Alcoholic’s Anonymous ……

Do I dare write about A.A.?  Sure.

In keeping with their traditions, I am going to remain anonymous.  I do not consider myself to be a spokesperson of A.A. I am not their poster-child. I am just a cog in the wheel.  But it’s hard to talk about my alcoholism without addressing my means of recovery.  So as long as we understand each other, I should proceed.

The life I have today is beautiful.  I never imagined I would have such a beautiful family, such a rewarding career, such love, such contentment …. I can sit in the room with myself and be okay. My life includes spirituality.  I put down the drink a kicking and screaming atheist, so it’s a miracle that my heart has turned.

The life I have today could only be possible with A.A.

I know there are other means of quitting drinking.  Personally, I have met people who just …. stopped.  They maintain a healthy respect for their addiction and they stay sober for eons.  Trust me. It’s possible.  But it didn’t work for me. I needed support.

In AA, I was taught that drinking was not the problem; it was the “solution” and the “solution” stopped working for the problem which was me.  This is where the twelve steps come in.  This is what I needed and this is why I couldn’t do it alone.

Alcoholic’s Anonymous is confusing.  They have meetings.  They have people “sharing” at these meetings.  It appears to be a form of group therapy.  Yes.  A support group.  It IS that, but it is a 12-step program.  For a 12-step program to work, one must work the program.

Initially, I got the support – and I still do.  Here are the suggestions they offered me that I took them up on (and they say A.A. is “suggestions only”):

1.  I have a sponsor

2.  I have a home group

3.  I attend a step meeting

4.  I have a network

5.  I go to meetings

6.  I work the steps

7.  I sponsor people

8.  I pray – “please” in the morning,”thank you” at night

 

This works for me.  A little bit at a time, I have “recovered.”  I don’t like the term “recovered,” because it implies I became the person I was before.  “Recovering” something means to find something that was lost or to restore something to what it once was ….The person I was before was a bitter and angry person who detested herself.  That is not who I am today.  Thank God.

What I Hated About A.A.: 

1.  PRAYER

2.  Higher Power / God

3.  Gratitude (“What the hell is there to be grateful for???”, I mentally screamed whenever someone used the word “grateful.”)

4.  Seems like a CULT (I really thought this, but let me assure you no one asked me to stay away from my family, no one made me do anything I didn’t want to do, and as for brainwashing?  Well, I do think differently today and I assure you it’s an improvement.  They pass a basket and most people throw in a buck.  If you don’t have it?  No judgment.  It’s not some scheme – the money goes to renting the church basements, buying coffee & styrofoam cups, and to A.A. services such as books for newcomers, etc. )

5.  It seemed like a cliche of itself

6.  People helping me!!!  (I wanted to know everything already, I wanted to be independent and not need people!!!  Blehhhh!!!!)

What I Love About A.A.: 

1.  Faith

2.  Friends/Socializing – it’s like what I thought I used to have in the bars, but didn’t really.  If I was upset, the best any of them would do was buy me a shot and secretly wish I’d shut up because I was being a buzz kill.  In AA?  People LISTEN and support!  I can’t get over it.  And if you happen to get to know people and mention that you’re moving?  There are scads of people there.  It’s amazing.

3.  Serenity

4.  Gratitude (gag!!!  I can’t believe I’ve been converted!)

5.  The life skills they gave me (I did not know how to be assertive, how to take care of myself, how to have relationships with other people …. countless things)

6.  A peaceful way of life (the chaos I used to experience constantly is gone.  I can relax today.)

7.  Learning how to have fun without alcohol – and it’s possible!

8.  The steps

9.  My sponsor who is like a new father to me

10.  Getting to know a new me and loving her

 

I’m just feeling like I ought to talk about my own personal experience with it because it’s what helped, but I want to make it clear that I’m not going to push it down anyone’s throat and I’m not considering myself their spokesperson.  I love it and felt like I owed it some more mention.

 

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Social Drinkers and Social Diseases ……..

Sometimes a friend who can “take it or leave it” asks me, “What’s it LIKE?”

Of course they wonder what it’s like to be an alcoholic.  This question “what’s it LIKE?” means many things.  It asks other questions, too, like “how does it feel to try to have one?”  or “what would happen if you had one now?”  It also asks me, “can you help me understand something that is impossible to understand?”

How could I explain COLOR to a person who has always been blind?

When I was a kid, I was extremely judgmental of alcoholics.  I mean:  why didn’t they just drink MILK or TEA or SODA?

To describe the compulsion, I steal from an old man I knew in AA who has since passed.  He described an alcoholic resisting a second drink as “somebody taking a bottle full of laxatives and trying not to shit.”

An analogy I’ve thought of, but have been reluctant to use, is foreplay.  Say a couple is kissing and things are escalating.  At some point he or she or he or he or she or she might stop and say, “Honey?  I’m sorry.  I am not feeling well and I have to be up early ….”  and it’s OKAY.  But if you take that scenario a little further, the person on the receiving end of this sentence – of this apology, of this bow-out of intercourse/sexual gratification – it’s not so OKAY.  It’s frustrating.  Take it even further …. there’s kind of a point of no return.  When I pick up a drink, I have fast-forwarded to that point of no return.    But I’m reluctant to use this analogy because …. maybe it implies I have a sex addiction, too.

Truth be told, I have an exercise addiction (did you know you can O.D. on that?  I was shivering in a blanket on a hot and humid August day following a “workout.”)  Truth be told, I have a drug addiction.   Truth be told, my thinking has shifted and that switch went up during horse race gambling and I’ve never gone back – this happened following a fateful Trifecta bet where two of my longshot horses came in but the third didn’t …. this very nearly resulted in winnings of $20,000 and this was in the ’90’s.  My eyes got big and my hand went into my pocket.  Thoughtlessly I meandered toward the betting booth …. my then-boyfriend followed me and put his arm tightly around me, “We’re leaving now,” he whispered….

I don’t have a sex addiction.  But sometimes I’m sensitive to the prospect of having another addiction.  Crap.  I probably BREATHE addictively.  I’m probably very well addicted to oxygen.  I bet I’d die without it.

So how does one explain the compulsion to someone who has never felt it?  I’m sure there is some sterling specimen out there who has never eaten more than they should have, never gotten bombed, never tried drugs, never felt compelled to have more, more, MORE of anything.  How would a person describe the compulsion?

It’s an urgency.  Nothing is more important than feeding the craving.  Nothing.  Not family, not love, not consequences, not money, not your soul …. not getting into heaven, nothing!

 

My Last Drink …….

The snow was coming down hard that New Year’s Eve and it was my first without alcohol – or so I thought.  I was married to a drunk – and I married a drunk on purpose.  He was tossing them back and slurring magnificent nonsense.  Offensive nonsense.  To “show him what his drinking was doing to me,”  I strolled purposefully to the kitchen.  I reached into the freezer, grabbed his rum and threw my head back.  Now he wouldn’t have anymore.  Screw him.  It glugged coldly-hotly down my throat.  But it wasn’t enough.  The switch was flipped and I needed more.  Way more.

Frenzied hands tore through the cupboards.  Thump.  Crunch.  Phhhht!  Rattle.  Thump.  Thump.  Clang.  The contents of my cupboard made its way to the floor.  Splayed across the white and blue linoleum were Rice-a-Roni boxes with cans of soup and sleeves of bouillon.  There it was:  Vanilla.  I emptied that into my mouth and continued to wildly toss foodstuff onto the floor.  Ny-Quil.  I cracked the top and tossed it back.  My then-husband pleaded with me to stop – or I think that’s what he was doing.  His eyes were slits and his mouth murmured unintelligible words.  Something about “two months.”

Yeah.  I had two months.  Two months clean.  Two months of white-knuckling it.  Two months.  I didn’t give a flying f**k.

Nonperishable food items flew through the air and I realized I had exhausted all possibility of drinking in the kitchen.  I purposefully charged to the bathroom.  There was the Listerine.  Icy Blue.  A wise pairing with the Ny-Quil.  Sure makes it sound more sophisticated, doesn’t it?

After chugging some of the Listerine, my stomach raised its hand and begged me to stop.  Or else.  There was now some clarity and I wasn’t buzzed.  Where were those numbers from AA?  They were crumpled balls at the bottom of my purse.  Anyways, I couldn’t call them at this hour.  And I had never called them before.  I called my mom.  It was 2:30AM.  Maybe 3.

The bleary voice at the end of the phone whispered, “Hello?”

“Mom?”  My voice cracked and I said no more.  The icy taste of the Listerine with the black licorice – or liquorice?- taste of the Ny-Quil was nauseating.   I breathed through my mouth.  “I drank.”

She was quiet for a moment and then snapped into “professional mode.”  The lady had been trained to work at the local detox when she was a nurse at the hospital, but fate took her elsewhere.  But she had the training.  “You stop drinking now and go to a meeting tomorrow.”   Mom paused before continuing.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“This isn’t like a diet where you ate some cheesecake and you can say ‘screw it.’  You stop it right now.”  Her voice was firm.  Solid.

I listened.  What she said was so simple and it is exactly what I would have told myself if I had had the clarity.  But ‘fessing up was therapeutic, too.  I admitted to what I had just done and as easy as it was to do it – just say some words, right? – it was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

And they say the worst thing is a head full of AA and a belly full of booze.

I went to bed, fearing the familiar tingling in my legs.  That delightful tingling that the first drink delighted me with.  I stared at the ceiling and thought of my two months.  I had never had two months.  Not since I was like …. I don’t know?  Seven years old?

The Party Started ……..

After my first drink, I was determined not to be an alcoholic.  I was 8 and did not know what an alcoholic WAS, but I had my own concept about what drinking was and how it would never effect me.

My first addiction was anorexia.  At age 13 I was 198 lbs. and did not look like an anorexic, but that balmy spring evening where I cried to my mother hysterically that I didn’t want to be fat, I was instantly an anorexic.  An internal fire mobilized me to action.   I was done eating.  I was compelled to exercise frantically.  Pounds melted off week by week with rapid-fire succession.  Goading me, people told me how great I looked.  A neighbor used the word “glamorous.”  It was on.

By the end of the summer, I had lost 80 lbs.  I was fainting.  I had a couple of seizures.  I was now taking Phenobarbytol for seizures as well as Dilantin.  The doctor gave me Valium for the fainting. It was, after all, from “anxiety attacks” and “hyperventilating.”  Most prescriptions instruct the patient to take it every 4-6 hours or whatever.  Mine simply said, “As Needed.”  You probably see where this is going…..

And this abuse of prescription meds was OK because I wasn’t drinking.  It was okay when it progressed to street drugs because I wasn’t drinking. It was okay when it morphed into pot-smoking and coke-sniffing.  I wasn’t drinking.

At age 17, I got a job in a restaurant.  The 20-somethings always came in hungover, giggling about the goings-on the night before:  who went home with who, who danced, who got kicked out, who played pool, who was quiet, who was rowdy …. and I wanted IN.

They got me in.  I was their mascot.  I was cute and funny – and cuter and funnier with booze.  I thought I was a social drinker. I went out and drank and socialized.  I didn’t drink alone. I didn’t drink in the morning. I didn’t drink and drive.  It was okay.

My “sure thing” was a restaurant first, a bar second.  They had waitresses with ties and cummerbunds.  Flickering candles glowed goldenly in their glass hurricanes.  The menu prices were a smidgen pricey. But there was a full bar and they had open mic night with a coworker of mine.  I’ll call him Larry.  He was short and squat with an endless black beard.  He wore a black ponytail that traveled the length of his back, a bandanna tied taut to the top of his head.  Larry played some classic rock acoustic numbers  and we cheered him on.  I drank and drank.  I joked with the waitresses and bartender so they would remember me – and they did. I never was asked for ID there.

A drink in my hand and a joke on my lips.  I was sure this was social drinking.  Anyways, I was young.  We all were.

Thinking back to those days, I could forget the barf.  I could forget that my social filter instantly dissolved and sometimes I offended people.  I could forget the fear the following morning when I woke up and didn’t know how I got home.  I could forget inspecting my car for …. pings.  I could forget the purple freckles on my face, the broken capillaries that took years to heal.  I could forget waking up in strange places with people I drank to forget.

In those days I didn’t look like an alcoholic.  Much like the 198 lb. anorexic that no one had yet detected, I was a 17 year old alcoholic.  I might not have looked like one, but I would one day.

This was 1989.  It was only the beginning.

Stop It.

I tried to stop SO many times.  I did, I did!  I promise.

 

Reason #1:  To save my relationship with the man I loved, the man I was with for 7 years.

Reason #’s 2-38:  See above.

Reason #39:  I lost the man above.  I wanted to “show him”  how “good” I was doing.

Reason #’s 40-???:  I couldn’t get buzzed anymore.

Reason #____:  I had my first blackout

Reason #____:  I was getting violent

Reason # ____:  I side-swiped a house while driving my car

Reason #_____:  I spontaneously vomited while driving home.  Being too buzzed to cope with it that night, I went inside and passed out.  The following morning was hideous.

Reason #____:  I lost the place I was living and had to live with mom for a month.  I couldn’t let her see me like that.  The vow to stop drinking lasted for less than one evening.

Reason #___:  I was getting more violent

Reason # ___:  More blackouts.  More accusations of violence, corroborated by blood on my floor

Reason #____:  Domestic violence

Reason # ____:  Court

Reason # ____:  To save another relationship

Reason #_____:  I still couldn’t get buzzed anymore

Reason # _____:  I hated myself

Reason #_____:  My then-husband went to detox.

I was extremely angry inside at him – this was going to screw up EVERYTHING for me!  I couldn’t have it in the house, I couldn’t go to the bars …. I mean, HIS drinking was ruining our marriage, right?  [wink].  On the outside …. I was supportive.  Lip-service was something I could do well.  “Yes, honey.  What ever you need.”  The plan was to get annihilated every minute he was in that detox and …. I’d stop …. when …. he …. got out.

Getting ready to stock my ‘fridge, I had one shoe off and one shoe on.  With shoe in hand, I stared at nothing and thought.  A calm came over me and I thought, “Why don’t I just not drink today.  Like, for practice.”  And that was it.  He left detox AMA and detoxed on beer.  In my sick mind, this made perfect sense to me.  I mean, he was a drunk after all.

I felt shaky.  I couldn’t think.  I kept sensing someone standing very close to me and I’d turn and no one would be there and I’d jump.  Jumpy, jumpy, jumpy.  Why didn’t I go to detox?  Ohhhh, because.  I wanted to drink at the drop of a hat.  I didn’t want to have to sign out of someplace if I changed my mind. I didn’t want some nurse talking me out of it.  Besides.  Detoxes were for alcoholics.

My First Drink ……..

Beer was always my love.  I loved the lager.  I pilfered the pilsners.  I preferred quarts to pints.  I preferred pitchers to glasses.  I preferred cases to six-packs.  MORE.  Whether it was a Foster’s oilcan after mowing the lawn or a heady amber brew in a tall glass, I was amazed time and again.

This love started when I was in diapers.  There are pictures of me in diapers with my face in dad’s Miller:  The Champagne of Beers.  He sat and watched TV, leaving his beer on the end table.  I would sit quietly on the floor and steal an occasional sip when he went to the bathroom.  Sometimes he volunteered the sips. It was CUTE to see a little brown-eyed baby with an intense stare guzzling beer.

But my first REAL drink was at age 8.  At age 8, I felt badly about myself:  stupid, incompetent, incapable, dumb, screwed up, fat, ugly …. you name it.  My parents had recently separated – and in the ’70’s, this wasn’t terribly common yet – and I had a rather epic cold going on.  Dad didn’t have medicine, so he handled it the old-fashioned way:  he gave me a small glass with caramel-colored liquid and muttered, “drink it quick.”  It made me feel warm, it tasted hot, and I shivered like I was cold …. and it was bliss.  I was sinking and floating, heavy and light.  This was one beautiful paradox after another and I sunk warmly into an ecstatic sleep.  After some time – the room I slept in was no longer blackened with midnight darkness but was now a dark blue with discernible shapes – I coughed some more.  I was met with the same solution.  Back I went, retreating into the warm recesses of being buzzed.  It was divine.  In fact?  I no longer felt stupid or incompetent.  I no longer felt fat or awkward.  I was no longer ugly or screwed in the head.  It no longer mattered to me whether or not I was different.  I was in a dream, a hazy warm dream.

Obviously at age 8, I didn’t start running with it.

Other people’s drinking hurt me a bit, and it would continue to do so.  Determined to NOT be like that one, I abstained.  I abstained with arms folded and a frown upon my face.