I saw the same pain on their faces that I was feeling inside.
This morning I returned to my home church. This was where I served as a pastor for the past 11 years, until December when addiction finally blew up my life. I walked into a room with 200 people whom I’ve hurt, confused, and disappointed without any real explanation.
This place was ground zero for my addiction and mental health struggles. It was here I learned to hide my problems and keep smiling no matter what was happening inside. I sat in this same room with a hangover almost every Sunday. I would smiled and take my paycheck. There’s no doubt recovery would bring me back here (maybe step 8) but that was not on my agenda for the week. The negative self talk was in open revolt.
This is too soon, you need to hide. They will never accept you.
But GOD had other plans. My oldest son asked me to attend his baptism this morning and I wanted to be there for him. This was important, even if I didn’t feel ready.
New clothes can’t hide the anxiety. About to face 200 people who are disappointed, confused, and angry with me since December. ⛪ pic.twitter.com/oqBhrSWsXc
— Sober Tony (@sobertony) April 16, 2017
That anxiety has been building all week – so I worked a mental storyboard on the worst case outcomes:
- I could enter the building and promptly down in a fetal position
- Someone might say, “How dare you come back here…”
- … Then I would break that guy’s nose and go to jail
- Maybe my son is only doing this to “win me back” to sanity
- Emotions might force me to walk forward and give my life to JESUS (again)
- My kids (and everyone) could imagine I’m the Easter miracle and back for good
- I become the elephant in the room, as my x-wife would say “ruining everything” to make people miserable
Despite that, I worked up my courage – remembering this was my choice and I’m facing this moment on my own terms. I didn’t feel brave, but my sponsor has been working with my about doing the next right thing and waiting for the feelings to catch up later. That was my game plan, just find another way to kick my addiction in the teeth.
Five months ago I swore never to come back to this place, especially after hateful messages from certain “christian” brothers. Today was my chance to get even – so I decided to smile, engage with everyone possible, and even seek out others too shy to say hello. I determined to show love and toleration, starting with myself and extending to anyone who wronged me.
SOBER TONY – 1
RESENTMENTS – 0
Only a total bad-ass could walk into this room – like that – and wearing pink.
Happy Easter assholes! Let’s be friends.
Bottom line: No matter what happens drinking is not on my agenda today. There is nothing they can say or do that will affect my sobriety. I’ve been paying my dues, working my recovery, this was my victory lap.
Besides, what better day to see a ghost then Easter Sunday?
The actual experience was a little more blah
I went into professional pastor mode. Shaking hands and wearing a ridiculous wide smile. I was polite, projected emotional openness, and felt completely fake. Since I’ve been sober, this is the first time I didn’t want to admit I’m a mess when people asked how I was doing. Eventually, I found an honest response:
I’m not fine, but I’m happy to be here for my son.
23 hugs and 90 minutes later, it didn’t feel like a big deal. It’s just a room, it’s just some people I used to know. Some ladies cried, they imagined this was an answer to their prayers – but I’m not really back. I’m not magically better or somehow re-saved.
There is nothing here but memories – nothing to gain and nothing to lose. Only now can I accept that and move forward.
Today felt like a win. I faced this anxiety, made a little peace with my story, and did the right thing for my children. Tomorrow I’m on a flying back to my life in Haiti.
I’m wasn’t here to make amends or fix the past, but I’m grateful that I’m not hiding in the shadows anymore.
This is 61 days of sobriety and thankful for every new victory.