Part Three: Why I Write about my Alcoholism.

I have been writing today’s post on and off again for the last week. It has been very difficult. I think the reason is that I am walking a fine line of between explanation and justification. I keep slipping into a defensive tone, like I am on guard against possible recriminations. So, with a deep breath, I am going to start over.

Today’s writing is the third in a series of posts. If you are just joining the conversation, you might want to look to the right hand side of the screen. It should show Post One, “How I became an Alcoholic” and Post Two, “What it’s like Now.” They will explain my backstory and my motivation for writing this little series.

So, this third part addresses the final question: Why I write so publicly about my alcoholism.

Let me start off by saying that I truly enjoy writing. I have always enjoyed voicing my thoughts on paper. In fact, I think I write more coherently than I speak. In my mind, my words are clean and precise, but when I speak, they come out in a jumble. When I get the chance to write, edit, rephrase, and yes, start over when I begin to sound defensive, I feel a lot calmer.

AA teaches me to be honest today. And I honestly do not care about if anyone knows I am a recovering alcoholic. Additionally, I am not supposed to live in fear. The only reason I could come up with for not proclaiming my alcoholism is fear of what other alcoholics would say. “What? Oh no!” you say. “Other alcoholics? You meant Normies.” No, no I did not. I’ve run that one over and over again in my own head. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I have never had anyone condemned my recovery to my face. Usually, people are quite nice and supportive. Maybe a little shocked, but encouraging none-the-less. Alcoholics, though, man, we can be ruthless. Alcoholics, by and large, are generally really intelligent people and we are not afraid to pass judgment and speak our minds. We are kinda a scary organization, to be quite honest. Thank gosh our main objective is staying sober and not world domination.

Okay, here are the main reasons I get for not proclaiming myself an alcoholic. 1) The second A of AA. Anonymity. I think it is a sticky widget. According to the preface of the Big Book, the reason for anonymity is simple. “It is important to stay anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication.” The amount of personal appeals I have received is zero. And I have plenty of time. 2) The Eleventh and Twelfth Traditions. Okay, you may have me here. I’ve read them a few times, and yet, I am still not clear on the ideas. But I know I am not promoting. I’ve said time and again, I speak for no one other than myself. 3) The idea that if an alcoholic is public and then relapses, the public will assume AA as an organization, and not the individual, is somehow to blame. I’ve never really gotten this argument either. Alcoholism and drug addiction are so life consuming that for a person to stop for even a week or a month is a huge accomplishment. To disregard this clean time as a blanket failure of AA is near sighted at best. Besides, I have never actually heard this said by a single Normie ever. It is always said to me by an AA speaking on behalf of society. Has anyone ever actually heard the news condemn AA when a celebrity has failed to maintain sobriety? I should YouTube it.

So, why I write about my alcoholism… (I cringe a little as I write this because I fear that some might find me morally grandstanding. That is not the case at all. I am a flawed individual. I own every part of that.) I think that publically proclaiming my alcoholism is the morally right thing to do. That’s it. I write about my alcoholism because I think I should. Pure and simple.

“Alcoholic” is a very heavy label. Because alcoholism and drug addiction is so stigmatized in modern society (especially for women), most people keep their anonymity for fear of societal backlash. In fact, just today I had lunch with a friend who told me she is worried that if her boss knew she was an alcoholic, the boss would use that information against my friend. I absolutely get that. Not for a second do I judge my friend for her decision to maintain anonymity.

My personal feeling, though, regarding just me, is that if I truly believe that my alcoholism is genetically predisposed, which I do, then I should be no more ashamed or embarrassed by my disease than I am of my hair color or my skin tone. I am not responsible for my disease. With that said, I am 100% responsible for my recovery, what I do with my disease once I am diagnosed. If I choose to disregard my alcoholism and indulge in my obsession, I will no doubt commit ludicrous and outrageous acts, cut myself off from those who love me, lie, cheat, and steal. Then, I should absolutely be ashamed of my actions. But stopping, asking for help, living by a moral code and a set of principles, and proclaiming a belief in something holier and deeper than the material is not, nor should it be, shameful. The reality is, I do not think it is embarrassing that I am a recovered alcoholic. The embarrassing part is if I had never stopped.

I belong to a small minority that feels that by clinging to anonymity, we alcoholics help perpetuate the stigma of an alcoholic rather than the creating a new discourse about recovery. I remember a person saying in a meeting once, “I didn’t care about my anonymity when I was out there drinking.” That’s the language I understand. I have the luxury to be in a situation where I can proclaim my alcoholism, but even if I couldn’t, I probably still would. I think it is important. I write because I think I should. If I treat my disease as a source of embarrassment and shame, why in the world would I be surprised when others do the same?

 

 

 

 

What its like Now: The Miracle Part

If you want a free bookmark, email me at agkroger@gmial.com

If you want a free bookmark, email me at agkroger@gmail.com.

So, here we are again. Sunday night.

Here is the story: Last week, I told three of my very favorite people about my blog. At the time I told them, I had the opportunity to explain my alcoholism and why I was discussing it in such a public forum, but I chickened out. I failed. The timing was awkward. I was a little uncomfortable. Friday’s post, “How I Became an Alcoholic” was meant to rectify some of this error. Today’s blog was supposed to address the second question, “Why do I write so publically about my alcoholism.” After I wrote it though, I realized there was a problem. In AA, we often talk about what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. I did the first two, but never did the third. So, my two part series is now three parts. Tonight, I address “What it is like now.”

 

My early days of sobriety were really tough. I had quit my job. My family was disappointed in me. I was scared and alone.

At first I sat in the back row of the AA club and just listened. I honestly and truly did not think AA would work. How could it? In its base form, AA is a room full of people, some steps on a wall, and a lot of talk about God. I didn’t believe in God, so that, I knew, was going to be a total disconnect. I just remember thinking, “I am so fucked.” And then one day, I remember an older gentleman, Paul, coming up to me and asking, “Where do you go in the afternoons?”

“I go home,” I said.

And he replied, “Stay here. It’s safer.” Somehow in my heart, I knew he was right. I was safer inside the confines of AA.

I was terrified of living alone and I was about to lose my apartment. One afternoon, at the 3:15 meeting, a beautiful fairy princess named Paula told me about a magical place where newly sober people could go to live. It was called a halfway house. I immediately moved in. About a month after that, a guy at the club said he needed someone to work for him at a little bakery. I immediately took the job. And that was more or less my first year of sobriety. Meetings, bakery, halfway house.

AA is comprised up of “Twelve Steps” that one is supposed to do in order to connect to a higher power (or God). Additionally, the steps help one to get to the root causes of why one drinks and help us to clean up the mess we have all made of our lives. We also have a “Sponsor” that guides us through these steps. It took me a very long time to work the steps. I didn’t get a real sponsor. I asked a friend, a girl who I could manipulate, to be my sponsor. She didn’t know what she was doing, and I knew she didn’t know what she was doing. But I thought I knew what I was doing, so I did it. I was wrong. After some really poor behavior and acting out, I decided to get a real sponsor. And I worked through all the steps. I tell other people to not live by my example. Yes, I remained sober by the tippy tops of my fingernails, but it was not an enjoyable way to live. AA has a saying about being “Happy, joyous, and free.” I believe that is attainable for even the most anxiety ridden, fearful, angry, rotten, mischievous, stubborn, and depressed of us. But it takes a little bit of faith and a whole lot of working the steps.

I think the question Normies ask the most is, “When do you get to stop going to meetings?” I love that normal people think nothing could possibly be more painful that sitting in a room of sober drunks while they complain about not being able to drink. Gosh, I agree, what a nightmare. The reality is, AA is a surprisingly funny and ridiculous place. Alcoholics tend to be shockingly intelligent. They have often lived interesting lives filled with amazing stories, both incredible and tragic. But what’s more, what I love about AA, is that at any given time, a roomful of people are saying, “Just for today, I am going to try to be a better person than the person I was yesterday.” Many days, we fail. But someday, well, it is nothing short of awesome.

The city of Houston has roughly 2,000 AA meetings a week. Think about that for a second. It’s an astonishing number. 2,000. If every meeting had 10 people, that’s 20,000 people. 20,000 people who are trying to live a life of purpose. 20,000 people who are trying to help another 20,000 people get sober. 20,000 who believe that there are things and ideas that are of greater importance than any one of us.

Why would I ever want to stop attending that? That’s the best part of my day. That’s the miracle part.

 

Friday: Part Three. Why I speak so publicly.

Fear does not get to Win

The Fear Problem

Fear… “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it,” (Big Book 67).

There lives, deep within my chest, a small black tarball of fear. I can feel it. It exists, not where my heart is, but where a child thinks her heart is. Smack in the middle of my chest. Right behind my breastbone. If I think on it, it grows. I can feel it blossoming right now, as I type this, winding like a slow vine throughout my body and into my fingertips. It says, “Don’t write about me. Don’t acknowledge me, because then I become real. I become real and they will know… They will know you are years sober and still I live within you. You have not conquered me.”

I remember walking into the rooms, dazed, reeking of vodka (really, they should stop telling burgeoning alcoholics that vodka doesn’t smell). I just wanted to stop drinking. Maybe not even stop entirely forever. Just stop for the moment. Stop blowing up my life. Stop getting into trouble. I sat there lost and disturbed as people spoke of how fear had invaded their daily lives.

And I thought, “Poor people,” cause I knew what it meant to be brave. I was seven feet tall and in total control of my life. I remember my sponsor telling me to list my fears on my first fourth step. I wrote something like 1. Drinking. 2. Cockroaches. And there the list abruptly ended. I had zero conception or understanding that I drank largely out of fear. I mean, I read it in the Big Book and my sponsor told me it was true. The rooms told me it was true. But I had no idea how to internalize that information. I didn’t understand that I drank out of a fear of facing reality. Fear of what others thought of me. And fear of what I thought of myself.

Fear is insidious and cunning. It fights dirty. It comes at once, full force, slamming into my body. Then again, waiting until I am lying in bed late at night, it subtly and mischievously burrows into my soul. Fear will tell me I am not good enough or pretty enough. It will tell me my life a foolish, quixotic endeavor doomed to end in a fiery ball of disappointment and failure. It will tell me I will drink again, so why not drink right now.

But then, I remember that fear is not real. I may feel it. It may exist, oozing out from the pit in my chest to momentarily hijack my thoughts, but it no longer gets to dictate my actions. That’s what recovery has given me: steps and people, a higher power, and the knowledge of second thought. It has given me time and perspective and understanding. Recovery may not have cured the neurosis, but it has given me a fighting chance. No, fear does not get to win, not today.

 

Groundhog Days

What Lydia would come to realize is that the reason why she could not remember any but the most dramatic days of that fateful summer, was that there were no last days, just one really long, Groundhog-esque day that kept repeating over and over again. Lydia had a vision of herself as a respectable woman. She was reasonably attractive, some may even say statuesque. She had a beautiful house, and a solid income. In many real ways, Lydia could have taken the opportunity of Henry’s departure and done anything. Their separation could have been a launching off point for Lydia. She had what very few people in life are blessed to have: the money to support her wildest dreams coupled with zero ties to hold her back. She had freedom and means.

Lydia could have spent the sweltering summer in Argentina. She could have moved to France and studird cooking. She could have bought a second house in Napa Valley and spent her days painting the California country-side.

And yet, Lydia was totally trapped within the prison of her mind. Lydia’s most striking memory from that time was the insane sunlight as it pooled through her cheery bedroom windows. She loathed the light, hated the idea that day was passing about her outside and she could do little more than drink in complete solitude. The laughter of the neighborhood children, dogs barking in delight, sent shivers of anger coursing through her body. If she could have built a deprivation chamber, or better yet, lived in one of those far-away places that is dark 18 hours of the day, Lydia would have been far happier.

When Sad Things Happen on Sunny Days

It is somehow worse, Lydia thought, when sad things happen on sunny days.

Lydia sat by the pool, two ice cubes melting under the stare of the hot in her glass of bourbon. Any other day, any other time, one might have thought she was luxuriating under the elms in order to bring a rose hint to her cheeks. But today, unable to move, to move put one foot in front of the other, she was sitting.

He just left. He came home, packed a bag and left. There was no fight, no hysteria. She wanted to muster the energy to throw something or cause a scene, but a scene for who? Why? To what end? He had left a long time ago, or so it seemed. All he did now was occupy a space in the closet. Its good he’s gone. Lydia thought for a moment about the kind of fear, stagnation that caused a person to stay, against all hopes of happiness, for just a little longer.

Yes, there should have been an argument, Lydia determined. It would have looked better. It would have made a better story for the girls. Lydia imagined a handful of select women scattered around her den, sipping some sort of cocktail appropriate for the solemn occasion. Someone would pat her back as she sobbed and recounted the tearful accusations, the appeals to stay, the shattered Baccarat, and finally the pointed finger showing the way out.

But instead, he just left. He came home, packed a bag and left. Left a note. She wouldn’t have even noticed he was gone had he not left the note. Lydia looked down at the bonded paper she had been holding this whole time. There was no need to read it again. It held no answers. Nor did it need to. Lydia knew the problems. Had known it for years. She originally said she was staying for the kids, but they had left a long time ago, off to lived their own lives in distant places. But then she still stayed. With a sigh, Lydia realized she stayed because she wanted to. No, it was true; the marriage was over a long time ago. But Lydia loved the house with the trees and the sparking pool. She loved her place amongst their society. And she loved her husband.

As she put the rocks glass against her lips, she smiled. She loved the bourbon.

What Lydia did not love was being the subject of speculation. It was hard to contemplate Christmas while the shone so brightly, but she knew it would be here faster than she could imagine. Lydia squinted off into the distance as if this small change in perspective would somehow give her foresight into the future. In her daydream, Lydia saw women leaning conspiratorially over the dinner table to their husbands, “But we can’t invite both of them. It’s too soon. Do you think she found out?” Lydia and her husband had this conversation themselves many times over. They feigned concern, but in the light of the summer afternoon, Lydia admitted to only the trees that it was really just a way to pass idle gossip off as something more than it was. They would invite her husband, of course, save a select few.

Lydia looked down at the empty glass. She wanted more. But she usually wanted more. That was nothing new. Lydia hoisted herself up from the pool chair and walked towards the backdoor. That’s the odd thing about change, it seems to happen quickly, without warning. He just left. He came home, packed a bag and left. It felt like an instant, but in reality, it had taken years. One shirt in the bag this year, a pair of shoes the next, until twenty-five years later the bag was packed.

Lydia paused as she looked at her reflection in the glass of the backdoor. She was still young. Weathered, perhaps, but still beautiful in certain lights. Lydia knew one day she would have to sell the house and leave the neighborhood that she knew she could not afford by herself. But she will find a new house. And new friends. She will find a new lover, feel new fingers press into her hips. A sly smile crossed her lips. She might even quit drinking. Lydia took the bottle in one hand, the glass in the other, and walked further into the recesses of her dark house. But none of that would happen today. All she had to do today was this.

When Sad Things Happen on Sunny Days

It is somehow worse, Lydia thought, when sad things happen on sunny days.

Lydia sat by the pool, two ice cubes melting under the stare of the hot sun in her glass of bourbon. Any other day, any other time, one might have thought she was luxuriating under the elms in order to bring a rose hint to her cheeks. But today, unable to move, to move put one foot in front of the other, she was just sitting.

He just left. He came home, packed a bag and left. There was no fight, no hysteria. She wanted to muster the energy to throw something or cause a scene, but a scene for who? Why? To what end? He had left a long time ago, or so it seemed. All he did now was occupy a space in the closet. Its good he’s gone. Lydia thought for a moment about the kind of fear, stagnation that caused a person to stay, against all hopes of happiness, for just a little longer.

Yes, there should have been an argument, Lydia determined. It would have looked better. It would have made a better story for the girls. Lydia imagined a handful of select women scattered around her den, sipping some sort of cocktail appropriate for the solemn occasion. Someone would pat her back as she sobbed and recounted the tearful accusations, the appeals to stay, the shattered Baccarat, and finally the pointed finger showing the way out.

But instead, he just left. He came home, packed a bag and left. Left a note. She wouldn’t have even noticed he was gone had he not left the note. Lydia looked down at the bonded paper she had been holding this whole time. There was no need to read it again. It held no answers. Nor did it need to. Lydia knew the problems. Had known it for years. She originally said she was staying for the kids, but they had left a long time ago, off to live their own lives in distant places. But then she still stayed. With a sigh, Lydia realized she stayed because she wanted to. No, it was true; the marriage was over a long time ago. But Lydia loved the house. She loved her place amongst their society. She even loved the trees and the sparkling pool. And she loved the bourbon.

TO BE CONTINUED…