Wednesday, December 12, 2012
My Name is Rick...and I'm an Alcoholic
I was four months shy of my twenty-first birthday when I first said those words out loud. It was a small meeting in Oakwood, and I was less than twenty-four hours from my last drink. In fact, I was still shaking from the blackout I had the night before. I had awaken that morning about five miles from home in a motel room. I didn't have my car, my shoes were nowhere to be found and I was in bed with a man and woman I didn't know. I sneaked out of the motel room before the others woke up and grabbed a pair of house slippers that were on the floor. As I walked home that cold January morning, I tried to piece together the events of the night before, but nothing came. It was my worst fear-- a complete blackout.
I had no idea what to expect in that first AA meeting. I thought I'd find a bunch of smelly old guys in trench coats. I was surprised to find about half of those in attendance were only a few years older than me, and they were also gay. They were good looking and their faces held some kind of serenity I hadn't known. I wanted desperately what they had. That was January 6, 1986.
I quickly fit in with the recovering alcoholics I surrounded myself with, while continuing to go to bars and working as a waiter and bartender. Some of the oldtimers warned me I'd never stay sober that way. But I did... for over a year. One weekend I slipped, and curiously enough, so did my sponsor. We both got back to meetings and began our sobriety over again. It was a rocky couple of months of in and out, but then on August 1, 1988 I began what was to become twelve years of sobriety.
Twelve years without so much as a drop to drink. I went to meetings. I hung out with sober friends. I stopped hanging out in the bars as much and started living a productive life. I was amazed at how much time and energy I had by not drinking.
Growing up I was always around alcohol and I want to be clear here that I don't blame anyone for my drinking problems, but it was very easy for me to drink. It started when I was thirteen and continued through my teen years. I had always been everyone else's caretaker when they drank too much until someone wisely, or no so wisely, suggested I don't worry about others and I have a good time. Alcohol became my refuge. My escape. My excuse not to take care of others. That need to take care of others came back after I got sober, but that's a whole other blog entry for a later day.
After twelve years and having my shit together for a while, I began to wonder if I really was an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous calls this thinking cunning, baffling and powerful. After all, I was a completely different person, right? So after much thought I did what the Big Book of AA suggests to those who think they may not be alcoholics. I decided to try some controlled drinking. I had a beer. Then three weeks later, I had another beer. Two months later I had a cosmopolitan. Nothing happened. I didn't get drunk. My life didn't spiral out of control.
For someone who had been sober and studying the text of Alcoholics Anonymous for over a decade, this fucked me up. I didn't know what to think of my ability to control my drinking. It went against everything I had known. I certainly couldn't tell my friends in AA. They would say I was in denial. Eventually I learned why I was able to stop at one or two beers. It's because I had a choice. Before AA I didn't know how to live sober. I didn't know what people who didn't drink could possibly do for fun. How did they deal with life? Once I had a taste of sobriety I actually preferred it.
Twelve years after picking up that first beer again, and I still prefer living a sober life. Don't get me wrong. I do love an occasional beer, glass of wine or cocktail. And sometimes I've had one or two more than I should have, but it's not my life now. My life is waking up clear headed in the morning. My life is not blacking out and coming home with an empty wallet. My life is mine. I'm not just along for the ride while my dark passenger sits in the driver's seat.
I will always be grateful for those men and women in Alcoholics Anonymous. They saved my life. I would not have lasted much longer in the life I was living. Thoughts of suicide were always hanging over me every time I drank. My dark passenger was winning. I put myself in situations in which I never should have survived. Robbed. Beaten. Raped. But somehow I came out the other side.
Although my life is good now and I'm far away from that person I used to be, I don't delude myself into thinking it could never happen again. It's part of me and as long I don't forget how lucky I am, I think I'll be okay.
One day at a time.