Thoughts On My Journey Through Sobriety

By Gary Walden

As of this writing, I have 212 days clean and sober. I wake each day and thank my Higher Power for another chance to help a fellow inmate who may be struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. This may not sound like a lot of ‘clean time’ to some who may be reading this, but to me each day is a new journey into uncharted territory.

Someone once observed that to gauge how well you are doing in controlling your own life, pay attention to how many ‘managers’ you have: Wardens or lawyers, probation officers and police, health professionals and counselors. If you have an abundance of unsolicited ‘managers’ in your life, perhaps it's time to do some critical analysis of where your life is heading.  Image courtesy stagevu.com

I recently performed a ‘searching and fearless’ inventory and realized what the last three years of drug and alcohol abuse cost me financially, personally, and spiritually.

Included in this inventory were my dream house, 401k and pension funds, a professional engineering position, a thirty-three year marriage, a twenty plus year career in the Air Force, and being invited to not come back to my church of twenty-eight years.

Along with those expenses, I made sure to personally purchase a lot of expensive ‘bling’ for the local crack dealer, and made sure several liquor stores ended up making a profit. This certainly was not a fair trade.

My last four months of freedom saw me drain the last of my bank account to buy crack. Four days after Christmas last year I consumed so much vodka that I had an accident in my apartment and spent nine days in the hospital on the stroke ward with a brain-bleed.

After being in FCI-Petersburg, a medium security federal prison, for about two months, the drug and alcohol haze lifted and I began to take an interest in life again. I was fortunate to be housed with the central inmate figure in the AA/NA program at this institution. ‘Mike P.’ was instrumental in getting the AA/NA meeting broken up into two separate groups which were of a more manageable size than the one super-group. He invited me to join the group which meets on Tuesday nights.

Through the fellowship of AA/NA, I've learned a lot about myself and about the disease of addiction. I had an especially hard time admitting that I was powerless over alcohol, and that my life had become unmanageable. Men particularly have a difficult time admitting to being powerless over anything.

Since coming to AA/NA and speaking with the men, listening to their experience, strength, and hope, I have discovered a wonderful thing: I'm just as human as anyone else. There is no shame or stigma associated with being stricken with a disease. No one with diabetes or heart disease cowers through life thinking of themselves as weak or unworthy of love or acceptance. It has only been through education and awareness that society in general, and physical and mental health professionals in particular, have accepted the disease of addiction and its treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have a proven program that works. It's not magic. It's a lot of hard work and self-discovery. It's apologizing and making amends where possible. It's embracing a fellowship of other people who suffer from the same disease. It's a place you can go "when you1re sick and tired of being sick and tired."

One day I'll be free of these walls and bars and fences. The drug dealers and bars and nightclubs are still open for business, last I heard. But if I can help just one other person break free of their addiction, maybe, just maybe, my time here will have counted for something.

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow's a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present."

I still have lots of things left that I can lose: family relationships, my health, etc. But, because of AA and NA, I'm putting together some tools for dealing with life after prison. Certainly there are other, more formal programs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. But AA and NA are a fellowship, a group of concerned men with a common purpose: to help the alcoholic and addict who still suffers.