My name’s Charlie and I’m an alcoholic. That’s probably the most important sentence I’ll say in my life. The first time I said it I was shaking. Now I say it so regularly it’s almost easy to be complacent about the concrete fact that, right now, I should be drunk or dead. That I’m sitting here sober (and happy!) writing this, is nothing short of a miracle.
I started drinking young, and I loved it. Alcohol was the fear-killer for me. For just a little while the volume on all that self-centred fear got turned down and I felt like I was enough, or I felt numb enough to not care. It was fun, I loved gettin’ off my nut. But by the time I was 16 I was often talking about new ways to control my drinking. I knew I didn’t drink like normal people but I had no idea what alcoholism was. I definitely have the “phenomenon of craving”- once I start drinking I can’t stop. I just seem to be mad greedy for another one, and baffled by how slowly everyone else drinks. Why bother swirling and sipping and leaving glasses with a bit still left in?
I was so ashamed of how greedy I am for more booze, by the stuff I did in blackout, by my lack of control. The consequences of my drinking were getting worse, and I drank alone a lot. I could stop drinking, I stopped a thousand times, my problem was staying stopped. I felt so uncomfortable when sober that I needed to drink. That “spiritual malady” is really loud for me; ‘itchy’ was my word for it. Itchy in my body, my skin didn’t fit, obsessed with what I thought you thought about me, always trying to prove to you that I am enough, paranoid and tired and angry and scared. I couldn’t bear that itchy feeling for too long. The “mental obsession” was always there; I was either drinking or thinking about drinking. Eventually I’d talk myself into thinking this time it would be fine to just have a couple of drinks. White wine, classy people drink that, I’ll be fine. I’ll leave my money at home. I’ll go out with those sensible people. It’s Tuesday, no one gets drunk on a Tuesday, right?!
By chance, I was working with a lad who was sober. He spotted the “spiritual malady” in me. I had so much to be grateful for at that time in my life but I couldn’t see any of it. I was desperately lonely, always angry and hungover. He spoke to me about his drinking and I identified. He spoke about his fear in a way I’d never heard anyone talk about fear. Alcohol was my fear-killer, I knew I needed an alternative if I was going to stay sober. He very gently spoke to me about AA, made it all seem so simple and casual, not a big deal.
I went to a meeting to prove to him, and myself, that I didn’t need to be there. But I was painfully aware that I desperately wanted to drink the whole way through the meeting, and even I could see that was maybe a problem. I didn’t get a sponsor, didn’t work the steps, googled alcoholism, drank green juice, and thought I’d cracked it.
I drank again and came back to AA broken and terrified. I worked the steps as outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous with a sponsor that scared me, I think to prove to you all that they wouldn’t work for me. Aged 24 years old my two biggest fears were; do I have to become a nun? and am I going to be boring now that I’m sober? My sponsor laughed and though I now understand why, I certainly didn’t find it funny at the time.
I was taught that AA is a program of action, my sponsor wasn’t particularly interested in my thoughts or feelings, just the practical actions I’d taken that day. I started praying and it slowly gave me comfort. I started doing service for others and it slowly raised my self-esteem. I started doing step work and it slowly removed the desire to drink.
But that barely scratches the surface of what’s on offer in AA; the healing that’s available by working the steps is in my experience unbelievable. In step 4 I learnt what my life looks like when I try to live it fuelled by self-centred-fear. My sponsor spoke about god-centred-love and it sounded very attractive. I was met with surprising empathy in step 5. I was taught how to actually grow and change in steps 6&7. I cleaned up my mess in step 8&9, making amends I swore I’d never make. I learnt how to live as a clear channel for god's love by practicing rigorous steps 10, 11 and 12. It's my understanding that a loving god keeps me sober, but I have to do a lot of daily footwork to remind myself I'm not god! Living in step three requires daily attention, and of course the freedom is worth the effort.
I’ve been sober now, by the grace of god, for six and a half years. Which is a really long time to have not had a drink! But it’s not a very long time to have been practicing this stuff and I’ve still got lots to learn. My relationships have got much healthier, my finances are calmer, my career is kicking off. All the external things are looking lovely, but the real change has been internal. I used to hate myself and today I like being me. I’m happy and useful to others, most of the time. I’m excited and inspired by life.
I feel held and nurtured by the fellowship. AA is like this beautiful scaffolding that keeps me upright. I’m not afraid to admit I need that support. The unity spoken about in the traditions is vital, it’s a ‘we’ program, I can’t do this alone. I love being sober, it’s a privilege that’s not lost on me.
One day at a time I’m mad grateful to be in AA.