by Wayne M. (Punanai 2004)
Editor’s Note: This essay first appeared in the November 28, 2013 issue of TGIF. On March 21, 2014 Wayne McArthur, Renascent alumnus and Access Centre Counsellor, passed away. A memorial in celebration of Wayne’s life will be held at Renascent on Saturday, April 26th. Details and condolences are available here.
My sobriety depends not upon a “Higher Power” but instead is based upon a “Higher Purpose.”
I will explain that in a moment but first let me tell you a little about myself.
My problem with alcohol was bad – so bad that between 1992 and 2004, I was in four different rehabs.
After three months at Halton Recovery House, I managed to stay sober for a year and a half. I picked up a drink and the next thing I knew I was in a psych ward. Years passed, and by 2004 I was jobless, homeless and friendless. Not even my brother would take a phone call from me.
It was there I decided that I did not want to die a drunk. I knew I needed treatment to get started – again. In November I entered Renascent and completed treatment. My sobriety date is Sept 30, 2004.
Now, my higher purpose.
In the last two rehabs I discovered that I was self-obsessed, with no concern for other people. It was brutal and fatal, unless I took action. My higher purpose is about as simple as I can make it (which is no small feat for an alcoholic). It is simply to be there and to participate in the human race. Even if I can’t do anything to help, I need to be there if someone needs me. If I am using, I am not there for myself, let alone anyone else. This obviously requires I interact with others. I strongly believe that isolation in its many forms is one of the primary reasons we use and especially why we relapse.
I acknowledge that I am dependent on others for my sobriety. I must be a part of the human race. To do that on an ongoing basis, I must always endeavour to do the right thing.
AA was – and continues to be – my first line of defence against isolation. I know I can be honest and talk about real things in that environment. AA is not the only place where I can relate to others but it was a start. I know I also have people in my life outside of AA. Now I am a part of, not apart from. So now that I am a part of the human race, how do I act and what do I do in this strange arena of the real world?
I believe we can’t think our way into good behaviour but we can behave our way into good thinking. What is good behaviour? It is doing the next right thing regardless of what I may feel like or think. This can be where the second use I make of AA can come in. For me the Steps are sign posts and guides on how to behave as a normal human being. They also act like idiot lights on my dashboard of life. If in a certain situation one of those steps keeps popping into my head, I know I need to look at something I am doing. For example, if I become resentful or angry I need to look at what my part is in this (Step 4) and if I am wrong I need to apologize and try to make it right (Step 10).
After being sober for more than a year, I started volunteering at Renascent.
As time went by and I always showed up and did well at what they gave me, they started offering me paid shifts. I was offered a full time job in 2007. It was to assess people that wanted to attend our treatment program. My job was to interview them and determine if they were a fit for us and, more importantly, if we were a fit for them.
To say I loved it would be the understatement of all time. For the first time in my life, I had a job that was not a job. You see, it was an ideal way for me to live my higher purpose. That way I could be a useful part of the human race.
Everything at my job was going more than well until 2010 when I checked myself into the hospital with crippling stomach pain. Operations (two within a week) found colon cancer which was removed.
No reprieve however. This February I was diagnosed with lung cancer, for which there is no cure (only, hopefully, control). Since then, I have gone through radiation therapy and three rounds of chemo. I recently started the fourth round. I have had thoughts of, and even discussions about, going back to work. No one knows just how much I miss it. You see, this work is all about my higher purpose.
I can remember the first time I mentioned this higher purpose when I spoke at a meeting. I was surprised at how many people came to me after wanting to know more. This is still my core belief – the concept of others, not you.
Way back in 2004, in a psych ward, I decided I did not want to die a drunk.
And I won’t.
Because I have a higher purpose.