The very last plan I wanted to use to solve my drinking problem was to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. I mean, really… I couldn’t have sunk that low. I wasn’t as bad as my brother who ended up in a treatment center, or my uncle who committed suicide at the age of forty.
It didn’t matter that I woke up every morning hating myself for drinking the night before, and that every night I’d pour out anything left in the bottle because I wasn’t going to drink again. Of course, then I had to stop on the way home from work the next day to buy more, with my very limited income.
I was forty-seven, divorced with three teenagers, when I reached the end of my long, torturous road to sobriety. I’d managed to keep us all clothed and fed, but I was not a responsible mother. That is still my biggest regret.
Several years before I joined AA, I’d been to a meeting with my brother, right after he got out of treatment. When the chairperson asked visitors to raise their hands, we both did, but I was careful to make it clear that he was the alcoholic; I was just there to support him.
Some years later, when the time finally came for me to go to a meeting for myself, I went back to that same place – and they were still holding meetings there! I clearly remember how hard it was to force myself to push open that incredibly heavy door and walk into that enormous room of strangers milling around. I went straight to the back row of chairs and sat down, speaking to no one. When the chairperson asked if anyone was there for their first meeting, I looked at the floor and kept my hands firmly gripped on my purse. No way was I going to call attention to myself. The minute the meeting closed, I was out the door and on my way home.
I decided to go to back later that week, but as I drove into the parking lot, I saw two of my neighbors pulling up on their bikes before going inside. Naturally, I kept on going, trying to look as if I’d innocently turned in there by mistake. It was three years before I was ready to try it again… three more years of hating myself and being a lousy mother to my children.
I finally returned on a Saturday night, after dropping my son off in Orlando to see relatives. We visited and took some pictures before I raced back for the AA meeting. Again, I didn’t raise my hand when they asked for newcomers. After all, I reasoned, it wasn’t my first meeting now, was it? Tied in knots, I sat through both speakers’ stories, not hearing a word they said, just thinking they’d never finish. When they finally asked if anyone wanted a white chip, I took a deep breath, braced myself against the ten-foot thick, steel-and-concrete wall of resistance I’d been hiding behind for a quarter of a century, and picked up that chip. Today it resides in my jewelry box on my dresser, and because of the photos we took in Orlando, I know what blouse I was wearing on that momentous day and I still wear it every year when I pick up my medallion.
That night was my turning point. When I left the meeting, it was as if gravity had shifted. I felt lighter, I could breathe, and my view of myself started changing from that of a coward, hiding from and denying problems, to a woman who was ready to learn to take responsibility for her past behavior and, basically, at the age of forty-seven, to start acting like a grownup.
I believe one of the reasons AA has worked for me, and for others all over the world, is the program’s ability to accept people from a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs, and attitudes, and the fact that it gives suggestions, not rules. After twenty-six years in the program, I still attend two meetings every week. I have a sponsor, and I sponsor other women. I try my best to do what I believe is the right thing and let go of the outcome of every situation (even though I don’t always manage to pull that off). For me, this also means recognizing that the only thing I have any control over is myself.
I drank because I thought somehow it would make me feel whole. But the only way I was able to really feel whole, was to stop drinking.
Coming to AA was the hardest and the most responsible thing I’ve ever done in my life.