish anymore!”
It hit me like a 10-ton hammer. He was right. When in doubt, always go back to your purpose. What drives you?
I found something I liked and was good at it.
The truth is I didn’t “make” anyone better. I was just able to speak to them in an honest way and transmit a message of hope they could understand. I wasn’t selling them on me; I was selling them on themselves. Watching people change and miracles happen is where I find my purpose.
I love being a witness to it.
Getting to see someone that’s been knocked down for the count rise up and hit back is electrifying. Most importantly, anyone I’ve had the good fortune to help have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach them. I’ve seen some of the most stubborn and resistant people change.