This Blog was originally written as an article for LocaLeben Magazine.
Click here to view it on their site
The room is dark. The only phone is a land line, still off the hook from the night before. The last few days are blurry, but I awake with an emptiness in my heart and a familiar thought that my life is worthless, that I have no value. I can’t continue like this. I peek through the drawn shade; it’s sunny out. Two o’clock in the afternoon. I lie back down, pull the covers over my head and wonder how I ever created this moment in time. I don’t want to live. I shake and cry and think about ways to kill myself, but never make a serious attempt. This will be my day, as it has been in many days past. Drugs and alcohol abuse have created a negative mindset that has spiraled to this point. I don’t see a way out. I want a drink.
A few years later, I’m playing bass guitar in a rock band with three other musicians whose affinity for drugs and alcohol matches my own. By the end of the night we’re usually all pretty high. On Friday the 13th of May 1988 we play a club called Arbuckle’s in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It’s a decent night, so the club manager asks us to play four more songs for an additional twenty dollars and he’ll put a bottle of Jagermeister on the bar for us to help ourselves to while we load out. This seems like a fair offer, so we accept. After a long load out, we’re ready to go home. The rest of the guys are in the “band van,” but I have my own vehicle that night… a broken down Duster that you can actually see the road through where the shift knob is between the front seats. No speedometer. I think about trying to sleep in the car and head home later, but decide to just “be careful” and try the drive back to Oshkosh now.
Main Street in Fond du Lac is known to have a lot of police cruising the area at bar time. There are a lot of bars there, so I know I need to take it easy, especially since I have no speedometer. As I head down Main Street, I find out later that I’m going 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. I miss the left turn at the end of Main Street to head back to Oshkosh, my car veers and smacks the curb by the Lakeshore Park statue, flattens both tires on the driver’s side of my vehicle, totals the car, and there’s an officer right behind me who was getting ready to pull me over for speeding anyway. Breathalyzer reads .29. I’m thrown in jail for the night. I remember this date because this was rock bottom for me. I lost my license for six months.
Our greatest moments, our highest achievements, are often sown from the seeds planted during the darkest hours of our lives. Every day is a crossroads. The choices we make can and will affect our lives from that point on. We can change our lives the second we decide to head in another direction.
I am asked to attend a “personal inventory program” to assess whether or not I might have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs. I need to do this to get my license back. That same weekend of my arrest, I met a woman who would help me start to be truly honest with myself for maybe the first time in my life. The counselor for the “personal inventory program” was the perfect counselor for me; I stayed late and discussed my issues with him after every class.
At the end of the program, there’s a one-on-one meeting with the counselor, and you have to follow his guidance to get your license back. He told me in no uncertain terms I was a chronic alcoholic and recommended treatment starting the following week. He introduced me to the counselor who would be running those sessions. Outpatient treatment four nights a week for two months with follow-up meetings and AA support after that.
Tuesday, November 1st, 1988 I changed my life forever. I began treatment. The new counselor was the perfect person to guide me at that point in my life. I was 29 years old, had been using alcohol and drugs since I was 14 – over half my life. Within two weeks my desire to use was gone. I’m one of the lucky ones in that regard, many people in recovery struggle daily to overcome their desire to use again. There was still plenty of work to be done, though… on a daily basis… for the rest of my life.
We all have our demons. Alcohol and drugs created, within my heart and soul, a self-image of my own capabilities and worth that was extremely negative and limiting. That didn’t go away just because I put the cork in the bottle.
We’ve all seen the cartoons on TV where a person will have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. It is usually portrayed as a fair fight – both sides with about equal power. Life is not always like that, though – one side or the other will take control. For me, at that point in my life, I had a 300-pound demon on one shoulder and an angel on life support on the other. If you try fighting your internal demons, you will lose. You need to start feeding your angel. This is the work that began for me that day, years ago. This angel/devil dichotomy affects not only our overall attitude, but our views on everything in our lives – our families, money, work environment, virtually every subset of our being.
Every day we need to feed our angels. We start with ourselves. What are you capable of? Do you love yourself? Are you making a contribution to society? Where is your passion? Train yourself to spend time daily changing your views on what is possible in any area of your life that you are unhappy with. Two of my favorite quotes on this are:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill
I spent two hours a day, seven days a week studying self-help and spiritual material for the first seven years of my sobriety before I ever really got to the place where I thought the angel and the devil were evenly matched. My life depended on it.
What if we all did that? What if everyone on earth spent two hours a day looking for what was good about life, or in conscious contact with God? Would our lives be better? Would our community be better? Would the world be better?
Of course it would.
My life today is a complete antithesis of the life I was living pre-sobriety. Living a life of purpose and being known as a person with great honesty and integrity has replaced my obsessions as the things I want to focus on and create for myself.
A few years after cleaning up, I had to walk away from playing music and being around the bar scene so much so I got a sales job. The only place that would hire me at the time was for a job selling vacuum cleaners door to door. My resume basically said “played bass in rock bands for 16 years.” I became one of the top salesmen in the country for that company. I stayed with that job until I was ready to get back into music, which was about eight years.
In 1997 I was able to get the position of bass player with the band Road Trip, still one of the premiere bands in Wisconsin, a position I held for nine years. Great band, great people, no drug use, no drinking allowed during shows for the band members, it was the perfect spot for me.
I continued to work sales jobs while also playing with Road Trip, eventually becoming one of the top realtors in my area. I got married, inherited a family, and eventually left Road Trip to start working as a financial advisor (the position I hold to this day). My wife and I have a beautiful home in the country, a great family, and we’re able to travel frequently. It’s not uncommon for us to be overwhelmed by gratitude for all that we have.
It is not my intention to write about these successes to brag, but more to illustrate the power that our thoughts have to create our reality. Twenty-five years ago the life I live today would not have been possible for me because I couldn’t see and believe it for myself.
Your thoughts brought you to this place, this magazine, and this article, at this time in your life for a reason.
My entire life changed in one moment on one day over 25 years ago when I made the decision to believe I was not my past, and I began creating a new future for myself with new attitudes and behaviors; that power is available for all of us, every second of every day. Look for the best today, in yourself, in the people you meet, in the community, in the world. Look for the best and you will find it.
Unless you are coming from a place as dark as I had created for myself, it doesn’t take a regimen of two hours daily to change your life for the better. It is more about catching yourself and being aware of the things you do, the habits you have, the thoughts that have become beliefs that unconsciously limit you – and then making small strides daily to move in another direction.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Be nice to others along the way. We are all fighting our own personal battles. Find your demons; then feed your angels. It is in learning how to love that growth occurs. Fighting demons is fear-based and hateful. Feed your angels instead, and follow your heart. It is better than the alternative. I know. I’ve lived both ways.