“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
One of the reasons I love this quote, is because for many of us, being able to keep our enthusiasm up in the midst of trying times can be very difficult to achieve. But once you figure out how to never lose it, no matter how hard life can get, will mark the difference between giving up and succeeding. I love this quote and remind myself every time that sobriety success is shaped by my attitude. In this post I’m going to take you through my personal sobriety journey.
When I was 4 years old my parents made the life changing decision of moving from, Colombia, to California. It was 1986 and the situation in my country was scary and very violent. Upon arrival in California my parents took on many jobs to be able to provide for me and my siblings; they worked really hard to make sure we would have a life full of opportunities.
The great thing about latinos is that culturally not only are we very hard working people, but they also very happy and love to party. And of course, no Colombian party is ever complete without that anise-flavored drink called Aguardiente. Not that all Colombian’s are drunks, it’s just simply something they enjoy once in awhile, when there’s a good excuse to celebrate.
The first time I got drunk was at a family friend’s house party when I was nine years old. I was always a pretty mischievous kid, therefore at the party my cousin and I played a game to see who could steal more shots of aguardiente without getting caught.
After a few shots I was feeling very different inside. I felt comfortable, more secure, I danced salsa with my sister and all my cousins, I felt great. From that night on I drank every time I had the chance.
At 15 a friend introduced me to marijuana. Although today teen drug use is declining, back when I was a teenager the statistic was increasing and at 19 I attended a party and some guys introduced me to meth and so began the downward spiral. At 23 I found myself incarcerated in Idaho on drug related charges for two years.
You might be wondering why I left so many parts of the story untold. Well, I’m not writing this to reminisce on war stories, being eight years sober now I believe myself to be a bit wiser and truth be told, a little tired of recounting my crazy times. Jail in Idaho was the starting point of my recovery, and that is the part of THIS story I really want share.
AA and NA
When you are in prison, any activity that can take you out of your cell is welcomed with open arms. So when I was told that I could attend the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I did not hesitate. At the time I was not interest in recovery, in fact, I thought I didn’t have a drinking problem or substance abuse problem. I just needed to do something else than read in bed. So attending meetings without participating. It took three months of going to these meetings to realize that I might have a slight drinking and drug problem.
One day, a fellow inmate told the story of how he hit rock bottom. He was a high level accountant abusing drugs in order to deal with the insane amount of work and stress at his job, until one day, having suicidal thoughts, he got drunk and drove his car into a local store. He lost his job, his wife filed for divorce, his family had lost hope (this wasn’t his first run in with the law). He shared that apart from coming to terms with his drug and alcohol problems he had also realized that he had an anger management problem, he concluded that “rage spawns from anger, anger spawns from hurt, hurt spawns from getting your feelings hurt.”
Like I said before, I thought I didn’t have a problem. I was convinced that I was fine, that I wasn’t hurting anyone. But thanks to that inmate sharing his story and his realization my eyes were opened: I had hurt the only person I had to live with for the rest of my life and the damage I had done to myself needed to be repaired. I had a drinking problem, a drug problem, a personality problem…a life problem.
Prison was everything but easy, but attending the AA and NA meetings and the friendships I built helped me get through it. Once I was released I had a new sense of responsibility, I knew I needed to find a job, and be able to provide for myself. But it wasn’t easy. Having a criminal record made it a challenge to find a good job, so I struggled for months. And when I finally found one, I was unmotivated and feeling trapped in a routine. Despite attending my AA and NA meetings on a regular basis, I relapsed. I lost my job and life seemed unbearable, hence my voluntary check in to a rehab center in Washington.
After 3 months in rehab I moved back to California where I landed a job selling knock-off cologne. Being closer to my family helped me immensely, therefore my motivation was higher than ever. I would wake up at 5:00 am pick up my coworkers and go to gas stations, shopping center parking lots, flea markets, etc. to sell perfume out of the trunk of my car. After a few months I had become very good at selling. I had learned how to approach strangers, how to pitch my product, make people feel comfortable and how to overcome rejection. The job was purely commission based, thus if I didn’t sell, I didn’t make money. There is a great feeling about making cash on a sale that I cannot really describe. It is a feeling of accomplishment, it is a feeling that I wanted to replicate time and time again. I was determined to keep working harder and harder.
Months went by and next thing I knew I was training more than 10 people to sell perfumes and other beauty products on the street. I had my own office, had ads running in the paper, had a secretary taking calls, etc. In that year I had lost ten pounds, I had zero friends, and I barely saw my family.
After a long conversation with a friend he presented me with a book by Jeffery Combs called Psychologically Unemployable (Jeffery is also a recovering addict). One of the most important things said is that you should never confuse obsession with passion. After reading it and studying it for a few weeks, I understood that I had simply traded drugs and alcohol for work. It was an addiction and it wasn’t any better. I was getting physically sick and emotionally unstable from the pressure I was putting on myself.
I sold my perfume business and moved into my parents house. It was really important in my road to recovery to have their support. After a month I got a job in Target, so I could help my parent pay the bills and have some sort of income. I had no passion for that job whatsoever, and I was completely unmotivated at that point of my life. I couldn’t find balance between success and a healthy, happy life. Being afraid of relapsing I started attending weekly AA/NA meetings. I acquired a really good sponsor that I am very grateful for. He gave me the task of taking a class at the local community college.
At the time I was not very happy to do the task. I felt old and I thought there was no point in taking a measly course. I just wanted to go to work, do my job and pay my bills, that was it. Nevertheless, I forced myself to take a class. The class I took was called Introduction to Website Development (HTML). I liked computers and websites, so I thought, why not give it a shot?
You should have seen my bedroom after three months in the class. I had stacks of books and papers about HTML and website design. I found myself at the computer for hours, coding, creating, learning. Finally, one day I thought to myself that it would be great if I could make a business out of my new acquired skill.
Nine years later I co-own a successful digital marketing agency. I have a great team that I feel are like my family, in fact, my brother is part of it. We are based in Medellin, Colombia, which means my life has taken a 180 degree turn. 30 years ago my parents left Colombia to give my siblings and I a better life, now I am back with that better life.
I still go to meeting and try to keep in touch with some of the good friends I made on my way to recovery. We always give each other support and help each other during rough times. Being sober has become a part of my life now. My attitude defines me and I do not let anything take control of my emotions, it only gets easier with time. I have learned to attend dinner parties and skip the wine; to dance with my colombian friends and kindly decline those beers and still enjoy myself. In regards to my business, I didn’t let myself get lost while pursuing success. I have learned that balance is what makes you successful. Being able to work hard for months enjoying what you do, but also taking a weekend off to recharge has proven to be a critical part of my work-life balance. I feel very fortunate because I went out and found something I was passionate about, put my skills and knowledge to work and built a business. Sobriety, just like building a business, does not happen overnight, one has to commit to it and work hard.
It’s Not All About You
When you are in the process of recovering every single thing you do to maintain your sobriety seems to be about you. Every one of the 12 steps you complete, every single task or piece of homework your sponsor gives you, every book or article you read is all about you and your recovery. But after a while you realize, there’s a bigger picture. And going back to that Winston Churchill quote, “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm” learning that failing is just a part of the process. Behind most successful people there are years of failure, even if it’s on their way to sobriety or on their way to being a successful entrepreneur. The issue is not failing, since we all will go through it, it’s to never lose enthusiasm. Good luck and thank you for reading my story.