A Tale of Two Weddings

Anxiety. Fear. Agony.

Those are the words that come to mind when I recall the first wedding I attended sober. It was a scant sixteen days after I’d given up the drink. I was still in withdrawal, and probably had no business going to a wedding of a fraternity brother. Still, I was committed to attending and even more committed to not drinking.

I gave myself the out and canceled the Friday night room at the hotel, opting to drive up to the Philly area on Saturday, the day of the wedding, in order to minimize the exposure. As my wife and I drove up I95 my neck and shoulders tightened. I’m sure my pulse quickened. My stomach turned to knots.

When we got to the hotel, many of my fraternity brothers were already well oiled. I felt left out. I ran an errand, and while I was out got a call from a large client about a TAC case that was going sideways with a critical piece of gear in their network. I desperately wanted to drink.

I gritted my teeth. My knuckles turned white. I managed.

Well before the wedding, well before I passed the table of Manhattans that was awaiting the guests after the ceremony, I was in agony with a migraine.

I wish I could say that I had fun, but if I’m honest, while it was nice to see my life long friends, that night was pure hell for me. There are photos of me with smiles, but that was all a front. I always have been good at hiding what’s wrong.

We split early, shortly after cake was served. I’d done my duty, and I was done.

Last night, I attended the wedding of one of my pledge brothers, Dave. I was surrounded by the same group of friends who drank heavily two years ago and many of them were drinking heavily again. But this event was different.

Gone were the feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and fear. I did not feel left out. I did not miss the drinking. I socialized with my life long friends and enjoyed myself.

No migraine, just fun.

I was in the moment, and at peace. We laughed, we sang, and we danced. I smiled genuine smiles and loved every minute of the wedding and reception.

So much has changed in my world in the last 22 months. I’ve learned how to have fun without alcohol. I’ve learned how to have fun in the presence of alcohol while abstaining. I’ve learned how to embrace my sober life.

Many times you’ll hear folks say that being sober isn’t just about putting down the drink or the drug, and there are usually a lofty words that follow about connecting with a higher power or your spiritual condition. And for many people I’m sure these words are genuine.

What I’ve come to realize is that recovery is not about simply abstaining it’s about living a full and rewarding life. If that means that I’ve connected with a higher power, then so be it, but the resistant self in me doesn’t fully accept that. And that’s okay.

I’ve learned that there will be cycles in my recovery. Times when I feel that the spiritual side of things is of the greatest importance and times when I will see it as a less important. There will be times when I resist the program and times when I embrace it. And that’s why people talk about this being a life long journey. That’s why people talk about staying connected to their recovery and their higher power, because we’re never cured — we only get a daily reprieve.

And still, we do heal. That’s the only word I can use to explain the difference between the two experiences. Aside from geography and time, the only significant difference in my experience of these two weddings is the healing of my mind, body, and spirit.

We do recover.

Thoughts. Tears. Gratitude. 

Monumental changes in one area of life often affect other areas in our lives, and so it’s probably no surprise that with the change of jobs I’ve not only been too busy to write, but I’ve also been a bit negligent with my meeting attendance. And as I’ve been negligent with attendance, I’ve felt myself drift further and further from my recovery program. And my resistant self has risen up to lead the committee in my head — the one that debates the importance of the program.

That resistant self is sneaky little fucker.

He starts by proclaiming that we’re too busy with life for meetings. Then he suggests that it’s all okay because we’re really doing alright without meetings. Next he talks a little about whether a higher power really has anything to do with this anyway — maybe we should check out other modalities of recovery. Maybe Smart Recovery, or Refuge Recovery — and they’d be great modalities, except there’s only one Smart Recovery meeting per week in my area and only two Refuge Recovery meetings in the whole state. So that little resistant self says, “no worries, you’re doing okay — even when do you go to meetings you get irritated by something — maybe you don’t need them at all.”

And then, then I’m driving down the road after dropping my son at camp, on my way to give my wife her phone because she forgot it, and it’s like 9:17 AM, and as I pass a liquor store the thought strikes me that I should go in — get some bourbon and test the waters. And it sounds like it might be a good idea for an instant.

And just as quickly as it flashes through my consciousness, I recognize that this is fucked up thinking. That this is not normal thinking. People who can have just one, or even just a few, they don’t think about going into a liquor store before work. And even if they did they know that’s it is not a good idea, ever.

But even as I recognize that this is not normal, I don’t instantly recognize that it’s struggling. I don’t instantly recognize that this is a sign that something is wrong.

And I hide it well — too well. I talk to another alcoholic and he’s got no idea that these thoughts are running around in my head or that the committee is in session. I don’t hide it consciously, but I hide it.

But then I tweet about it. And after a few tweets, someone comments that a lot of our tribe is struggling right now. And I think, “yes, yes I am.” And that I need to get with my tribe. And so I resolve to make time to go to a meeting.

And still the committee rages. And still I’m resistant. But I go. And something magical happens.

It’s a celebration meeting and I recognize the celebrant, but not from the rooms. From somewhere else that I can’t place. His story resonates in many ways and I find myself less resistant. I find that the committee is quieting down and adjourning session.

This particular meeting is in the church were I got married. A church where I was a member for many years. The church that provides space for “the Red House” — the headquarters for the local area intergroup.

Any given Sunday that I actually made it to a service the pastor would include prayers for those suffering from the affects of alcoholism and addiction. Sometimes he would speaking the red house specifically. And when he did, I frequently thought that I belonged in a seat in the red house more than I did in the pew as I struggled with a hangover. 

As the speaker ends his talk he calls on people in the group to share. First members of the fellowship and then members of the audience who are not in the fellowship but who are important friends of his. I don’t recognize the names but suddenly I recognize a voice. It’s the voice of the associate pastor of the church. I make the connection that I recognize this celebrant from the church. And then he calls on Bill, thepastor of the church and the very man who married me and my wife.

I have no fear about Bill knowing that I’m at the meeting. I’m at peace with it. 

After the closing Bill is talking to a friend of mine from my early recovery. I go over to say hello to both of them. Bill asks me how I am, and I say, “doing well, almost two years since my last drink,” as I shake his hand. My friend says how amazing it is and how great it is and he fades into the background. I’m sill grasping Bill’s hand and I start to tell him how much I appreciate all that the church does form AA and that just changed my life in a shaken voice.

Tears well up. I cannot hold them back. “So many times, on Sundays when you spoke of the red house, I’d think ‘that’s where I belong, but I was so afraid to admit it,’ it’s so important what this congregation does for us,” I tell him through the stuttered breaths. Bill tells me how much he appreciates me saying so. And he hugs me. The tears recede and we talk a bit about the family and he sends his love to my wife and son.

I leave with a deeper sense of gratitude than I have known for some time. I know that the tears flowed from that gratitude. I know that even if I don’t like the label, it fits, and I can use it when and where appropriate and use another set of words in other situations, and that’s okay.

And I know again that a program, even with its faults, is something that I need.