“It’s a very, very tough thing – very easy to become addicted and very, very hard to become a recovering addict.” – Tom Scholz
As alcoholics, we are pretty well versed in our knowledge of alcohol. But have you heard of this one? Aguardiente. For those who have not, Aguardiente is a clear drink that looks like vodka, but tastes of anise. It is made in Colombia (the country where I was born) and means “sizzling or fire water.” And it’s very popular. I had my first taste of it at the age of 12 at a family party (Colombians really know how to party, even at 12). I pestered the old guy serving the shots until he had enough of me and BOOM! – I loved the feeling it gave me, amazed at how my childish insecurities disappeared in a flash.
Back then, my family and I were living in Southern California, having moved out of Colombia because of the escalating problems involving the drug cartels and the internal conflict. Don’t get me wrong – I loved SoCal and had a great childhood. But that first feeling at that family party never left me. I yearned for it. I craved it. I stole for it. Unsurprisingly, I smoked my first marijuana joint aged 14, started on meth at 19, and was sentenced to 2 years in jail for drug offenses when I ended up in Idaho at the age of 23.
Just to get out of my 10 by 8 cell, I started to attend the AA meetings they had in the prison. It was a long time before I ever stood up and said, “My name’s Andy and I’m an alcoholic.” At the beginning, I never spoke, never participated, and never shared. My parents visited when they could, but I could see the disappointment in their eyes, especially my mother. I knew she blamed herself, thinking she had done something wrong with the way I grew up. It’s hard to explain, but I seemed to detach myself from her guilt. It was her problem and I had enough of my own. Later, I was to realize that it’s not just your physical and mental well-being that alcohol destroys – it destroys your emotional connections to the people that truly matter to you.
One day, during an NA meeting (I had started attending those for exactly the same reason I gave above), a middle-aged man stood up, a psychiatrist in fact, and an addict like the rest of us. He shared his story and finally, finally something hit home with me. His story revealed his inability to deal with his anger. The circumstances of his story were different to mine, but the underlying reason was, I felt, the same. I didn’t sleep that night. Images of times past with my family played like a never-ending movie through my mind.
Out But Still Imprisoned
So, I got out. I relapsed quite quickly, but, before I did, I had a job selling discount colognes and perfumes. And would you believe? I was good at it. I mean, really good. Soon, I had my own little office and was training new people on how to sell perfume out of the trunk of their car. I got a rush from making sales, training people and running the business. It seemed like I had traded the addiction of drugs and alcohol for the addiction of work.
The relapse? Like all addicts, it was like I didn’t fall off the wagon, I fell off a very high building. And I screamed all the way down, knowing all too well my rock bottom was about to hit me straight on. My parents found me a rehab center that saved my life. During my many months there, I started to write letters to family and friends, people to who I felt I owed apologies and explanations. Especially my mother. I wrote her frequently, out of guilt, yes, and out of a seriously strong need to make that connection with her again. To my relief, she wrote back. It was through those letters that I found a new friendship with her, one that I never thought possible. Is she my best friend now? She’d laugh at the idea, but I reckon she must be.
Obsession and Passion: The Difference
One day, my sponsor at my local AA told me that if I wanted him to continue, I had to do something for him – go to college, do a course and pass. So, after much deliberating about what kind of thing I should be studying, I eventually enrolled in an HTML course. It wasn’t long before my bedroom was knee-deep in textbooks about web design, HTML, online marketing, digital whatever. I had learned a valuable lesson. The difference between obsession and passion. It’s a lesson that has served me well since I left the Idaho rehab. And it continues to do so to this day.
The Andy of today? I am 8 years sober. I moved back to Colombia and now I co-own a website development agency. I employ good and deserving people, which makes me proud. I am motivated and assured that my past is the reason for the ‘me’ of today. I’ll never forget that. I go to meetings, I deal with my anger and I live my life as best I can. And my Mom? She visits when she can, with Dad. We talk a lot over the phone and chat on Facebook. One day, she’ll live in a house I have bought for them both for their retirement, here in Colombia.
Not Just About Me
Addicts are selfish people. Most of us don’t want to be. In my experience, addicts do tend to be good people when it all comes down to it. But addiction makes us so selfish, whether we like it or not. One of the more meaningful things I have learned during my ongoing recovery is this: It’s not just about me. At my recovery’s start, everything, absolutely everything was about me and me alone. Forget my Mom and Dad, forget my family, forget my friends, forget my cellmate. Just me. Nobody else counted.
Now, I have a different perspective. My sobriety is not just about me. It is about my family, my friends, the people I employ and, above all, gratitude. As Barbara Stoefen said in her interview, “Our family is more whole, more welcoming, more giving and forgiving.” Is it the same for you? I’m thankful to you too for taking the time to read my story. Please feel free to leave a comment. Your story is important; don’t ever let anyone tell you different.