I had an experience when I went back to school a couple years sober that was instructive. I turned in my first assignment for a class I was really looking forward to. The paper came back with so much red ink, I was completely embarrassed. I felt wholly unprepared to be in school and briefly thought that perhaps my lot in life really was decided all those years ago when I failed to get into college prep courses in high school. But there was something about this course, and all that red ink that spoke to me. There was something about the course that really fascinated and intrigued me. I made a decision to double my efforts in the course, and at least stick it out for the semester.
I studied, and studied the course material like I had never done before. Fast forward to the two hour midterm exam. I seemed to know the answers. I wrote with surprising ease. I had an uneasy sense of confidence when I was finished. As all the students walked out of the class, they all talked about how tough the exam was, and how they felt they had blown it. Not to be left out, I joined in the complaining, afraid that I had been over confident, and the other foot was going to drop.
When we were given the exam books back one week later, I quickly started paging through my writing. There was a grade written on the first page. The instructors hand-writing was terrible – the grade was either a 100, an 80 or a 60. I feared it was the latter. I paged through the exam booklet, deciphered the notes, added up the point values, and concluded that I received a 100% on the exam. Out of the class of 15, the next highest grade was an 80%. Several students had failed the exam. I don’t attribute my high score to my relative intelligence – I know that intellectually I am not the sharpest pencil in the box, by a long shot. But there was a feeling, a sense, an understanding that came over me when I got back that first assignment with all the red ink. I thought about giving up, but realized that there was something very important to me about this class. In fact, to this day, this particular class I consider the most valuable of my entire academic career. I decided I wanted to have this understanding. I wanted to know what this was all about, so I pulled out all the stops to achieve the end.
I liken this very much to my experience with sobriety. In the past, I have wondered why I have stayed sober and so many around me have not. I know that there are folks who have much greater horror stories of family dysfunction and substance abuse than I and those with lesser amounts as well. I know there are folks who have been to the finest treatment centers, and those who simply walked in off the streets into an AA meeting. I know there are those who are very well educated and those who are illiterate. None of these factors seem to dictate who seeks to address their substance abuse, stays sober, or who relapses. For myself, the best I can understand this all is that I had a taste of the mountain top, like I had a taste of the importance of that class, and I was going to do whatever was necessary to maintain that taste. The knowledge achieved in that classroom and the mountain top experience of early sobriety are as fresh in mind today as when they first occurred. They cannot be taken away from me. I can only choose to abandon them – give them away.