While I don’t mean for this blog to become a blog entirely on the subject of my recovery, I can’t help but write about it. It is a huge present part of my life, after all. I sometimes worry that I will end up taking my entire identity from the word alcoholic, with no consideration of the many other aspects of my personality and existence.
On the other hand, some very successful and well-admired writers have been alcoholics: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stephen King, Anne LaMott, Hunter S. Thompson, among many, many others. Maybe I should rename the blog, Baby Alcoholic.
I was doing really well. While I was not yet joyful like some of the people I met at AA meetings that I found thoroughly annoying within my first 30 days without a drink, I was not miserable anymore. No happy pills and no tears. Apparently, the tears thing is normal. Like I said, I was feeling pretty good.
I did get myself a sponsor, one of those annoyingly happy people. I picked her because she carried her Big Book like a Bible, she had several years of sobriety, was well known and committed, like AA itself was her religion. She had a reputation for being a sweet and loving woman who was also something of a drill sergeant for sobriety. I think I was hoping the joy would rub off on me vicariously.
I won’t divulge her real name or talk about details from meetings beyond my own personal impressions. No stories or sharing by other folks. We are called anonymous for a reason. I’ll call my sponsor Judy because that’s not anywhere near her real name and because it seems cheery. She’s famous for running around, shouting, “Miracles, miracles!” at the top of her lungs. She’s really extraordinary.
In addition to my personal counseling I was also going to AA meetings on a bi-weekly basis and seeing Judy weekly. I was calling her every few days or so to check in, as she asked. We met for her to gauge the level of my commitment, and I sincerely was committed.
At my very first AA meeting I sat next to Katina and introduced myself with the familiar, “Hi, my name is Gooseberry Bush, and I’m an alcoholic.” Not cheerfully, mind you, or loudly, or quickly. But with conviction and not under duress or any form of peer pressure. I went to what felt like tons of meetings. I never shared. I found I couldn’t do so without crying, so I just listened.
Judy assigned me reading in the Big Book. I read it faithfully. I was supposed to write out my personal history with alcohol. Think of it as being like your biography with alcohol. (I was born in the summer of my nineteenth year at a house party with a Solo Cup of Cold Duck in my hand…)
I wrote it. I read the entire Big Book. I studied the portions she told me to pay careful attention to, and I called her. Then I had to write out Step One. Step One, for those of you who are neophytes, reads like this:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Well, I didn’t literally write that. The Twelve Steps would be pretty easy if all you had to do was write them down in a journal! I had to write how I was powerless over alcohol, specific examples of how my alcoholism had made my life unmanageable. I’ll spare you the details. Needless to say, it involved some embarrassing details, stuff I had forgotten I had even done, people and bridges I had forgotten that I had burned until I examined my life more carefully. It wasn’t pretty.
I’ll give one example. I had a roommate once who trusted me to babysit her three-year-old daughter while she was in school at nights. When she’d come home she’d find me drunk, nearly every night. I thought I deserved a medal because I’d wait until after the kid was asleep to hit the sauce. Really. I’m being serious here.
So, Step One I had down. On to Step Two.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Judy asked me if we could move on to Step Two, that same night. You would think that I would not have a problem with that. I believe in a higher power. I call him God. You can call him whatever you want. I almost didn’t read the entire chapter of Chapter 4: We Agnostics. I honestly thought, what’s the point? I don’t have any hang ups about God.
Any alcoholic can call the higher power whatever he wants. So long as you acknowledge that there is a higher power, and, and this was the crucial step for me: you have faith that that higher power can improve your life. You have to believe not only that there is a higher power but, ultimately, that he cares for you personally and wants to restore you to a life abundant.
In other words, this Bible quote that I always had a hard time with:
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’”
Lots of people love that Bible quote. It’s right up there with Phillipians 4:13 and John 3:16 and John 14:6 and Matthew 28:16-20. Look them up. I guarantee you that if you spent any real time in a church that you’ll recognize the passages. But I always had a bit of a problem with Jeremiah 29:11. To me, it sounded a little like Benny Hinn rewrote the Bible to backup his personal theories on prosperity theology. And the weird thing was that I didn’t have a problem believing in a personal and loving God. I suppose that I had just long since stopped believing that he wanted me to have anything I wanted out of this life. Notice I didn’t say that he didn’t personally love and care for me but that he didn’t want me to have what I wanted. And therefore, I could never be happy.
I have been angry at God way more than any of my mere human resentments. I resent him for how my life turned out, from my first failure at a full time youth ministry position to the loss of the hot shot job I moved to Austin for, my failure to secure meaningful employment using my writing skills, all the way to my self perceived inability to find a man to love me. What is so unlovable about me?
Nope. I couldn’t do Step Two. I was even a failure at being a recovering alcoholic. When Judy explained to me what Step Two really meant and that I would be praying with her, I balked. I was just honest. And she said, “Sweetie, that’s okay. We can deal with a lot of things, but you have to be honest with me.”
So, she recommended that I start attending meetings on a daily basis seven days a week and start keeping a gratitude journal. A whatitude journal? Judy explained that she wanted me to start writing down ten things for which I was grateful every day. Seriously? Am I in the studio audience of Oprah? Or am I going through the Twelve Steps? Every day meetings? That seems a little extreme to me.
And that was that. I went home with the agreement that I would attempt to make a meeting every day and start writing in my whatitude journal. Except that didn’t happen. I intended for it to happen that next morning. But when my alarm went off so that I could attend an AA Meeting that morning at 7:30 I thought it seemed more pleasant to sleep in. I only needed to attend two meetings a week, after all. Screw that.
Still, life went on. I continued to not drink. I attended meetings for a while like I was supposed to, and then it was once a week, and then I just didn’t go one week. And then I quit.
But still, I was not drinking. So, I thought, the worst of this is over. I don’t need to attend meetings. I’m doing just fine. I was noticing that since I was consuming approximately 900 calories a day less of liquid non-nourishment on a daily basis, that I was even losing weight. My pants were hanging on me, and I found that they were so loose that I could remove them without unbuttoning or unzipping a thing or even sucking in. That made me feel confident.
I felt that I was over the worst of my grief at the loss of my good friend. I purged him from my life, my chat, my email, my mobile phone, and not only de-friended but also blocked him on Facebook a long time ago. I talked about it in a couple of counseling sessions. Then I said it was behind me, and I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to waste any more time on it than that, attribute any more importance to it.
And I didn’t. And then I saw him, and he not only wasn’t cordial enough to say hello, he avoided all eye contact, turned on his heel and walked away. That hurt. And still, I did not drink. I was really proud of myself.
By this time, I had over sixty days of sobriety under my belt. I was getting really good at this not drinking thing. Sometimes I would have these really vivid dreams where I was drinking or I was drunk. They felt so real that once I woke in the middle of the night convinced that there was a tallboy on my nightstand, and I needed to finish drinking it before it went flat.
One Tuesday I went to work and discovered that there were going to be some major changes coming down the pike, changes that smacked of micro-management. I was less than enthused. I think I may have put the word, “bullshit,” into some chats with some co-workers who all agreed with me but then ran to tell my manager that I was not conforming, and I had to have a special one-on-one about my attitude problem later that day. I hadn’t intended to start the mutiny on the bounty, just vent my dissatisfaction. There was no official human resource involved coaching, nothing to sign. But I knew that work was about to get a lot more stressful.
The shit was moving downhill, and this wasn’t my poor manager’s fault. It wasn’t even anything to take personally. It was a policy change meant to improve our performance. Nothing more, nothing less. Nevertheless, my anxiety level increased ten-fold, and I perceived it in my paranoia as an attempt to justify firing me.
You might have heard of the alcoholic term stinkin’ thinkin’? I am giving you a terrific lesson on how an addict, any addict, thinks, in my problems with my lack of faith and my issues with letting go of my hurt over my friend, the way I made my poor friend stand in for every man who had ever hurt me and piled the rage on him alone, and my reaction to the changes in my job. All these are classic examples of an obsession of the mind. I was there. I was ready to drink.
I didn’t drink that night. I thought about it. I was tempted to do so. I thought about how great it was that I still was not drinking. Yes, siree. In the olden days, if I had had a day like that I would have not only tied one on like I did every night I would have drunk more than my usual quota. But not now. Now I was practically cured.
Nothing special happened the next day. Nothing new, nothing hurtful, nothing stressful. And I stopped at a Randall’s on the way home and bought a jug of wine and a pack of cigarettes and drank myself into oblivion. This is how I justified it. I thought to myself, “I don’t really see how not drinking is improving my life. And besides, if I just drink this once no one will know.”
I would know. I felt cruddy the next day. I cancelled my counseling session, lied and said I was sick, called in sick to work, and drank what was left of the jug of wine. I started in the morning, something I very rarely did before, either drink in the morning or call in sick for anything related to my drinking.
The next day I sobered up and went to work, but then I continued the pattern that my life had been before I ever darkened the door of an AA meeting. I continued the pattern until my next counseling session. I drank because I was lonely and being lonely made me depressed, and so I drank so I wouldn’t notice that I was depressed, so I wouldn’t feel anything. And in doing this in isolation, nearly every night, at the expense of everything and everyone else, I created the very vacuum that I was trying to escape from, a viscious cycle of insanity.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” – Romans 7:15
Of course, I went to my next counseling session ‘cause who doesn’t enjoy talking about herself for an entire forty-five minutes? Not me. I’m there. Also, I was tired of being sick and tired. I knew that I needed to tell someone, that if I didn’t tell someone that it wouldn’t stop, that I needed accountability.
So, I told him. And guess what? No surprise there. He said, “Thank you for telling me,” and, of course, “How do you feel about that?” And then, “You have to stop, you know.”
He said I needed to go to a meeting and that I needed to call him the next morning to let him know whether or not I drank. He didn’t say I had to call him the next morning to tell him that I didn’t drink. Only whether I did or not. But I think he knew that would work, because I would know that someone who cared whether or not I did drink would be checking up to see how I did. That accountability thing again. And so I managed not to drink that night and called the next morning. But there was no meeting.
The weekend came. I was cat sitting for some friends who went out of town on vacation. No one called, and I had no plans. I got bored and lonely, so when I went back to my house Sunday night it was with a box of wine this time and some cigarettes.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning I was online on Facebook when a guy I went to high school with chatted me. I hadn’t talked with him since, well, we went to high school. I was sober that night.
what are you doing up?
writing a nine page letter
a nine page letter? to who?
I explained. I don’t have to explain to you, Dear Reader. I’m sure you can figure it out.
i can’t sleep
don’t send that letter. destroy it. there is nothing good that you can say to anyone that needs to be said in nine pages.
ok; i hadn’t really planned on sending it.
yes, you did.
ok, i thought about it. but i won’t.
what else is going on with you?
I thought about it for a few minutes, then I typed.
i am struggling with alcoholism
how many days sober?
this time? one day. but i had over 65 days.
(I had stopped counting at sixty-five. Maybe that’s a sign that I knew that I was going to drink again. I stopped counting.)
wow. one day. that’s hard.
are you a friend of bill’s?
how long have you been sober?
oh, that’s not hard
one day is hard. 30 days is hard. one day at a time.
I went to bed, and he sent me a message with his phone number. We talked the next day. It was sort of like going to a meeting, which he urged me to quit putting off. He said I needed to go through the steps, that it would help. He urged me to find a meeting that I fit in with, that I felt like I could identify with the people in the meeting, people like me, maybe one that met at a church, and then to serve in the meeting, make coffee, sweep up. I should make myself useful so that people would come to expect me there, and I could make that group my home. As for my sponsor, it was up to me whether or not I wanted to continue with her or to find a new one, but I had failed her. She hadn’t failed me.
On the God issue, my friend was very helpful when he said that he just thought that God was this being that had our best interests at heart. We had to have faith in that no matter what we want in life. Maybe there was a good reason I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. God, being the higher power, has a plan and a reason that since I wasn’t the higher power I couldn’t fully comprehend. I had to trust in that. Did I think I would actually be happy if I had ended up married to any of the men with whom I’d been in relationships? No.
Well, maybe that’s because they just weren’t that into you; it’s not a reflection of your worth as a person. Maybe that’s God’s wisdom at work in keeping you single until someone who appreciates you fully can come along. About my heartbreak, he said that one day I would be able to look on my friend as just any other person in the universe, and that I would be glad that I hadn’t sent that letter since we never know what life will have in store for us in the future.
I went to the counselor and repeated all my newfound revelations, including the nine page letter. He laughed. “It’s okay to keep it. It’s really just for you. But your friend is right. Don’t send it.”
“When am I going to be over this already? This is so stupid. I’m so angry with myself that I can’t move past this. I thought I was done with it. You can bet he doesn’t sit around moping about this. He’s moved on already.”
“You’re grieving not just the loss of your friend but the loss of the alcohol. It’s normal to be in a period of mourning. I think you’ll start to feel better after about five or six months. After all, how long did you spend developing this close relationship? And you don’t know about how your friend feels. You’ll never know now. It’s too late. You can’t change him. All you can change is you.”
“I can’t believe that I’ve been mostly sober all this time, and I haven’t even gotten through the second step yet.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. The first step is the hardest.”
And then he said the most amazing thing. This is what you pay counselors for. Insight. A fresh perspective. It was worth the money.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know.”
“Your friend. Nothing you could have done, including making yourself over or becoming Martha Stewart or even being more open and vulnerable would have changed the ending of this situation.”
And then he proved that he had been paying attention. He remarked that my friend and I each had our own life issues and that we each had unhealthy relationship patterns that we unconsciously worked out and repeated, with each other. He repeated observations that I had made about my friend that I had forgotten I’d said let alone put them together into something that made sense. I won’t share them here because it would be inappropriate to do so. It doesn’t even matter if they’re accurate theories or not, just that I can use them to make sense of the matter for me. He has to work on his own issues if he feels the need to change. But the relief that flooded me at the thought that it was not my fault was tremendous. At least, not all my fault. I actually cried.
And I haven’t had a drink since. But that doesn’t mean that I can rest on my laurels. Some of you might read this and think that I drink because of loneliness or I drink because of depression or I drink due to heartbreak or anxiety or stress or boredom. Those are just excuses. The reason I drink is because I’m an alcoholic. It’s a disease, and that’s what we do.
Entry filed under: Alcoholism/Substance Abuse, Chrisitanity, Faith, Spirituality. Tags: Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, Benny Hinn, Big Book, Higher Power, Hunter S. Thompson, Twelve Step, Twelve-step program.