By Jesse L.

I still vividly remember my first experience of intoxication at the age of 14, and I loved that feeling so much that it immediately became the dominating and driving force in my life for the next 14 years, at the unfortunate expense of everything else in my life. Needless to say, when I washed up on the shores of Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 28, barely clinging to the tattered rags of my life, I was full of desperation, pain, and resentment, and my life was utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling joy.

Over the subsequent months, I learned for the first time how to truly be rigorously honest about exactly what was going on with me, open-minded enough to listen to the suggestions and solutions presented in the 12 Steps and by fellow alcoholics in recovery, and willing to earnestly practice spiritual principles in all my affairs. Ironically, however, something an old-timer shared with me at one of my first meetings was more prophetic and true than I ever could have imagined: “The good news is you never have to drink again. The bad news is drinking is not your biggest problem.”

Well, turns out my biggest problem is often a lack of acceptance: of myself as I am, other people as they are, and the world exactly as it is at this moment. I often drank because I couldn’t control a situation or achieve the outcome I wanted, and today, although I don’t get drunk anymore (and haven’t for over 10 years), I sometimes find myself irritated or frustrated when similar situations arise. I have learned that serenity comes to me when I wear my recovery and my life like a loose garment, when I’m able to adapt and change myself to meet situations as they arise, and when I can love and accept myself (and everyone else) exactly as I am right now, with all my talents and gifts, as well as my flaws and shortcomings.

Thus, “Tough Joy,” a phrase I first heard from a beloved friend and old sponsor in NYC named Richard K., has become my mantra. This is the kind of joy that can exist and prevail under any circumstances that come to pass in my life: high points like successes and achievements, as well as lower points like rejections, failures, and the many losses that are sure to arise.

When I truly accept myself – with all my character defects and strengths – and allow a power greater than me to guide my life and actions, then whatever happens, I know I’m okay. With this attitude, I begin to feel a kind of enduring tough joy in every aspect of my life, knowing that I’m deeply grateful simply to be alive today, grateful to have dear friends and family around me, grateful to play music for a living, and (most of all) grateful to be healthy, sober, and completely open to whatever may come. Thank you, Alcoholics Anonymous, for awakening my spirit!

Jesse’s home group is the Rockridge Fellowship 10:30am meeting on Zoom.