Why I Keep Going Back to Alcoholics Anonymous
Hi. My name is Cat and I'm an alcoholic.
In the Beginning
My journey into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous began over 10 years ago when entire parts of my life vanished into black holes and the parts that didn’t, I wished would have. As I lay curled up next to a bottle of vodka on my ex-husbands bed envisioning my death, I cursed God for allowing me to feel through the thin veil of numbness. The magical powers of alcohol that seduced my youth and anesthetized my life were the same ones leading me straight into the hellish reality of feeling everything.
My magic potion had turned to poison.
All I wanted to do was be dead and it wouldn’t let me.
I watched the ending over and over again in my mind- slipping beneath the warm blanket of water while the world faded into soft crimson light.
I would never wake up in someone else’s life again.
A weight had fallen upon me while lying on that bed and I couldn’t make myself move enough to push it off. Yet, I was there somewhere in the depths of my body willing it to have the courage to do one last thing.
One last final thing.
Why was God punishing me by keeping me alive?
I often felt as if I were watching some deranged version of myself desperately scrambling to put shattered pieces of her world back together before anyone noticed everything was broken. As my life disintegrated, my mind, body and spirit followed close behind on a decent to hell.
Sometimes I couldn’t recognize the swollen woman in the mirror whose skin erupted in angry hives when she drank, who saw and heard things that weren’t real and couldn’t remember where she was the night before or what she said an hour ago.
Sometimes she stared past where I ended and she began-into a glass void of eternal confusion, where I lived.
Nothing could reach her.
It took over a year of wandering in and out of the rooms Alcoholics Anonymous before I was desperate enough to sit down and listen. Although I attend meetings more regularly now, this wasn’t always true. I was notorious for taking extended vacations. Vacations I liked to believe granted me time and space away from rooms that got too small, people that got under my skin and the constant reminder that I made more mistakes in life than I could ever make up for. There were days I thought I wouldn’t make it through an entire 60 minute meeting if I had to listen to one more testimony about the saving graces of AA and how better life is now because of it.
Even now I sometimes feel like I’m dragging around an insolent brat and forcing her to sit in those damn chairs twice a week listening to a room full of alcoholics talk about their lives so she can learn something about how to live her own.
Yes, even 10-years later.
What I have learned over the years is that every time I decide I don’t need or want to go to meetings my lurking maniacal alter ego swoops in like a vulture and eats my soul.
I call her Victoria.
Victoria is the name I gave to my drinking self when I acted badly and was too horrified of my behavior to connect myself to it.
Victoria has zero allegiance to my sober intentions and despises all rules regardless of what they are or if they even concern her. She doesn’t get along well with others and thinks that AA is for people too weak to manage their own lives-not for her.
She likes to run the show-my show, your show- any show.
When she's not running shows, she's running away, running herself into the ground or running people off. She's always running.
Victoria is a bitch to live with and can't even live with herself.
And she is the reason I go to AA even when I think I don’t need or want to.
My life is better without her.
The Great Firing and God's People
My last public humiliation occurred during a blackout at the fancy five star hotel where I was a fancy bartender. I remembered nothing, nada, after my pre-work drinking ritual. I was told (gotta love it when you get told) that shortly into my shift I demanded to see the manager but he was too busy monitoring fancy parties which made drunk Victoria kick in his office door to get his attention.
Up until that moment I had been a respected employee.
The next morning co-workers delivered my purse, coat and other personal items I left at work. I do not remember how I got home or why some of my clothes were missing.
I never had a conversation with my boss about why I was fired because there wasn’t an actual formal firing. Not even a phone call. It was just assumed that my behavior that evening clearly determined that I would not be returning.
The following weeks I wallowed in self-pity. I was mortified to the degree alcohol couldn’t fix. I spent nights on end drinking myself into a stupor at my co-worker’s dingy apartment. He was the only one who responded to my midnight crisis calls and the only one who could stand to be around me.
During this time I was sleeping on my ex-husbands couch and failing miserably as a mother. I was in an incredible amount of internal, spiritual and emotional pain and I wanted to die but I wasn’t organized enough to kill myself the way I wanted to.
I envisioned bleeding to death in the bathtub so as not to get blood on the floors- relaxed and easy. Although I had some ideas on how that could happen, it seemed like too much trouble and drama. I desperately wished for the power to burst into flames-because that would have been less dramatic.
It hurt to drink, it hurt not to, and I couldn’t tell if I had a choice anymore.
I took the, Do You Have a Drinking Problem, Quiz hundreds of times hoping an assessment of my answers would lead me to a solution.
Obviously, I had a drinking problem. But I wanted to find out how I could make it go away and still drink.
I couldn’t numb myself anymore which meant that the insane amounts of alcohol I poured into my body stopped working and I was scared to death of what that meant.
I became completely incapable of even pretending to be a functioning adult and the sad disappointment on my kids’ faces made me physically ill. I felt powerless to stop doing the things that hurt everyone I loved.
My parolee-friend lived below an Evangelical church. During one of my drunken, escape-my-life-again- visits, I heard singing from the church and decided to grace them with my drunken presence-offering myself as a sacrifice in exchange for healing. I pleaded with them to heal me and they brought me into their circle, putting their hands on me while they prayed and swayed with me.
When it was all over and we exchanged obligatory hugs I stumbled back out into the bitter cold-disappointed, unhealed, and still drunk. I decided never to go to church again if even God’s own people couldn't heal me.
Let's Make a Deal
I had been in and out of AA for a few months but found it impossible to stay sober for more than two weeks at a time.
The two weeks prior to my last drunk I received my final paycheck in the mail and thought it would be a great idea to stop into a casino while taking a break from Easter shopping. Nine hours later I found myself in the casino bathroom playing Let’s Make a Deal, with God.
God, you see me standing here sober and broke now that I gambled my entire last paycheck the day before Easter. I swear, promise, Dear Jesus, God of my Universe, Creator, Miracle Worker, if you just let me win back all that money I will not drink tonight. I will never set foot in a casino again. God, you know I need that money. If you love me AT ALL God, you will make this happen. God, don’t let me down on this one.
I left that bathroom armed with confidence that can only come from delusional irrationality and nine steady hours of caffeine and nicotine.
I imagine God kicked back in a chair with one raised eyebrow and saying, this is not going to go over well.
Having lost my final dollar and just minutes before closing, I marched right up to the bar and ordered four glasses of cheap wine (because that’s all they could serve right before closing) all of which I slammed like shots of tequila without ever having sat down. Take that God!
God let me down.
God didn’t keep up his end of the bargain.
It’s God’s fault I drank.
It’s God’s fault I lost my paycheck.
It’s God’s fault I had to drink cheap wine on my last half-ass drunk.
It’s God’s fault my life is a shameful scene out of some idiotic movie where everyone cringes at the hopeless drunk’s stupidity.
Another reason I go to AA even when I don’t always want to is this:
If I can spend $1,000 while sitting in a casino for nine hours drinking coffee and chain smoking completely SOBER, then I can sit in a room with other alcoholics for an hour and listen to their stories for a dollar.
Because those are my stories too. Who else understands the battle against a compulsion to put a substance in my body that will make my life miserable until the day it kills me? You know who? The teacher, lawyer, doctor, baker, neighbor, and the candlestick maker-alcoholism is a one size fits all.
There is nowhere else I can go and say the things I wouldn’t even tell a priest during confession-if that were my scene.
They hear me, support me and celebrate my victories in this sober life. Even my most childish, obsessive, senseless, frustrations are validated because they know we are all just one stupid thought away from the drink that could ruin our lives forever.
And even when personality conflicts exist (and they do, we're human) they don’t want me to drink as much as I don’t want them to drink.
We play on the same team.
I'll Keep Coming Back
I don’t always love everything about AA all of the time but experience tells me that my life feels better when I'm open to it's gifts. It led me to a God of my understanding, one with a sense of humor, forgiveness and great compassion. It led me into the lives of some of my favorite people and enabled me to rise above my alcoholism.
I’ve gone without meetings for months at a time without drinking and might even have been content for periods of time. But contentment isn’t easily maintainable for me. If I could just go around kicking rocks and complaining until it wears off, all would be fine and normal. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, I cling to discontent like a co-dependent lover. I bring it coffee, keep it up late talking about us, quit my jobs, move, threaten to leave, threaten to stay, and try to medicate it with a new pharmaceutical, until one day I’m rocking back and forth on the bathroom floor chanting nonsense.
Until one day a drink seems like the answer.
Honestly, I’ve been on that floor many times and every time has led me back the rooms of AA. No one makes me feel less than for not having been there in a while — I’m the only one responsible for my recovery. When I decided to return this last year, I knew something about who these people were, where they came from and what they had to go through to want to sit in a chair for an hour listening to people like me.
I learn a lot about myself in those rooms.
I think I’ll keep going back.