It Was Fun at First
Most stories start in a place and mine started in the north east of Scotland. I enjoyed school and did well. I was uncomfortable in groups. There had been periods when girls had excluded me, so I kept to myself and a few friends. My family moved frequently but I did form some close friendships. I rarely had a wide circle of friends. My parents had good intentions and loved me, so they did their best to provide a better childhood than their own. However, my mother suffered from depression that amplified life’s ups and downs. There periods of abuse by an uncle that led to secrets and shame throughout my family. Alcohol abuse is common in my wider family but my parents and brother are happy, social drinkers. My home was in south Wales when my drinking story started. From the start I blamed my drunken behaviour on my parents, my poor upbringing and the unkind acts of others. The truth is that I am an alcoholic who met her rock bottom and found recovery for which I remain grateful to this day.
In our teenage years, my brother and I were given a glass of wine with Sunday lunch and other celebration meals. My father set out to teach us to drink sensibly and to appreciate wine. I’d no inkling that I’d have a problem and frowned on my relatives when they partied hard. I started drinking at about seventeen years old in the local pubs with my school friends at weekends. At first it was fun and we giggled over a couple of halves of lager before snogging our boyfriends at closing time and heading off home. I gave up my boring friends, chapel and teaching Sunday school.
Within six months I’d started making a fool of myself and comments were made. We all went off to college and I made new friends. Again it was fun at first, but then I’d make a fool of myself too often before I moved on. The colleges, jobs, houses, friends, boyfriends, marriage all came and went. I worked abroad briefly. The pattern repeated over and over and soon there was no fun. The last couple of years of drinking were miserable. I’d start each day at 5am with the sweats and dread. Then I’d take my first drink, the remains of the wine that I’d taken to bed the night before. Then the dry heaves and remorse, the search for a drink to settle my nerves and to stop the shakes, another glass or two while I got the kids to school and ready for work.
My days at the office were fuzzy while the morning drinks wore off and the hangover, anxiety and shakes crept on. As soon as I could escape, I went to the supermarket for groceries and whatever drink was on special offer. I got home, started drinking and kept drinking until I passed out. In the meantime I would feed the children and do minimal house work. Almost every night there’d be a teary fight with my partner and so it continued…always getting worse. At the end, after almost twenty years of drinking, I knew that I was dying but powerless and unwilling to stop drinking. My body ached and was swollen, my face was puffy and grey and I smelled. It was only a matter of time before I’d lose my driving licence, job or kill someone. The kids were no longer safe and I was sure that it would soon be discovered that I was a drunk. I didn’t want to care and I wanted it to end.
One morning at 5am, when it usually all started again, I woke up feeling well and clear headed with the idea of getting help.
I got up and went on the internet looking for help to deal with the shakes and nausea. I found AA and there was an email address. I sent a message and didn’t expect to hear back for a couple of days. The response came within an hour. It wasn’t a lecture or the usual health advice, a real person who understood had responded. I should go to the doctor and give AA a call. I shrugged but later did make the calls. The doctor gave me a detox and someone came from AA to talk with me. I gave up the fight, accepted finally that I’m an alcoholic and did what was suggested.
My first hurdle was to hold my son’s fourth birthday party without a drink. It was a small achievement but it was a triumph for me and so the hope grew. Soon after that I struggled through a big family party weekend in Ireland with the support of a local AA group. I’d had to tell my parents about my alcoholism and AA so that I could get to the meetings that weekend. They gave me whole-hearted support and continue to do so. It was another triumph and I began to believe that a sober life and a new beginning were possible.
I worked through the steps with my sponsor. I took service positions and have been continually in service ever since. It’s really that simple, but it has never been easy and often uncomfortable. I had to face my fears and character defects and that took courage. It takes courage for me to be willing and honest. Each time I use a little more courage and become more honest and willing, more progress is made and greater challenges met. There have been challenges: dealing with my childhood abuse, rebuilding a relationship with my partner who drinks, death of friends, financial problems and difficult insecure jobs. Every step of the way there was someone to give me strength. My sponsor sheds light on the thinking and behaviours that trip me up, my home group and friends support and guide me.
The AA literature and wider AA family including meetings abroad give me the assurance that I need not face anything alone. Many of the acts of fellowship that gave me the most courage would not even be remembered by the AAs who helped. The list is endless: the lady on telephone service who took my call, the man who left room in my coffee cup so that my shakes didn’t cause a spill, the first speaker that I heard, the first speaker who scared me but who I identified with, the woman last week who sat next to me while I fretted over an argument with my son, the still suffering alcoholic that I spoke to on Sunday. However small the act of service it makes a difference to both the giver and recipient. I’ve found that this is true of forgiveness too. I’m learning how to forgive myself and others. It’s a gift that is individual each time and costs the giver with no expectation of return. On all occasions it has brought me freedom and sometimes it hurts.
Today I have freedom. Freedom from unmanageable fear and guilt. Freedom to accept who I am, with the ability to love, take risks and forgive. My children are thriving and I experience all the joys and heartache that parenthood brings. I’m in touch with my Higher Power. God never left me and knowing this is the greatest gift. Above all I am confident that I am not alone and have faith that God’s plans are good. I believe that the morning when I woke with the hope of help was the start of a spiritual awakening that led me to AA. I choose each day to live a sober life and have done so for several years. The more often that I hand my will over to God the better it gets, but there are days when I rebel. By the grace of God and the fellowship of AA, each sober day is a miracle and a present to accept and live well.