Overcoming Challenges in Early Recovery

By By Dennis Bates, Director of Detox Clinical, and Expanded Recovery Services

It was 2003. The whole family was there − my sister, my brothers and their wives, and my father. She was down to four breaths per minute, and we knew the time was coming. So much ran through my mind in that moment: the memories of the lake, the Cape, and this incredible woman − once the anchor to this great family, now lying comatose in this hospital bed.

No one ever really spoke to me about maintaining sobriety in times of despair, and I couldn’t help but think that a drink might help me through this ordeal. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m sober. Life should be better. This shouldn’t be happening like this! Life should be better.” And then, BAM! That’s when I realized that sobriety goes beyond the rooms of 12 Step support. It goes beyond the sponsor, the home group, and the network. Beyond those incredible rooms at Wilson and Smith University where I learned so many valuable lessons.

It was in that hospital room where I understood sobriety. In that moment, I realized that attaining sobriety did not mean life would be perfect. Life doesn’t get better: we get better at living. But life, it still happens.

The challenges of early sobriety are just that – challenges, not crises. Once I began to go beyond myself, thanks to the steps, I understood that problems were only problems if I said so. I realized that I now had the choice of deciding if a challenge was a stepping stone or a stumbling block. My perception of life and success changed by going beyond myself and being available for others. Who knew? (Well, a lot of folks in the rooms of recovery did!)

Mom passed away that day. And it was a gift of the program that I was there, available for my family. We reminisced together, held hands together, and cried together. I firmly believe that if I were in active addiction at that time, it wouldn’t have been about my mother’s passing. It would have been about my pain. But it wasn’t. It was, to the best of my abilities at that time, about being kind, selfless, and available.

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