By William F.
I was aware of my potential alcoholism by the time I was 20. Less than two years into college and I was in trouble. My grades were borderline and the only major I settled on was drinking. I was on the Rugby team and my drinking behavior and escapades became legendary. But I knew something was not right with me. About this time I seemed to experience a self-realization that I might be on the verge of full blown alcoholism. I frequently had nights that caused me great shame and embarrassment. I was already having blackouts. I mostly avoided legal issues (with the exception of one disorderly order charge). I knew something was wrong with me.
Fights with friends and family ensued with my newfound drinking personality. The self-proclaimed “wild man” was often a ton of laughs and life of the party. I was also the butt of jokes. But it didn’t matter. To some, my new “wild man” persona may have been a bit shocking. Not long ago in high school I was considered a fairly shy, quiet kid. I was a better than average student and very good varsity athlete. I was an average, if not well liked and popular boy. This was mostly the result of my sports success. But then age 18 occurred and I was legal to get into the bars. My life began to take a new turn. By the end of senior year my new personality kicked in and there was no turning back.
Within the next couple of years I accumulated some troubling incidents. I would get in fights, get kicked out of bars, get slapped by women, and started to experience health problems. I began to have severe anxiety attacks likely initiated by alcohol poisoning and withdrawal. The inevitable terror of panic attacks caused me to quit college. At this time I saw a counselor and went to an AA meeting. At that time I was being prescribed valium and don’t even remember the one meeting I went to. I do recall some talk about religion and other gibberish I didn’t understand. But mostly I saw that I was way too young for this AA stuff and decided not to return.
So the rollercoaster began. Chaos and mayhem ensued into the next few years. I would re-enroll in school. Then I would quit. I would get some sorry factory job for a month-and then quit. I would get on trains and head to Florida with no goal or plan. Just go to Florida and get a job. One trip was a two week bender in a flea bag motel room. Returned home with tail between legs. Finally after this pattern continued for several years I graduated with B.A. in no particular area of expertise. I took the easiest route and majored in sociology. No idea what job that could lead to.
I moved to Tampa to live with my mother. I had some awful drinking related escapades (like totaling the car of a new friend who was kind enough to lend me his keys while I was in a complete black out). By this time I was ready to quit the booze life. I landed into AA full throttle after leaving AMA from a detox center located in one of the seedier areas of my new hometown. Something about myself at this time I could not deny. If I drank even one beer – forget about it. It was just enough to loosen my inhibitions where I would continue to drink all night. It was always the same. If I started, I would drink until either a bartender kicked me out or until the joint closed. I saw I was truly powerless and comprehended AA’s first step absolutely. I never had a problem with that first step.
So I landed into my first real attempt at AA when I was 26 years old. Within a relatively short period of time I loved it. I was never religious and considered myself an agnostic since I was a young kid. But I never paid much attention to the Big Book thumpers. Most of the old timers were nice enough to me. I liked some of what they said. But primarily, I loved AA for the new camaraderie. I met a bunch or young guys around the same age as myself. This was 1985 and AA was flooded with cocaine addicts getting out of treatment. There were tons of young people back then. So AA provided a new and vibrant social life that this lonesome drinker didn’t have. We went to sober AA and NA dances and all types of sober events organized by young people’s group.
Most of my “new crew” and myself shared the same sponsor. He was an “older” guy named Roy. He was about 48. For me, the AA meetings by themselves were not enough. If it was just meetings I would have likely failed since I was not at all comfortable with all the step talk that seemed completely religious to me. This was in spite of what everyone attempted to say about having a “higher power” of one’s own definition. I never bought into that whole idea. For me, it was the meetings after the meeting that had me.
Our merry band of young drunks and druggies rambled off with our Pied Piper, Roy, for coffee and cigarettes to talk. These were the real talks. The young drunks became so close to one another. There was a bond that I only barely experienced once in my life. This bond was somewhat similar to my days up in New England. I remember those cold nights cozying up to the bar with my buddies. These were the guys I grew up with. But this new coziness with these new friends was even cozier. We had our new “Dad”, Roy, to redirect the conversation back to sobriety if we got off target with our war stories and past sexual conquests. Roy would get us back on track. These nights typically lasted well past midnight. This new sober “crew” was better than my old drunk “crew.” Combined with a new career I lucked into – I was on top of the world. But then one fine sunny May afternoon at a Florida beach – my life would change forever.
I met my dream girl at the beach. We shared frequent glances and I finally got up enough gusto to go talk to her. This was not easy for me as I had always needed liquid courage to flirt with girls. But by this time, I was developing more inner confidence in myself. By now I was almost two years sober. Within seven months we were married. And, oh yeah, I started drinking with my beach girl about three months into our relationship. She was a nurse who definitely liked to party with her girlfriends, especially after a stressful night at the hospital. It’s funny looking back, but it seemed as if I totally overlooked her heavy drinking on our first few dates. I still had no urge to join in. But I stopped going to meetings. I stopped seeing my new sober crew. I stopped talking to Roy. And I started drinking. And I stayed “back out” for the next two decades.
At about the ripe old age of 48 I finally had enough. I won’t get into the details of my life for those two decades. Suffice it to say there was much chaos combined with enough white knuckle “drying out” to keep my job all those years. I was, however, a social misfit who filed bankruptcy three times. My fiscal failure was a result of my big ongoing bar bill. But by 48 I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. The thrill was gone. I had two sons from two different women. There was a big gap in the boys’ ages. The younger one I ended up raising alone as his Mom was a secret crack addict. I guess you don’t notice those things when you’re drunk off your ass five times a week.
So I quit with both feet in. It was easy! I was so sick of the bars that I became nauseous when I drove by a few of my old haunts. I developed my own “program of recovery.” I worked out at the YMCA like a maniac five times a week. I went to group fitness classes. I did everything with my youngest son. I became a very proud father of a great kid. I discovered a local Buddhist Temple where I would go every Friday night to practice “loving kindness” meditation. This brought me a new inner peace that was necessary for this old Agnostic. After about seven years of sobriety, however, I realized I was missing something. My health had never been better. Lost some weight and the old severe anxiety had practically vanished.
When my mother died I experienced a depression. One would think that is normal. One should be depressed when a parent dies. But my depression was not overwhelming sadness due to her death. My Mom was 86 years old when she passed. The last three years of her life were spent in a nursing home due to dementia. I was her only child who lived in Florida so I was responsible for her. I got her to the hospital after her first collapse. I searched assisted living facilities and nursing homes to find one that would accept her insurance. Once placed in a home, there would be calls from the home due to various incidents and accidents. She broke her hip. Other accidents occurred. My life did have added purpose – as the one child available to work as her overseer. I guess I enjoyed the responsibility. Of course I became tired of the whole scene and, secretly, was ready for her demise. And she died.
I thought I was OK with this death. My mother lived 86 years. Not bad. She went out peacefully, more or less. What more can one ask for? But within several months something was weighing on me. I felt burdened by past memories. I thought about my drunk days. The times when Mom might have needed me to help her with some chores around her house. Most of the time I was too hung over or drunk. I wasn’t much help. This was definitely an interruption of my healthy “pink cloud” I had experienced the past several years. I didn’t like it. I would even have dreams about my drunken behavior and not seeing my mother when she asked me too. I had guilt. Memories long forgotten had returned. Like the time I didn’t pick up my Mom to take to my house when a hurricane was approaching Florida’s west coast. I thought about my old Mom waiting for her son to pick her up. I was out drinking that night and forgot. I was at the casino. But despite these feelings I still didn’t want to drink over it. And then a light went off…
I need friends like me. I need to be around fellow ex-drunks to talk to. I have been well versed on various psychological approaches to sobriety. Due to my Atheism I am comfortable with a more scientific approach. But science doesn’t give you the camaraderie that sober alcoholics crave. Being an old bar hound – I am essentially a social animal. I like being around people. I have friends at work and fellow “soccer moms” who know a little about me. Not a lot – but a little. I have hinted at past drinking problems with these friends, but not completely. Not completely, because these people would not get it. Only fellow alkies get it. So I started to think about AA.
The first night I came back was familiar. The only real difference was that I am twenty years older. The coffee still tasted like mud. The chocolate chip cookies were too crunchy. But when I walked in I felt….cozy.
About the Author, William F.
William F. is a native Rhode Islander living in Florida past 30 years. Works in government and intends on working with alcoholics when he retires.
The audio story was narrated and recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.