“There’s NO WAY I have a drinking problem. I AM NOT AN ALCOHOLIC! I’ve always been able to control my drinking. It’s never gotten in the way of anything. It’s NEVER caused a problem for me!”
I’m Howard Kympton, and I am an alcoholic.
Such was my state of mind 11 years ago when my life was unraveling at the seams. Denial was at the core of my problems then, and it still continues to rear its ugly head as my disease relentlessly fights to reassert itself. I began my recovery journey on December 26, 2004 after my behavior culminated in two horrible holidays that year – both Thanksgiving and Christmas – that had my wife at the absolute end of her rope and me not knowing where else to turn. Feeling there was no other recourse, I agreed to enter a local outpatient program that was actually very comprehensive. Not only did it educate me on the disease of alcoholism and make me aware of the effects of family history on my addiction, it also reintroduced me to Alcoholics Anonymous. I note “reintroduced,” since I had attended a couple of AA meetings in previous years at the request of my wife and a friend, but came away with the overwhelming reaction that “I’m not one of THOSE people!” I should have recognized my denial then.
Unfortunately, my story from that point does not tell of a happy turn to a new life in recovery. My disbelief that I had the disease, my willpower to achieve always those things I had set as goals, my ingrained repulsion of alcoholism, and my belief that I could do it on my own - without help - all combined to ensure non-success. Moreover, I had originally gone to rehab in a desperate attempt to get my wife off my back – certainly not for myself – which I now know creates no foundation for lasting recovery. As a result, the next five years were fraught with one relapse after another. I could not string together more than 11 months of continuous sobriety without thinking “I can just have one. I can control this. I’m NOT an alcoholic!”
My relapse of five and a half years ago finally brought me to my knees. In the face of losing everything I held dear or important, I opened up completely to my wife and my sponsor, and four days later I was on my way to Wernersville to be admitted to Caron’s Relapse Unit. As with many who have had the fortune to receive inpatient care at Caron, the experience changed my life. I realized at last that my arrogant self-reliance, strength of will and ingrained discipline did not define an equation for sobriety – I HAD to reach out and humbly ask for help. When I finally did, I was amazed at how quickly, willingly and supportively it was given.
As we all know, there is no magic bullet, no “one solution fits all.” For me it’s become a matter of integration and balance: integration in the sense of combining a number of activities and disciplines in my program, and then maintaining a balance among them with respect to each day as it comes. I’m active in AA – have a home group, a sponsor, am working on my third 4th Step and have service positions – but I’ve found those alone aren’t enough. For those who remember the early days of computer programming, I practice a daily “do loop” of the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 10th Steps to keep me mentally balanced. By walking through those steps in succession, I’m reminded that I’m definitely not in control, to work on my shortcomings daily, to practice humility in all things and to take stock at the end of the day to ensure there is no need for more 8th and 9th Step amends.
I’ve also found that maintaining a close relationship with Caron has helped my recovery foundation. I can’t praise Breakthrough enough for its effect on my life, and I’ve attended the one-day Breakthrough follow up as well. The time at both sessions opened my awareness to a number of attitudes and experiences that have unknowingly affected me for decades. Accordingly, I’ve added Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings and study as another facet of my program.
Finally, being involved in spiritual and alumni retreats, in local Caron alumni activities and on the Caron DC Advisory Board keep me close to Magic Mountain, whether I’m there or not. As a result, I’m frequently reminded of my experiences there, which have been some of the most profound of my life. Additionally, my involvement has been another way to be of service to others in recovery. Recovery is a process of support – as we help others fighting with addiction, we help ourselves.
In the same manner that we need to focus on HALT to ensure that being hungry, angry, lonely or tired are not affecting our program, I need to maintain the same sense of balance in my program. For me it needs to be AA plus service plus ACoA plus my daily “do loop” plus exercise plus a spiritual bias to manage my program well and to remain in balance.