Recovery Memoir: The Protective Collective

I stood alone one night at the end of a pier overlooking what I believe was Lake Buchannan.  The details of the trip are very unclear, but the situation and events of this moment are as clear in my memory as if it were yesterday.  There were less than three minutes left in 2007.  The moon was bright and large in the sky, but not quite full, and I had been drinking beer since somewhere in the early afternoon. My brother Kelly and I spent many a New Year’s Eve camping out on the beach, or as we got older and more firmly settled in Austin, on the lake somewhere or other.  I have countless fond memories and pictures from these trips though most are fuzzy or fragmented due to some combination of beer, champagne, whisky, and wine depending on which year it may have been.  So much fun and so many stories.  He died on December 14, 2007.

Now I stood on this pier, less than three weeks later, looking at the stars with the wounds still excruciatingly fresh on my heart.  His wife, Cathy, had found this cabin for us to spend the night in right on the lake, so we could be by the water as we took our first breaths of a new year without our beloved best friend.  I took a small swig of Crown Royal from the flask I had been toting around since we got there, closed the lid, and started to talk to him.  I told him that I wished he was with us, and the New Year was not going to be the same without him.  I cried quietly for a minute, then told him I would try to watch out for his son as best I could and make sure he grew up with good, ‘Dale Boy‘ values.  I then said “Cheers, big brother”, held my flask toward the sky in a toast, and as hard as I tried, could simply not get the lid open.  This was the first time I knew damn well that my big brother was with me, watching me, and at the moment, did not want me to take that drink.

Of course, the alcoholic in me had a beer in my hand not too terribly long after all this, but I have never doubted for a second exactly what happened.  Over the next year, I experienced several different situations in which I know Kelly was looking out for me and they have not stopped.  These are tales for another time, but they are the foundation of a huge part of my life, that is coming into full swing during the early stages of my recovery from alcohol addiction.  I have always had a sense that there were spirits watching over me, but they never had such a powerful presence until that New Year’s Eve.  I was raised in the Christian church, and made many close friends within the fellowship, but as I grew older and moved out on my own, I lost touch with religion on an active basis.  Over time, I became some strange form of agnostic that still believed in the presence of protective spirits.  My views were so varied from year to year, and inconsistent with any form of spirituality I had ever heard of, so I didn’t even bother to attempt a label for myself.  I certainly would not bring up the subject and be put under the microscope for anyone else to look.  All this changed in August of 2017. July 29th was the last day I had any alcohol.  It was early morning, right after the corner store had opened at 7, when I snuck off to buy one last 500ml dose of Black Box wine.  This was the day my wife was taking me to Wimberley to check in to rehab for a month, so I chugged the box sneakily over the course of the morning before we left around 11.  When I checked in, I blew a .226.  If you don’t know, look it up:  that’s high.  For this reason, I consider July 30th my Sober Date. During my time in treatment, there were several types of classes and meetings we would attend.  Some were directly AA related groups, some relationship classes, some psychology-type groups, and others to ‘process’ personalized elements of our recovery with a close few peers.  It was in one of these groups that I had a certain epiphany that has changed my life dramatically.  Obviously, there have been, and will be more of these as I grow.

One assignment during my stay was to complete the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with the help of a workbook guiding me through readings from the ‘Big Book’ and a series of questions for each one.  On August 14th, I was processing my Second Step with the group, one question of which was “Describe your current beliefs about a Higher Power.”  I had more or less written that I was spiritual, and believed that there was something greater than myself that I could look to for support, but I was having trouble defining what it was and what it meant to me.  After I finished sharing all of my answers and thoughts, the group took their turn giving similarities or feedback about what I had read.  It was during this time that it hit me like a brick.  Why did my Higher Power have to be confined to one specific entity?  I had met people describing how Mother Nature or the Spirit of the Universe or other abstract forces served as their Higher Power, as they had come to understand it.  My Higher Power was crystal clear right in front of me and until this moment I had not seen the light.

My father passed away in June 2011. One grandparent on each of my parents’ side had died when I was young, and I was living in my wife’s grandparent’s house that we bought shortly after their passing just before and after our wedding.  I was surrounded by spirits that I knew had been watching over me for their own respective amount of time for almost my entire life.  Since the end of June 2015, I cannot count the number of times my mother has told me that I encountered a ‘God Moment’ and I knew for a fact she was right.  The most significantly huge of these moments were the two times that she happened to be coincidentally in my home at the right time to rush me to the hospital just before I (1st instance)bled to death, or (the 2nd)was overcome by ascites causing my organs to rupture internally, all the while skating on the edge of slipping into a Hepatic Coma.  Again, look it up:  that is not good. So, it was in this moment, while my recovery family discussed my second step analysis, that I realized that my Higher Power is in fact a collective force of all the protective spirits, including God, that have been with me all along.

Naturally, certain spirits have joined what I now refer to as my ‘Collective Protective’ more recently than others, but I value them all as my guides and spiritual mentors.  I have no doubt that there are more members to this extraordinary group than I will ever know or could possibly comprehend.  Therefore, I thank those of which I am aware, yet make sure to acknowledge the whole in my thoughts and prayers. I have had some time now to reflect on the new-found clarification of my own spirituality, and it has been quite rewarding both mentally and emotionally.  I am inclined to pray in times of stress or discomfort, as well as times of joy and gratitude.  I sometimes catch myself smiling at a signal from the Collective, thinking to myself that perhaps I know which piece is speaking to me.  We have become so close that I have decided it appropriate to capitalize the words I use in reference to It, though I rarely go any shorter than ‘the Collective’.   At first I wondered if I would be disrespecting God in doing so, since we capitalize Him, His, Her or Hers; but I decided that since He is such a major part of the Collective, no such disrespect would exist.  Being that I write mostly for my own therapeutic purposes, thoughts like these will come up.  I will likely refer to my Collective Protective as It or Them interchangeably depending on the circumstance, but since it is still not in my nature to initiate the topic for discussion, it will probably not come up on paper too often anyhow.

I have no intention of adopting a habit or need to label every emotion, belief, or mental pattern that I may discover about myself throughout my journey of recovery.  That is not, in any way the cause or agenda associated with my ramblings.  This is simply a matter close to my heart, that has shown itself to be on the forefront of my daily life, and has found new profound clarification which is even easier for me to understand by putting it ‘on paper’. Today was Thanksgiving of 2017.  This morning, the weather was beautiful, and as I stood in the backyard with only the company of two of my dogs, I prayed.  “Thank you for such a beautiful day and so many things to be thankful for.  Please look after my family and help them all have a safe and happy holiday ….. be with all of my recovery brothers and sisters, and help them and their families find strength and hope as they strive to support one another.”  If you are reading this, chances are you were included in this little prayer of mine, and for that I thank you.  I meant every word, and hope some sort of glimmer found its way into your day.

Author: Chris Dale
IG: @chris.r.dale

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