I do not know why I drank; I do not know why I drank to excess. Drinking changed my relationships, threatened my livelihood and just made me look stupid. I did not always think so.
When I started drinking, in College, it was cool; I was popular — something I had never been. The amount gradually increased and overwhelmed me. I remember the pot boiling to empty on the stove while I was in a stupor; a horrid fight with my then-husband in Puerto Rico; seeing a friend thrown into the water and told to swim; wondering, always wondering, what had happened the night before; and losing items I wish I still had, etc.
Everything I have done in my life I have done full tilt and drinking was no exception. I was self-sufficient eschewing group activities and became adept at hiding my problem. I did not need help. I isolated, turning myself into a knitting factory!
Feeling puzzled and ashamed in the morning became normal and I knew — gradually — that I had to get a handle on this aspect of my life. After years of smoking heavily, I had successfully quit. I had taken the AA test (Are you an…?) first in magazines and then on the Internet — the length of time I flirted with AA which seemed so silly, cultish, groupie.
I quit drinking — once for 5 years and went back. I do not really know why being with friends was such a strong trigger. Clearly, I needed help but was too embarrassed to ask for it — pastor, doctor and I did not know anyone in Alcoholics Anonymous, AA — my last-ditch option.
I was pouring a glass of wine one Sunday morning before going to church. I suddenly, inexplicably, said “Ick —what am I doing?” and poured it down the drain. That day, Sunday 5.6.2012, I stopped drinking for the day. The following Saturday I walked into a women’s meeting.
“Hello, my name is Mary and I am an alcoholic.”
I sat, waiting for my turn. How could I say “Hello, my name is Chiara and I am an alcoholic?”
I did not believe I was an alcoholic; I may have alcoholism or an alcoholic disease but label myself, no way! At this writing — days away from 7 years sober I can readily admit I am an alcoholic; that I have a disease called alcoholism; that I get strength from hearing other peoples’ stories.
“Hello, my name is Jane; I am an alcoholic and celebrating 28-years sober today.”
I thought, why does it take so long? Is something wrong with the program? Is it that difficult?
I had thought I would attend a meeting or two, learn how to not drink and leave.
Someone asked me out for coffee after my first meeting. I had never socially met someone for ‘coffee’. Who goes out for ‘coffee’? I did and that woman became my first sponsor.
I walked to another meeting a few days later.
I asked the moderator/chair, “What is 90/90?”
She asked, “Do you drink every day?”
I sheepishly replied ,“Yes”
She just looked at me, a look saying I was a candidate for 90/90 was more eloquent than words. (90/90 is attending 90 meetings in 90 days – AA’s suggested program to start attending meetings.)
I did 90/90. I sat through 90 AA meetings in 90 days. When I could not attend, I doubled up on other days. I now regularly attend AA meetings 90/90.
“Here, read this book.” TZ, an alcoholic with more experience and longevity in the program than I, wrote in the Book he gave me. It was written in the 30s by two alcoholics who met in Akron OH and started AA. The Big Book, so-named because of the effect it can have on an alcoholic, is a history of the organization and the AA program.
“Read the chapter on Acceptance”, offered another helpful alcoholic in the program.
The second section contains stories about alcoholics in recovery. Telling one’s story is important in AA and is divided into parts — What It was Like, What Happened and What It is Like Now. I immediately looked for the stories by and about older adults since getting sober and joining AA was my 70th birthday present to myself.
Questions abounded. Why would I want to spend my last years in a cult — my before I became involved — erroneous impression of AA? Why would I want to work so hard? What would I do about my friends? How would I explain not drinking without embarrassment? What would they think? How could I be around while they drank? Who, what, when, where, how & why?
I was very concerned about handling social situations but committed to the AA program which is the AA prescribed course of activities to get a handle on your life and drinking. At a sister’s wedding, returning from an early morning meeting, I walked right by my family who were gathered in the hotel lobby. Of course, I made up some story about seeing a friend. It was a few years before I wondered who I thought I was kidding. They knew I drank. I am sure they did not like it but they put up with it and me. They would probably have led the cheering section had I been honest with them.
A couple of months later my sister organized a 70th birthday party. I walked into a crowded room of 38 people including children. The adults were holding champagne glasses. “Here’s a glass of champagne for you”, my sister-in-law said as she handed me a glass. Like an avenging angel my sister swooped down, “You don’t want that, right. I will get you something else!” That was the most touching and most important moment; she somehow intuitively knew I was trying to stop drinking.
AA is known as a 12-Step program and I started working them. Participants follow a course of step completion which involves honest inventory taking and making amends to people you have harmed. It has its own book and there are Step meetings. After I made a life-changing move, I left my 12-Step book at a meeting and never found it. It was full of notes from the moment I became serious about not drinking. Its loss ranks as one of the most important in my life.
I owe a lot to my family. My sister Jane was very concerned about her son and a couple of others in the family. She said that I could help them — a heavy and delicate charge though she did not know it.
My friends have not changed but my relationships have. The most important to me is a friend I met in AA. She has 40 years. I have found an ease with people and evolving relationships. I know a wider variety of people. Each person has a story — their story — and only they can tell it. And, it just happened that my current friends are non-or light-drinkers.
Even after seven years, I have not become totally comfortable with my drinking and my past and still hide my involvement with AA. My family knows but few friends do. I have lectured my doctors that they do not probe enough about alcohol — how much do you drink a day? One? Doctors do not ask if that one is a glass or bottle. When a Doctor rarely asked, I lied. One said smoking hurt my eyes but there was no comment about drinking. Would help had been forthcoming had I said something?
I believe that my sobriety is a direct result of really listening to the wisdom of the stories of my fellow alcoholics and of my regularly participating in AA meetings. AA is a supportive atmosphere. I have a disease called alcoholism. I regularly attend meetings and am convinced that for this alcoholic, Alcoholics Anonymous is the bulwark between me and drinking.