The Big Change

   Before I headed back to Michigan, I enjoyed an excursion to the Chesspeice Morgan farm as a welcome respite from the rigors of show business and another opportunity to celebrate. I enjoyed a quiet afternoon while watching the processes going on with their young horses. The hospitality of my new friends and their quaint operation planted a seed for my future and a model to hope for.

       I heard from an old acquaintance who was sober. I told her about my experiment prior to the horse show of not drinking. I was developing a desire for a life without alcohol. She encouraged me to attend a meeting. In the resulting conversation, I found out Mary from Maryland had found the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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       In Michigan I began to occasionally attend those smoky gatherings and listen. One of the many things I heard while sitting in the back row was that some people could not stop. These concepts infected my thinking during the following days and nights and as I continued to paint. I monitored my consumption. My pattern had become to drink the same amount every day while I worked. I had found a way to settle my nerves with beer. Now while doing so, I reflected on what I heard.

       Oblivion occasionally took over. The next day with cobwebs in my head, I returned to the meetings to hear some more. I spent several months doing this cyclic, getting nowhere – running like on a mouse wheel. I alternated sipping on a beer or listening at a meeting. Something grew inside but not before I found resentment and frustration as I learned more about the disease.

       I became especially infuriated at the concept of personal powerlessness.  After all, I have historically been able to accomplish whatever I set my sights on. I became frustrated with the back and forth inability to leave the stuff alone for any length of time. Four months passed. The threat of snow prompted my annual journey south.

       First, I headed to see my folks in northwest Arkansas but I had a stop to make along the way. My friend in Missouri horseman John Wallen had invited me to visit.

       After I arrived at his barn outside of Springfield, once Sassy was bedded down in a comfortable stall, we headed out the door. We stopped at a few places to talk to girls and drink beer. I shared my ambition of finding another horse. Fueled by my recent success at the horse show, I had the idea of making another dancing horse. John was considering the purchase of an all-around lesson horse that he would also have the option of selling. We had a mission and he knew where the horses were.

       Each day we headed a different direction. By day we were in the various barns of people he knew. We saddled up and got acquainted with the animals we found for sale, and at night we found another beer joint along the way. Although we inspected and rode much horseflesh, nothing seemed to fit the bill.

       At one place, I saw a horse trailer much nicer than the one I had and asked the man about it. He was grieving due to the death of his wife and the trailer held too many memories of the grand times they enjoyed. The horse trailer was an eight-foot-wide, three-horse, slant-load gooseneck with living quarters in the front that represented a big improvement over the narrow two-horse version I had now. I also discovered this unit was priced right.

       One evening at a bar, John was engaged in a conversation with a love interest and I was pretty much alone, lost in thoughts of grandeur. I waited for the evening to be through.

      On the ride back to his stable, he said something to me that had a tremendous impact; “you don’t drink like most people.”

       His observation echoed in my mind and mixed with what I had heard at the meetings. When the time came to leave, I loaded my mare, thanked him for the fun and friendship, and headed the last leg of the journey to mom and dad’s home.

       Although having grown up in the Midwest, my parents had found a piece of property in a pretty corner of the Ozarks on which to build a house. My folks originally came here attracted by a lively charismatic commune that taught spiritual principles, baked sprouted grain bread and shared information about nutrition for health. In this enlightened place filled with like-minded people, they found an answer on their quest for direction for retirement and a place to feed their spiritual hunger.

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       Excited to see me, my parents were also eager to help with the upgrade of the used horse trailer I had found. This purchase would help with my quest to perform as a horseman and be my rolling home as I worked as a sign painter on location. The owner of the trailer and I came to an agreement.

       Once the trailer had been purchased, it was taken to a welding shop to stretch the hitch so my truck could hook on to it. I soon had a new project. I then brought the trailer to my parent’s place. Sassy grazed each day in the pasture I had fenced in years before. She was cross-tied under the awning affixed to the side of the trailer at night.

       I knew the procedure at the commune called Shiloh from previous visits and accompanied my dad for the early morning spirituality lessons. Then we had a hearty breakfast. I began the tasks of converting the trailer to suit my needs. I rearranged the horse hauling area from three slant-load spots to make two side-by-side stalls.

       Pleased with this upgrade, I had the ability to take the dividers out of the back and give Sassy all the room in the back. She could have almost a whole stall to herself. This was just the beginning. I improved closet space, built cabinets in the bedroom, moved a bulkhead in the saddle closet and created storage for the props used on the road. These modifications transformed this trailer into an efficient, portable self-contained horse-care facility.

       My dad was glad I was home at that time. He had the framing of the house almost done and needed an extra hand with the plywood sheeting for the roof. Having been disappointed with the original contractor, he took over the task himself with the help of two carpenters. Although the pace of construction was slower, he was able to control the installation of his many innovative ideas for energy efficiency including; super insulation, solar baseboard heat, extended eaves and triple pane windows.

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       While completely immersed in these activities during this chapter of my life, I had a new thought. This thought had never been in my mind before.

That thought was; “hey, I don’t have to drink.”

       While being useful to my folks on an otherwise uneventful day, the compulsion to drink was lifted with no effort on my part. As I look back, I wonder how this happened. I had been struggling to find the gimmick for not drinking and discovered I could not stop.

       I have to give all the credit to God. I recognize my sobriety as a gift. I haven’t had a drink since that day. That doesn’t mean I willingly entered into the process of recovery from the disease.

       This was new territory. The experience of sobriety, as my brain cleared, seemed one of being disoriented. Not knowing that while I learned skills in the past, brain synapses had grown in a plasma of alcohol. I now tried to use my brain the way I was used to. It was different now. It seemed slow. 

I heard at the meetings: “time takes time.”  

       Those same synapses had to re-grow as my body went through the same motions in this new state. On one level, I was grateful for the change but on another, I felt as if I was going in slow motion. I made it wrong. My brain seemed foggy, my thinking was slower and as I went through the motions of routine, I seemed inefficient. 

       I spent what I thought was way too much time fashioning the cabinets inside the new trailer. I attempted to communicate this blend of confusion to my dad. He was focused in the midst of his industry and not able to relate. He did not have experience with withdrawal from alcohol. He did not know what was going on in me and the changes took place. In an effort to be helpful, he encouraged and commended me on the great job I was doing.

       I was thankful but confused. I kept up what seemed to me to be a snail’s pace. In this new lost feeling, I felt as if everything had come to a stop. I was being cautious about moving forward an inch at a time. I made it to the local meetings. I met men who coached me but I just wanted to stay home and be cautious with this delicate gift of sobriety. I was grateful for this safe haven, the nutrition each day and work to do.

       When the roof was sheeted and Christmas was near, my dad encouraged me to move along. Leaving was not something I wanted to do. I was reluctant. I wanted to stay here where it was safe. In hind-sight, I realize a lengthy fallow-time to allow the fog to clear and attend meetings would have been helpful. Still cautious about this new-found sobriety, I really wanted to stay. In response to my dad’s strong urging, I hesitantly began the trip to Florida.

       I did not realize it at the time but the mental processes taking place while finding balance with my newly found sobriety had ran amuck due to beliefs adopted as a child that interfered with the adoption of this new paradigm. My strong independent and self-reliant nature found flaw in the suggested procedure. I resisted the qualities being taught. I was separate. I compared myself to others.

       The thought ‘I wasn’t that bad’ occurred while I listened to the others testimony of what they lost to alcohol. The cautious nature adopted in childhood did not promote the relatedness with others necessary for the process of recovery to begin. I was not drinking but I was lost in a self-induced quandary. While completely unaware, I had become stark-raving sober.

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