I always wanted to be somebody else, right out of the chute. The notion sprouted in my head when I was a young boy—I wished I was my cousin. The one who lived on a farm with umpteen brothers and sisters, and tons of farm animals, too. Fun and excitement were routine at his house; the lucky bum had it made. All I had was two crummy sisters and a mongrel dog that liked to hug my leg. At least the dang mutt was happy.
I had even loftier goals as second grade approached—I dreamt of being the kid that all the girls adored. I don’t know what I would’ve done with all of them, but that’s who I wanted to be. A little Don Juan with Elvis Presley eyes and moves and a Mickey Mouse lunchbox. I wouldn’t have to pull pony tails and dash away to get noticed any more; instead, there’d be a lot of flirting, giggling and blushing. On a perfect day, I might even steal a smooch or two. But now I’m going science fiction on you.
Nevertheless, there’s one in every crowd, and I wanted to be that one. A real ladies’ man. However, when I glanced in the mirror, I realized that wasn’t about to happen anytime soon. My Don Juan days were light years away.
There was a landmark event in my youth that was a blockbuster, though—the night the Beatles were unveiled on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was outtasight. I was only eight-years-old, but I was an advanced eight. However, I was also so square I could have been a cube. Still, I ached to see what the hoopla was all about. Our babysitter, a thirteen-year-old who was obsessed with those lads from Liverpool, helped me sneak out of bed so my crummy sisters wouldn’t wake up and spoil it for me.
As advertised, the British Invasion was electrifying from the moment they took the stage. Instantly, I wanted to be like them, with the mop tops, the girls screaming, and all those Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s. Life would be good, if only I could be a Beatle… But I’d have to find a way to get my Dad to stop giving me those gosh dang buzz-cuts.
When I played baseball, I hoped I could be the kid who was always on the All-Star team, or maybe I could skip all that practice nonsense and just be Babe Ruth. I thought stardom and home runs in Yankee Stadium might bring it. Something had to. Of course, I didn’t even get a sniff of the minor leagues. But you get the idea.
Being me was never enough. I felt incomplete, insufficient and insecure. When I looked in the mirror, I wanted to see James Bond staring back at me, but all I saw was Barney Fife. Actually, it was worse than that. It was the reflection of a cross-eyed kid, his glasses on crooked, with big lips and Hair by Dad—a real Plain-Wayne, whose life was going down the drain.
I was certain I missed the memo announcing which day the secrets to life were going to be exposed. All the other kids at school were there, and they soaked it all in. They laughed right, smiled right, talked right. They had it figured out, but I had to fend for myself. Something inside me was missing—a vital piece of my unique puzzle—but I kept it secret. No one else needed to know.
Nevertheless, the search was on—for what, I had no idea. There just had to be more than this.
The day everything changed caught me by surprise, and remains forever a memory that burst onto the scene in 20th Century Hi-Def—somebody handed me my first drink, an ice-cold beer. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but that drink was my Big Wow, my moment of enlightenment. It turned me loose, it set me free; it rocked my world. There were internal fireworks, flashing neon billboards on the flipside of my forehead, and me in the headlines I’d been waiting for. I think my ego had a reaction. Bystanders didn’t know it; all they saw was a sour look on my face followed by a stupid grin. But I had found it. Easy Street was just around the corner.
It was history in the making. No longer was I that square peg trying to fit in a round hole. In fact, there was nothing square about me anymore, and I could care less about round holes. I was free. All the sharp edges of the cage that surrounded my weak existence had been removed. In a hot minute, I got cool, got girlfriends, joined the In-Crowd, and Bam! became a Somebody going Somewhere. I had arrived. There would be a grand life for me after all. All I had to do was empty bottles.
Needless to say, it was too delicious to last, and my drinking quickly became a problem that didn’t go unnoticed. However, good fortune was with me and I ran into some old friends in the early seventies who introduced me to freak flags, peace signs and roach clips… and you know what else. I soon became a hippie doing what hippies do, getting the desired effect from an entirely different angle. My life revolved around partying—it was the center of my universe. After these ground-shaking but misguided improvements, I forgot I ever was that nobody going nowhere. I wasn’t him anymore; I was somebody else.
Every day for the next sixteen years I was under the influence of something better than reality. I wanted to feel good or nothing at all—that’s who I was. It was working…
However, as time passed, alcohol began taking away more than it was giving. My world was shrinking, but my problems were growing. Emotional potholes, darkness and dread were commonplace. Fun became fleeting and old cronies cringed and jumped ship. I hoped it would pass, but it intensified; it wasn’t going anywhere.
To make matters worse, I frequently reacted to crises in my life in ways that were dictated by a mind cursed with the inability to make sane decisions. In other words, I was acting kinda crazy.
I quit drinking forever six or seven times during the last couple of years I was mired in that bleak and boozy wasteland. At the end, when I really wanted to knock it off for good, I found out I couldn’t. I was crawling with excuses and gave in too easily. I always returned to the bottle. My life was getting away from me—I was on this ride, and I couldn’t get off the ride; I had to go wherever it took me. I was powerless.
At that sacred, ugly place alcoholics call bottom, where we cry out for help to something, to anything, and then to God, I surrendered. I knew my hopeless struggle with alcohol would be my end. Desperation flooded over me—there was nothing left but a doorway that led into the unknown; they called it sobriety. I knew it was either that or death. What a way to go. I entered, not knowing what to expect.
In no time, I was shaking it out in rehab, and then huddled in Twelve Step meetings, where we joined together to screw up each other’s drinking. Strangely enough, I felt like that wannabe all over again. I’d forgotten what it was like to have no power after alcohol provided it for so many years. Here I was again—unplugged. But now I was lost and afraid, shackled to my alcoholic wreckage, with a dreadful headfull of yesterdays and tomorrows.
I was thirty-three, still acting fifteen, (but an advanced, dysfunctional fifteen), trying to somehow convince the world to give me its approval. Perhaps if I went to enough meetings, said enough prayers, and made enough coffee, I would regain the power I lost? Then my life would be better. Ultimately, it required more than that for me. I needed the strong medicine. I had to change before anything else could change—at least for the better.
The turning point in my recovery was reached after I was confronted with my second surrender, activated not by alcohol, long left behind, but by character defects, my fractured ego and a little blast from the past that suddenly played a new, uncomfortable role in my life. When I discovered my life was unmanageable whether I drank or not, I knew my time in recovery was running out. What could I blame it on now? However, after the Great Coincidence of attending just the right meeting at just the right time and hearing just the right message, I embarked on the inventory I had avoided…
The next day, on my way home after sharing it with my sponsor, I had the distinct feeling that ‘If I’d done this a year ago, I would have had a pretty good year’. Needless to say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. I knew I was on the right track, finally.
It was the first time I took an honest look at myself. The character defects I now owned had always been invisible to me. Equipped with this new information, life didn’t have to change for me to stay sober—that’s too much to ask for. Life is too big, and I’m too insignificant. But I suddenly realized I could change, and then things might begin to change around me, producing an unfamiliar but wonderful rippling effect. Before, the only thing capable of doing that came in a bottle. My real recovery began here, on the fourth of my …
…I was the kid who wanted to be somebody else, but was stuck with being himself; there were no other options. Then I was the teenager who found magic in the bottle, drinking to dream bigger dreams; who struck gold with cool friends, pretty girls, excitement and a new perspective on life. But over time, every benefit was drowned in a sea of alcohol.
At the dawn of my recovery, I was the guy who thought he worked the program through osmosis and by learning to speak the language. I sounded pretty good once in a while, but I wasn’t fooling me. When I hit the brick wall after a couple years of floundering, my real journey through the steps was triggered. I’ve experienced two lives in sobriety, too, but I nearly missed the second one.
When I first got sober, I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Then, after I stayed for a while, I figured it was the best-worse thing that ever happened to me. Then, after working the program, I realized it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
When I really tried, I got what I wanted all my life. I am somebody else. I couldn’t have guessed they had that here.