The fall nights got longer and longer, and as they did my mood grew darker and darker. It had been months since I’d been able to sleep through the night. It didn’t matter whether I was on a meth-induced “run” or not; I couldn’t sleep. Every day when the sun came up, I was tired and spent the whole day in fear of the returning night. And every night I lay awake next to my partner, spinning over the prospect of the next tired day.

I was ill, too. My ears and nose were stopped up so I could barely breathe. Medicine didn’t seem to help. Every afternoon I felt flush and hot. My face and neck were turning redder by the day. I had a staph infection from contact with someone I met at sex party. To say it was a pain in the butt was an elegant understatement. I had to deal with all of this while flying three thousand miles to participate in lengthy business meetings for a job I had just gotten three months before.

The last job had invited me to resign. They said my experience was no longer compatible with their future plans for the company. Was it obvious I had a problem with crystal meth? I didn’t know. I did know that I had made plenty of enemies there and at other jobs. People I worked with had dubbed me “the little sergeant.” Always giving orders. Always placing blame. Always convinced that my way was best. I got things done all right, and left a lot of scorched earth in my wake.

Life had two compartments, work and “partying.” It hadn’t always been that way, but that was what it had come to.

When I was very young, I had been happy, playful and clever. A duo-tone photo, taken when I earned a Bobcat pin in Cub Scouts, captured it perfectly, a broad, half-toothed grin and twinkling eyes under a sweep of light hair and an upturned face. Pure joy and optimism.

As I grew, the clouds gathered. I felt “different” from other kids. I just could not get along with them.

Feeling completely alone – I was the last of five kids with the next oldest heading off to college – I decided to leave home, too. After all, I could tell my parents were tired of raising kids and wanted to enjoy their upcoming retirement. I had no friends to speak of. Maybe if I went away to boarding school I would find other people like me, smart people who liked the things I liked.

The statewide newspaper had a scholarship program for paper carriers and I had two thriving morning paper routes. My parents said they were skeptical, but they would let me apply if I did all the work. Imagine my parents surprise when they got the letter awarding me a scholarship at a school 1,000 miles away.

Away at school, I learned quickly that I was still different. My clothes were different. My accent was different. Now I was far from home and I still had no friends. But I wanted that education badly, so I kept my loneliness to myself. I was afraid my parents would use any dissatisfaction on my part as an excuse to pull me out of school.

So now I had a secret. It was only a couple of years before I decided to try drinking. Pot followed shortly after, because beer alone didn’t seem to get me the friends I wanted. And so it went. I attended college and graduate school. Got a job, started coming out to friends and family about being gay.

Along the way I added new drugs to my repertoire. I learned about cocaine from an early boyfriend I wanted to impress. I learned about ecstasy, GHB and “Special K” from people I wanted to befriend. None of these stopped me from feeling different than other people, but they helped me make it not matter.

They also helped me ignore problems in my relationship with my partner. He was often away from home for work. When he was gone, I went out. Other times we drank and used together. Often, after a fight or when I was nursing some resentment against him, I found some way to go out and have sex with someone else.

We moved to a new city. My life became completely devoted to looking after him, pursuing my own career and using drugs to try to make friends.

When the pipe came around, I took it. If it hooked me, so what? Maybe this would help me be a part of the “in” crowd I had always chased. Before I knew it I felt handsome, amusing and sexy. The sky opened and it was raining men. For several years that worked for me. Every few months we would go out to after-hours parties and “blow off some steam.” I felt a part of a group and I could get most of what I wanted. As the woman who wrote the story “Women Suffer Too” wrote in the AA Big Book, “I met all the people I wanted to meet; I saw all the places I wanted to see; I did all the things I wanted to do – I was increasingly miserable.”

On those rare occasions when I tried to examine my life, I knew that something was wrong. Everyone else had the rule book for how to live, except me. Where could a forty year old man go to learn how to live? Who would be willing to teach someone like me? I didn’t have the answers.

My partner and I talked less, worked more and partied harder. As I did, my life got even smaller. Life became an intermittent sequence of four hour friends; people I met online, invited home to “party ’n’ play” and then never saw again.

When we went out to after-hours dances, I had every conceivable substance stashed in my underwear and socks. It was candy for the boys and it got me the attention I craved…most of the time. At the end of my last run, I found myself alone, exhausted and unable to sleep.

I couldn’t function at work. Interference with work had always been my bottom line. If I couldn’t take care of myself, I knew I had a problem. So I left work, called my doctor, my partner and my therapist and told them I was quitting crystal meth. Then I found out how far down the scale I’d gone.

I had no one to turn to. My family didn’t know I had a problem and I was too ashamed to tell them. My partner was distant. I didn’t want to talk to my dealer. For thirty days over Christmas and New Years, I tried to quit alone.

By early January, I was ready to kill myself. One afternoon I came home early from work and sat on the end of the bed with the pieces of a double barrel shotgun on my lap. My brain was too scrambled to assemble it, so I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely show up at my new job.

My therapist had suggested months ago that I consider going to a Twelve Step meeting. Up to now, I was afraid that doing so would “out” me and my partner in a way that would end our careers. Now I was weighing the end of our careers or the end of my life. I crumbled to the floor, sobbing and asked, “God, please help me.” Then I went to my computer and looked up CMA’s website.

There were several meetings at a clubhouse across town where I thought I might be able to go unrecognized. I felt unsteady driving but decided to give it a try. I would arrive late, leave early and talk to no one. After a few days, getting to work and going to a meeting in the evening became too much of a physical challenge. I left work at 10am saying I was sick didn’t come back for three months.

Instead, I went on disability, stopped driving and started walking to meetings at another clubhouse near my home. The first was a Sunday night “round-robin.” Someone I’d never met before smiled and motioned me to a chair next to him. When my turn came to share, I burst into tears as I told the group about how I had thrown away everything for the empty promise of a pipe.

I was advised to go to meetings, find a sponsor and start doing the Steps. Although I couldn’t work, I found the energy to attend more than one hundred meetings in my first ninety days. For many months, I was not a vision for anyone. The interaction of crystal with my prescription medications had nearly ruined my health.

The fellowship scooped me up and loved me in spite of myself. Members, some with no more clean time than I had, invited me to coffee, lunch or dinner after meetings. A kind and gentle man who agreed to be my sponsor and we started to work the Twelve Steps.

My sponsor taught me that the Steps are an all-purpose solution to living life, a gift I knew I needed. So I threw myself in to the middle of the CMA pool. And the first thing I had to learn before I could swim was to “float”.

If you’ve ever watched someone try to swim when they don’t know how, what you see is a lot of thrashing around – unfocused action and fear. It’s that action that pulls them underwater to drown. Before learning to swim, new swimmers are taught to relax and remain motionless, to let their body to float. That’s what the first three Steps did. They provided the pause that saved me.

Step One taught me that I don’t know how to live and I can’t control my life or feelings with drugs and alcohol any more. All that thrashing around kept my head above water for a little while, but eventually it tired me out and now I was in danger of sinking. I needed a better solution.

In Step Two, I had to acknowledge that life was an ocean around me, something bigger and outside of my control, but ultimately benevolent if I could find a way to work with it instead of trying to force my will on it. Letting go of my old habits could give me a pause that might save me.

And when I decided to stop fighting, controlling and thrashing around – turn myself over in Step Three – that sea became a place where I could float, rest and gather the strength to move forward. Life, previously a stormy sea, became the big blue ocean of my recovery. The only thing required was a change in my perspective.

The Big Book of AA says “we thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not.” I find this to be true, not because sobriety is hard, but because I receive a daily reprieve from my disease if I apply a sober program to my life daily.

With Steps Four through Twelve, I began to learn to swim, to go somewhere in life, to meet obstacles and life’s occasional storms with new and different strokes.

I returned to work part time and eventually gained the strength to return to my full time job responsibilities. My relationship with my partner stabilized. We began traveling together in our free time. I went with him to visit his ancestral home, which he had never seen. We have been together 30 years; the last fourteen have all been sober.

The friends I sought to make with drugs, I found in CMA. These are deep friendships without strings. I’ve learned the values of honesty, open mindedness, willingness, unity, fellowship and service. I work with a sponsor I trust, mentor sponsees that I adore, give my time to service and have a wealth of companions with which to share my journey.

In fact, a wide network of CMA friends has often been my savior. None of us are cured. We each still have our crazy moments, but we’re never all crazy at the same time. They are always just enough to pull me up and get back to Step One again, no matter what happens.

I believe the awakening of this new spirit was the direct result of intervention by a power greater than myself and practicing the Twelve Steps over and over in all my affairs. Whenever I am troubled, resentful, angry, anxious or depressed, I know the tools of CMA are available to bring me back into harmony with the world around me. Recovery through the Twelve Steps, fellowship and service; I will never be done with them, and they will always be there for me.

Since I have been clean and sober, I have passed through all manner of dark places. Clinical depression, the deaths of friends and a parent, serious health issues, job loss, feelings of isolation, abandonment and resentment have all visited me. Throughout every challenge, I keep going to meetings, keep being of service, keep calling a sponsor, keep meeting with my sponsees, keep doing the Steps. These tools have carried me through it all and they always will, as long as I stay willing to pick them up and use them.

Today, I have truly been “rocketed into the fourth dimension.” Most of us are familiar with the three dimensions of width, height and depth. We often forget, however, that there is a fourth: time. For me, this means that I am now free to be present for every moment in life. For every joy, every sorrow, every success and every disappointment. I live them all without fear and most importantly, without crystal.