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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

How I Learned to be Happy

I’ve been clean and sober for multiple years now and have grown a lot during that time. The most important thing I learned was how to be happy. When I first got sober in 2005 one of the first things I learned was that I didn’t have a drugging or drinking problem – I had a thinking problem. I was unsatisfied and unhappy with my life and who I was and didn’t know how to fix that. I had thought that by drinking I could become happy. It worked at the beginning but as all alcoholics/addicts come to realize that after awhile that solution becomes another problem.

First I had to put the proverbial plug in the jug and start to change. Learning what I could and could not change was a huge step in finding happiness. There’s a reason that all 12-Step meetings begin with the Serenity Prayer – it is a message of truth.

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

I cannot change another person, institution, policy, etc. I may have some influence but I cannot change them. The only thing I have power over changing is myself and my reactions to people, places and things. Once I accepted this I gained a huge step towards happiness. Being young in sobriety the only thing I understood about that was that I had accepted that I could not change the fact that I was an alcoholic/addict. I cannot predict what will happen if I take that first drink or drug. Simple and straightforward. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t an easy lesson to learn. I had to hurt myself, and others, along the way to this enlightenment. It took a lot of emotional and spiritual pain to come to this conclusion but come to that conclusion I did and thank God I did for it allowed to me begin a journey of change. The last line of Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” This says to me many things. One that there is a happy destiny in my future as long as I stay sober and continue to change for the better. Also that this journey will not be smooth gliding, like people who are not alcoholics/addicts, I will face bumps along this road. Health problems, deaths, relationships issues, etc. As long as I can accept that I must face whatever life throws at me without self-medicating I’ll be okay.

Another realization that led me to happiness was that I had to look inward to be happy rather than outward. If I am not happy with who I am than no amount of wealth, material things or another person will make me happy. This was a hard lesson to learn. By the time I sobered up at the age of 35 I didn’t even know who I was. I had learned from an early age to wear different masks for different people. I wore a mask for how I thought my family wanted to see me. A mask for people at work. One for my friends and later different masks for different friends – be they good friends or fair weather friends. I once thought that I would be happy if I identified myself with my job. I began to hate that job and so I hated myself as well. People use to ask me when I was going to stop partying and I would answer when I get a girlfriend. I got said girlfriend but the only thing that changed was I took a hostage and made her life miserable. In sobriety I realized that it is unfair to another to depend on them to make me happy. Unfair and impossible for that other person is human and fallible. I had to learn to love the person I was before I could even begin to love others.

Once I came to a place where I knew who I was and could love others I had to be aware of my motives when dealing with them. If my motives were ones of selfishness then that relationship would not work out. If I am to enter into a relationship with another human being I have to be straight up front and not manipulate or use that person for my own gains. It has to be an equal, open and honest relationship. The key word being equal whereby I don’t allow myself to be used unfairly. Not to say I don’t or won’t make self-sacrifices for the people I love. That is part of happiness as well. Being able to give and accept unconditional love.

The last change towards happiness I had to make was to stop having to be right all the time. I learned a valuable lesson from Alcoholics Anonymous – I can be right or I can be happy. When I first got into sobriety I kept trying to be right – particularly in my intimate relationships. This lead to constant bickering and relapse. Not relapse as in I took a drink or drug but relapse of my emotional sobriety. I learned that after I sobered up I had to manage my emotions because one of the reasons I liked to use was that I couldn’t manage them – they were unmanageable. When looking at the 12 Steps of recovery one will see that the only Step that mentions drinking/drugging is the first one. None of the others do. That’s because it’s a program of living. I thought I had joined up with Alcoholics Anonymous to learn how to not drink. In fact, I joined to learn how to be happy, joyous and free.

Today I am free from my addiction. I do not have a mental obsession to use any type of mind altering substance. I face life on life’s terms. I choose happiness over having to be right. I accept that I must change and not expect others to. Most importantly if my acceptance is higher than my expectations than things will turn out just fine.

This is how I learned and continue to learn to be happy.(nothing changes if nothing changes; if I don’t change my dry date will).