The Magnificence of Ordinariness by Jim Smith
At the end, I had lost the will to live. I came to in a hospital on October 27, 1976. What followed was a profound spiritual experience.
I grew up in South London. I was adopted and an only child, and I never felt comfortable in my own skin. Until the age of 15, my only escape was music. Then I took my first drink and was prescribed tranquilizers and barbiturates. With these newfound “friends,” I finally felt complete.
Sometime during the next two years, I met a professional guitarist who at the time was accompanying Marianne Faithful, the English singer-songwriter and actress. He became a mentor and tried to help me progress in the music business. He arranged two auditions for me with well-known artists; however, my addiction overtook anything creative and good in my life.
I spent several months busking – playing music for money on the street – in Paris and had many adventures. My greatest experience was meeting Memphis Slim, an American blues pianist, singer and composer, and playing the blues for him. Upon returning to England, things deteriorated further; I became unemployable, was placed on probation, and went to prison.
I drank Surgical Spirit (also known as rubbing alcohol) for some time before attending my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1969. After that, I was hospitalized off and on over a six-year period. At the end, I had lost the will to live. I came to in a hospital on October 27, 1976.
What followed was a profound spiritual experience. I haven’t had a drink or drug since that day. I went to Pinel House, the first rehab outside of America, which was founded by Dr. Max Glatt in 1952. I then spent 15 months in a sober living house.
I qualified as a social worker in 1995 and have worked in the addiction/recovery field ever since. It’s been an amazing journey. I got married after 18 months of sobriety and now have three daughters and five grandchildren. After 20 years of marriage, I got divorced. Although it was a difficult time, it led to new beginnings. My good friend, Sean, used to say it was “the magnificence of ordinariness.”
I went to Barcelona and ran Recovery Holidays. I also wrote Gaudis Castle, my first musical composition. Looking back, I realize I owe everything to the Fellowship and to the people who helped and supported me.
I remember being invited to sing at a friend’s rehab program. That evening, I found myself telling stories, as well as playing songs. This seemed to inspire the client group and help them access their emotions. Most importantly, they enjoyed it. Since that evening, I have continued to use stories and music as a way to reach people.
In 2011, I was awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship, a trust that offers opportunities to men and women who are leaders in their field, to effect positive change in society through research and travel. I went to the States for two months, initially staying at Veritas Villas near Woodstock in Kerhonkson, New York, and later spending the last two weeks at the Betty Ford Clinic in Palm Desert, California.
A particularly memorable experience was playing at Cumberland Heights, an alcohol and drug rehab center just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Wherever I went, music presented itself as a guiding light, a dynamic force that gave purpose and meaning to people whose former lives were tragic and self-destructive.
For the last three years, a Polish singer called Iga has joined me in “Two Different Roads,” the rehab music project. Iga was an adult child of an alcoholic. On May 1, 2016, our album, The Journey Home, was released. This was something I’d long wanted to do, but my Higher Power decided the timeline, not me.
During this time, I presented a recovery radio show on local radio. It was humbling to hear people in recovery share intimate stories from their lives and the music that was important to them. I also became a voice-over artist.
Over the years, I have had my fair share of pain, loss and emotional difficulty. In these times, I rely on my faith and my friends in the Fellowship, and I often recall my friend Sean’s words, “the magnificence of ordinariness.”
I continue to be amazed at the power and wisdom of the Twelve Step program. There’s always more work to do; the idea is progress, not perfection. Thank you everyone in recovery for inspiring me and showing me the way.
Jim Smith is a musician, social worker and voice-over artist in Beckenham, United Kingdom. He has 40 years in recovery and is still enjoying the journey. http://www.twodifferentroads.com