Lessons in Getting Sober

Rebecca is a dear, dear friend of mine. When we met, we became quick friends. I have never known her to be anything other than supportive, trustworthy, lovable and fun. In my opinion, the questions I asked are somewhat common things to wonder when you are not familiar with alcoholism. Her responses, however, were something I never could have imagined.

Here is a bit of her story.

How did you know you were an alcoholic? (LHE*)


Looking back, I knew I had a problem at the age of 12 when I had my very first drink. It is clear that I never drank like other people. I would get in trouble when I drank.  I lost control.

You drank from the ages of 12 – 33?

Yes. But in that time I managed to go to college. I managed to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I lived in France. I learned another language.

Would you say you were an alcoholic for 21 years? (CB)

I would say that I drank alcoholically for 21 years. Drinking took over my life little by little. For a number of years I still had a pretty full life that drinking was very much a part of.

What would you say to someone that did not know if they were an alcoholic or not?

It is very easy to figure it out.  It boils down to one issue and that is the phenomenon of craving. If you are an alcoholic, once you introduce alcohol  in your system you get this uncontrollable urge to drink more and more and that craving does not stop until you are passed out, blacked out, fucked up or completely sick.

Doesn’t AA have a ‘test’ to determine if you are an alcoholic or not?

Yes, for one week have only two drinks a night. Either two beers or two measured drinks. If you can drinks just those two drinks without wanting more, you are definitely not an alcoholic.

Do you think alcoholism is genetic, environmental, both, neither?

I think there is a heavy genetic component, but I do not have alcoholism in my family. I have a great uncle that is an alcoholic and that is it.  I feel I was born with it.

Was there a time when you and alcohol got along?

No, I would not say so. There were times I have enjoyed it, but most of the time it was pretty morose and depressing and it proceeded to get worse over the years.

What was your drink of choice? (JBH)

At the end, it was straight vodka. I never liked the taste of alcohol much.  I would keep a coffee cup on the counter and fill it half way with vodka, force myself to drink it, wash it down with a beer or wine, reward myself with a cigarette and then do it again. The goal was to get fucked up which became increasingly difficult towards the end.

You couldn’t get drunk anymore because your body had built up a tolerance to alcohol?

At the end all kinds of fucked up things started happening. For one, sometimes I would puke right away. I would take a shot and puke, take a shot and puke. Sometimes I would drink a couple of drinks and be totally fucked up. I hear it is because your liver is so shot. There were other times where I would drink all night and not be able to get drunk — which is the absolute worst. I would just have that itch to get drunk, to get fucked up, that total uncontrollable itch, but I would not be able to get there. It was the worst feeling. It was exhausting. It was work at the end.

But as you are drinking you actually do not want to be?

At the end I hated it. I hated it. It was torture to start drinking. It was just the craving in me. There was no alternative to the craving. The idea of sitting around and not drinking was intolerable to me.

What was intolerable about being sober?

What would I do? It wasn’t just boredom. It was also that I would have to think. The worse it got, the worse it got and the less I wanted to be coherent or in the world for even a minute.

What would happen when you were drunk?

Sometimes I would manage to stay in my apartment. Sometimes, maybe once a week I would drunk dial, drunk IM people. I would drunk dial my boss and say the worst things to her. Sometimes I would go wandering the streets in my negligee and boots.

Did you ever try to stop the drunk dialing or wandering the streets in your negligee?

My way of managing my drinking was that when I got home from work I would take my phone and my computer modem and put them in my car. I would then hide my key from myself and duct tape my front door shut so I couldn’t leave my apartment. If I could have stayed inside, I would probably still be drinking.

What did you think when you woke up from the next morning?

Sometimes I would wake up and realize that I had managed to stay in the house and think, “Oh thank god.” Sometimes I would wake up and see that the duct tape was in shreds and think, “Oh fuck.”

Do you remember what you did while walking the streets in a negligee?

Sometimes I would be dressed normally. I would go up to people hanging outside their houses and be like, [in a drunken voice] “I am lonely. Can I hang out with you?” Sometimes they would say yes because I was a girl and then sometimes they would say, “You have to get out here.” And then I would say [same drunken voice] “Why? Why does everyone leave me??” It was horrible. Horrible.

And the hangovers?

Awful. I would look in the mirror and think, “How did it come to this?” I told everyone at work that I had Chronic Conjunctivitis because I always had red eyes. I would hear voices. Not voices telling me to kill someone or anything like that but I would hear my name or I would hear, “Turn left.”

How the hell did you come up with Chronic Conjunctivitis?

I don’t know. I always considered myself a very honest person but when you drink you get very adept at lying to cover your drinking. I have never met a drunk that is not street smart as hell.

And you held a job during all of this?

Yes. When I drove to work I would still be drunk and then as the day went on I would be really, really hungover and then it would be 5 o’clock and I would go home and start drinking again.

It seems so unlike you.

I do not even know how I got up in the morning and how I was able to go to work. It was all so humiliating and I knew what would happen when I drank and I still could not stop drinking.

Did drinking somehow give you permission to behave this way?

Yes, definitely, especially in the beginning. I am not shy, but at that time I could not imagine making a friend or having sex or whatever without the lubrication of alcohol.

How much would you drink before you blacked out?

At the end, I would drink a 1/5 of Vodka every night, plus a six pack.

How did you try to hide your drinking from your husband?

I used to tell my husband that my bus was coming in at 8 when it was really coming in at 5. I would go to a bar and start drinking. I would tell myself I could drink five beers or for two hours and then I have to go home. But the phenomenon of craving would kick in and I could not go home.

I made up a lot of stories. I had this friend “Amy” that was constantly in crisis. I would call my husband and tell him I wish I was home with him but I had to be with Amy. He would get mad at me and then I would get mad at him for not paying attention to my friend, who did not exist.

Did you drink at home when he was there?

Yes, I would hide bottles all around the house and then in the morning when I was at work he would clear them out. I would just buy more and we never discussed it.

Was there ever a come to Jesus with you, your husband and your drinking?

Eventually he kicked me out, but I wanted to leave. That was the first time in my adult life I had lived with somebody and I did not realize the impact it would have on my drinking. Living with him was like living in a prison. I constantly had to lie, lie, lie and sneak around.  It was exhausting.

How did moving out of your and your husband’s house feel?

I moved out in June. At this point, I just figured that this was my life. I was an alcoholic. I could not stop. I could not stop for one day. I was just surrendering to alcohol. I figured it would be this way until I died which would hopefully be very soon. That is just the way I thought it would be. I called AA in January.

Do you think you would still be married if you had not been drinking?

I do not think I would have gotten married if I had not been drinking because I was not in love with him. I married him so he could save me. I married him because things were so out of control with my drinking. I thought I could get married, have a couple of kids and then I would stop drinking. In the end, I did not get saved. I still wanted to drink.

Why was it hard to admit that you were an alcoholic?

If you admit it, then you have to try and do something about it and I was not going to do that.

Were you afraid of not having alcohol in your life or were you afraid of the process of actually stopping?

Not drinking was not a possibility.  People in AA will tell you that alcohol is a disease that will keep telling you that you do not have the disease.  Alcoholism is a disease and it wants to kill you.

I find all of this very interesting.

You do? I think it is fucking pathetic.

But, it is a disease.

Of course it is who would ever choose this kind of life?

What do you think alcohol gave you?

A chance to get outside of myself. A chance to see the world as it is not. I did not have to be in reality.  With alcohol, I did not have to face myself or face my life.

Do you think this escape from reality is something that you still need? Do you replace alcohol with something else now that you are sober? (NL)

Sure. Running, food, sleeping pills. The spiritual solution is to replace it with God but there are very few people that can snap right into that. I was an Atheist my whole life and that is why I never thought AA would work for me. I thought it was a God program. Before, I thought only stupid people would believe in God.

How does AA define God?

That is such an important question. In the 12 steps it says it over and over, “To turn your will and life over to the care of God as you understand him.” AA uses “him” because it was written in the 30’s. That is just kind of what you have to deal with which is a little annoying at first. It is as you understand him. AA is very, very careful to say this is for all religions or no religion. That is crucial.

Why does AA work?

I do not know why AA works and there is not one alcoholic that can tell you why it works. For some reason there is this program of 12 Steps and it cures alcoholism. Actually, it does not cure alcoholism, but it removes the insatiable desire to drink. It removes the craving. I am not saying that it makes sense. But I got desperate enough to give it a try and it worked.

What did alcohol take away from you?

My dignity, my self respect, my relationships, joy in life.

How did your friends react to your decision to stop drinking? (DP)

I never really had friends. This is the first time in my life that I have had a social circle. I always had the ability to attract people, boyfriends, friends, whatever but within three months the relationship was over.

Did you drink at work?

I wouldn’t drink at work really. But on my 33rd birthday my staff brought in mimosas. I drank three times as much as anyone else, I drank at lunch, and after lunch I made trips to the fridge at work that was full of beer. I would fill up my backpack, carefully carry it back downstairs so people would not hear the bottles clinking and drink under my desk.  My desk had a solid front so no one could see me. I would make coughing noise so people would not here me taking off the tops.

Your staff is in your room and you are drinking under your desk?

Oh yeah. It did not cross my mind that they knew. I thought I was being very subtle.

In the moments of drunkenness, how did you feel? Embarassed? Entitled? Nothing?

I feel intensely ashamed and a lot of self pity. As impossible as it seems, I did not see that I was causing this situation. It is really hard to describe the lack of reality that an alcoholic can live in and how you can convince yourself that everything is everybody else’s fault. It was my husband’s fault for leaving me. It was my work’s fault for not promoting me. I was just very convinced that I was incredibly unlucky.

It is inconceivable to me that you were that way.

That is the best compliment you could give me.

How did the call to AA happen?

It was a Thursday. It was 10 in morning. I just looked up the phone number on the Internet and made the phone call and I have no idea why. I was hungover and felt like shit but I was always hungover and feeling like shit. I still do not know how I made that call. I describe alcoholism as this cavern. When you first go in the cavern you can see light, as you go deeper into it there is less light, fewer cracks in the rocks to let light shine through and then eventually, there is no light. On that day, I saw a light. I was touched by God. That is the only way I can describe how that call was made. The will to do that was not coming from within me; it was coming from outside of me.

Are you saying that anyone that suffers from alcoholism needs to wait to be touched by God to recover?

I am saying that was my experience. Everyone has their own experience.

Was the first meeting terrifying?

No. I had a really good experience. I went the same night I made the call.  I felt hope as soon as I made that phone call. I felt hopeful for the first time in forever.

Have you drank since you made that phone call?

No.

That is pretty unusual.

Yes, that is very unusual. I haven’t drank in two years. There are people that relapse many, many times and from what I hear it is hell. There is a saying in AA that is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA.” It has to be the end of the line when you think there is a solution that works for everyone else but you.

What is hard about going through the steps?

Being honest.

Have you been through all 12 steps?

Yes. Twice.

What do you think was the biggest surprise about going through the 12 steps?

That my entire life did not get fixed. That pissed me off. I thought,”I did all this work and not everything is fixed.”

What does AA promise from completing the 12 steps?

It is detailed in The Big Book, but I would summarize it by saying your life will open up beyond your wildest dreams.

What was the low point? (LHE)

The last year was hell. Absolute hell and the last few years before that were pretty torturous.

Do you worry about having relapses?

No, I don’t worry about it. It is likely that I will.

Why is a relapse likely?

Because most alcoholics do but I shouldn’t say that.

No you shouldn’t. Thoughts become reality don’t say that.

I don’t worry about it because I know I am completely powerless over alcohol. I know that I was completely powerless to stop drinking and when I did stop it came from something outside of me. I am convinced of that. If I did start drinking again I know I am powerless over it. There are things I can do now to keep myself protected and that is working the steps.

Do you think about alcohol all the time? (JK)

There are days that go by that I do not think about it, but I think about it often.

What do you think about when you think about alcohol?

Sometimes I think thank God I am not there anymore. But when I left a party the other night I was talking to my boyfriend and I said, “God I would love to get fucked up for one night. Not to the point where I am begging people to be my friend and taking off my clothes — just fucked up and carefree. Just lose a little inhibition.”  I always wanted to be the cute drunk girl but I was always the obnoxious repulsive one. But then I think, no that is not going to happen in this lifetime.

Did you ever try quitting prior to making that phone call?

Not really. No.

What advice do you have to a friend that drinks about being sensitive to friends that are recovering alcoholics? Do you invite them to happy hour? To parties?

AA is about a spiritual solution. It is about not wanting to drink. It is not about moving to the North Pole and…

Chaining yourself to a reindeer?

Right. Exactly. Alcohol is essentially an allergy. Essentially what it means is that once I put alcohol in my body I have a reaction that you do not have. I have an allergy. The way I explain it is if you were very allergic to peanuts and you would die if you ate a peanut, it would be really weird that you would want to have a peanut. If I was having a party and there was going to be peanuts there I wouldn’t hesitate to invite you because I was serving peanuts. It is the same thing with me and alcohol.

Was it awhile before you go to a bar or be around alcohol?

No. Not at all.

That seems pretty unusual.

I don’t know. My experience was to protect myself right away. God protected me from alcohol and I don’t mean that there is some guy in the sky protecting me but there is spiritual solution protecting me.

Do you go to AA meetings everyday?

No. I go about three times a week. I just go as many times as feels right. The important thing is to stay in touch. Some people just drift away. You get too busy. It can be very dangerous.  I have been sober for two years. That is nothing. I know a guy that was sober for 12 years and he relapsed.

What caused him to relapse after 12 years?

He is an alcoholic.

There was not a trigger or stress that caused him to relapse. It was just one Tuesday afternoon he started to drink again?

That is right.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about alcoholics?

People that are outside of the program say, “That is great. You are so strong. I don’t know how you do that.” It was not strength for me. It was something outside of me. Something outside of me made me make that phone call. It was not me.

Are you in therapy? (SH)

I was. It didn’t help. Everyone looks for a shortcut around doing the 12 steps but there is no shortcut. You just have to do it.

It seems as if when you take away alcohol from your life you would have two things to deal with — not having alcohol in your life and now having to deal with a sober reality. (JP)

The hardest and the best thing to change were my relationships with people. When I was drinking I never had relationships with people — real relationships. When I was drinking there was me and then there was everybody else. Everybody else was like a cardboard cutout to me and I felt they were just there to help me, give me what I needed. It is not how I think of people anymore but that took a long time to change and that is still changing.  I used to think that everything was so boring, predictable and glum. I thought it would be that way until I died and hopefully I would die very soon. Now I realize life is unpredictable and exciting. People surprise me. Friendships are such a joy. It is really amazing. AA is an incredible program. Now I really get to live life.

For more information about Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/

Do you have any additional questions for Rebecca? If so, add them to the comment field and she will respond to you.

*Reflect the initials of the person that was interested in the answer to this question.



One thought on “Lessons in Getting Sober

  1. “I do not know why AA works and there is not one alcoholic that can tell you why it works.”

    ***

    That is so not true. Perhaps you would have been better to interview someone who had it together a little more. AA works because those lucky enough to be restored to making healthy decisions, want to live their lives more productively. Unfortunately, not everyone is restored to a fully functioning degree. Those must work harder. Some development more resentments about their life not turning out like they’d planned. These people return to paths of self-destruction. Alcoholism has a physical component, (cravings) but there’s a mental toughness some develop over time, and some avoid developing. Also, atheists get sober in AA; a fact seldom mentioned. But it works because people decide to stop drinking and try to live a better life, helping others and themselves. I’m very sorry your subject missed the obvious.

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