Saturday, July 17, 2004

My Story

To see my other stepwork online visit Index of Stepwork.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has two sections: the first 164 pages that contain the program of action designed to help alcoholics find a Higher Power that will help them, individually, overcome alcoholism on a one day at a time basis. The second section is the stories. The stories are the personal accounts of each individual alcoholic, their life’s story. These are included so that potential alcoholics can read them and identify with the person in the story. If they can identify with the stories, see themselves in them, they it is possible they will decide to try working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

This is my story. If you think you are and alcoholic but don’t see yourself in here, I recommend getting a copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and maybe attending a meeting or two. If it’s not for you, fine. If Alcoholics Anonymous is for you, then I wish you luck and great blessings. My story is similar to the story of a lot of drunks and different from a lot of drunks. The only thing my story is here to do is to introduce me pretty fully and share my experience, strength and hope. Now, on to the story:

I am an adopted child so I have no idea whether or not my parents (biological) are alcoholic or not. My adopted parents drank when I was a child, but sparingly. A glass of wine was consumed here and there. I was raised in a household that was filled with love and with anger. My father loves me so much it shines in his eyes sometimes, and it has been that way since the earliest I remember. My mother loves me the best she can. Mom has a tough time expressing it. I have a tough time accepting it. I was not physically abused. Some people think I was emotionally abused, but I’ll deal with that in individual posts in my blog. I have a sister who is five years older than me, but I had and have virtually no relationship with her, so this is her only mention here.

I have never felt comfortable in my own skin. As a child I tried to simultaneously try to avoid being noticed and be the center of attention. Trouble and I got along fine from preschool onward. I frequently visited the principal’s office. At the end of the fourth grade, my parents removed me from public school and put me in an all boys private Catholic school called Cistercian Preparatory School. This was to be my living hell for six years.

I think I got pulled out of Cistercian before they could kick me out and I attended Lamar High School. This was a great blessing for me as I was now in a school where a greater diversity of classes gave me a chance to excel at something. In Cistercian, I was forced into a curriculum heavy in math/science, and I am very slightly learning disabled in math. To be fair, I could probably have overcome it. The point is that I was miserable in a school that emphasized things that I could not easily do. At Lamar I could take journalism, debate, drama and creative writing and excel.

At Lamar I was also formally introduced to women and drinking.

Women first: of course I had met known girls and women before Lamar. Not many though, because Cistercian was an all boys school. Spending early adolescence with only my own gender was not healthy for me. Flirting, dating and socializing are all learned skills and I never learned them. I am still awkward and shy around women until I have gotten a chance to know them. It is very unsettling to be somewhat frightened of over half of the human race. Come to think of it, I am not too comfortable around most men either.

It is hard to tell you when I first drank. At some point my sister and I were allowed to have small glasses of wine at the table with the adults. Before I started to write this I could not remember what the wine tasted like, since I started to type, less than a minute ago, the long ago flavor of the red wine, the odor and the feel of the tiny glass I was allowed have all rushed into my head. My mouth wants some. Wow, the ghost of drunks past.

Years before I drank publicly, I was sneaking drinks from the liquor cabinet. I think I first got drunk this way, but I am not actually sure about that. I am sure that when I was sixteen or seventeen I went to a party at Jennifer Hunt’s house with a half gallon bottle of whisky stolen from my parents. I proceeded to get drunk. I learned that when I drank I became confident, funny and popular. Drinking gave me and exhilarated, accelerated feeling of control and power. With alcohol in my system I could set aside my fear and do what I wanted. At that party I found I could stand up to the jocks, I could put down the cool guys and I could talk to the most intimidating pretty girl.

That night stands out in my memories, its like other memories are kind of grainy and faded and this one is crystal clear, larger than life. Drinking let me be me even though I did not know who I was. Listen to me here: it was fun. I would not have done it with such enthusiasm if it were not. I had a blast.

There were some early warning signs. Small things like running through a field of cactus naked after a burro named Luther in Palo Pinto Texas. Punching girls. Smacking my head into walls-deliberately (I have an unclear, almost surreal memory of apologizing to Jennifer Hunt and her mom for putting a hole in their hallway wall with my head. Oddly enough, both of them assured me that was fine, so long as I was okay no harm was done). Breaking both axles of my car. A bigger warning sign was that I did not want to do anything with anyone that did not involve drinking if I could help it. If I did something with someone (say dinner for instance) before the drinking could begin, I did it reluctantly and endured it, awaiting that drink.

I have a very dear friend, Robin who had her first drinking experience at a party at about the same time I did. I remember talking with her about it and telling her how much I loved to drink. She told me that she understood what I meant, and that she loved it also. But she said that she thought she loved it too much and that she was scared to have any more because she loved it too much. Her dad was a case of beer a day active alcoholic. To this day Robin is my friend and to this day, she is not an active alcoholic. I love Robin very much and I am so happy that friendship has lasted. I wonder how different things would have been if I had the same reaction she did.

My experiences with alcohol are so generic that I don’t even have to give you my words to describe it. Let me parallel my drinking life with that of Bill W., founder of AA, using his words from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had arrived.” This was me getting into law school, getting a job at a real law firm in downtown Denver.

“My drinking assumed more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost every night.” I was an every nighter.

“. . . I became a lone wolf.” I willingly surrendered most of my friendships.

“Liquor ceased to be a luxury and it became a necessity.”

“I still thought I could control the situation and there were periods of sobriety which raised my wife’s hope. Gradually things got worse.” I was asked to leave law school and quit just before being expelled. After three cars were totaled, I did not give up drinking, I essentially gave up driving. I swore not to drive drunk and as a result I drove to work and the liquor store and virtually nowhere else. The jobs I held began to decline, going from positions of more prestige and responsibility to less and less of each.

“Should I kill myself? No-not now. Then a mental fog settled in. Gin would fix that.” This is where Bill W. and I are significantly different: I preferred Vodka.

Here is how it was the night of November 1, 2000 for me: “No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my master.” I found myself, drunk again, on the concrete of the tiny townhouse patio, crying and asking the Celtic Goddess Brigit, that if She were real, if any God were real, then, please, please come and help me. I did not think to ask for help with alcohol, I just asked for help. So why did I call upon a Celtic Goddess for help? How did I pick her? Simple, my Halloween costume had been that of a druid.

In essence I was seriously asking for help, but trying to create conditions that would cause God not to answer. Even though I could not stand and was lying on the cold concrete of the patio, I was too proud to ask for help seriously.

Exactly three months later I was out there again, lying on the cement, freezing, drunk and breaking glass aquariums. I do not remember much of that night at all really, but I guess I had threatened first my wife, then myself with a knife. I woke up that morning not knowing what I had done, only sure that I did not want to drink again. I have not spoken of my marriage much, largely because it is my wife’s as well as my own to speak of and she has not indicated that I am allowed to do that. I will say that on that morning, February 2, 2001, Lori was frightening me, not because she was angry, but because it was clear she no longer cared at all.

I don’t know why I called Alcoholics Anonymous, but I did. I went to my first meeting that night and I have not had a drink since. My release from the obsession to drink did not come that day, but what did happen is that I was given my first tool to use so that I did not HAVE to drink. I was told that I should try to not drink that night and go to a meeting the next day. If I wanted to, if I needed to, I could drink after the meeting, but why not try and stay sober one day? Anyone could stay sober for one day, right? Sure, even I thought I could do it for one day.

I have never quit drinking. I just don’t want to drink today. I think I have been doing this for about 1,300 or so days now. It is kind of a form of magick, how the days add up, just one after another after another. One hour at a time, one day at a time. Now I try to use this tool in all kinds of areas of my life. It turns out that I can do almost anything for one day, including not smoking.

I did what others told me to do, I got a sponsor, and I got a copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to meetings. I did not drink, just for one day. Most importantly, I worked the steps with my sponsor, in order and according to the Big Book. My first time through was a mess, but that was okay. I’m still sober.

God, or an ideal of the Divine, has always been with me. Even at my drunkest I could watch the sun rise and see the day form and feel awe and reverence. The works of man seemed to be dead and divorced from the sacred for me. I have always found God in nature. Nature inspires and humbles me. It always has. I think that I thought I was an atheist, but I had the heart of a believer.

So, when I was told to find a God of my understanding I already knew that God would be a God who loved nature. I have never felt that Christianity or its brother religions, Islam and Judaism were faiths that loved nature. I did not rule out those faiths, I simply did not start there.

It was online that I learned about the ancient Celtic/modern Pagan holiday of Imbolc, to celebrate the quickening, the first signs of spring. Imbolc happened each year on February 1st or 2nd. Accounts varied as to the exact day but I latched on to my sobriety date, February 2nd. The other remarkable thing was that the holiday of Imbolc was also in honor of Brigit, the same Celtic Goddess I had asked for help right after Samhain. Ever since then, I have taken Brigit as my patron deity. She is the Goddess I pray to.

Now I know Brigit is just a metaphor I can understand, a mask of God(dess) if you will. I believe that Goddess comes to each of us in a form we can understand. That is why I do not thing that any religion that has its basis in love is wrong.

Sobriety has been the best time of my life that I can recall. I have again become friends with and fallen in love with my wife. My marriage is not perfect, but it is a space in my life that is filled with love and trust. At the end of my drinking I had essentially never paid a bill in my life (six months rent before moving back in with my parents). Can you imagine, thirty-one years old and never balanced a checkbook or had any responsibility when it comes to money! My wife had taken care of that. She had to—she could not trust me with money. I lied, I stole, I conned, I connived and I did what I wanted and as a result, I could not be trusted with money. Over the years she had given up on me and gradually taken away all financial freedom to protect us from bankruptcy or ruin. I got an allowance.

One day about a year into sobriety my wife told me that she felt I was ready and she handed me the checkbook. For about two months she helped me pay the bills. Then she left me alone to do it. Now, when I say left me alone, I mean she trusted me, she did not look over my shoulder, she did not go into Quicken or hunt through the checkbook to see what I was doing. My wife trusted me.

There are not words to describe the feeling I have about this, it is kind of the ultimate for me. That for me was kind of a symbol of some important things:
1. I was becoming a man, an adult who can accept responsibilities
2. My wife no longer saw me as an invalid needing care, she saw me as a full partner in the marriage.
3. I discovered that I could trust and believe in myself to do what was expected of me.

Since then she has trusted me to purchase our house and now, our new car.

See, this stuff is hard to express, I read the above and it is dry and clinical. I can’t seem to capture the magic of the feeling when she handed me the checkbook and said, “You can do it, and I trust you.” Or what it feels like to hold her hand, smell her hair. That is where my marriage really is, that is the rewards of sobriety, which is what makes life a joy and not a burden.

Good Morning Goddess Brigit, my name is Andy and I am an alcoholic child of Yours. I have been kept sober one day at a time since Imbolc of 2001. This is solely because of the grace you have given to me. I am thankful for this gift. Please be with me today all through the day and help me stay sober all day long. Show me Your will for me and grant me the power to carry that out. Thy will, not mind be done.

Blessed Be!