Clarity, messages and facing the truth

It has been a while since I blogged. Between going to college, AA meetings and some new part time contract work, my life has not been my own. I hardly recognise my life right now. I have been sober for 57 days and my life has definitely taken on a new direction. Funnily enough, it isn’t probably the direction I imagined. Well, the truth is that whilst I was drinking, I wasn’t imagining anything other than whether or not I had enough wine to satisfy the amount I needed to drink. Yes, my life is different now.

The first thing I am noticing is that I have a clarity of mind now. This is not to say that I know exactly what I want out of life yet. What I mean by clarity is that I am starting to remember things that are dead give aways that drinking was indeed a problem for me. Things that in my inebriated state, I had pushed back to the recesses of my mind because I didn’t want to remember, I didn’t want to face the truth.
In AA, they often talk about identifying rather than looking for the differences, which is what a lot of AAs mostly do when they first enter the rooms of AA. I was no different. That first day, I was praying that the stories I would hear would confirm that I in fact was not an alcoholic, that it was just the endless stream of crap circumstances that had made me turn to wine in such a vehement fashion, and that once they were out of the way, I would return to being a ‘social’ drinker. It is laughable now, but that is what I truly wanted to believe.
Of course, as each person shared their story on that first day, I could not escape the truth. I could not escape that there were many more similarities and not enough differences. I was indeed an alcoholic and my life had become unmanageable. However, over the following few weeks, whilst still in the fog of unfolding sobriety, I did manage to convince myself that my drinking was not that bad. I heard how people had blackouts and thought to myself, ‘I’ve never had that’. I heard how people stashed their drink here, there and everywhere, to make sure they always had stuff around, and again, I thought, ‘that isn’t me”. Of course, what I was doing is still trying to find the differences, perhaps setting myself up for the inevitable relapse because I still wanted to believe that I wasn’t really an alcoholic.
When I first came to AA, I was told that all I needed to do is to not drink a day at a time, don’t pick up the first drink because then you cannot get drunk, and to just keep coming back to AA. Thank god, I have taken that advice. In the last couple of weeks, I have had flashbacks of just how bad my drinking had become. I would be driving along, thinking about nothing in particular when I would suddenly remember an incident that would remind me and prove to me that I am where I am supposed to be. These ‘memories’ are coming thick and fast at the moment, and although a little confronting (well, actually severely confronting at times), I know that they are a necessary part of recovery.
One such ‘memory’ came recently when I was sharing from the floor of AA. I had not really thought about my ‘drinking story’ as such and when I was asked to share, I decided to talk about my drinking story. “I took my first drink when I was 14,” I began. As I started to share my story, I heard myself say the words, “I didn’t suffer from blackouts.” I then paused momentarily. Suddenly a memory came rushing back to me. “Actually”, I said, “isn’t it funny how alcohol robs us of our memories, because, actually, I did have blackouts.” At that moment, a memory had come flying into my mind and I felt compelled to share it. I then told the story of when, only five years ago, I was at my sister’s wedding. I had travelled from England to South Africa for the wedding and it was a beautiful affair (lots of alcohol, as you do!!). I met my brother-in-law’s family and friends, all of whom were lovely people. My sister and her husband shared mutual friends too and it was good to catch up with the few that I knew. I was having a lovely evening.
Toward the end of the evening, a guy I had been talking to off and on came up to me and started chatting to me again. He then looked at me, and said, “You really don’t remember me do you?” Innocently, I said I didn’t and tried to imagine where we had met when I lived in South Africa. He then went on to tell me how I had been at a bar in my home town, where he also lived, totally drunk out of my mind, on my own. He said that he could see that I was in no fit state to drive (which is what I intended to do – another thing I told people I never did), so he started chatting to me and offered to take me home. I agreed and I assume that I must have passed out in his car, because he said that he took me inside, put me into bed and left. I shudder to think what could have happened and to be honest, it may well have happened, but he failed to mention it, and I am praying that isn’t the case. I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of this event at all. I have no recollection of meeting this person, of talking to him and certainly none of letting him into my home and putting me into bed. It was a horrible, horrible moment and for the rest of the evening, I did my best to avoid him. I had totally forgotten that evening. I had blocked out the blackout, if you will. It came flooding back to remind me yet again, that yes, indeed, I did have blackouts and was on the path to total self destruction.
In the past few weeks, I have had many moments like that, many clear memories of when my drinking was way beyond ‘social’ and I have been grateful for them. They are daily reminders to me that I cannot get complacent, that I cannot allow myself to fool myself that I am not ‘as bad’ as the other people in the rooms. It doesn’t matter if I am not ‘as bad’, it was bad enough for me. The joy about AA is that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking and thank God I got that desire 8 weeks ago whilst my life was relatively still in tact.
It is actually quite funny how delusional we can become about our drinking. I have not told many people about my alcoholism. Initially that was because I was ashamed, but now it is more because I don’t feel the need to shout it out from the tree tops. I am on a journey of discovery and I want to keep it personal for now. However, when I have mentioned it to the very few people who are close to me, I have been totally surprised and taken aback when they don’t seem at all surprised or shocked. I had seriously not imagined my drinking to be ‘that bad’. Although it was not working for me and that I had considered my life to be unmanageable, I truly thought my friends would be shocked to find out that I considered myself to be an alcoholic. When they reacted with little or no surprise at all, I was quite annoyed. I look back now and realise that I wanted some sort of accolade for my sobriety. I had a picture in my mind of how the event would unfold:
I would tell them in hushed tones that I had something to tell them – they would lean in, and I would mention that I was an alcoholic and that I had been going to AA. They would look shocked and say, “No”. That disbelieving, incredulous ‘No’ you see in the movies, you know the one I mean. I would then look down, nod, and say, “Yes, it’s true.” They would then look at me all doe-eyed, realising the honour I had bestowed upon them for telling them such a massive thing and they would then tell me that they had never known, that I hidden it so well. They would then ask how was I coping and tell me that they are so proud of me. I would then walk away, leaving them still shaking their heads in disbelief, me basking in my own glory.
It never happened that way. I would do the hushed toned “I have something to tell you”, and they would lean in, then I would tell them and they would look at me as if to say “Is that it? Tell me something I didn’t know”. I have tried this only three times, but each time the reaction has been exactly the same. It has annoyed the crap out of me, but I have had to succumb to the fact that my drinking was not hidden at all, that in fact it was as transparent as daylight, and that people did indeed notice. I still don’t like to think that my alcoholism was that evident to everyone around me. But life is certainly adept at sending us messages to clarify certain things and in the cold light of sobriety (which is warming up a bit now), those messages come through loud and clear.
Being sober is a humbling experience for me. I am learning every day, with increased clarity, to face up to how bad my drinking had become. It is true that I hadn’t got to the point of losing my family or my home, but I had certainly lost my dignity and not only my sense of self worth, but my entire sense of self. Facing up to the memories, such as that guy at the wedding, is a gift because it enables me to remind myself of where I have come from and to reaffirm where I am going. It enables me to look at it for what it is – a moment of total insanity – and put it behind me, because, one day at a time, I am paving a new path for myself, one that won’t be filled with shameful memories that come as flashbacks as if to haunt me, but a path that will be filled with memories that are good and wonderful, that in years to come I will look back on with pride. That is what sobriety is giving me and it is something for which I am truly grateful.

Intellect and the Steps to Serenity

Life is a funny old thing, don’t you think? This week, I celebrated 30 days sobriety, although to me it felt like much longer. 1 month sounds so fledgling and, compared to the people I have met who have been sober for so many years (something I am battling to comprehend), it is indeed such a short time. Of course, with alcohol being what it is, I am now no longer the ‘new’ newbie. Since starting AA, a couple of other people have started their journey into sobriety and even though I am still considered a ‘newbie’ (not sure when I actually get to shed that label), I feel much ‘older’ because through the love of the members of AA, I am already forming friendships and feeling more connected than I have ever been in my life. I feel like a part of the club, so to speak. However, as I look at those newcomers, I am forced to not forget what brought me to AA in the first place, and that is a good thing, since complacency is an alcoholics downfall, as many will tell you.

Last week, I celebrated my own chronological birthday. It was on a Saturday and on that day I was 28 days sober. It was also the first sober birthday I have had since my 16th birthday. It was a lovely day and I felt totally enveloped by the love of the family around me. It was a truly lovely day, despite the lack of alcohol, or should that be, because of the lack of alcohol.
However, the friday night before had been particularly bad for me. A pattern has started to emerge whereby on a friday night I hit a very big low. Intellectually, I know that this is because that for the last 11 years before my sobriety, Friday always signified the start of my weekend and I always marked that with wine, lots and lots of wine. Now, with four Fridays under my belt, a pattern has started to emerge, whereby 7pm Friday comes around and a big cloud seems to settle over my head. I get grumpy, teary and I don’t want to be around anyone. I feel angry too. The weird thing is that I don’t have an urge to drink. There is a term called ‘white knuckling it’ which basically means that you are going through each day wanting that drink and just hanging in there (white knuckling it) going day by day wanting it, but not giving in to the urge. The aim is to lose that urge, to be free of the desire to drink alcohol and to find serenity in your day to day life. I can honestly say that I haven’t been white-knuckling it. I haven’t had that daily urge to drink, but I have yet to find serenity in my day to day living and this is particularly evident on a Friday night. For some inexplicable reason, come Friday evening, that dark cloud settles over me and I am as grumpy as shit!
What had been worrying me is the fact that I wasn’t feeling like I was ‘working the program’. I am a proactive person – a doer – and a person who gets things done (except housework, I’ll admit!!). When a problem presents itself, I am the type of person who diligently sets about finding the solution. I may need a day or so to process the problem, come to terms with it, so to speak, but then I spring into action. I research, research, research and then try to apply that research, that which I find relevant to my situation, that is, to my particular problem. I also offer this service to those around me and have become quite the ‘go to’ person in my circle of family and friends. Often, of course, I offer this service even though the other person might not want it, but that is another topic entirely.
So, here I was, 35 short days ago, faced with being an alcoholic. Having had exposure to AA in my teen years and early twenties, I knew that AA was a very successful program at helping people find that serenity within their recovery. I knew that those people who successfully applied the 12 steps of AA found an everlasting serenity and I knew from the very beginning, that I wanted that serenity. Drinking alcohol had been such a big part of my life, had sapped every fibre of my soul, that I knew from the outset that I needed to rebuild my soul and finally find out, come to terms with, accept and love who I am. I knew from past (outside) experience, that those people who worked the steps, did exactly that, they found serenity and themselves. Attending AA meetings as an alcoholic confirmed this for me. I hung on the words of people who had worked the program and who had found serenity. I felt that if I listened to what these people had done, applied it to my life, then I would be the walking embodiment of serenity, something I so desperately wanted.
I am beginning to realise though, that alcoholism is not a disease you can treat with intellect. It is something that is unique to each person and is not a disorder or disease in the usual sense of the word. It is not like having a disease that is treatable with an antibiotic that each person with the disease can take and will be cured – if only alcoholism was that easy. Alcoholism for each person is defined in a totally different way. All you need for membership to AA is a desire to stop drinking. That is it. They don’t ask you how much you drank, or how often. They don’t care. All they care about is that you now want to give up drinking and they want to help you to achieve that sobriety, and find serenity in that sobriety.
When I first attended AA, I began to wonder if I needed to be there. I was a suburban housewife who hadn’t lost her children, house or husband. I didn’t drink in the morning (a common myth of what constitutes an alcoholic), and I only ever drank wine – no beer, spirits and definitely no methylated spirits. In fact, I began to feel that perhaps my drinking was not that bad after all. Yet, I had a nagging feeling that I needed to be there in those rooms. It frustrated me, though, that there was no definition, that applied to all, of what actually constituted an alcoholic. I could not apply my research techniques and my intellect to this problem and I was starting to get really annoyed. I had always been able to meet a problem head on and solve it, to the best of my ability. I prided myself on always being able to find an answer.
I think that when I first attended AA, I thought that I would take the 12 steps and systematically work through them and find that elusive serenity. I am discovering that it just isn’t that easy. I am certainly learning that this is not something to which you can apply intellect. It is often said that when you enter the rooms of an AA meeting, very often you will hear what you need to hear. This is especially true for me. Even though intellectually I was questioning if I needed to be in AA, something inside of me told me that I needed to keep on going. Even on the days when I have not felt like going, I have somehow dragged myself off to the meeting and walked away with just that bit more understanding and especially a bit more insight into myself.
I am beginning to realise that intellectually attacking a problem was a way of not dealing with how I truly felt about a problem/situation. I went into crisis management mode and needed to find a solution before the gravity of the situation could overwhelm me. I was hoping that finding a solution to being an alcoholic (AA) would produce the same result. I would ‘work the program’ – i.e. apply the 12 steps – and thus find a solution to alcoholism. Alas, or indeed, thankfully, it just does not work that way. The 12 steps pretty much ensure that. It is a program of physical, mental and spiritual growth and in order to gain that elusive serenity, you do indeed have to apply all 12 steps.
I understood this from the beginning, so, with my intellectual cap on, I looked at Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. Tick that one off, I could do that. Right, next step. Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Okay, first stumbling block. Intellect has never been able to explain faith, and this is what they were saying, isn’t it? That I needed faith in a power greater than myself would restore me to sanity. Firstly, I wasn’t all that sure I was insane (refer to my reference to being a housewife who still had everything) and secondly, although I had always ‘believed’ in a God, I was never sure what form that God had for me or what that higher power meant to me. I knew before joining AA, that it was a spiritual program, but I think somehow that I thought I could apply intellect to getting past the ‘spiritual’ steps and apply the others to achieve the desired outcome. Slowly, I was beginning to realise that I simply couldn’t.
My dad phoned me the other day and asked me how I was going with the AA program. I said that I was frustrated that I hadn’t found a sponsor and wasn’t working the program. He explained to me that recovery from alcoholism cannot be rushed and that for some the program comes very easily and for others it takes a long time. I don’t do ‘long time’. I’m a proactive doer, remember. In fact, my psychologist once described me as an underachieving high achiever. Underachieving, no doubt, due to alcohol. I wanted the solution to alcoholism and to be the walking embodiment of serenity – right now! I wanted to be going to those ‘newcomers’ right now and offering them my pearls of wisdom! After 35 days of sobriety, I am slowly learning that patience is an important skill to have. I am also slowly learning that despite skills in doing and acting, I have never learned the skill of just sitting quietly and accepting the situation for what it is.
If I am honest, I am only at Step 1 – I am only now really accepting that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable, despite the fact that I had managed not to lose everything. In fact, I am very grateful that my higher power showed me AA at such a young age so that I could recognise the signs in myself before I did in fact lose everything, because I know that it probably could have and would have happened. I am working on Step 2 – it isn’t easy. My intellect wants proof of this higher power, my faith has never been particularly strong, despite having a firm belief in ‘something’. I do believe that my higher power showed me the way, brought me to this path, I just wish I could have a more definitive understanding of what that higher power means for me. I have struggled with the whole God thing – the omnipotent being who smites us when we step out of line – no, that’s not going to cut it for me. I believe in a God that is loving and only loving. I believe we were given free will for a reason, not to be set up to fail, but to learn, experience and grow. This alcoholism is my path of discovery and growth, and with patience, lots and lots of patience, and through my, yet-to-be-defined higher power, I am sure that I will finally find serenity.