I grew up in a family that was full of familiar faces within the rooms of twelve step programs. I was first introduced myself to it when an aunt suggested I attend Al-Anon, as a teenager, because of my parent’s drinking. I thought she was ridiculous – I was 17 years old and was doing just fine on my own. Looking back now, I was about a year into my own addiction and already being consumed with the effects of alcohol on my mind, body and life. I could have used a meeting of any kind, even then – but I don’t have any regrets about dismissing it. I wasn’t ready to open my mind to even the potential of entering a room for someone else’s drinking. It would be more than a decade later that I walked through the doors of an AA meeting and even then, that first meeting, was under the guise of support for someone else.
There are so many stigmas, so many ideas and assumptions about 12 step programs – I can say this with certainty because I was absolutely, positively sure of them when I walked into a room. The idea of a “drunk” is most likely the image that people without experience with alcoholism imagine when they think of someone who is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had the same vision. I had grown up with models of alcoholism (and some recovery) around me my whole life, but somehow, those were different than the imagined ‘alcoholic’ that I had created in my own mind. Somehow, underneath all my own bullshit, I recognized what an alcoholic really was – I recognized it because I had grown up with it, I had suffered from it and I had been shaped by living with an alcoholic. I didn’t know then, but my family bloodline had booze running through its veins. I had issues as a teenager, when I started drinking (and likely before) but assumed they could be chalked up to the average stressors and hormonal fluctuations of adolescence and my own emotional intensity. I thought that the issues that I had begun to experience during those years were products of whatever situations and decisions I had made for myself – and so, that story goes that I would assume responsibility for the things that caused my pain (or try and run from it) for the next decade. It wasn’t until I was granted a little clarity through a few months of sobriety, that I began to consider the impact that other alcoholics had on my life.
I didn’t want to think of my parents as alcoholics. I couldn’t think of them as struggling, unable to cope or unwilling to put down the drink to resume regular parenting duties – but that was my reality. I, instead, revered the life which the alcoholics closest to me modeled. I saw success in their ability to drink whenever they wanted, as much as they wanted and still maintain a successful and functional life. That word caught me up so many times – I spent years tangled within the web I had created in my own mind about the phrase the “functional alcoholic”. It had become, as I admitted during one drunken rant to a friend, a goal for me. There was so much I admired in the people closest to me – they raised me, they struggled, they persevered and they were strong. Those things were all qualities that I hoped and tried to emulate. I was trying to find my footing, establish my own identity for myself and in the mix of things, balance that with wanting to be the best alcoholic that I could be.
(I am hesitant to even write this, as the glorification of alcoholism is a frightening but real issue for many alcoholics – but it was my reality, before I even knew that I had an obsession with alcohol). I continued on the path that I carved out for myself for many years, trudging through – trying to keep my head above water and the glass of wine firmly in my grip throughout it all. Life happened and I couldn’t handle it – so I drank – that’s not an unfamiliar story. I couldn’t imagine how other people didn’t see how easy it could be, when I was 19 years old and could find escape and peace from the trouble of my life every weekend at a bar. It was about that time that I turned into a blackout drinker – every. single. time.
I made shitty decisions that I won’t get into – made hilarious, fun, exciting decisions, too and I can count on one hand how many were sober over the course of many years. I was finally existing in the way that I thought was meant for me, in some way – drinking, partying, not giving a fuck. It was easier, you see, for me to pretend – to lie to myself and act as if the world going on around me wasn’t penetrating my booze-soaked exterior. But it was, even if I didn’t know it myself. I turned to those alcoholics, again, who modeled the behavior of success for me – I saw longevity in careers, kids, relationships, money, houses… all the things that I thought I was supposed to be chasing in life were all possible, even if I drank every day. So I chased that – that became my dream. It is only in typing this now that I am a little sad for the girl who put all of her energy, passion and drive into chasing something that was destined to kill her.
But I cannot be regretful for that either. I am here, now, in this place of infinite possibility, self discovery and daily freedom because of exactly the journey that took me here. Without the painful scars of my past, I wouldn’t be able to taste the sweetness of today.
There aren’t enough words to encapsulate the story of my decade or so of drinking – I could go on about it forever. But the point for me, now, is not focused on when I was drinking. Like the alcoholics that I still love, I am not my drinking. It does not define me and it never has, no matter how hard I tried… and I tried. I used alcohol to pack down the layers of cement walls on top of every feeling I had, until I couldn’t even reach them anymore. In the process of using alcohol to escape, I found I was also stamping out every good thing about myself too. This continued as my spirit suffered, but as my spirit suffered, I drifted further and further away from any chance at serenity; this was my continuing excuse to drink. I couldn’t stop drinking, when things kept getting worse.
I went to my first meeting as a guest, to support a loved one. She asked me to go because she had been a couple of times and had found it helpful but was still a little nervous and wanted some support. I was hesitant but some part of me was eager to see what AA was all about. I knew that I loved drinking – that drinking was the biggest, most important and most defining thing in my life at that point – so why not check out a room of people who were, at least, sure enough to understand those feelings? They sure did – but that opened up a feeling in me that was absolutely terrifying. I remember vaguely the standard readings, the sharing, the introductions “Hi my name is… and I’m an alcoholic”. What I remember most is the lump in my throat. Every word that was spoken, every chair that shifted, every breath I took – I felt it in my core and it shook this golf ball in my throat that choked me that whole meeting. I don’t think I’d ever felt that before in my life – I was speechless. I wasn’t able to speak. They asked me if I wanted to share and I think I passed, or said a few nonsensical words but I remember being terrified to speak because I knew that any vocalization would burst the dam that was keeping that golf ball of emotions in my chest where it belonged. I left and vowed never to go back. Good luck to those who got what they needed there, but I certainly didn’t want to feel that again.
My second meeting (which I really consider my first) was just as intense. It was about a year later and the same loved one who had asked me to come support her during one of her first meetings was celebrating her one year. She asked me to come and witness her getting her chip. I agreed – such a supportive person. I look back now and think, was I trying to get something out of it? Did I secretly have a selfish motive for going? Was it just curiousity? It doesn’t matter now but whatever it was – God, I am grateful. I sat through that meeting and I was sure it was being held right between the wrought-iron gates of hell itself. I was absolutely, positively overcome. I was hot and sweaty and couldn’t focus. (I was feeling.) When my loved one got up and received her chip, I cried like a baby, unable to contain my pride and joy that she had found the peace, strength, hope and serenity I heard her and her sponsor talk about. I was proud. And I was interested.
I consider that my first meeting because despite my ridiculously high body temperature, I listened. I heard something, or some things, there that made me want to know more. I hadn’t been hungover at that first meeting on a Monday night, by chance, because I was too hungover on Sunday and had made the rare decision to go a day without drinking. After the Monday meeting, I decided.. why not one more day? They had said a lot about ‘one day’ during the meeting, so I figured why not, just once. I didn’t understand anything about one day at a time then, but it didn’t matter. Whatever I heard was enough to get me home after that meeting, past the liquor store and into bed without a drink. Then the strangest thing happened. I woke up the next day and thought – maybe I’ll look and see if there’s another meeting tonight and I’ll try doing that instead of my regular routine. My regular routine which consisted of whatever obligation I had that day (work or school) and then off to buy a 2 litre of red wine and a pack of menthol cigarettes. Those were my daily provisions, every day. I didn’t buy the wine that Tuesday – I couldn’t skimp on the cigarettes but those are a vice I’m only now, over a year sober, even considering giving up. I didn’t buy booze, though and that for me was the first true miracle from the AA program that happened to me.
It was nothing short of a miracle. I had done the same thing, daily, for years. I had become resigned to the fact that my life would look like this for the remainder of it (for which I wasn’t too concerned). I knew that my life would be constantly struggling to keep my head above water and my drink in my hand. I went to that meeting on the Tuesday night and you know what I found? Another day of sobriety. The second miracle of the program happened to me.
And that’s how they built up. I had nothing but a desire for more, in those first few days of sobriety. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my loved one who had that week gotten her one year chip, that I was going to AA because I was so sure that I would bail within a week or two and end up drunk again. I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes or expectations up – I really didn’t want to get my own hopes up.
Being almost a year and 5 months sober now, I can tell you that’s how I got here. Time just added up. I didn’t have a slight clue what I was doing – I was terrified, unsure, doubtful, anxious and tired. I was exhausted living a life that pulled everything good about me down into my core, and left me with nothing but a desire to drink. I wanted more and as I listened, at meetings every single day for the next few months, I heard people talk about how they had found their freedom from that life exactly. I found hope in the rooms of AA, despite my doubt and resistance. I found my own freedom from my insane obsession with alcohol. I found a way to live a life that makes me truly, really happy in a way I haven’t been since before my 17th birthday. I found guidance, support, a sponsor, friends, honesty, laughter, joy, serenity, peace, faith and truth in the program.
Someone said to me a little while ago that there was a light back in my eyes that hadn’t been there in a long time.
I found my soul, who I was always meant to be – I found my light in the program.