My wife, Cara, and I were supposed to get married today. The wedding was scheduled to take place at Reptacular Ranch, which is a large animal rescue zoo in Sylmar, CA. During the planning process, our parents, who don’t live in Los Angeles, inquired about the possibility of rain in April. After all, it is a completely outdoor venue. We smugly chuckled and told them there was no chance it would be raining in April. So of course, it’s been raining for the last 72 hours in Los Angeles. We can’t help but laugh at how stressful it would be this weekend if Covid-19 had not forced us to postpone until September. My wife simply said, “Many tears, so many tears.” I guess there was a silver lining in our plans not working out the way we envisioned.
I remember once sitting in the old Venice Recovery Center (VRC) on Lincoln Blvd before it was ironically bought out by the mega cannabis shop next door. It was a Tuesday night, and the speaker said something interesting. In the middle of his 15-minute pitch he said, “You want to make God Laugh? Make plans.” I know that right now, the world has been put on pause for the most part. Some folks have been annoyed. Most of us have been inconvenienced by the virus. And many of us have been absolutely devastated. This includes loss of employment, loss of a loved one, or even loss of the sense of safety we feel about our homes and the world around us. I don’t want to ignore that reality. But on a day that was supposed to be a celebration with all our closest friends and family together, I cannot help but think of that man’s share.
It reminds me of how many times I have made plans that just failed or didn’t work out the way I wanted them to. I never wanted to move from Tennessee to the Virgin Islands when I was 15. I never imagined my dad dying 18 months later. Becoming an addict and alcoholic was never a checkbox that I planned to pencil in. When I was 18, I moved to Los Angeles and went to film school with the full expectations of becoming the next Stephen Speilberg. But getting kicked out and having to start over was definitely not in my life goals. My brother likes to quote Tommy Boy and remind me that it's okay, “a lot of people go to college for 7 years.” The point is, as many people have learned, plans don’t always work out. Because I’m a proud baseball nerd, I like to think of it as life having thrown me many Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw curveballs. I have swung at them just as blindly as Altuve would have without his trash cans.
When I was in little league, I hated striking out so much that I would cry on the way back to the dugout. Even back then, my reactions to failing were typically never healthy. If you have been reading my blog posts, I have outlined my history of drug abuse, my lovely childlike tantrums, and my passionate affair with blaming. I have the knack for being over-dramatic (a talent I believe I inherited from my father, who was a stage actor for most of his 20’s and 30’s). But these reactions and behaviors start to get old when drugs are no longer in the picture.
But, taking the drugs and alcohol away from me didn’t automatically make me a fun person to be around. It took time. In fact, it was about nine months into sobriety that an old timer at the VRC pulled me aside after sharing about how I had been trying to breathe through frustrations. He said, “Jack, do you realize what you just said? You are starting to experience spirituality.” At the time I had no idea what he meant. But he was not the first to begin telling me how different I had become over those first nine months.
It was a few years later that I realized he was discussing the beginnings of a spiritual experience. The Big Book defines it simply - “a profound alteration in our reaction to life.” I didn’t realize that nine months in, breathing through a frustration was really what AA calls “pausing when agitated.” Prior to this, my response to most things in life was “Fuck it.” And if you had experienced what I had, you would have understood for a time why I did drugs and drank. But on a day like today, saying “fuck it” isn’t an option.
Over the last six years, my reactions have slowed. While they still flirt with intensity, I implement the tools my sponsor and others have given me. I am able to pause and reflect, write out resentments, admit when I am wrong, and do what’s in front of me. A month ago I could have overreacted, claiming my wedding was ruined. But that would have helped no one, especially my wife. Instead, my reaction looked like leaning into my AA support system and my family to make the decision to postpone. A meltdown was not necessary. It was out of my control. Today, I get to embrace the silver lining of not having an outdoor wedding while wearing a tux covered in mud. In a few hours, we are going to have a dance party with both our families via Zoom. My reaction today is one of embracing, one of gratitude, and dancing with my wife.
This Article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery. KLR is a private drug and alcohol counseling service located in West Los Angeles.