It has been a while since I blogged. Between going to college, AA meetings and some new part time contract work, my life has not been my own. I hardly recognise my life right now. I have been sober for 57 days and my life has definitely taken on a new direction. Funnily enough, it isn’t probably the direction I imagined. Well, the truth is that whilst I was drinking, I wasn’t imagining anything other than whether or not I had enough wine to satisfy the amount I needed to drink. Yes, my life is different now.
The first thing I am noticing is that I have a clarity of mind now. This is not to say that I know exactly what I want out of life yet. What I mean by clarity is that I am starting to remember things that are dead give aways that drinking was indeed a problem for me. Things that in my inebriated state, I had pushed back to the recesses of my mind because I didn’t want to remember, I didn’t want to face the truth.
In AA, they often talk about identifying rather than looking for the differences, which is what a lot of AAs mostly do when they first enter the rooms of AA. I was no different. That first day, I was praying that the stories I would hear would confirm that I in fact was not an alcoholic, that it was just the endless stream of crap circumstances that had made me turn to wine in such a vehement fashion, and that once they were out of the way, I would return to being a ‘social’ drinker. It is laughable now, but that is what I truly wanted to believe.
Of course, as each person shared their story on that first day, I could not escape the truth. I could not escape that there were many more similarities and not enough differences. I was indeed an alcoholic and my life had become unmanageable. However, over the following few weeks, whilst still in the fog of unfolding sobriety, I did manage to convince myself that my drinking was not that bad. I heard how people had blackouts and thought to myself, ‘I’ve never had that’. I heard how people stashed their drink here, there and everywhere, to make sure they always had stuff around, and again, I thought, ‘that isn’t me”. Of course, what I was doing is still trying to find the differences, perhaps setting myself up for the inevitable relapse because I still wanted to believe that I wasn’t really an alcoholic.
When I first came to AA, I was told that all I needed to do is to not drink a day at a time, don’t pick up the first drink because then you cannot get drunk, and to just keep coming back to AA. Thank god, I have taken that advice. In the last couple of weeks, I have had flashbacks of just how bad my drinking had become. I would be driving along, thinking about nothing in particular when I would suddenly remember an incident that would remind me and prove to me that I am where I am supposed to be. These ‘memories’ are coming thick and fast at the moment, and although a little confronting (well, actually severely confronting at times), I know that they are a necessary part of recovery.
One such ‘memory’ came recently when I was sharing from the floor of AA. I had not really thought about my ‘drinking story’ as such and when I was asked to share, I decided to talk about my drinking story. “I took my first drink when I was 14,” I began. As I started to share my story, I heard myself say the words, “I didn’t suffer from blackouts.” I then paused momentarily. Suddenly a memory came rushing back to me. “Actually”, I said, “isn’t it funny how alcohol robs us of our memories, because, actually, I did have blackouts.” At that moment, a memory had come flying into my mind and I felt compelled to share it. I then told the story of when, only five years ago, I was at my sister’s wedding. I had travelled from England to South Africa for the wedding and it was a beautiful affair (lots of alcohol, as you do!!). I met my brother-in-law’s family and friends, all of whom were lovely people. My sister and her husband shared mutual friends too and it was good to catch up with the few that I knew. I was having a lovely evening.
Toward the end of the evening, a guy I had been talking to off and on came up to me and started chatting to me again. He then looked at me, and said, “You really don’t remember me do you?” Innocently, I said I didn’t and tried to imagine where we had met when I lived in South Africa. He then went on to tell me how I had been at a bar in my home town, where he also lived, totally drunk out of my mind, on my own. He said that he could see that I was in no fit state to drive (which is what I intended to do – another thing I told people I never did), so he started chatting to me and offered to take me home. I agreed and I assume that I must have passed out in his car, because he said that he took me inside, put me into bed and left. I shudder to think what could have happened and to be honest, it may well have happened, but he failed to mention it, and I am praying that isn’t the case. I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of this event at all. I have no recollection of meeting this person, of talking to him and certainly none of letting him into my home and putting me into bed. It was a horrible, horrible moment and for the rest of the evening, I did my best to avoid him. I had totally forgotten that evening. I had blocked out the blackout, if you will. It came flooding back to remind me yet again, that yes, indeed, I did have blackouts and was on the path to total self destruction.
In the past few weeks, I have had many moments like that, many clear memories of when my drinking was way beyond ‘social’ and I have been grateful for them. They are daily reminders to me that I cannot get complacent, that I cannot allow myself to fool myself that I am not ‘as bad’ as the other people in the rooms. It doesn’t matter if I am not ‘as bad’, it was bad enough for me. The joy about AA is that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking and thank God I got that desire 8 weeks ago whilst my life was relatively still in tact.
It is actually quite funny how delusional we can become about our drinking. I have not told many people about my alcoholism. Initially that was because I was ashamed, but now it is more because I don’t feel the need to shout it out from the tree tops. I am on a journey of discovery and I want to keep it personal for now. However, when I have mentioned it to the very few people who are close to me, I have been totally surprised and taken aback when they don’t seem at all surprised or shocked. I had seriously not imagined my drinking to be ‘that bad’. Although it was not working for me and that I had considered my life to be unmanageable, I truly thought my friends would be shocked to find out that I considered myself to be an alcoholic. When they reacted with little or no surprise at all, I was quite annoyed. I look back now and realise that I wanted some sort of accolade for my sobriety. I had a picture in my mind of how the event would unfold:
I would tell them in hushed tones that I had something to tell them – they would lean in, and I would mention that I was an alcoholic and that I had been going to AA. They would look shocked and say, “No”. That disbelieving, incredulous ‘No’ you see in the movies, you know the one I mean. I would then look down, nod, and say, “Yes, it’s true.” They would then look at me all doe-eyed, realising the honour I had bestowed upon them for telling them such a massive thing and they would then tell me that they had never known, that I hidden it so well. They would then ask how was I coping and tell me that they are so proud of me. I would then walk away, leaving them still shaking their heads in disbelief, me basking in my own glory.
It never happened that way. I would do the hushed toned “I have something to tell you”, and they would lean in, then I would tell them and they would look at me as if to say “Is that it? Tell me something I didn’t know”. I have tried this only three times, but each time the reaction has been exactly the same. It has annoyed the crap out of me, but I have had to succumb to the fact that my drinking was not hidden at all, that in fact it was as transparent as daylight, and that people did indeed notice. I still don’t like to think that my alcoholism was that evident to everyone around me. But life is certainly adept at sending us messages to clarify certain things and in the cold light of sobriety (which is warming up a bit now), those messages come through loud and clear.
Being sober is a humbling experience for me. I am learning every day, with increased clarity, to face up to how bad my drinking had become. It is true that I hadn’t got to the point of losing my family or my home, but I had certainly lost my dignity and not only my sense of self worth, but my entire sense of self. Facing up to the memories, such as that guy at the wedding, is a gift because it enables me to remind myself of where I have come from and to reaffirm where I am going. It enables me to look at it for what it is – a moment of total insanity – and put it behind me, because, one day at a time, I am paving a new path for myself, one that won’t be filled with shameful memories that come as flashbacks as if to haunt me, but a path that will be filled with memories that are good and wonderful, that in years to come I will look back on with pride. That is what sobriety is giving me and it is something for which I am truly grateful.