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Atwater: Moment of clarity

If you ask most recovering people what got them sober, they’ll talk about a “moment of clarity” rather than “the bottom,” and I think most of us can relate to that moment, addict or not.

Many of us have had “moments” in our lives that have been pivotal, moments that defined the end of one part and the beginning of the next. Most of us can remember looks on faces, important people, big and sometimes seemingly small events that have changed the course of our lives.

Sometimes “moments of clarity” come only after a long series of events and long after other people think they should have happened. This is especially true in the case of addiction, when the sicker one gets, the harder it is for them to see it clearly. Bystanders wonder when the poor guy will wake up and how he cannot see. They don’t understand the depth of his rationalization to continue the path he’s on. To them, it looks like self-destruction; to him, it feels like survival, and he doesn’t want to look at all.

“Ron” saw himself as a fun and incidentally hard-drinking guy. He was always full of energy and rarely passed up an opportunity to party late or a line of coke. The truth is Ron often bought the coke and threw the parties, inviting people like him so he wouldn’t feel different. Even his friends knew he was way over the top. Ron’s wife and family had been a casualty of his addictions five years earlier.

The first time “Ron” was terminated from his high-powered sales job, he blamed the company. He dreamt of how he would go to work for a competitor, take all the business from his former employer and be vindicated of wrongdoing. He fantasized about the day they begged him to come back.

That day never came, and he was terminated a second time only 18 months later. His disease had gotten worse; he was missing appointments, turning in expense reports months late and alienating customers with his bragging conversations, trying desperately and transparently to prop up his sagging self-esteem and confidence. Unemployed, money running out, all his party buddies gone, you would think Ron would pack it in for rehab, but he wasn’t there yet.

Then one morning about six months later, when Ron was bloated from booze and red around the eyes from sleeplessness, the phone jangled next to his bed. It was Ron’s middle daughter, who rarely talked to him. She had simply called to tell him she loved him and despite the substances wanted to “bury the hatchet” and have a relationship. She heard “Ron’s” gravelly voice and knew it was “one of those mornings” but said nothing about it, wished him well and hung up.

Ron staggered to the bathroom, looked in the mirror and had a moment of clarity.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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