A Day to Remember

A couple of years I visited Dublin, Ireland and I wanted to incorporate a couple of AA meetings into the trip. I had attended meetings in Malta whilst on holiday so I was in no doubt that they would be available and at that stage in my sobriety I was convinced meetings were necessary if available.

A family member in the Fellowship suggested I attend a particular meeting and I confirmed the time in anticipation of attending. I left half an hour before it was due to start and enjoyed the stroll. When I got there I was greeted by a group of Polish, Latvian and Russian people. I received a warm welcome and after the initial pleasantries I was asked if I spoke Russian?

I understood the meeting to be friendly to Russian speakers but primarily conducted in English. Making assumptions isn’t a good idea but I regularly do it and feel like an idiot afterwards. Today is different, I’m willing to adapt and make the best of a situation whereas in the past this situation alone would’ve provided enough fuel for the alcoholic fire. I sat there with my cup of tea listening to the meeting progress, in Russian. Approximately 20 minutes elapsed when I decided to make a move. I waited patiently for a pause, stood up promptly and approached the Chair. “Thanks for the meeting, I’m leaving now”, and with that I departed feeling slightly perturbed but honoured to have been there amongst a community within the Fellowship. I subsequently found out that once a month that particular premises hosts the only Russian speaking meeting in the city. My Higher Power works in truly mysterious ways.

When I got back to the hotel I was determined to attend a meeting that I could fully participate in. I found a ‘live and let live’ meeting that was about a half hour walking distance away. I’d be able to have lunch and hopefully avoid the crowds in town. The Holy Father, Pope Francis was visiting and good old Catholic Ireland was experiencing change. Protest marches were gathering to demonstrate against historical abuse and the reports on the television detailing official event proceedings to hear the Pope speak were juxtaposed with what I was witnessing outside on the street. Placards, speeches and a simmering sense of injustice buzzed in the summer breeze.

My priority was to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I left in good time and walked in the opposite direction towards the meeting. I saw the huge rainbow flag gracefully wafting in the sultry breeze and thought nothing of it. I was familiar with it representing the gay community and assumed per haps this area was part of the gay quarter. Assumptions are no friend of mine, but alas, I am prepared to adapt and learn from new experiences so I continued into the building and continued up the stairs to the room where the meeting was being held. I was the first person to arrive and as such I struck up a conversation with the Chair. As a visitor I was asked to do the main share, reluctantly I accepted. The fear of public speaking is something I try to confront but mostly I avoid it and then feel guilty. I sat there trying to remember my own name, telling myself to share my experience, then strength, followed by hope for my fellows and our future. The attendees were then asked to welcome me to the LBGT meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and I knew right then that my Higher Power was guiding me to new experiences of discovery and diversity.

The walk home was exhilarating. I had met people from the Russia, Poland and Latvia and despite the language barrier I was given a most hospitable welcome. I had received the same reception from the LBGT community. My share was listened to intently and my sobriety was secured through carefully considered responses filled with compassion and a dedication, I see at all meetings, to ensure our fellows get well and free themselves from the grip of alcoholism. The backdrop of politics, religion and civil unrest made the whole day one to remember. A day to cherish because it highlighted liberty and freedom to commune and converse. Wherever I go in the world I know AA will give me an opportunity to be of service, therefore ridding myself of selfish motives. I can experience unity at meetings through fellowship and ensure my continued recovery by practicing the principles of the Twelve Step Program .

Wretched

wretched/ˈrɛtʃɪd/adjective

  1. (of a person) in a very unhappy or unfortunate state.

I chose this word deliberately when naming my blog because it encapsulates the way I always felt emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. The hole in the soul, the fear, the unworthiness that could only be appeased and enticed by alcohol.

I was told two things early on in my sobriety; 1) I didn’t have to drink anymore and 2) I chose how happy I wanted to be. I met both statements with the utter most contempt and arrogance you would expect from an alcoholic newly arrived from the cut-throat wilderness of ‘the madness’.

An alcoholic of the variety described in the Big Book has to drink. The predilection, whether it be genetic or behavioural has crossed the physical dependence boundary. The obsessive urge to pursue oblivion is the ultimate goal and the alcoholic knows the stark choice has now developed. The progressive disease of alcoholism has developed from an obsession of the mind to physical dependence. I always said ‘I didn’t do hangovers’ and the reason being was when I started drinking I couldn’t stop. The phenomenon of craving had me in a vice like grip. The one constant feature is that the alcoholic has been ill since the notion was conceived to drink. Therefore, being told I didn’t have to drink anymore was akin to the absurdity of being informed I needn’t bother breathing, as I could absorb the air through osmosis. To say I had a resentment towards the old timer would be an understatement. However, I had an underlying respect for the man as it was clearly evident these were words of wisdom I wasn’t ready to comprehend fully. Learning from the Fellowship at AA meetings and working the Program gave me the insight, dignity and preparedness to understand I didn’t have to drink again and that was a joyous notion as opposed to the dread of compulsive drinking.

I was baffled by the concept of deciding to be happy. I was convinced that happiness was something that happened to you as a result of external forces. My self esteem and ego were poles apart. Egocentric alcoholism had devoured my self esteem to the extent it hardly existed. How could I dare to be happy? I’m like a pig in shit when it comes to wallowing in despair. I know self loathing, pity, procrastination, depression and anguish, They’re my accomplices, my allies, my team, before the Fellowship of men and women in AA and a higher power of my understanding came into my life to expel them. Marianne Williamson wrote; ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.’ I believe this is what was being communicated to me when I was told I chose how happy i wanted to be. I was so deflated, ravaged by years of alcohol abuse and barely no self analysis, an urban barbarian of sorts, that I couldn’t even anticipate taking that step towards serenity.

They say ‘keep coming back’ at meetings. If I had not gone back to meetings after relapsing, or delaying by conjuring up excuses, I wouldn’t have learned the wisdom of the two lessons I’ve just described. So if you’re wondering whether to go back, heed the words ‘Keep coming back’!

I always had this inkling that my drinking would bring misery and an untimely demise – be that insanity, incarceration or death. The undercurrent of fear coursing through my being, hypersensitive anguish leading to inebriated cruelty. A friend said to me recently that they perceived me as a person struggling with alcoholism rather than an alcoholic. My response was reflective and considerate of what recovery from alcoholism really means to me. In an ironic twist, alcoholism has led me to a program developed by other alcoholics that enables me to live life on life’s terms. I can answer a phone when it rings instead of being filled with the terror of the what if’s. I can keep it simple and hand over whatever is troubling me to a Higher Power of my understanding, asking for the willingness to believe I’m living the way I’m supposed to. I was conditioned by the progressive nature of the fear based dis-ease and then tempered by the Program like steel cooling after being hammered back into shape to become purposeful.

Wobble – The Threat of Relapse

After 3 years in recovery from alcoholism I am convinced the obsession of the mind has left me. I no longer strategise about the purchasing, logistics and consumption of alcohol. I remind myself every day that I still have an allergy to alcohol. If I ingest it the phenomenon of craving will be the catalyst for opening the gates of hell. An inferno of anguish and turmoil will engulf my life leaving ash and ruin in the aftermath.

The ‘ism’ associated with alcohol can be considered as an acronym for I, Self & Me. An excellent way of affirming the selfish nature of the disease. Selfishness is a driving force for Alcoholics. Me, me, me totally obsessed with where, how and when drinking can commence. Today I can still be self centered but it tends to manifest in more insidious ways.

This is the point in my sobriety that can feel like hitting a brick wall at speed. Depression that ways heavy, seeping into a vortex of guilt and regret regarding the past and a morbid fear of the not only the future, but the immediate present too. I suppose I just described existential fear and crisis and I remind myself that recounting my experience is reason for hope because it’s proof I came through it. Grow through what you go through.

The wobble came after a prolonged period of procrastination. Granted, the last few months have been unprecedented in there being a complete lock down of most nations across the globe. Working from home, performing administrative tasks and functioning without attending meetings has created a kind of fragile sense of security. Basically I’ve been white-knuckling and doing the very basics i.e. daily readings, the odd text to my sponsor and dipping into an international online 24 hour zoom AA meeting once in a while.

Sat at the desk looking at the laptop I zoned out imagining what it would be like to drink. I’m aware this is the dis-ease of alcoholism manipulating current events in my mind to create an environment for relapse. My thoughts advanced further to the inevitable distraught reactions to my potential behaviour. The pleading for me to stop, the disappointment in their eyes, the nihilism erupting like a mute mushroom cloud that will eventually rain acrid tears of waste and humiliation. I felt full of anxiety, then dread galloped through which weirdly brought some relief as I was repulsed by what I had envisaged. I began to weep a little, a cleansing emotional response to what I once enjoyed immeasurably now being abhorrent. Sadness and relief made me feel isolated and vulnerable.

In the past I wouldn’t have been capable of processing my emotions and a drinking episode would’ve been imminent. The following day I wondered if it was the alcoholic disease, or the emotional response to the severe consequences of drinking, that is the root cause of all this suffering? Nature, nurture, chicken or the egg? I reckon it doesn’t matter. The important thing is how we, as alcoholics, prepare for these testing times. I have a toolbox with a selection of tools I can utilise to accomplish a task. They include, meetings to go to so I am interacting with like minded people and receiving positive feedback through fellowship. I have a sponsor to contact for guidance, advice, empathetic understanding. I have an array of literature at my fingertips containing decades of applicable experience, strength and hope for alcoholics. I have conscious contact with a higher power of my own understanding. I can afford to lower my defenses enough to use these tools to build lasting recovery on a foundation of abstinence and sobriety.

I would like to make my blog something substantial for alcoholics to relate to and draw hope from. You’re investing by taking the time to read this and hopefully you’re absorbing coping skills for the future by relating to my experiences. I was recently asked what my dream was and what I want next? My response was filled with a lot of ‘wants’ that I later replaced with ‘haves’ because alcoholics have to nurture gratitude so we can minimise and neutralise jealousy, envy, resentment and forms of fear;

I want a healthy family, I want financial security, I want fulfilling hobbies, I want to believe we have a soul and can make conscious contact with God before we die so death isn’t scary, I want to be still and not have to worry about all these things and I want to learn how to be balanced and useful in the world and be worthy. What I’ve learnt in recovery is that I’m here for a purpose. That purpose in simple terms is to do for others as I would like to be treated. Out of everything spiritual prophets have said, this is essentially the reason why we are here. Life is sacred and precious and it’s simple. AA says ‘keep it simple’ and when we do, life is ok, it’s not overwhelming, I can even decide to be happy if I want to!