Five years ago I walked into AA and changed my life.
Going to my first meeting was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, and I remember crying much of the drive over. But by the end of the first week, I had admitted that rather than a drinking problem, I had a disease. I had gotten a gene that made me have an allergic reaction to alcohol: once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop.
It wasn’t always like that. I didn’t start drinking to oblivion until Karl got sick. An expert I know says that for many women, alcohol abuse starts with grief, and that was certainly true for me. But over the years since, even in the periods when I didn’t drink (mostly only my pregnancy), I was running away from my emotions. All of them hurt too much. It was easier to be numb, and alcohol was the fastest route.
AA forced me to confront my feelings and to take a good hard look at myself. At times, I think the AA lens is too harsh. I often found folks in AA quick to judge and even quicker with a cliche – AA is famous for that, and AA folks have no trouble admitting it. A lot of the sayings work, especially “let go, let God.” But when I was having something of a crisis one night and my sponsor said, “You’re such an alcoholic,” I felt belittled. I fired the sponsor, and cut back on meetings.
Still, I practiced the steps, attended an occasional meeting, went to Al-anon a few times. For me, the initial contact with AA, the commitment to not drink, to let go and let God was and is profound and life-changing. I have worked hard to be less judgmental, a fault I didn’t realize I had until AA. I’ve tried to listen more than I talk, to be more compassionate, to stop blaming everyone, including myself, and most importantly to be grateful continually. AA gave me a relationship with God I had never had before, and opened my eyes to the difference things that God can mean to different people.
Toward the end of last year, I wondered what it would be like to have a glass of champagne again. I told the spouse that I was considering trying some on New Year’s Eve. That night, I felt a cold coming on, and the thought of drinking was revolting. I knew then how much I had changed; 5 years ago, nothing, not even pneumonia, would have stopped me from drinking champagne on New Year’s Eve.
On my birthday, I had that glass. I knew that wine would be flowing in Italy, and I wanted to try a little in a safe environment with the spouse rather than going on a tear with the Eldest in tow. If anything bad happened, I wouldn’t drink in Italy.
It was somewhat terrifying. Was I going to be transformed into some kind of drunken monster, picking fights with Dennis and dialing unfortunate relatives to initiate long incoherent conversations? I drank the glass very slowly, then wanted more. I didn’t have any, but worried that I couldn’t really trust myself with a bottle in the house. At the same time, I didn’t have a seizure, I didn’t get drunk, I drank primarily for the taste and I stopped. It was only normal that it was going to be a fraught experience. I really didn’t know what was next.
Our second night in Italy, I shared a bottle of white wine with the Eldest. It was lovely, exactly the right thing to drink for our 2 and a half hour meal. We drank very slowly – for years, I’d wondered how people could make a bottle last so long because I could knock back a bottle in no time flat. The thought of drinking fast, and of drinking to excess, to not even taste what I was drinking, to not be conscious of the conversation, was bizarre to me.
Since coming back, I’ve bought a bottle of wine. It sat in the refrigerator for most of a week. I had small glasses with a few different dinners. I didn’t want more.
I am sure this news would cause many in AA sorrow or, as I’ve witnessed, head shaking that I am in terrible denial, that I am playing with deadly fire. Alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful, they always say. But that always seemed to be giving an inanimate object an awful lot of cred it didn’t really justify, at least from my p.o.v. (and not to diminish what is no doubt a powerful truth for a lot of people). I was unable to have a healthy relationship with anything for years, especially my own feelings. Over the years since AA, I’ve worked hard to learn how to have healthy relationships with other people, and myself, and my emotions. And now, I believe I’m starting to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I don’t seek it, I’m fully aware of how toxic it can be for me, but I also feel like I don’t have to run away from it the way that I did for most of 5 years.
All or nothing has its place, but moderation is a marvelous gift. I’m deeply thankful that at least, at the moment, I seem to be learning that it is a gift I can actually partake of.
And it all started on April 4, 2005, when I walked into AA. For that, I will be eternally grateful.