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.