It’s snowing again. I kick my boots out on the cement doorstop and heave-open the clunky maroon door. As I pull on its cold brass handle, it resists, as if actively shielding the old building from winter’s ferociousness. I enter the corridor and take a deep breath. A feeling of nostalgia returns as I scan the familiar scene. This place is more than just a work environment for me. I am back at 1221 Wayzata Blvd., and this is where my journey began.
I got sober, but not by choice. My relocation to Minnesota happened due to a series of what seemed like nonsensical events piling up at the end of summer, 2009. I had spent the summer in northeastern Wyoming, working on a dude ranch as an assistant chef, and living what I believed to be a ‘rock star’ lifestyle. I arrived in Minnesota in late August, no more a person than a hollow vessel.
August 26, 2009 it was, to be exact. My mother had flown out to Wyoming the previous week where we started our road trip back across the country. She was convinced I had a drinking problem and that I should go to treatment. I should say that at this point in my life I was pretty used to such scrutiny from my mother. Its how things were supposed to be, right? Obviously, my mom couldn’t be expected to understand the culture surrounding young people and alcohol these days. My ultimate goal was to do what I had to do to please my mother in regards to drinking. If that meant checking into a treatment center for thirty days then so be it. Whatever would get me back to life as I knew it.
Somewhere in South Dakota we stopped for a night. At each stop we had been going online and looking at various treatment facilities. I was hoping to end up somewhere like Eric Clapton’s Crossroads facility or some upscale spot in southern California. I had this delusional fantasy of meeting Lindsey Lohan in treatment and riding down Sunset Blvd. with her, living happily ever after. My prediction could not have been farther from the truth.
My mom stumbled across a small, spiritually-based recovery center known simply as, the Retreat, located in Wayzata, Minnesota. It seemed only seconds after she found the website she was on the phone and booked me a spot. After only one more day on the road, we spent our last night together in Mankato, MN. It was during this night that some of the fog seemed to have been lifted from my perspective. This was not to say that I was any closer to accepting myself as an alcoholic. I had a sort of subconscious and unsettling notion that something was changing in my life that I couldn’t control.
As we pulled into the drive of the Retreat, my new home for 30 days, the tape kept playing over and over again in my head. If only I…If only I… I couldn’t deal with reality. The reality that I had screwed up once again. The reality that I was being dropped off in a state that I had never been to and my mom had every intention of leaving me here. The reality that I did not know anything about what lay ahead of me. Of course, what I never could have believed was that it was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
The time I spent in treatment is not easily describable. I remember feeling that each day progressed at the rate of an elderly snail. The reality that I had nowhere to go did not sway me from constantly thinking about life on the outside. It seemed that my mind was fiercely determined to live everywhere else but the present moment. In doing this, I refused to acknowledge a lot of the help that was available to me.
Despite this relentless effort by my consciousness to thwart off forces of positive change, the spiritual nature of the environment fostered by the Retreat was too powerful not to diffuse certain elements of recovery into my soggy skull. I was introduced to a 12-step recovery plan that demanded I proclaim belief in a ‘higher power.’ Though I had never been diligent in any sort of religious practices, I certainly sensed notions of God being forced upon me at this point. God had always been a source of apathy for me. Though I had no just reasons to disprove His existence, I had no strong convictions to all of a sudden drop to my knees and beg his forgiveness. Up to this point, everything that had happened in my life could be explained in a logical fashion. Most recently, I went to college. I partied. I made a mistake or two along the way.
The amazing thing about the Retreat was its uncanny ability to allow alcoholics to figure things out for themselves. There were no doctors, psychiatrists or therapists to constantly probe us about the un-pleasantries that made up our lives. It was just us drunks and addicts (40 to be exact), sharing stories about our pasts that seemed to blend together in an appallingly harmonious fashion. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but my thirty days taught me that there were other people in this world who thought, felt, and even acted just as I did. It validated my identity as an alcoholic, whether I consciously accepted it or not.
My most vivid memories of treatment are of sitting in the leather chairs of the meeting room, struggling to stay present for the conversation, mind fluttering between thoughts of when we were going to get our next smoke break and when it was my turn to talk. The experience challenged every natural inclination in my being. I came to understand that living sober was not just about abstinence, it was about learning how to live a spiritual and disciplined lifestyle. My time at the Retreat served as a thirty-day crash course in this new way of living. Fortunately, I was able to stay present enough to absorb enough wisdom to be able to apply it to life outside the walls of my cozy room in Wayzata.
I started working at the Retreat last October. When I first heard of the job opening, I jumped at the possibility of not only being able to reconnect with the staff, but also to meet some of the new faces entering the recovery community. To the new guests, I represent someone who has recently gone through the hardships fought in early sobriety. For me, working there serves as a constant reminder of how far I have come.
Over the last year and a half, I have been a part of a journey woven of spirituality, sanity, and reason. While new to me, this is not an original struggle. Many before me have encountered relationships destroyed, families ruined, and lives lost. This may seem grim, but it is their struggles that serve as a constant reminder to me of why I must keep trudging this very road of recovery.[i]
Today, the life that I live is directly attributed to the grace and humility earned as a result of working this program of recovery. From beginning and ending each day with prayer, to attending AA meetings on a regular basis, each action I take today contributes to a more disciplined lifestyle. I do not claim to live on a higher plane of existence than anyone else, nor do I feel that I have reached my potential for growth. I remain grateful for everything that has happened and the way in which it happened to me. If that same series of nonsensical events had not transpired in the way they did, I would probably not be sober right now. I may not even be alive. However, as long as I am, I will continue to strive for progress.
[i] W, Bill. Alcoholics Anonymous: the Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. 4th ed. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001. Print.