04 Aug Let it Begin With Me – Gary Stromberg
Guest blogger, Gary Stromberg has an impressive reputation as an author, music industry PR mogul during the 60’s and 70’s, feature film producer and current head of public relations firm, The Blackbird Group. But he lets it be known that his greatest achievement is his sustained recovery from drugs and alcohol for over thirty-one years. His passion for service keeps him in the thick of Alcoholics Anonymous, supporting recovery foundations and in the trenches, both giving and receiving help from people who some think are beyond aid. In Gary’s words…..
Thirty-one years ago I stood at the precipice with a decision to make. With a career of impressive accomplishments in the rear view mirror I had a bleak future of despair and/or death ahead of me. Alcoholism and drug addiction had rendered me in a state of what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. The choice seemed simple… Choose life or death?
As the legendary Jack Benny once declared in a similar situation, “Give me a minute… I’m thinking!”
Do I acknowledge I have a problem or do I continue to live in denial?
Do I listen to my friends and family or do I seek my own counsel?
Do I continue to deteriorate mentally and physically, or do I say, “I’ve had enough?”
Do I choose to live, or do I want to die?
If I once had a dream, it was long ago shattered,
If I once had a dream, it’s floating face down in a bottle of Jack Daniels
If I once had a dream, awww, fuck it, I ain’t no Martin Luther King.
Throwing in the towel and surrendering should have been an obvious choice, given the state I was in, but at the time it seemed impossible, unimaginable, incomprehensible, indefensible and darn right insane.
Insane was the right word, all right, but it shouldn’t have been used by me, but used instead to describe me.
Alcohol and drugs are subtle foes; cunning, baffling and powerful. I seemed to be the last one to know I was in big trouble. When my high-profile career started to fall apart, it was the fault of others. When my substantial income dried up, my business manager was to blame. When the beautiful house I so dearly loved was finally foreclosed, the bank was screwing me. When she finally couldn’t take it anymore and left, I knew she would do this to me. When my friends began to disappear, they were scum and didn’t deserve my friendship. And when at last my poisons turned on me, I knew it was over.
And so a journey of unimaginable proportions began. Not to any outward destination. No rehab, no trip to a far off spa, I didn’t move to another city, as if a geographic change would fix it. No, I didn’t have to travel anywhere, except into the looking glass, the mirror, the peeling of the onion of my soul. The journey was within to at long last discover where the real problem resided.
It was, of course, in me. What a surprise. With the loving help and support of Alcoholics Anonymous I found the real culprit. We in recovery refer to alcoholism as a spiritual sickness. And if you look that up in the dictionary, I’m sure you’ll find a photo of me. “Mr. Spiritual Sickness of 1982.”
If you ask me, I might show you a picture of that lost soul that I still carry around in my wallet. Yes, I had the wild long hair and beard, the smug look of false confidence on my face and even the obligatory turquoise jewelry of that era. But look more closely and you’ll see into my eyes. Shallow pools of emptiness, pupils pinned from daily consumption of narcotics. As my first AA sponsor remarked when he saw the photo, “the lights are on, but nobody’s home.”
After you shake your head in disbelief, and look up at me again wondering how this was possible, and how have I become such a different person, I can offer you an explanation. I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who was spared from a life of misery, incarceration, death, or even worse… to go on living the way I had been for so, so many years. I’ve been spared from the life of self-centeredness that led me to care little about others and only about myself. I’ve been spared from countless fears of inadequacy, failure, success, intimacy and anything else that threatened my well-guarded defenses. I’ve been spared a life of darkness and shown a path into the light.
I was led to a solution for my problems that has given me thirty-one years of a mostly joyous and free existence. I’ve been able to turn my greatest liability into my biggest asset. By sharing my experience, strength and hope with others through my writing and service in my 12-step program, I have been granted a life beyond what I could have possibly hoped for.
I’ll take that photo back from you now, and put it back in my wallet. I’m not that guy any more.