As a blossoming alcoholic at age 24, I was presented with my most important lesson in life—the secret to happiness in every circumstance—though I didn’t realize it until five years later.
The message was placed in front of me in the form of a man we called Hollywood. I worked with him on a traveling oil field crew. He was a man who, at the time, I regarded as being strange for his belief in God.
While I’d been drinking alcoholically since the first time I picked up, I convinced myself I was not alcoholic because I’d had many jobs and lived with girlfriends who always paid the bills. But it was in the oil fields that I had the opportunity to become a completely raging alcoholic because I lived in hotels and collected bigger paychecks than I’d ever had before. I drank myself into a blackout every night. For nearly an entire year, I did not draw a sober breath. I would close the bar and drink a 12-pack of beer afterward. Then I’d shower and lay in the hotel lobby so as to not miss the 3:00 a.m. departure of the work trucks. I thought myself a genius for coming up with this system. Looking back, I’m amazed that my body withstood such abuse and that I was able to work hard enough to keep my job.
The culture of the oil industry at this particular time involved a lot of drinking, so my position as the drunkest man alive wasn’t as badly received as you’d expect. I was like a mascot, a happy drunken “ray of sunshine,” only tolerated because of my fierce work ethic. I could turn the world off and work like a mule with my alcoholic determination shining through into all of my affairs.
Eventually the novelty wore off and people became disgusted with my habits. But there was one man who never spoke an unkind word to me. That man was Hollywood. He was polite and supportive every time he crossed my path. He always had a positive attitude and was always willing to help his brothers with anything they might need. Everyone has their bad days, but with Hollywood you’d never know it.
One day at work we were talking, and I asked him why he was such a nice and happy person. For in my world, people had no right or reason to be happy, even some of the time. His answer was God. His particular God was very religious in nature, which wasn’t appealing to me. I was a bright young man far too intelligent for God, so I ignored Hollywood’s claims and went on to the pits of hell. I drank my way out of that job, as well as countless other jobs and relationships, and eventually my personal freedom.
It was in jail that I eventually found AA, and that’s also where I found my idea of God. In AA, I was relieved of my own feeling of superiority over people who had a God when I was told that I got to choose my own. And away I went. The idea that worked for me was a God whose name is interchangeable with the word “goodness.”
My God is simply positivity that is sent from one person to another, whether it comes from holding a door open for someone or texting my mom with the words “I love you, Ma.”
My sense of goodness became something for me to align with my own will. I could easily see whether or not any action I engaged in was for the benefit of a person other than myself, and this simple understanding opened my world up. I read somewhere a quote that will always stick with me: “In seeking happiness for others, you find it in yourself.”
For me, the secret to all of life’s troubles, the key to happiness itself, lies in pursuing some kind of God, be it in a religion or in a simple act of kindness. In making an effort, no matter how small, to brighten one person’s day—picking up trash on the sidewalk or smiling at a stranger—I’m doing God’s work. This simple idea is what allowed me to understand what Hollywood was talking about, how he lived his life and why he was always so nice to me.