Your Oxygen Mask First

Ask any airline, when the oxygen masks fall, I should put on mine before assisting. Why? A lack of oxygen makes me high. If I don’t secure my mask first, I will sooner finish my bag of peanuts and try to rent a movie than help those around me.

I have to be sober to help others. Recovery is more similar to a ride on a nose-diving plane than different. I want out of the seat I’m in. It’s uncomfortable. I’m nervous, sweating. I swear it’s a bad dream. There is no way my life has come to this. Fate has got the wrong man. And when that mask falls, I have to do the unthinkable: reach out for help.

What’s true at 40,000 feet remains true at the ground level. I must prioritize my recovery. I must stay sober first before trying to help others do the same. What’s more, I have to secure my recovery before I can be a father, a husband, an employee, even a writer. I am nothing without it.

The logic is simple, but difficult for the outsider to grasp. It’s hard for my wife to understand that in order to be a father to my children, I often have to leave in the middle of a bath night and bed routine to go to a meeting. It’s hard for a spouse to accept the notion that leaving the children makes for a better father.

I try to explain that it’s not about being a better father, it’s about being a father, period. If I lose my sobriety, if I relapse into drug addiction, I can’t be a father at all. The addict in me would assume full control. This recovery thing, I’ve found, is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either I stay clean or I don’t.

My wife’s never seen me take a drink or a drug so I imagine it’s difficult for her to understand. She agreed to marry the twoyear-sober me, the me already versed in the recovery lingo, the “one day at a time” me. So while it’s hard for her to imagine why I’ve got to leave the house to be a better partner in it, she has accepted it as what works.

She knows recovery gives me “spiritual battery life”. And, every now and then, with a frequency that is always inconvenient with two young children at home, I have to leave the house to get a recharge.

My sponsor once gave me a task when I told him that a first-year teacher has no time for meetings. He told me to list my top five priorities in life. I lead with, “work.” I’m an American, after all. I followed with “family” and then of course came “recovery” and two others.

When I shared the list with him, he told me that if I don’t put recovery first on that list, I will lose every other role on it. I know he is right.

Sobriety makes me the worker, the husband, the father that I am. Recovery makes me the man that I am. It’s the first version of myself I have ever loved.

So when those masks drop, when life throws its worst at me, I secure mine before assisting others. I make recovery my life’s top priority. And when I do, everything else takes care of itself.