Happy Thirty One to Me!

On Saint Patrick’s Day of 2022, I will celebrate 31 times around the Sun without taking a drink. I’d like to say that makes me sober and ready to experience my 32nd year of sobriety, but that would be a lie. You see, there is more to sobriety than just abstinence mixed with the occasional alcoholic obstinance; clear thinking must also be evidenced. So sobriety in my 31st year was full of twists and turns where I literally missed important things trying to manifest things which I thought were more important. In the end, I lost a near-guaranteed work promotion after being unapologetically canned from a project I enjoyed working on, experienced two household plumbing emergencies costing multiple thousands of dollars to mitigate and ended the year in emergency surgery where I nearly lost my life due to diverticulitis and peritonitis.

What I can say is that, so far, I have survived myself. What I cannot say is that I did it all alone through the use of clear thinking and the sane actions of a sober alcoholic. What I can say is that western medicine and the people and friends in and around Alcoholics Anonymous saved my bacon with their prayers, their meaningful messages, their loving concern for my well-being and my medically-prescribed use of a chemical 10,000 times more potent than heroin. Every 8 minutes. Whether I liked it or not. Eventually I did, but my recollections are somewhat hazy and peopled by various cartoonish situations that, while amusing to me, caused the medical staff charged with my care some concern.

So, today, I get to have a makeshift rectum hanging and “burping” outside my body and a 10 inch gash that transects my navel and generally scares the daylights out of me, my family and my pets. A walking dead man in front of my morning mirror stares back at me and is both awed and humbled that after nearly three weeks in the hospital, I can clearly see that I have not been clearly seeing a damn thing. I had been eating like a porcine proxy, swallowing massive quantities of air and sealing it off with beverages unfit for human consumption. And as for my food choices, well, if it feels good, I had two or maybe three.

As a result of my fuzzy thinking and the intervention of the best medical professionals available in most of Southwest Texas, I am now 40 pounds lighter and look like the photo I took of my father three months before his death. To say I am frightened by the rapid change in my appearance would be an understatement. I am overwhelmed by my charge to learn to accept that I had a hand in doing this all to myself. As an IT professional, I used to laud the strokes, heart attacks and seizures that we would inflict on ourselves as slaves to our code and its timely output; but even my more recent moderate embrace of the workaholism required to stay competitive in my job caused me to misinterpret the medical management of a chronic, progressive illness as a temporary cure of no great consequence. Sure Diverticulitis hurts, but nothing compares to the pain of a perforated bowel. Nothing yet, anyway. It was enough, through its grinding and constantly increasing insistence, to make me wish for death in the space of 5 minutes. Seriously. In my life, no pain has ever achieved such a threshold. Gunshot or stabbing victims may have crossed this boundary line, but my guess is they weren’t begging their higher power to be put down in spite of every reason outside of massive pain to go on living a pleasant suburban existence.

Sometimes, in life, you just have to take a loss, hit the showers and count your blessings. Losses usual turnaround into blessings, anyway, even though they can hurt like hell.

Among my blessings are a loving home filled with quirky people who are meeting and exceeding my expectations for their own personal progress, enough money to meet the challenges of the day, an AA program that taught me well in advance of my needing to know the practical survival skill of humility and its embrace, and the acceptance to search for serenity even while my ego cried at the physical mess I have become. But also the friends in the program — some medical professionals — who have testified that not a single gang-banger who had to endure the surgical intervention I have ever again darkened their doors as a result of criminal activity: they were done with whatever it was that put them there, but so was everyone else who assisted them in their rapid descent towards self destruction. To say that the experience of wearing and using an ostemy is devastating to a human ego is a near-universal experience; I am not the Lone Ranger. My gratitude that I do not have the kinds of diagnoses that my fellow “ostemates” have is a bonus and is reason enough to stay humble even in my forced feeding of humble pie.

I guess you could say that while I have had to deal and persevere through another brush with near-death, I can tell you that, without a doubt, those of us who have learned this dance of the Twelve Steps are truly the lucky ones. In the midst of personal chaos, a global pandemic and the real threat of a third global war, we have a program that keeps us buoyant and seaworthy in some of the roughest seas imaginable. I have a solution for my every life problem today and the faith to put that solution into action.

God bless you all and God Bless people in Recovery from addiction everywhere.

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Richard Volaar

Richard Volaar

I've won a couple of minor awards, my second being a speech I wrote for the VFW about why I care about America. It won and I made 25 bucks. Now I'm in IT.