Hitting Bottom

In my last BLOG, I provided the story of Bill W’s surrender and the spiritual experience that began his lifelong quest to help other alcoholics. The following BLOG, quoted from pages 135-137 of PBH, describes my “hitting bottom.” Prior to this experience, I had been trying unsuccessfully to get sober for ten years. As my alcoholism progressed, I often stayed at alcohol treatment facilities hoping to find help for my addiction.  The following entry begins with an account of my next to last visit at a treatment center and ends with my final surrender:

Remaining at this facility for a week, I began to feel alive again. The staff had been extraordinary in their encouragement. Leaving treatment “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” I felt a renewed commitment to my wife, to the clinic, and to myself that I would never, ever drink again. My wife told me that, promise or no promise, she would no longer stand by and watch me die. But this time, I was confident.  I was convinced I had reached the lowest bend of the alcoholic pipeline and was heading up the recovery side.

I was wrong. “Never, ever” is too long a time for an alcoholic to commit to. Two months later, I checked back into the same treatment facility.  I was crushed. I was certain there would be no more chances with my wife. I knew there shouldn’t be. The fact that I had let her down was one thing, but there was more. The National Guard had relieved me from duty—permanently! Then, following a medical exam at the treatment center for a painful hip, I was informed that, at the young age of forty, I had degenerative arthritis. If I wanted to continue walking, I would need a total hip replacement! “You have to hit your bottom,” the Old-Timers say. Like the funny little fellow with the big ears at the Alcohol Recovery Center had advised me many years earlier, “You have to be willing to crawl through cut glass to get sober!” Well, shattered glass was all around. I had hit bottom directly in the middle of it.

I knew I had. I hit my bottom like a concrete block plunging through a twelve-story building, shattering glass as it went. When I hit, I didn’t even bounce—I just crunched into a lifeless heap. More than a degenerative hip joint, I was a degenerative disease—degenerative addiction, degenerative marriage, degenerative soul. Depression rolled over me like the waves of a dark, stormy ocean. Heavy and suffocating, my condition was more than I could bear. I had no more tries left in me. I despaired. I prayed. My prayers were unlike any I had ever uttered. I didn’t ask for anything. Not to stay sober. Not to have my job back. Not for my wife to stay. Not to feel peace. Not to remove my pain. Not for anything! I was conquered. All I could do was mutter words about my total nothingness and cry out for help.

As my prayers continued, something about the way I viewed life began to change. It was not as if I had been struck with sudden brilliance. I was not filled with the burnings of truth or peace. I realized it was futile to say, “This time I’m going to stay sober,” or “I promise . . .” It was just the opposite. Alcohol had won. I was broken. I knew I couldn’t stay sober—no matter what. As this realization settled upon me, for the first time in my life, I honestly and completely admitted my powerlessness and gave my life totally over to a power greater than myself. With childlike demeanor, I humbly asked for God’s protection, direction and care. As a hopeless beggar, I surrendered all of me into the waiting arms of my Heavenly Father. “Do with me what you will. I can do nothing.”

 I began to feel tiny stirrings within me—a feeling of warmth, barely detectable, as if a tiny penlight had turned on in my bosom. A powerful key turned. Somehow, I knew in my heart that it could be over. I stood at that point I had heard described in hundreds of AA meetings—the testimony of myriad alcoholics who had hit bottom and had found the only way up: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (From Chapter Five of Alcoholic’s Anonymous).  I knew I didn’t possess the ability to manage all of my life. I couldn’t even manage a small piece of it. I suddenly understood that if I could just focus my energy on today, turning the guilt of yesterday and the fear of tomorrow over to God, then this terrible ordeal could be over. Like finding and putting in place a long lost, last piece of a puzzle, the picture became clear. I understood what to do. My life could be pieced back together—I simply needed to do it in humility and surrender—and one moment at a time!

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Brigham Young on “Who has the greatest reason to be thankful?”

In the Epilogue to Perfect Brightness of Hope (page 188), I provide the following quote from Brigham Young, Second President of the LDS Church.  In view of the prevailing misunderstandings regarding addictions and alcoholism, it is worthy to examine this quote against ourselves:

“Who has the greatest reason to be thankful to his God–the man that has no strong passion or evil appetite to overcome, or the one that tries day by day to overcome, and yet is overtaken in a fault?

Who has the reason to be the most thankful? The being that has comparatively no strong passion to overcome ought constantly to walk in the vale of humility, rather than boast of his righteousness over his brother.  We are under obligation, through the filial feeling and ties of humanity, to more or less fellowship those who do evil . . . If brethren and sisters are overtaken in faults, your hearts should be filled with kindness–with brotherly, angelic feeling–to overlook their faults and far as possible. [Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1977, page 180)] Emphasis added.

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Intended Audience for Perfect Brightness of Hope (Segment 2)

Continuing with the “Intended Audience for Perfect Brightness of Hope” topic, the following experience emphasizes how my book affected someone with no direct experience regarding addiction or alcoholism.

When I retired from a career with FranklinCovey Co., I left a copy of my book with my co-worker and friend, Sean Covey. Sean was like most of the good people I knew in the company, unaware and uninformed of the plight of alcoholics and addicts. Frankly, he thought he had no reason to read my book. A few years later he was working on a book entitled, “Six Decisions You’ll Have to Make: A Guidebook for Teens.” He knew one of the decisions had to be about addictions as this was swiftly becoming a major issue among teens. He was stuck. He had no personal experience and had no idea where to begin. Here is what he wrote to me in an email:

“I wanted to share what happened to me the other day.  I am writing a book for teens and one of the chapters is on addictions.  I was stuck and didn’t have anything to say.  So I picked up the book you gave me several years ago (which I hadn’t read) and started thumbing through it.  Hours later I finished the whole thing.  I was taken aback by the book.  When I finished, I wept because I had experienced everything you went through.  I felt the spirit so strong.  I felt like I was led to read that book and it influenced the way I wrote the chapter on addictions.  After reading it, the words just flowed.  It was one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Thanks so much for writing it.  Every church member ought to read it.  Sean” (*Note: Sean briefly tells my story in his book and includes the notes my daughter left on my desk. See Chapter 5 of PBH, pages 74 & 75.

I share this experience because it captures perfectly what I had hoped would be the effect of Perfect Brightness of Hope: Increased understanding leading to increased compassion for those with little or no direct experience with alcoholism or addiction.

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