A Cornerstone Sobriety Story
I have been sober for more than 35 months now, and it began when I entered Cornerstone . . .
Mine is a typical alcoholic tale, but not the type of tall tale we are known to tell. This is instead one of truth upon sober reflection, coming after achieving a state of mind and serenity that required more than a little help from Cornerstone.
Let’s step back about one month before I set foot in Cornerstone, a point in time when I had neither heard of it nor would have fathomed needing it. I had hit bottom, accelerated as it often is for us by the long arm of the law and a DUI charge. But my physical addiction was eating me up and I knew it. Withdrawals and just the fear of the slightest withdrawal symptoms had made constant drinking seem like the necessary medicine to keep my body and mind stable. But I knew this wasn’t right and the maintenance effort had worn my body and spirit down.
So, this day about a month before Cornerstone, I made a decision that I needed help. I believed that I could not stop drinking unassisted or I would die, but I knew as well that I would die if I didn’t stop drinking.
So, I set a plan – we are good at that, aren’t we? My plan involved controlling my recovery. My plan was based first on the following assumption: So long as I went to the emergency room and got treatment for acute alcohol withdrawal (which I somehow believed from my past trips to the ER for such pleasantry would be successful at detoxing me), I could then make the controlled conscious decision to not drink after that and I would not die from that decision because the shakes, etc. would be gone. Now, I’d been to the ER before, but this time was different, I thought, because before I never wanted to stop; before I just needed some treatment to keep me from dying so that I could drink some more. This time if I got the help with withdrawal, I was certain to stop I told myself.
The problem was that I went to the ER this day about a month before entering Cornerstone, had some treatment for acute alcohol withdrawal, discharged myself, and went home. Of course, when I tried continuing not drinking that day after arriving home, for the first time I let the withdrawal symptoms have their way with me and did not self-medicate against them. My girlfriend was helping me stick to my decision to really stop drinking, and she was by my side witnessing the true demon inside me rearing its ugly head as it fought against the starvation diet I was trying to put it on.
As I sweat and convulsed and burned up, together we agreed that I needed to try a different option – one that we had been advised to do but I had resisted because, well, remember I was in control of this and knew what was best, right? I knew that I absolutely did not need some rehab facility. I just needed a doctor to take away the negative physical effects from not drinking, I told myself and those that would listen; after, I believed, then I would have the willpower to never drink again. Because I could control it thereafter (even though for at least a decade I had been drinking every day, as we alcoholics tend to be self-delusional, where even when we overcome denial of the problem we still underestimate the amount of sacrifice it will take to overcome our addiction). So, as I said, we had been told about this other option – a recovery facility named Cornerstone that had been recommended by my attorney.
We arranged for a check-in at the Cornerstone detox facility the next morning. After a tortuous night of going through withdrawal and my girlfriend watching over me like a combat nurse wondering if the mess of a patient on the cot would make it through the night, we drove to Cornerstone and I got checked in. I will skip over the details of the 3 days of detox for now – basically it was medically controlled withdrawal and while I was out of it for most of those days, I was also not in pain or fear of dying. I feared the unknown and the utter lack of control but I did not fear “withdrawal death” by internal combustion. This was the first gift of Cornerstone – a weekend of uneasy comfort. Although that sounds like a contradiction in terms, if you’ve been through it I think you’ll understand the phrase.
Doctors say I demanded to leave detox too soon and I probably did – I suggest you listen to the doctors if you go. I didn’t listen much, because, you see, detox can remove the toxins from your body but it does nothing for the toxins implanted in the alcoholic mind. I believed that those very few days in detox provided me with enough to now execute my plan. I was no longer in fear of death-by-withdrawal anymore. So I could now go on with my life and simply not drink, right? “It is done,” I commanded in my head, as if so long as I said it then it would be so.
After I left detox, I agreed to go to some outpatient group sessions every night at Cornerstone. I was committed to doing the absolute minimum and frankly, I fought the process along the way whenever it seemed to be demanding more effort than I planned for (although I denied all of this at the time). I thought I knew what I needed to be well, and I thought it did not require Cornerstone anymore. I was, of course, wrong but I did not know that yet.
I was still an alcoholic, but I did not get the full power of that fact of existence. I had not learned yet about being a dry drunk and the alcoholic mentality. I had not yet learned that getting sober meant far more than stopping drinking. Then, later on through the classes I was told these things but I am not sure how much I listened at the very beginning. At this point, Cornerstone helped me stop drinking and I saw it mainly as a way to minimize legal consequences and not as a way to stay sober. In the first few days of sessions, I figured I could pretty much do that part on my own.
But I had my ears open enough that soon I realized my thinking errors. Things started to click, and soon with Cornerstone’s insistence (and eventually my embrace) my ears opened more and more each day I was in the program. So, in one of the early stages of progress in my development, I believed I could keep from drinking without Cornerstone but started to recognize that Cornerstone could probably help with that effort. That evolved into understanding that it wouldn’t matter if I could stop drinking on my own, I needed to rest my mind if I was to really escape the misery of alcoholism – something that reaches far beyond my body’s blood alcohol content. Then, that evolved further into an understanding that I could not control drinking or not drinking on my own any more than I could control any other part of the world. Through listening at Cornerstone and AA, I learned that I couldn’t do it on my own. But if I developed a program of sobriety – true sobriety in its fullest sense – I would have the tools necessary to avoid the pitfalls and trappings of alcoholism (only one of which is the bottle).
I needed Cornerstone not just for the instruction and guidance but also to actually keep my ears pinned open to hear and understand the lessons necessary to get through these steps.
Surrender and acceptance, patience and practice, serenity and blessings – all these things and other tenets of recovery made sense a little more every day that I embraced them. But I needed to stay with the rigor of Cornerstone’s methods and the discipline of the program, together with AA, in order to evolve. At some point things clicked. And here is the crazy thing – you know that they really click when you admit that you need to stay on at Cornerstone and stop trying to get out early. The first time you think they click and you are certain you are ready to leave – that is a point where you are still looking for the alcoholic’s shortcut. That is a point when you still believe you are in control even if you think you no longer believe that way.
I stayed out my required time at Cornerstone. There’s a chance I suppose that things had clicked well enough that perhaps I did not need every last day toward the end of my required time at Cornerstone. But, you see, who was I to try to control my exit? Having learned that lesson and by being at peace with my presence in the Cornerstone program, only then was it time to leave the program and to do so in a manner that felt really quite natural, calm, and fulfilling.
It has been three years since that day about a month before checking in at Cornerstone. And, God-willing, in a few days it will be three years of continuous sobriety from the day I checked in. There are many blessings that have come my way in those three years and maybe I can share some of those later.
In the end, sobriety comes from each individual’s program. But, I know that my continuing program is shaped by, and in immeasurable ways successful because of, what I learned during my time at Cornerstone and the insights I gained from the counselors I engaged with there.
I think almost every alcoholic will fight against the things that will do them good. We will fight first against admitting the problem, then after admitting it we will fight against the hard choices necessary to really address the problem, and then when we agree to place ourselves in uncomfortable positions like rehab we will try to find the easiest path to get through it, and we will fight to escape the systems designed to help us. My advice – stop fighting so much. Only after I stopped fighting everything did I accomplish the surrender necessary to get me where I am today. Maybe everyone has to fight it a little to “get it” eventually. But believe me, the sooner you surrender the sooner you start to see happiness.
Recognize further though, that I still today have to remind myself of everything I learned and ward off the temptations to fight against my own best interests. This sobriety thing is still (and will forever be) a day by day enterprise. But I am so grateful that I have developed the tools that allow me to both be alive and to truly live each day. I am grateful for Cornerstone’s part in my life and in my recovery.
For those considering giving Cornerstone a try, I recommend it. And if once or twice you find yourself thinking that you want to leave after you entered, take my advice and stop thinking for a bit. If you listen instead and stay a while, then the path to recovery starts to become a pleasant one that you’ll want to stay on each day and every day thereafter. I pray every day that I keep to that path. And I pray that others who need it will become a fellow traveler.
Yours in serenity,