Falling off…and Getting Back On
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Earlier this week I stumbled onto this video. I was touched and inspired as I watched (this is not unusual for me). Then at the end of the video I heard this:
“…When you’re trying to find hope; when you’re struggling with something, [I hope] that you can remember me, Cambry, the girl that fell off the horse and found a way to get back on.”–Cambry Kaylor
For no particular reason that I can explain, my eyes teared up. Then came an incredibly strong impression: “Somebody out there needs to hear this story…POST IT!”
I know I’m asking for a few extra minutes of your precious time, but this is an AMAZING story of hope. It’s a little off the beaten track from what I’ve shared here in the past, and you may initially wonder why I asked you to watch it.
But I AM asking…please watch and then lets chat about a couple of insights that will tie Cambry’s story in with our ongoing theme of RESCUE, RECOVERY, and REDEMPTION.
Like an Approaching Storm…
I’ve already shared a lot of my personal background in previous posts. By way of review… mine was what most people (including myself) would consider an AMAZING life, even a BLESSED life:
- Christian upbringing/testimony of Christ
- Found and married my soulmate
- Beautiful children and time/means to do “cool” things with them
- Working as an award-winning animation and special FX artist
- Promising career as a performing musician, specializing in dance bands for high-end weddings and special events
- Volunteer horse-back riding instructor for youth equestrian non-profit organization
Dark Clouds and Silver Linings
They say: “Every cloud has a silver lining”. But in my case, every silver lining actually had a dark cloud. Like clouds on the far horizon, although there were hints of the approaching storm, my use of alcohol was almost non-existent. I was trying to be a “good Mormon boy”.
But like an approaching storm, alcoholism quickly overtook me and darkened every aspect of my life. My life was still filled with good things, but my life was not good.
To put it in the terms Cambry used in the video…I misjudged my actions and fell off the horse. A hard crippling fall. The kind of fall that would change me (and my outlook on life) forever.
My ability to have a healthy and honest relationship with my spouse and children was deeply compromised. I was frequently NOT at the top of my game at my “day job”. My daily alcohol intake reached the point where it seriously strained my family finances. After all, good liquor is not cheap, and cheap liquor is NOT GOOD–on SO many levels! One by one, many of the good things in my life started to disappear.
However, the aspect of my life that was most deeply intertwined with my addiction was my career as a professional musician. Playing in bars, nightclubs and at social events means alcohol and other drugs are all around you…all the time. I eventually discovered that “sneaking” a drink or two at the beginning of the evening greatly reduced my Fibromyalgia pain. It also reduced my social anxiety, and improved my ability to perform.
What I learned from Cambry’s story:
The “Three R’s”–Rescue, Recovery, and Redemption.
In Cambry’s story, the rescue part is obvious. She was immediately surrounded by people who loved her and by those whose job it was to save her life if she was injured. She had loving care-givers in the days following her accident. They encouraged and supported her, telling her that everything would be OK…even though this was not an obvious (or completely honest) conclusion. And even though she didn’t want to hear it, they confirmed the truth to her that something had happened in her life that had profoundly changed her and her abilities to perform as she had in the past. However, they also insisted that living a fulfilling life was still possible.
In a previous post, we chatted about finding your Higher Power (see “A Bishop, a Rabbi, and Imam Walk Into a Bar“). If you struggle with addiction, what or who will rescue you? I choose to call it “the Grace of God”. But maybe you’re uncomfortable with the concept of God, or perhaps you are just mad at him. In this case, the loving assistance of those around you, even if you neither want or deserve their help, is the “grace” that will rescue you. It certainly was what rescued me…
God’s Grace in my life
For many years, my wife Julie was incredibly patient and supportive of me, and she continued to love me deeply despite my addictions. However, the time eventually came when she was at a loss for what to do for me. In desperation, she prayed to God to bless me, strengthen me, and to send His ministering angels to guide me.
In the following days and weeks, people who could guide and inspire me were put in my path. I was “mysteriously” led into unexpected, unearned, and unexplainable positive circumstances that forced my hand and pressed me into my somewhat reluctant decision to quit drinking.
I had not asked for it, I had done nothing to deserve it, and honestly I still did not actually want to stop drinking. Because of Julie’s faith and prayers, and through the actions of others who followed God’s promptings, God’s grace intervened in my life to RESCUE me.
The dictionary defines recovery as “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost”.
Q: As addicts, what has been lost or stolen from us?
A: Our ability to control our appetites and to freely choose many of our personal actions.
Recovery requires that we do some difficult things so that we can regain our ability to choose the good things in our lives.
In Cambry’s story, she went through physical therapy in an attempt to recover her lost physical abilities. And she took some impressive steps (figuratively and literally) in the attempt. But in so doing, she learned that because of the nature of her injuries, there were many aspects of her former life that would be impossible to recover.
She learned to walk well enough to “go 50 feet in about 5 minutes”. However, she realized that doing so only made her tired and even more aware of her “new” weaknesses. She did not find personal happiness in her new life until she gave up on the things she could no longer physically do and focused on what actually made her happy.
Like Cambry, there are aspects of our “former” life that will be impossible to enjoy in recovery. Until we stop mourning our losses and embrace our new realities, we will not find happiness or success.
In recovery, we talk a LOT about something called “triggers”. Triggers are thoughts, actions, places, people, and things that remind us of the thing we are addicted to. Frequently, recovery will NOT involve restoring a lost job (or career), a non-supportive or addiction-enabling friend, or many other aspects of the life we were living as a result of our addictive behaviors.
For example, if you were a bartender during your period of alcoholism, it is not possible to recover both your old job and your self-control. If you return to bartending there’s a 100% guarantee that you will also go back to drinking. The only way to recovery is to let go of anything that triggers us. We should seek to restore ONLY those things that can guarantee that we won’t return to the addiction.
A Plethora of Triggers:
The nature of my work as a professional musician was a huge problem. I was almost always placed in an atmosphere where alcohol was everywhere. I was always fighting cravings. That was a huge (and obvious) trigger. But as I’ve said before, I don’t like drinking in public… I’d try to “tough it out” and not drink at the gig, then afterwards, I’d go home and binge.
As a “closet” alcoholic, any opportunity to drink alone was welcome and necessary. My “perfect storm” was this:
- Being around people who were drinking, at…
- An out-of-town “gig”, where the client provided…
- A private hotel room…
- Where I could “sleep it off” before having to drive home!
This combination always resulted in a huge binge after I had finished performing. Any ONE of these things got the juices flowing and made it harder to resist the crave. With all of them combined, I’d mentally salivate for about a week before such gigs, anticipating the opportunity to “safely” binge. Even after I “quit”, this combination was irresistible, and always resulted in a slip, or worse, a full-blown relapse. I would not admit that “I was powerless over my addiction–and that my life was STILL unmanageable” (AA–Step 1) even though I had “quit drinking”.
Redemption is defined as “a thing that saves someone from error”. And without doubt, it requires a MIGHTY change of heart.
For Cambry, redemption came ONLY when she recognized that happiness in her “new reality” could not include many of the things she used to be able to do. Her “new” happiness was discovered when she found new things that she could do instead of mourning all the things she could no longer do.
Eleven years ago, I attempted to regain control in my life, and forced myself to quit drinking (not really recovering…just not drinking). Looking back, my two major relapses and my numerous small “slips” over the past decade all started when I placed myself in the “perfect storm” I mentioned above…away from home, a private room, and a chance to sleep it off before driving home. My redemption finally started as I purposely reduced the number of out-of-town gigs I was doing. My “slips” became fewer and further between, but that particular combination of triggers is still incredibly powerful for me.
It is important to realize (here comes Step 1 again) that we are powerless to control our addictions, unless we purposely choose to avoid every situation that could possibly cause us to return to our addictive behavior. And I testify to you that we ARE powerless without help from our Higher Power. I also testify that with our higher power WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE and success is within our grasp.
A lesson from the Bible
Remember the Old Testament story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt? (see Genesis Ch. 39) Joseph’s job was Overseer of the house of Potiphar. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph did not look her up and down thinking of how good it would feel to “lie with her”. He did not stop and debate whether his choice might cost him his job. And he did not try to reason with Potiphar’s wife. No! When she grabbed him by the robe to seduce him, he immediately and without hesitation, “…left his garment in her hand, and fled, AND GOT HIM OUT.” (Genesis 39:12–emphasis added)
Success in recovery can come ONLY when we are willing to do whatever it takes to remove ALL triggers from our lives. Like Joseph, we need to IMMEDIATELY “…flee, and get [ourselves] OUT”. This may mean changing jobs, changing careers, changing friends, and sometimes even moving far away (geographically) from those things that trigger us.
My decade-long struggle after I “quit” drinking was plagued with slips and relapses. My heart was in the right place, but I was still determined to be a professional musician. Every time I went to “work” as a musician, it was like walking through a mine-field. Ever since I was a 5-year-old piano student, my label…my identity…was: “The Music Guy”. I had an amazing God-given talent. Of course, I was NOT going to give up that dream! What I didn’t realize (or more accurately, what I did not want to admit) was this:
Far Better Things…
Five months ago, I came to a decision. I quit all of my bands. I IMMEDIATELY canceled all bar gigs. And I let my agents and band leaders know that I’d cover a few things we were contractually bound to, but that after that, I was done. It was almost like flipping a light switch. I found new light and new power in my soul that I’d never felt before. As I actively removed the “triggers” in my life, most of my cravings simply disappeared. And the cravings that do surface unexpectedly are far more manageable.
And about those “Far, far better things”…?
My spirituality and relationship with God has improved exponentially.
I’d heard it said that “If you love God more than your spouse, then you will love your spouse even more”. I can testify of that…my relationship with Julie is by far better than it has ever been in 35 years of marriage.
For years, I have passed up employment (“day gig”) opportunities because they might conflict with my band commitments. Suddenly, a whole new world of career choices is in front of me, and I’m EXCITED! Now I’m far more interested in helping others than in my own self-indulgent “rock-star” life. The enlightenment I’ve received is SO liberating.
And I’m realizing that C.S. Lewis was right…what I’ve left behind is SO worth it–because there really ARE far better things ahead.
I had pretty much wrapped up this post late last week, but I didn’t feel like it was quite “finished”, so I waited to post it for a couple of days. Now I understand why. Allow me to explain…
Clear back on April 1st, I gave notice to my wedding band, “The Headliners”. I didn’t want to leave them in a lurch contractually, so I told my agent/band-leader that I’d honor all the wedding dates that were on the calendar as of that day, but no more. I pretty much wrapped up with them in July, but I had one more date on the calendar for a wedding last Saturday (Sept. 21st).
Remember my “perfect storm” scenario? Try this on for size.
- The wedding is in Jackson Wyoming, home of the “drive-thru” liquor store (no kidding…they have DRIVE-THRUs in Wyoming). Every grocery store, drug store, hardware store, and convenience store you walk into has a full selection of liquor, right up front. Yep…the saliva is already flowing.
- As I drive through downtown Jackson I see that an old friend, former band-mate, and nationally known country singer from Denver (Richie Law) is playing at “The Cowboy” bar. I’d LOVE to go reconnect with Richie and the rest of the band (friends that I’d been known to have more than a few drinks with on road trips). My gig ends at 10 p.m. and Richie plays until 2:00 a.m. so I’d have plenty of time to go see his show. And as a side-note, I only vaguely recall that about 15 years ago, I got the most inebriated I’ve EVER been in public at The Cowboy after another Jackson wedding.
- Finally, I’m supposed to share the hotel room with two roommates, but at the last minute, both of them decide to drive back to Salt Lake after the gig, leaving me without a chaperone in a huge hotel suite all by myself.
Sound familiar…? 🙁 (The storm’s a-brewin’)
I hate to admit it, but as recently as 6 months ago, this story would have ended with me making the 5-hour drive home on Sunday morning (or more likely…Sunday afternoon) with an INCREDIBLE hangover and the discomfort of at least a couple of days of “home detox” before I really felt like myself again.
Yes! It can be done
You’ll be relieved to know that this story DOES have a happy ending. Because (12-steppers…you’ll recognize this…) I admitted I’m powerless, came to believe in God, turned my life over to God’s care, made a moral inventory, knew what to avoid, and knew that I’d have to report my accountability to Julie (and more importantly…to GOD) if I screwed up. The choice was easy.
Game-plan for Redemption:
On the entire drive from Ogden to Jackson, I was listening to inspirational talks and Scriptures on audio-book, and was praying for strength. Throughout the evening I offered silent prayers for strength.
I REALLY enjoyed playing at the wedding with my friends and purposely avoided even walking by the bar as we took our breaks.
After the gig, I skipped the party with my old drinking buddies at The Cowboy, and went directly to Albertson’s on the way to the hotel. There, I bypassed the liquor counter, purchased about $20 worth of junk food, and went back to the hotel and threw my own little “Sober Party” with my best buddies–Ben and Jerry. 🙂
Falling Off and Getting Back On…
At the conclusion of Cambry’s video, she said something that hit me SO powerfully:
“People ask me…What if you could go back to that day and change it so you never got paralyzed? Would you do it?
“Well, 18-year-old Cambry would say: ‘Yes! In a heartbeat…yes please!’
“However, now, looking back at all the experiences and lessons I’ve had since that day: learning to love and accept myself…learning to find what makes me happy and go after it regardless of the obstacles…and learning to find humor in the difficult situations;
“It’s taught me to look at the big picture and believe in God’s plan instead of my plan.”
“Living with paralysis has taught me so much that I wouldn’t change that day.”–Cambry Kaylor
I fell off the horse…
People at AA talk about “Falling off the Wagon”. A friend at work recently started reading my posts here on Change of Heart, and when he realized that I was a life-long “Mormon”, he quipped that “You didn’t fall off the wagon–you fell off the HANDCART!”
Today I’m so touched by Cambry’s message that I’ve got to say: I fell off the horse. My spirit was broken and bruised. My life, my personality, and my BRAIN were changed so drastically that I will literally never be the same again. Allow me to quote myself from a previous post (“The Landscape of the Mind“) :
“I firmly believe that God has an individually designed plan for each of us. We are each given different circumstances and challenges to shape, test, and strengthen our spirits. One of my personal (and I believe, God-given) challenges is that I am prone by my nature to addictive behavior–my brain works a bit different than yours…That’s one of MY tests in this life.
“Along with my ‘disease’, I was given spiritual gifts that have provided me with a desire and ability to remain close to God in spite of my sinful ways. I’ve managed to stay active in the church my whole life; concurrently I’ve suffered a 3-decade struggle with alcoholism. It’s been a hell of a test, but I’m finally reaching the point where I’m starting to think I’ll come out on top in the end–I have strengths now that I could not have developed (or even imagined) without overcoming the nature of my disease.–Me (from “The Landscape of the Mind“)
…and so I got back on.
So, let me pose the same question to myself that people pose to Cambry Kaylor:
“What if you could go back and change it so that you never experienced Alcoholism? Would you do it?”
Fifteen years ago, in the depths of darkness and addiction, I’d give the same initial response as Cambry: “Yes, in a heartbeat…Yes PLEASE!!”
However, knowing what I know now, as much as I’d love to have avoided some of the pain inflicted on myself and others, I look back on the lessons I’ve learned:
- God has a plan for me that is SO much better than MY plan for me
- He is my loving Heavenly Father and will help me through even the depths of hell and addiction
- I can find joy despite (or perhaps because of) the challenges of this life, and…
- Our families and loved ones are God’s greatest gifts to each of us, and through Christ’s atonement we will be together through the eternities, despite our current human frailties and weaknesses.
- Christ is my Savior, and without him I AM POWERLESS, but with him I can become PERFECT
Conclusion: Living with alcoholism has taught me so much that I wouldn’t change that experience.
Thanks again for joining me today. As always, I’m inspired by your stories…both of success and failure. I’m also here to help. Respond on this page (below) or drop me a private message at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE.