Local Recovery Stories

Beating the Denial

My first memory is being in the garden of my childhood home. Huge flowers are around me, dad is holding my hand and I am happy.

But as I grew up, that contentment seemed to slip away, and in its place came an abiding feeling of being different, other than. I put it down to the fact I was adopted.

I’d always known I was adopted and my parents made sure I was made to feel special – they had chosen me. I felt proud to be different.

With professional parents, my home life was privileged, private schools and suchlike. But I wasn’t, and couldn’t be, one of the ‘in crowd’. However, during my school years it didn’t seem to affect me that much, the feeling of other than seemed to develop slowly through my adolescence and early adulthood. With it came increasing levels of anxiety, and fear.

The one shadow in this otherwise happy life was dad’s drinking. He would shout, mutter, put the world to rights. I felt responsible for his behaviour, it was my fault he was like this and so the fear began to creep in. My friends found drunk dad quite entertaining – but he’d be fun up to point then snap, change completely and that’s when he was in blackout.

I felt I couldn’t do anything right, despite my parents’ assurances. I believed I wasn’t as bright as I, and others, thought. My head told me I was crap while my parents were telling me I was wonderful. I believed my head.

I adored my father and would do anything for his approval. At seventeen I was leaving AA leaflets around the house – I have no idea where I got them from!

So, school was not a problem, uni was a breeze. I had my first drink at fifteen or sixteen – a Martini. There was no desire for more. Seeing how alcohol affected my father had given me a fear of drink. My uni friends thought me rather boring as I studiously attended lectures and kept my social life under control.

But when I left the safety and structure of study, the fear of getting a job and all it entailed hit me. I stayed in the north, close to family, but was eventually persuaded to head to the bright lights of London, to where all my friends had been drawn.

Once in the city, I found a good job which I enjoyed. I was in my twenties, working hard, playing hard – and drinking. I had arrived!

In my late twenties the crushing hangovers kicked in. I didn’t get blackouts, just utterly debilitating hangovers.

Despite a busy life, I was distinctly uncomfortable being on my own. I always wanted a boyfriend. After a couple of years in my twenties on my own I felt something was seriously missing in my life – I needed a man.

Happily, one just happened along and off we went to Australia for a couple of years. Having had bouts of anxiety which was put down to stress, pressure of work, not feeling comfortable in my own skin, I suffered my first experience of depression whilst in Australia. I put this down to all sorts of reasons – but not alcohol. I didn’t feel my drinking was a problem.  Yes,I’d occasionally get drunk, be stupid, but there were no blackouts, no real consequences.

Returning from down-under, I married. And on our honeymoon I had the thought:  ‘I’ve made a mistake’.

In that first year of marriage, my drinking changed. I’d work late, stumble home drunk. Blackouts started, the lost days began, but I still managed to function and hold down a job.

After a year, the marriage, unsurprisingly, ended.

Work remained the constant in my increasingly haphazard life, but about the age of thirty, my current husband came in to my life. He pursued me, and I felt I’d met my soulmate. I put him on pedestal, but when I started to meet his family and friends, all I could think was ‘I’m not good enough for him’.

We both enjoyed a drink, but for me it escalated and took on a different meaning. I wasn’t drinking socially at all. I couldn’t cope with his friends and I thought a few drinks made me prettier, funnier and more clever. The dependency had started, although I was oblivious to it.

I was now at the stage of life where I wanted a family and being adopted somehow strengthened that feeling. The next five years were pretty much spent being pregnant. I had a  miscarriage after which I drank heavily, but during my pregnancies, I didn’t drink and I didn’t miss it. In fact, the only time I felt in tune with my body was when I was pregnant.

When my first child was born, I became stressed. I wanted everything to be right, and suffered post-natal depression for a time.

Then came a period of contentment – I was married, had a child and everything in the garden seemed rosy… for a while. After the birth of my second child, the anxiety cranked up. I’d returned to work between having my children, but the feeling of not coping just swamped me. Panic attacks started, becoming more and more severe.

Then came the mums’ nights out, social drinking, but slowly it crept into home life. My husband and I would get through three bottles of wine a night. It was out of hand and all my efforts to stop or contain my levels of consumption failed. He could stop – I just couldn’t.

Then the shaking started and I’d need a drink to still it. My perception at the time was that my kids was my ‘happy window’ – the time of day when I was fine. I now know that wasn’t the case. As the drinking escalated, my starting time got earlier. I’d open a bottle at 5pm and neck as much as possible before my husband came home.

The deceit was all there, hiding bottles, leaving one ‘on show’ while drinking from a hidden supply. Civilised drinking with a meal rapidly became drinking to blackout, daily drinking, starting earlier and earlier, turning up at the school gates drunk. If I went out I acted like a prat.

Eventually, I did seek help from my GP, who recommended a programme with another organisation. It didn’t work. I then tried a couple of AA meetings but was convinced I wasn’t that bad. My husband could see the problems but he didn’t want the stigma of an alcoholic wife, but for me a seed had been sown in those early AA meetings. I didn’t know it, but that seed would save my life.

Then came a period when I was totally out of control. I just stayed in bed drinking. I ended up in hospital and my husband refused to take me home. I was admitted to a clinic, underwent a detox and awaited  a court case – for drink driving.

I stayed sober for three whole weeks. Thought I understood alcoholism and had it under control. So, I had a glass of champagne that Christmas. Then the spiral started.

Life was unravelling. I was desperate, terrified, my parents both had Alzheimer’s and my life was in tatters. I could not believe this was happening to me. All the best doctors, clinics, friends, family were there for me, but I could not stop drinking.

By now I genuinely wanted help and went to rehab for four weeks. While there, a counsellor helped me separate those deep-rooted feelings from early infancy, the probable cause of my anxiety, from drinking.

In rehab I learned that this was a journey and continuous work was needed and for three and a half months I threw myself into it, getting a sponsor, doing service etc. But my denial was so great, I still believed I could have the odd drink. I came to meetings claiming lengths of sobriety because I hadn’t actually got drunk! I was clinging on to every hope that I could drink normally.

Inevitably, the old obsession came back and now my reason for drinking was my husband – I need alcohol to cope with him.

In December 2011, after a raging row with him, I booked myself into a hotel and went on a four-day bender.

Luckily, that AA seed was still there, and somehow,  still drunk, I crawled to a meeting and collapsed into the arms of my fellowship friends. I was welcomed with open arms, and helped. I returned home the next day, where I laid in bed for three days feeling like death. The final surrender.

I had to truly believe this illness could and would kill me to reach that point of surrender.

For me, life continues to bring its challenges and with each one, my acceptance grows. I’m learning to function sober today, to do the next right thing and see that life is not all about me.

In sobriety, I have dealt with the loss of my mother, the loss of my birth father who I knew for a couple of years, and I’ve developed a good relationship with my my birth mother. At home, things are not always easy, but today I deal with situations in an adult way. I continue to work on myself and can sense my emotional sobriety developing.

Establishing a relationship with my Higher Power was a biggie for me. I was raised to believe in a punishing God, who would damn me to hell for the things I have done.  But today I know my Higher Power is looking out for me. I don’t know what my Higher Power is, it’s certainly not religious in any form. It’s a loving entity, something inside me which I am not controlling.

I remember the first time I prayed properly – a feeling from deep within that went everywhere and I felt so calm, so serene. I don’t know what it is, but today I’m happy to call it God.

Fear, Addiction & I

On the 26th March 2007 I didn’t think I had very long to live. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t want to. For the previous couple of years before recovery I had been what I thought was just functioning and trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be.

This is the story of my journey of what happened before and on the journey of my recovery from alcohol. Today I am sober and have been for 6 years and 6 months. One day at a time, I have managed, through the help of my Higher Power, not to have a drink and just for today I want for little and I fear almost nothing. All I have is a daily reprieve from alcohol contingent on my spiritual well-being . I am writing this for myself but also for others who are or have suffered from alcoholism.

My journey started in 1966 in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. My parents were both born and raised in South Yorkshire, both left school at the age of fifteen and worked in a factory, which is where they met. After a very short courtship my Mum became pregnant with me, and so in April 1966 they were married.

For the first year of my life we lived with my grandparents on my Dad’s side. At the age of one my parents moved into their own home, my Dad continued to work at the factory albeit unhappily. So when I was two years old he joined the Royal Air Force. My only sibling, a brother, was born in 1970. During Mum’s pregnancy with him I was taken into hospital with a bowel complaint. I was kept in hospital for a total of six months. I was not allowed out at all, my Mum and Dad visited me daily, however I used to become very upset when they left which may be why I became so fearful of life and of being on my own.

I don’t really remember much else of my early years moving around, but as early as I can remember I was full of fear. Very early on in my childhood I felt there was something different about me. My earliest memories are of fear. A great hurting fear that made my heart beat so loud I thought that everyone could hear it, feeling dizzy and the feeling that my legs would turn to jelly. I was a very timid and shy child who didn’t really excel in anything and was always told that I was just average by all people in authority.

This was to continue through my teenage years until I was sixteen. I’d had a very happy, stable childhood with very loving parents a very loving family, so there was no reason for me to be full of fear and anxiety. Another memory that stands out in my mind is when I was about eleven years old my Mum and Dad would go to the local club that they ran. My Dad would go to open up the bar when my brother and I were asleep. Mum would join him later, always leaving the phone number by the phone. I was terrified of her leaving me and would stay awake deliberately or pretend to be asleep. I knew no harm would come to us as the club was only in the road behind our house.

Once my mum had gone I would lay awake full of fear feeling silly for worrying. Sometimes I would cry myself to sleep, other times I would ring my Mum and ask her to come home. She would be back in five minutes and ask why I had rung. I didn’t know why, I just said I had a funny tummy which I now believe was nerves and fear of being left due to childhood memories of the hospital.

When we moved home, which was about every two and a half years, I would be full of fear and anxiety. I would dread starting my new school and making new friends. It would take me a long time to settle in where as my brother never had any problems. I would think to myself ‘here we go again a new school new friends, new home and all the kids asking questions like, where have you come from? How long are you here for?’

Because I was shy I would get picked on by my peers, which was another reason why I hated moving schools. I would always be afraid of what the other kids would think of me so I never spoke out or answered questions asked by teachers for fear of getting things wrong. Back then different schools were at different levels, so unfamiliarity with school work, as well as falling behind in some subjects worried me.

First real drink

My first real memory of my first drunk was at the age of fifteen. I was at a woman’s house who was about twenty-five and liked to invite teenagers round her house for company. She would give us alcohol, so all the kids thought she was great. I had been at her house before, but one afternoon a few of us decided to go round together. We were all drinking sherry but after a couple the other two kids I was with went home. I stayed and ended up drinking two bottles of sherry between this woman and I. That happy and glowing feeling was fantastic, I was actually able to talk and felt very confident. I felt like a different person and it felt great. I couldn’t believe how good I felt and all because of a few drinks. I then went home around 5pm and was violently ill and was sent to bed. My first blackout happened that afternoon, not remembering much about what happened, especially after getting home, and the next morning feeling sick and woozy. That part I didn’t like at all.

As an extremely shy girl with little or no self esteem or confidence I thought alcohol was magic. It gave me everything I wanted and made me someone I wanted to be, not being full of fear. I envied my outgoing, bubbly, confident friends, all I wanted was to be like them and for a short while that afternoon I had felt like that! That was it, it was just the beginning, now I could start to really fit in! For as long as I could remember I had never fitted in or felt comfortable with people in any situation, I had always felt like I had to try hard to fit in. I felt unnoticed and invisible for most of my adolescent years – that was until I drank.

My social life really kicked off when I was eighteen. I was still living at home, I was at college and worked part-time so had the money to go out. Every weekend I would go out at about 7pm, go round a friend’s house and drink copious amounts of cider. Then we would go to a club and drink pints of snakebite. Invariably I would not remember getting home but somehow always managed it. I carried on like this, but one fateful I had been out but decided that I wanted to go home early. My friends wanted to stay, they begged me to stay, but I was having none of it and decided to walk home alone. On the way home I was raped, I was terrified and never told anyone as I was too ashamed, guilty and frightened. After that I never really went out that much. But I continued drinking, by now it was my escape and a way to forget.

Adult life

When I was twenty I met my husband and had two beautiful children. However, my drinking continued, albeit when the children were in bed. This continued for many years but I first became aware that I had a drink problem when I was about thirty-three. Up until then I only drank in the evenings but not every night. It soon became a daily necessity which gradually increased over time. By the age of thirty-seven I used to challenge myself to see if I could go a day without a drink. However I found this virtually impossible to achieve which really concerned me, but not enough to stop drinking or even cut down. I sometimes managed to go two days but then the craving and obsession would be so strong I would pick up a drink. I’ll never forget the disappointment on my husband’s or childrens’ faces when I started to drink again. I just couldn’t help myself. This was to become a regular occurrence for many months, maybe years. They became so used to me saying that I would stop that they soon started ignoring my promises.

I hid a lot of my drinking by drinking at home and not going out. I didn’t drink spirits as alcoholics drank spirits daily and I definitely wasn’t an alcoholic, so I drank mostly wine and some strong cider. However I needed to drink these in large quantities to get the effect I wanted.

Spiritually bankrupt

My life was totally unmanageable and became chaotic when I was drinking. I soon couldn’t deny the fact, even to myself, that I was an alcoholic and started asking my GP for help. In a last ditch effort to stop drinking I went into a treatment center. I promised my family I would stop drinking. I was mentally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. I had previously had weekly counseling, hospital admissions for detox and home detoxes, all to no avail. I hadn’t reached my rock bottom. As soon as I had finished the detox or had been discharged from hospital the fear and anxiety returned, and I couldn’t cope with life. The only way to cope with it was to have a drink. Of course once I had had that drink, it set off a physical craving and if I didn’t have that first drink I had a mental obsession where I was always thinking about a drink. I managed to hide my compulsions, or so I thought, very well and satisfied them when I could, but oh, the mental pressure and physical exhaustion was enormous.

So there I was, frightened and terrified in a treatment centre one hundred and fifty miles from my home, my husband and my children. I listened to the counselors and health professionals and learned about the disease of alcoholism and about Alcoholics Anonymous and the steps, however I now know that I only heard what I wanted to hear. When I left treatment I thought I was cured, I returned home throwing myself into my family and work but in actual fact nothing had changed – more importantly, I hadn’t changed.

In the treatment centre I’d learnt a lot about myself. Prior to that I had been unable to see a way out of ‘me, myself and I’. Alcohol has a way of blinding anyone from seeing what is real. I blamed the weather, my home, my husband, my family, my boss, my doctor – and I drank. My actions, I felt, were always justified by the words “If you had my problems, you would drink too”. Alcoholism is a disease of denial and I was taken over by fear, self pity, guilt, shame and depression.

Red old fashioned telephone handset isolated on a white concept for urgent or important customer supThe day I managed to stop drinking was a miracle. As usual I had fallen asleep in the chair and my husband had been unable to wake me to go to bed. I woke at around 5am and went to the fridge for that first drink to enable me to function. But that morning I believe I reached my rock bottom. I believe my Higher Power intervened in my life and made me stop before I took that first drink of the morning. I can’t really explain it, I had the drink in front of me and was terrified to drink and terrified not to. So I phoned one of the few numbers I had of a lady who went to AA meetings. It was 5:30am, I explained to her that I was terrified and she asked if I could get over to her flat. I asked my husband to take me and she just sat me down at her table and fed me coffee and talked about her journey before and now in AA. She ‘twelve stepped’ me. She took me to a lunchtime meeting and I stayed with her until my husband finished work and picked me up. That night my husband took me to another meeting and then home. I laid my head on my pillow and fell into a fitful sleep, however, I had managed to not drink for that day. I haven’t had a drink since, one day at a time.

My life in AA

During AA meetings I heard peoples’ stories but I still didn’t identify with them, at least as far as their drinking was concerned. But when I saw the first step, I had a great revelation. I can’t say I was glad to be an alcoholic, but for the first time in my life, I knew what was wrong with me. It explained why I had been doing the things I had. I had always wanted to be a decent person but when I took that first drink I couldn’t guarantee my behaviour.

When I heard the members saying that the twelve steps were a way of life, I decided they couldn’t all be making this up so I asked someone to be my sponsor. That was terrifying in itself as I thought no-one would want to sponsor me, but she said yes and I started to learn about the steps and, with hers and God’s help, I tried to apply them in my life each day, in all my affairs. This didn’t happen overnight and I was only able to do this a little at a time. With the help of my sponsor I started to grow spiritually and emotionally and began to see life and the steps in a clearer light.

I believe I was powerless and my life had become unmanageable. I learnt that I had been insane and that this insanity was continually telling me that it would be okay to have a few drinks despite all the evidence to the contrary in my past. I also know that my thinking was distorted even before I picked up a drink, but that it got worse when I was drinking. My sponsor taught me that when I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God (as I understood Him) things started to happen the way He wanted them to and not the way I wanted them to. Doing the first three steps gave me the courage to look at myself and see a very emotionally immature person with some good points and some not so good.

I continued with the program and today am not just sober but happy too.

Finally Broken, I Found New Life

When I came to AA I honestly didn’t think I was an alcoholic. I thought an alcoholic was someone who drank every day and in the morning, they didn’t work and were either homeless or claiming benefits, and they were generally men, not nice girls like me!

I knew that my drinking was different from other people’s and it was getting me into trouble. I drank a lot quicker, I thought about alcohol a lot – even when I wasn’t drinking. I would hide bottles, and hide the amount I was drinking. I drank on my own or I would arrange all my social activities around situations where alcohol was involved. I enjoyed being with heavy drinkers – it gave a sense of relief because it didn’t make me look as bad! As much as I promised myself to either not drink that day or to stop or moderate my drinking, I would usually find myself in a shop at the end of each day. I could never cut down or cut drinking out for very long, it would gradually creep up again.

I needed help and I didn’t know where else to turn, so I called the AA helpline. It’s funny because it was suggested in jest by a group of people I met when I was out drinking one lunchtime. It wasn’t directed solely at me, they said “maybe we all need to go to AA!” There was much hilarity within the group and I did laugh, but then I realised that maybe it wasn’t a bad idea. Even though I didn’t think I was an alcoholic, maybe they would be able to help me somehow.

That day was finished off with a birthday barbecue that my family had arranged especially for me. It was ruined by my drinking, and the way my brother looked at me with such disgust and concern. My brother is the type of person who takes most things completely in his stride. The opposite to me, I was always the over-sensitive one.

A couple of days later I plucked up the courage to call AA, a nice woman answered and offered to meet me before a meeting, I was so touched by her offer I agreed to it. I was extremely nervous, she was very friendly and kind, it was such a big meeting. I introduced myself as an alcoholic, but I think that was more to fit in than anything else. I still really knew so little about alcoholism. I saw the word ‘God’ written on the wall and in the steps and I remember thinking ‘Oh God, they’re religious nutters, what has my life come to – this is it!’

I got some identification from the lady who was speaking – it had been her 3rd AA birthday. I didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about and found it a bit overwhelming, that meeting was a bit of a haze. I spoke to a couple of people and got one phone number… I felt terrified… I felt very depressed as well that my life had come to sitting in a church talking to a bunch of people about God, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to stop drinking or not!

After a couple more drunk episodes, a meeting and a chat with an AA member, I made a decision and came to the realisation that alcohol had beaten me. I knew that the way I had been living my life wasn’t working! So I decided I would try the AA suggestion of not drinking. I felt quite sad, alcohol had been my exciting friend, my crutch, or so I thought. But I thought their way was worth trying.

I made a friend and went to a meeting or two with him. I was so scared and not many people seemed that friendly to me. I found it easier to talk to the men, even though it was not recommended. But a lot of the woman didn’t seem to want to talk to me. When I got their numbers and called them, they didn’t always call me back and I didn’t like calling people it felt strange to me. I had an internal battle going on and I was sure they had better things to do and probably didn’t really want to hear from me anyway. I knew they were busy with their own families and groups of friends.

I didn’t really like asking for help, I didn’t want people to really see that I was getting a bit desperate. I still didn’t quite feel that I fitted in either, everyone else knew so much more than me, it was all a bit intimidating. I did get to chat to a few women and went out for a couple of coffees. I was desperate to find a sponsor and to start the steps. I didn’t feel great, I was struggling to live life and deal with everything without alcohol. However, I was so grateful to be sober because I didn’t miss the consequences of my drinking sprees! I was also starting to make a few friends. After a few months I found myself a sponsor, she lived an hours drive away and I started the steps – I was so chuffed! I didn’t see or speak to her very often, we were both busy. I guess I still didn’t really feel that connected with her, but I so wanted to do the steps.

I picked up some service doing teas and coffees at my home group and became a greeter at another. I fell in love and started a new relationship, which hadn’t been recommended, but it just kind of happened and grew from a friendship I had gained. I thought it was worth it, and I thought I was doing so well it would be ok, after all other people were doing this, and I wasn’t really that sick, I had had loads of therapy years before and all I needed to do was to put down the drink!

Well my spiritual, mental and physical health began to decline. I felt suicidal and I was brought to my knees, I had done a bit of praying before, but this time it was different, it was from my inner core, the pit of my stomach, I was absolutely desperate. My sponsor and I had parted ways and my head was just spinning. I went to one of the meetings I often went to and just prayed so hard. The lady who was asked to open the sharing was perfect. She spoke about the crazy head and what a valuable tool keeping it in the day was, as well as her contact with her Higher Power!

After the meeting I couldn’t get over to her quick enough and just said I liked her share, she offered me her number and we went from there. I called her absolutely every day without fail, I prayed, I went to meetings and I did readings. I called other alcoholics that I knew well in the fellowship and some that I didn’t. I began working through my head and my feelings using the tools of the program, so the days were slightly better, but other times I would just cry. I hadn’t felt so awful in such a long time. I realised that that man had been my sponsor, my Higher Power, best friend and boyfriend – poor man, no pressure or anything!

I was as lost as lost could be and I was desperate which I was told is apparently a gift! I had to find God more than anything. I believe that through that time people were put in my path, God was carrying me. He carried me through a lot pain and taught me some very hard lessons – most importantly humility, and all without a drink!

I went through the steps. My step five – sharing my resentments and fears – took a long time and I felt a lot of emotional pain, but it gave me a chance to grow and develop my contact with God and to try to help others, which I knew was the only way to fight the spiritual, mental and physical illness which was ready to kill me. I completely accepted that the disease of alcoholism was one that changed my perception of reality – drunk or sober. So many caring people helped me once I was able to swallow my pride, my ego was so big! I knew both would kill me if I let them get in the way.

The steps gave me perspective on my life and showed me where I had gone wrong. I saw that I was over sensitive, very lazy, had huge pride and ego and was extremely self-centred. I was full of self pity and had blamed my parents because they had a disability. I was so jealous of other children who had ‘normal’ parents. I was angry because I felt they couldn’t protect me from other people physically. My Mum couldn’t hug me or take me on bike rides. I couldn’t handle confrontation, so I was often dishonest. I used to push people away and I was very angry when life didn’t go my way.

A lot of my environment when I was growing up was not always healthy, but equally, my perspective and the way I reacted to the things was based completely on selfish principles. I had no self-discipline, couldn’t set boundaries (I could not see other peoples and I didn’t really have any of my own). I had trouble communicating properly due to fear and laziness, I could not cope with feelings that were uncomfortable so used food as a way of comfort and distraction. As a child, teenager and adult I used to self harm, starving myself and making myself sick – I thought if I was thin my life would be better… it never really filled the emptiness that was there. I had even had a bout of intensive therapy in my mid twenties, but while life got better for a while, I still had a lot of anxiety around people and I was still that selfish self-centred person, I was full of fear.

Now I look out for pride, self-seeking attitudes and self pity. I ask what would God have me do in each situation and weigh up what the potential outcome might be – will it hurt myself or others and if I’m in doubt I seek advice from trusted friends.

Today I am over two years sober and I have a small network of people I can confide in who have more experience in living a sober and living a spiritual life. I also speak to others who have not been sober as long as me who I can help and share my experience with. Doing this helps me to constantly reaffirm what I have learned. I am generally not lonely nor do I feel alone anymore as I have friends. I have new interests and much more of a zest for life than ever before. I am retaking my science GCSE and I attend meditation classes. I am able to support and build my relationship with my parents who are unwell. I have recently started a relationship with a wonderful, kind and loving man. I constantly still work on living in the day and trusting God.

Every day I challenge my thoughts, I try not to jump to conclusions, I work on my communication skills, help others and try not rely on others too heavily. I try to be honest, practice self-discipline and be proactive and diligent. It’s not always easy and I’m not perfect, I am just a human being and try not to spend time beating myself up. I think I have spent years doing that! Being sober has given me so much more than I ever thought – I have more opportunities, I have choices, far more confidence and my decision making process has changed since it’s no longer based on fear. Overall I have much more self-respect and self-esteem and it feels fantastic, better than any drug or fix I have ever had!

One day soon I’d like to sponsor someone and help to pass on the program of recovery. It’s the least I can do since I have been freely given again a new life, It would be a privilege to pass it on to someone else. I am so blessed.

From Suicide to Serenity

I was fortunate to be well respected and liked at school. I did three days school and two days at a football academy and the football seemed to make me quite popular. Drinking wasn’t really there in the early years because I had a hard training regime. So going through school was alright. And I come from a normal family. I perhaps had a little bit of middle child syndrome where I ended up with the hand-me-downs, but nothing out of the ordinary. There was nothing that I would say made me an alcoholic.

But my promising football career came to an abrupt end with a knee injury. I went back into full-time schooling, lost out on my YTS, lost out of the training programs and my future in football was over. Naturally my regime became more relaxed and I started going to parties and meeting girls. So that when my drinking started, at about 17 or 18. I enjoyed the social side of drinking and there were no real problems for a long time. I met my wife, had our first child, and got married. When our second child came along, a boy, I began blaming him for a lot of my drinking. He suffered from eczema which would keep him and us up at night. I would scream blue murder at him and it wasn’t even his fault.

I don’t know when I crossed the line, it just happened. I began to rely on alcohol more and more and it enabled me to sleep and lose all my insecurities and fears. It got progressively worse and I began to find myself drinking during the day. I would come home with all that fear, guilt and remorse and the only way to get rid of that was to make an excuse to get out and get another drink.

I lied a lot. I’d bend the truth any which way to turn things to work for me. I didn’t care about who I was hurting. It’s hard to admit now, but my wife and children felt like an inconvenience back then. They stopped me from just being able to plough on with my drinking.

And then I discovered that I could drink in the mornings. I was waking up feeling horrible and so would get up and be rapping on the off-licence door by 7:45. I knew full well that he wouldn’t be opening the shutter over the alcohol until eight but I’d try to convince him however I could to open it. I remember telling him that I needed it for a lunchtime drink but by 9am those four cans would be gone and I’d be scratching around going out of my mind planning the next drink.

I’d spend most evenings, most days, most minutes planning how I could get that next drink to get me through the day and get me back home. I was always drink-driving, how on earth I didn’t lose my license is hard to imagine. I now believe that I was being looked after by a Power greater than myself. He kept me safe.

My wife began to start finding out about my drinking and at about that time a family couple came to live with us for a while. This was a great relief because he was a heavy drinker too, so there was always alcohol in the house. My wife noticed my drinking was getting bad when she noticed that the crate of lager she bought on Friday evening was gone by Sunday. She didn’t know I was drinking in the mornings, at this time I used to run down to the off-licence on a Saturday morning, grab a can and neck it while I was doing the youngest’s bottle. It was ludicrous, crazy stuff.

While this couple were staying with us I began hiding drink around the house where I thought people wouldn’t find it. But my wife began finding it in the strangest of places. It then started coming out more and more and my wife and I went through a really rough patch. She tried to help me stop drinking but it was no use. Eventually it came to a head and my wife asked me to choose between the kids or the drink. I chose the drink. It was that important at the time and I couldn’t see what it was doing to the family, it’s quite painful to look back at now. It was such a crazy choice but in the midst of all that craziness it made perfect sense. Alcohol was the only way forward, I just couldn’t be without it.

She left and went back to her Mum and Dad’s but would often come back to find me obliterated on the floor. Eventually she moved back in and gave me the option again. I wasn’t ready to give up the drink so I moved back to my parents’ house. This was great for about a week while I necked my Dad’s supply of alcohol. When I started drinking a bottle of champagne saved from their wedding thirty years ago they began to see the seriousness of it. My Aunt is in AA so they suggested I speak with her which I did and she suggested I start going to AA meetings. But I couldn’t believe I was an alcoholic, I couldn’t see the problem there at all.

I was in and out of the doctors at this time and on one occasion, when I went with my wife, the doctor mentioned to me about the possibility of abstinence. I just laughed and said, “No problem”. When we came out she said to me,

“You haven’t got a clue what abstinence means have you?”

“No,” I said, “but I’m sure it’ll be easy.”

“It means no drinking,” she said. And with that I knew I couldn’t do it.

I carried on drinking which led me to an attempt to take my own life by way of an overdose. I couldn’t imagine life with of without alcohol. I knew I’d be miserable with it and miserable without it so what was the point of my existence, I thought. The house was empty and I took my opportunity, filling myself with as much paracetamol, diazepam, vodka and beer that I could. Thankfully somebody found me and took me straight into hospital where I work up later with my wife and children crying around the bed.

I remember this strange feeling of euphoria, like an out of body experience. I could see this person in the bed, but it wasn’t me. How could I have done this? I came out of hospital only to try an overdose again. I failed again. Nothing felt right.

I was signed off by the doctor and so to keep myself busy I began taking long walks into the forest. Sometimes it rained so I’d wear a long jacket in which I could conceal three or four cans of beer. I remember calling my wife on one of these occasions while I was sitting under a tree. I told her that I have a rope and that I was going to hang myself because I’ve had enough. I put the phone down and broke down in tears. I was in such a horrible space and I knew that I couldn’t quite kill myself but couldn’t see a way out either.

I got home that evening and spoke to my Aunt who I knew was in Alcoholics Anonymous. She had a friend locally who was willing to take me to my first meeting. I was extremely nervous on the way there and drank several cans of beer to calm my nerves. The minute I went in there I felt a connection but something hadn’t quite clicked. I still thought I could get away with it and do these meetings. I thought everyone would be happy with me just going to the meetings, I thought that would be enough. I went to several more meetings with this guy. I was a complete wreck and looked an absolute mess. I kept looking around the room and everyone looked so decent, nothing like me.

I started asking my Dad to come with me to help me get to the meetings without drinking. And one night out of the blue we decided to go to a meeting a little bit further away. This is where I met my sponsor who, coincidentally, lived near to me. I asked if he’d help me and he gave me his number and asked me to ring him every day for the next three days. I did so, and from that moment on the desire to drink began to ease.

I started following the suggestions of my sponsor and started going to more and more meetings. Gradually I began to understand the program and the nature of the illness. The spaces between my thoughts of drinking began to get longer and longer. But I still had a couple more relapses in me.

The last one had my boss finding out about my drinking. Two of them came to see me at home. We sat down together and I admitted my drinking and explained that I was trying to stop with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. I gave up. I had to admit everything. After a long chat they asked me “are you an alcoholic?” and just stared at me. At this point I knew I either had to get honest or lose my job. When I admitted that I was they smiled a little and said “we’re glad, we know we can help you.” From that moment on they have done everything they can to help me.

I began to take the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous into work with me to read on my breaks and explained to the guy I was doubled up with what was going on. He was superb with it.

I started working more closely with my sponsor and would go round to his house about once a week where we would go through the program by reading the book and doing what it said. I wasn’t worried about going through the steps because I knew that there was something looking after me. After all I’d been through I knew that there was something watching over me. During one of these sessions I was told that this something was a God of my understanding. That made everything a lot easier because I didn’t have to believe in this or that God or believe anything in particular.

After taking steps one and two I was ready to take step three – ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him’. My sponsor explained that we could do it anywhere I wanted; on top of a hill, in the back garden, anywhere, just so long as I did it. He also asked me if I would like him to be with me or if I wanted to do it alone. I said, definitely! I told him I wanted to do it at the church of my childhood so I phoned up and asked to speak to the priest. I had a good chat with him and told him about Alcoholics Anonymous and the program and that I’d like to come and do my step three prayer in the church if possible. He told me that would be fine and asked me what I was doing that night. I explained that I was going to a 6:30 AA meeting and out of the blue he said ‘it’s a great meeting, you’ll love it there.’ I was flabbergasted as he explained that he been sober in AA for twenty years or more. For me this was just another one of those signs that this was meant to be, it was unbelievable. It made it so special.

I went to the meeting with my sponsor and afterwards went to meet the priest. He made us both feel so calm and relaxed, at home and at ease. I remember sitting in that church as a child and being amazed at the size of the place. And now for the first time in my life I was there with this important purpose and reason. It was unreal.

He let us into the church and just left us at the front to do our step three prayer, which was quite amazing to have shared with my sponsor. It’s something I’ll never forget. Just one of those pivotal moments in my sobriety. It felt absolutely right to be there. The priest gave us a blessing and then we left.

I then went straight on to do my step four and five which I didn’t really have too much fear about. There was nothing in there that was going to rock anyone’s world. It was good to get it all off my chest with someone that I trusted. I learned a lot about myself through that process which I never thought I would. I didn’t realize it would go that deep and I found out that I was so prideful and egotistical. It was always than ‘me show’. Today I do everything I can to not make it the ‘me show’. I help others and try to be there for them and not do it for any selfish reason. I just try to be as honest as I can and to be myself.

I continued working through the rest of the steps. Some of my amends could be made straightaway and some are ongoing. My amends to my children will be until the day I die, just to be their Dad, to be honest, gentle and caring to them. I try to live in a spiritual way today, I pray every morning and every evening and try to correct my mistakes as I go along.

If someone asked me if Alcoholics Anonymous was a good or bad thing I’d have to say that it is 100% good. It is completely life changing if you can do it honestly and give yourself to the program. I can accept that it’s hard to do that at the start but everyone in AA has been there and understands where you’re at. Life today is fantastic. It’s challenging but also very rewarding and even now, when I do things honestly, I get that tingle in the back of my neck knowing that I’m doing the right thing. I remember hearing in a meeting a while ago that if you do something honestly, you do it spiritually. I love that, it’s so simple.

We’ve just been rewarded with our second baby in sobriety and that wouldn’t have come about without the journey of AA and the friends in AA. I wouldn’t change what I’ve got now for a sip of alcohol, I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It’s given me a new life and my family a new life. I go out and I socialize and drink isn’t a problem for me today, I’m comfortable to be around it, I just have no interest in it at all, not whatsoever. It’s worked a miracle for me that I never thought was possible. Today when I arrive home from work the children bolt up to me because I’m not this angry Dad they don’t understand, I’m a Dad that wants to play, to be there for them and to spend time with them. Alcoholics Anonymous works, it’s amazing, I love it!

I am a Free Woman

My best friend’s response when I told her I was going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings was, “but you always said you weren’t an alcoholic!” I had two responses to that: the first being that most non-alcoholics don’t tend to walk around declaring their non-alcoholic status. The other, perhaps more important point was that actually, despite growing up with a mother who had been in recovery since I was 5, and seeing my brother get sober through the rooms nearly 7 years ago, I had no idea what an alcoholic really was. I assumed that the media had it right: an alcoholic was a whisky drinking wife-beater who drank in the morning, drank behind the wheel, drank on a Tuesday, all the things I didn’t do, and, I told myself, never would. It was not in my interest to question this definition; as long as I believed it I could carry on drinking, safe in the knowledge that no-one could ever take my alcohol away from me.

And no-one ever did try to take my alcohol away from me. Nobody told me I was an alcoholic. No-one suggested I might need to attend an AA meeting. My drinking was secret. I never hid bottles (alcoholics did that, and remember, I definitely wasn’t one), but I made sure that I didn’t drink around anyone who really knew or loved me, and surrounded myself with heavy drinking friends and boyfriends, hiding my drinking away amongst theirs. I’m sure drinking was fun for a while. It lowered my inhibitions and gave me the much longed-for confidence that I had always craved as an awkward, shy child. It seemed to take the edge off my fear and act as a buffer between me and the reality that I couldn’t tolerate.

I was scared of life because ultimately, I was scared of death, and alcohol seemingly suspended time, blurred my thoughts and numbed my emotions and I didn’t have to deal with that inevitability. Emerging out of that hazy bubble of oblivion was worse that anything I ever felt before I’d picked up a drink. The crashing realisation that the world was still there exactly as I had left it, that I was still me, and life was still empty and meaningless, that was pain beyond anything. And then came the guilt, the shame, the anxiety, the panic as I tried to remember the night before. Most of it was lost, but the snippets I could piece together were enough. Never again, I’d tell myself, completely unaware that I had no say in that whatsoever.

As my alcoholism progressed, the consequences got worse. I didn’t lose a lot, simply because I didn’t gain much. There was no chance I was going to have a family, pursue the job of my dreams, buy the perfect home. But I fudged my way through university and somehow came out with a good degree that I didn’t feel proud of and trained to become a teacher, thinking it would get people off my back and prove to the world I was a “grown up”. I had a long-term boyfriend who I didn’t really love but would never break up with because I was scared of being alone, of being unlovable. We lived in London in a small flat and our lives consisted of ticking off the week days, barely seeing each other, and then going out and getting hammered all weekend.

My greatest love and best friend was alcohol, not my boyfriend, and he probable knew that, but we enabled each other to drink because he drank like I did, and that made it seem ok. My health deteriorated: at night I saw spiders crawling over me and up the walls. I had panic attacks. I picked rows with my boyfriend to try and release some of the unbearable rage that constantly swelled inside. I cut my arms to release the feelings of self-hatred I had about myself. I was also bulimic and at times very underweight and malnourished; my eyelashes started falling out, my nails broke off, my hair was lank and my eyes were dull. I didn’t care – knowing how many calories I consumed in alcohol there was scant chance of me eating much. I didn’t want to take care of myself as I knew I didn’t deserve it. Self-pity, self-hatred, self-centred: that was me to the core. And so it went on. Like a nightmare groundhog day my life was passing me by and I was stuck on a treadmill of drinking, recovering, waiting to drink, and doing it all over again.

On 28th July 2012 I came to in some flat in Tooting Bec after a typical night of carnage. It was bright outside and my phone showed it was past midday. I was meant to be driving to Bristol for another night out. My hands were shaking and there was dried blood all down my leg where I vaguely remembered I had picked up a piece of broken glass and jabbed it into my shin because I was in pain inside and I didn’t know what else to do. I hadn’t eaten in a few days. The world in front of my eyeballs span into air whirlpools. I started to cry. I wasn’t a crier. Well, I’d often howl into the night at 3am as I sat on the pavement that I hated myself and I wanted to die, but this wasn’t like that. I cried because I knew I was done. I couldn’t drink anymore; I had an overwhelming sensation that if I did, I would die. I didn’t want to die. But I also didn’t want to live. Not like this. And not without alcohol. I was utterly f****d.

And thank God for that. With hindsight I know that that moment was the start of my recovery. I had been given the tiniest window of opportunity and for some reason, that day, I grabbed it. I can’t explain it other than to say that that must have been something bigger than me intervening that day. I waited till the shaking and nausea had calmed down enough to drive and went down to my parents’ house near the coast. I turned off my phone, delted my Facebook account, ate some homemade lasagne and asked my Mum to take me to an AA meeting.

It was the first time in my life that I had admitted I wasn’t ok, the first time I’d asked for help. Again, I don’t know why. I still didn’t think I was an alcoholic but I knew that I had to do something and I’d run out of ideas. At that first meeting I went to I discovered that alcoholism is an illness, physical and mental, which explained why once I started to drink, most of the time I lost control. It explained why on days when I didn’t drink, I was thinking about it, waiting for it, purely existing and counting off the days until I could drink. I also discovered that there were a lot of people in the world that also felt like I did: people who found the seemingly simple concept of life extremely difficult.

I do not think for one moment this feeling is exclusive to alcoholics; in fact I have come to understand that most human beings suffer from a “human condition”, a “hole in the soul” or a “spiritual malady” of sorts, whatever you wish to call it. Some grow out of it, some find the perfect career, start a family, find religion, somehow find a sense of purpose that drives them forward in life. As an alcoholic, my default is to treat that condition, that malady, that hole in the soul, with alcohol. The obvious problem with that is that, as an alcoholic, I can never drink enough. No amount of alcohol can fill that void inside me; all it can do is blur the edges and allow me to check out for a while, so I don’t have to think about the fact that I’m unhappy, frightened and lonely and can’t seem to find my place. It solves nothing. And the medicine I choose is also my poison. Slowly but surely it robs me of relationships, my health, my job, and my peace of mind. It blackens my soul, separating me further and further from the things that I love and need. It gradually makes me more unhappy, more frightened, and more lonely than ever.

If alcohol is never going to fix my problem then clearly I need another solution. I have found that in Alcoholics Anonymous. By working through the programme (the 12 steps as outlined in the Big Book) with a sponsor I have had a spiritual awakening, allowing me to discover the only thing that can ever properly fill that empty chasm inside me: God. Those words would have filled me with fear-based scepticism and derision on my arrival into AA. My sponsor suggested I prayed to a Power that was bigger than myself to ask to stay sober and to let go of the outcome of my day. I still don’t know exactly what it I’m praying to but I call if God because it helps me to stay humble. All I know is that there is something greater than myself and it’s not a person, an object or anything I can see. For me it’s a feeling inside that I am not alone, that as long as I make contact with it, it will always be there.

I did a pretty awful job at trying to run my own life and control everything around me. But when I pray, and I ask God to handle things for me, and I ask God to take away my fear and my resentment, my bitterness and anger, anything that gets in the way of being a decent human being, and I ask it to help me to be kind, loving and tolerant and to help me learn from my mistakes, and I ask it to help me focus on today, not live in the past or stress about the future, I feel calm and happy. And ever since I have done that, that life-issue I had, that terror of reality and fear of the world that consumed me, most of the time, it’s not there. I have peace in my head and an ability to partake in a world that no longer baffles or frightens me. I have great relationships with my family. I have some lovely friends, inside and outside of the rooms. I have a place in Alcoholics Anonymous, I do service, go to meetings and sponsor people (which has helped me more than I can ever explain), and I have a place in this world too. I have no idea what the future has in store for me but I know that it will be ok. That I will be ok. That God has a plan for me that I cannot, and do not want, to know. That’s what makes it exciting. I love being sober: there’s nothing I can’t do, nowhere I can’t go. I was once trapped in a prison of self, guarded over by my active alcoholism. Today I am content, have self-esteem, walk tall and have no desire to drink. I am a free woman.

It Took a Relapse to Convince Me

Growing up was relatively normal for me. I had a Mum, Dad and a sister. We lived on a farm, had some dogs and I guess I had a pretty ordinary country bumpkin upbringing. I went to a good primary school and succeeded in everything there. I was quite small for my age though and so perhaps compensated by trying to be the best at everything I could. I tried to succeed at anything that would get me attention. I did anything I could do to wave a big flag saying ‘look, aren’t I amazing!’. Whatever I did I practiced and practiced and practiced until I became the best at it. And it worked!

I found it difficult when I left primary school. I’d been the alpha male at my primary school but it became harder at secondary. I was strong academically but I wasn’t the biggest, the strongest or the toughest. But I still tried and succeeded to excel anywhere I could so that I could be noticed.

Most of the guys were going to parties, getting drunk and dating girls but I didn’t have enough confidence to get a girlfriend. The guys boasted about what they’d done with girls but for some reason it didn’t register with me. Then one day I got a girlfriend. The prettiest girl in the year below. All of a sudden this wave of attention came my way. All the girls that I fancied who hadn’t been interested in me suddenly were.

We got our fake NUS cards and went to the pub. We were fifteen and it was after school one day. I remember there being lots of conversation about it, my friends and I had talked about it so much. The landlord knew we were underage but back then I think that if you sat in the corner, had a quiet couple of beers and behaved yourself he would turn a blind eye.

When I took that first drink it made me feel so grown up, so manly. It was brilliant. Suddenly my interest in girls was kick started and I was able to go out and have a laugh with everyone, all helped on by alcohol. It let me have a fake persona, to wear a mask of the person I’d always wanted to be.

To me my drinking felt normal. But here were a few incidents where I’d made a fool of myself. I’d gone to a party, drank too much and thrown up in someone’s bath. Another time I fell asleep and on waking up peed in the corner of someone’s house thinking it was my own. These were things I’d heard other people do too, I just thought it was a silly thing that teenage boys did and everyone seemed to accept that. They thought I was daft, that was all.

Alcohol took on more importance for me when I started work at a golf club as a golf pro. Typically I’d shown no interest in golf before but at fourteen I’d picked up a golf club, practiced, practiced and practiced and then by seventeen I was so good I wound up giving lessons! It was unheard of! Learning that much in three years was exceptional. It was purely that determination to succeed again. I saw a goal and would work tirelessly until I got it. I had loads of will power.

I got in with the adults of the club. In hindsight I think this did me a great favour because I found it hard to associate with people of my own age, all my friends were four or five years older than me. Now everyone I played golf with was ten, fifteen or twenty years older than me. It put me in good stead to learn how to manipulate situations better, how to act adult. Drinking helped but at this point it seemed quite normal.

I remember my first really bad experience with alcohol. I’d taken a girlfriend to a work do. It didn’t help that I hated the job there. I’d gone in with the impression that I was going to be a golf pro but they had me looking after the shop, cleaning clubs and carrying them out to the first tee. I was basically a dogs body and boy did I resent it. So we went to this function, got drunk and told everyone what I thought of them. I got fired the next day.

I started at another club. This time my boss was also a heavy drinker and so my drinking felt acceptable. We used to keep bottles of whiskey under the counter and have Scotch coffees in the mornings. He and I had similar personalities, similar work ethic and a similar outlook on the world. He wasn’t an alcoholic though, he seemed to be able to stop when he wanted to.

It racked up another notch when I began to feel as if I wasn’t going anywhere at the club. I’d got my self into a bit of a mess and working there just wasn’t working for me. By this time I often had to have a couple of pints in the morning to steady myself. An opportunity came up to work at a club in Ireland so off I went. So off I went to Ireland.

It was nice to start to start with but it wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I ended up in the house on my own. I was drinking heavily in the evenings and I wasn’t really getting to know people. I was about 12 miles from the main harbour activity. I started drinking during the day during the night – I just kept drinking. I was so happy with the situation and had to change the way I felt. I went out one night and somehow got back to the golf club and fell asleep by the front gates because I couldn’t find my keys. I was in a right mess. I was woken up about five hours later by the Garda. At this point I found my keys in my pocket and went to sleep in my car for about an hour. Then one of the lads woke me up, I drove back home, Jumped in the shower, then went back to work. After about half an hour of folding shirts and selling chocolate bars I was supposed to be giving some lessons but I got told to cancel those lessons. I was so annoyed at the loss of income that I decided to hit the f*@% it button.

It was the middle of the day. I shut up the shop, locked it and went upstairs to get myself completely sideways. Proper sideways. The boss turned up and came upstairs. I told him where to go and where he could shove his job. I guess I resigned before he had the chance to fight me. I was raging. He then drove off so I jumped in my car and chased after him. Crazy.

I called my Dad and told him that I’ve had enough and to please come and get me. He flew over, put my stuff in the car and within 26 hours we’d driven non-stop from southern Ireland to Cork, taken the ferry to Port Talbot and driven straight home. I must have been awake for two days. I was in such a rush to get out of there. Back home I ended up working at a pub for a couple of years. Things were quiet during this time, Perhaps I’ve learned my lesson for now. But during this time I met a guy who I had previously given some golf lessons. He asked me if I wanted to make some money, didn’t want a job? I took up his offer and became a delivery guy, something I’ve had no previous experience of. As usual, I quickly went from knowing nothing to learning everything about it.

Then I lost my license for drink driving. But instead of getting fired, I got promoted! I became the warehouse manager. At this point life was becoming tiresome. In five years I think I’d had the experiences most people would have had in twenty. I’d had lots of different jobs, lots of different responsibilities, different girlfriends, and done a geographical. I think I was constantly searching for something to make me feel whole.

Then I met my last girlfriend and I thought ‘this’ll fix me’. She already had a child from previous relationship and I thought in the back of my mind that maybe this was what I was supposed to be. A responsible Dad and partner. I was so into this relationship that I remember coming back early from holiday because I missed her so much. Then I found out she was pregnant and again I tried to take on the mantle of saving her. It was all happening so fast. In just nine months I’ve gone from having a girlfriend with a kid to having a son of my own to. And I thought that would fix. For a time it did but there were lots of situations where I wanted to be in control. Financial matters, that sort of thing, I wanted to be the man of the house. Because of this we ended up fighting a lot and the only way I knew how to cope was to get drunk. At this point I would finish work, get the train home, go out to the pub for a couple of drinks and get home when I was good and ready. I was blinded by what I wanted.

Because of this and other issues she used to kick me out on a regular basis. My parents lived very close by so it was easy for her to lock me out and send me over there. We both liked to try to exert power. It was a dysfunctional relationship. I became more and more resentful about the situation. I always wanted to understand everything and I couldn’t understand her. I wasn’t in control and was trying hard to understand, but the only way I could do with it was to get smashed.

She thought I had a problem with drink. It was at this point that I went into AA, only to please her and the kids. I didn’t think I had a drink problem, I just thought I was someone who was very aggrieved. My drinking wasn’t daily so I didn’t think I could be an alcoholic. I think I thought I was normal, it was just what guys did wasn’t it?

My first experience of AA was alright but I wasn’t completely willing. There were a few deep dark secrets that I wanted to hold onto. I still assumed that I knew better but I made some good friendships. I did the program but I still couldn’t give myself to it entirely, especially spiritually. I saw too many reasons for there not to be a God and not enough reasons for there to be one. Too much had happened, I’d been done too many wrongs, there were too many bad experiences and not enough good ones. I just couldn’t believe.

I didn’t really feel that connected during those first eighteen months of sobriety. I was running purely on my own determinism. I was staying sober just to prove a point to my girlfriend. Then she began to comment on my not drinking, ‘why can’t you be normal,’ ‘why can’t you have just one drink’. It wasn’t her fault but it was a great excuse for me. So I began to cut my meetings down.

It began with alcohol free beer, then low alcohol beer. Then I started bringing home four cans a night, no more than that though, because if I’d bought ten I’d have drunk ten. I was trying to fight it but was losing quickly. Soon I was back on spirits and all the same stuff, the arguments and disagreements began again.

I started hiding the bottles in my golf bag or I’d open the window and throw them into the hedge. I’d always volunteer to take the bins down or hide the bottles in my jacket. I was trying to regulate my drinking but it just wasn’t working.

So the last straw came a few days after my thirtieth birthday. We’d been out with some friends and had a really good night but at some point the Sambuca came out. My girlfriend seriously disapproved of me drinking spirits so we had a bit of an argument. Despite that the night had gone without a hitch but the next day was Good Friday, a Bank Holiday. It just made sense that I go down the pub on a Bank Holiday. A few drinks turned into a pub crawl and she caught up with me and said she wanted to meet me with the kids for dinner at a local restaurant. I agreed and promised to meet them there at eight o’clock. And I meant it!

I continued drinking into the early evening and eight o’clock came and went. I got some texts from her telling me to hurry up and get to the restaurant but this just irritated me more. So I drank more and got into a proper state. I ended up in a fight with a guy in the pub. I stayed the night at my parents but the next morning when I went back home and she got a look at the bruises on my face she decided enough was enough. This time I was out for good.

I spent three months with my parents, just one-hundred yards from her and the kids. That was torture. It was quite easily the most difficult time of me life. Drink was the only way I could stop the crazy thoughts that were going through my mind. It was heart-breaking.

I just couldn’t participate in life any more. I was functioning just enough to go to work. I battled through every day, constantly plagued by thoughts of her and the children, it never left me. The only relief I got was when I could drink myself into oblivion.

Then I found a place of my own and suddenly the reins were off. I could do as I pleased. To begin with my drinking wasn’t too bad, I avoided spirits and stuck to beer and wine. But slowly I realised that this grandiose fantasy of living as an eligible bachelor wasn’t living up to my expectations. My drinking became heavier. I couldn’t change my situation so I had to change how I felt about it. That meant more alcohol. Gradually it got worse and worse.

Christmas was approaching, it was horrible. I spent the first Christmas Eve on my own but managed not to drink. We had Christmas Day altogether but I was alone again on Christmas Day night. I was seeing the kids again on Boxing Day so didn’t drink. I had this fantasy in my mind that if we managed to have a good Christmas that it would sort everything, that it would be alright again. By the following day it was clear that there wasn’t going to be a reconciliation .

From the 27th to the 31st I just drank as much whiskey as I could buy. It was literally just bottles everywhere and complete oblivion, I don’t even remember it. I’d just fall asleep on the sofa, wake up remembering they weren’t there and drink more to get back to oblivion. I had to stop those feelings. It wasn’t a case of wanting to, I had to stop them.

Finally fear made we want to stop. It was New Years Day and I had to go back to work on the 3rd. I was in a right mess, I hadn’t eaten since Christmas Day and I’d drunk maybe a dozen bottles of bourbon. I couldn’t keep any food down. I got really ill at this point. I couldn’t regulate my body temperature, I was shaking and kept throwing up. It was a severe case of the DTs, I was even seeing and hearing things. It was really quite horrific.

I called my old sponsor and told him I was in a mess and needed him. He was there within an hour. Then I called my Mum and she came round. She arranged for me to go into hospital to be detoxed, I was so afraid. It was going to be the end of me if I didn’t get help, so in I went.

This time I knew I had a problem and completely gave up. This was hurtling to only one obvious conclusion and that was death. So I went back to AA but this time gave up and shut up. I had to, there was no other option for me. I’d previously taken on board every part of the program apart from God, the whole core of the program really. I had believed that knowledge alone would keep me safe and it hadn’t.

I got honest and handed my life over to God. I had to have God, I needed God and I found God. I had to rework the program with every fibre of my being. I did everything I had done before but this time I did it completely honestly and with God. It was He that enabled me to fully ‘get’ the program. I can have all the knowledge I want, do everything the program says but if I don’t have God, it just doesn’t work for me.

Life is amazing today. I don’t have everything I want but I do have everything I need. I do esteemable things, I help people, I do stuff I would never normally do. I called another alcoholic and asked them how they were today! I’d never have done that before, I wouldn’t have been interested! I know how to be a good person today. I’m not perfect, I’m a work in progress. I have good friends in the fellowship. I frequently speak to my sponsor and his other sponsees. I’m growing.

I suppose that for me this is the only way I have found to live successfully. I wasn’t living before, I was just muddling along unconscious of the world around me. Today I participate in life. I’m a good Dad, I’m good at my job and I’m there if people need me. I am the person I never thought I could be. I’m the person that I’d thought alcohol could make me. I’m everything that I wanted to be, thanks to God.

It Was Fun at First

Most stories start in a place and mine started in the north east of Scotland. I enjoyed school and did well. I was uncomfortable in groups. There had been periods when girls had excluded me, so I kept to myself and a few friends. My family moved frequently but I did form some close friendships. I rarely had a wide circle of friends. My parents had good intentions and loved me, so they did their best to provide a better childhood than their own. However, my mother suffered from depression that amplified life’s ups and downs. There periods of abuse by an uncle that led to secrets and shame throughout my family. Alcohol abuse is common in my wider family but my parents and brother are happy, social drinkers. My home was in south Wales when my drinking story started. From the start I blamed my drunken behaviour on my parents, my poor upbringing and the unkind acts of others. The truth is that I am an alcoholic who met her rock bottom and found recovery for which I remain grateful to this day.

In our teenage years, my brother and I were given a glass of wine with Sunday lunch and other celebration meals. My father set out to teach us to drink sensibly and to appreciate wine. I’d no inkling that I’d have a problem and frowned on my relatives when they partied hard. I started drinking at about seventeen years old in the local pubs with my school friends at weekends. At first it was fun and we giggled over a couple of halves of lager before snogging our boyfriends at closing time and heading off home. I gave up my boring friends, chapel and teaching Sunday school.

Within six months I’d started making a fool of myself and comments were made. We all went off to college and I made new friends. Again it was fun at first, but then I’d make a fool of myself too often before I moved on. The colleges, jobs, houses, friends, boyfriends, marriage all came and went. I worked abroad briefly. The pattern repeated over and over and soon there was no fun. The last couple of years of drinking were miserable. I’d start each day at 5am with the sweats and dread. Then I’d take my first drink, the remains of the wine that I’d taken to bed the night before. Then the dry heaves and remorse, the search for a drink to settle my nerves and to stop the shakes, another glass or two while I got the kids to school and ready for work.

My days at the office were fuzzy while the morning drinks wore off and the hangover, anxiety and shakes crept on. As soon as I could escape, I went to the supermarket for groceries and whatever drink was on special offer. I got home, started drinking and kept drinking until I passed out. In the meantime I would feed the children and do minimal house work. Almost every night there’d be a teary fight with my partner and so it continued…always getting worse. At the end, after almost twenty years of drinking, I knew that I was dying but powerless and unwilling to stop drinking. My body ached and was swollen, my face was puffy and grey and I smelled. It was only a matter of time before I’d lose my driving licence, job or kill someone. The kids were no longer safe and I was sure that it would soon be discovered that I was a drunk. I didn’t want to care and I wanted it to end.

One morning at 5am, when it usually all started again, I woke up feeling well and clear headed with the idea of getting help. I got up and went on the internet looking for help to deal with the shakes and nausea. I found AA and there was an email address. I sent a message and didn’t expect to hear back for a couple of days. The response came within an hour. It wasn’t a lecture or the usual health advice, a real person who understood had responded. I should go to the doctor and give AA a call. I shrugged but later did make the calls. The doctor gave me a detox and someone came from AA to talk with me. I gave up the fight, accepted finally that I’m an alcoholic and did what was suggested.

My first hurdle was to hold my son’s fourth birthday party without a drink. It was a small achievement but it was a triumph for me and so the hope grew. Soon after that I struggled through a big family party weekend in Ireland with the support of a local AA group. I’d had to tell my parents about my alcoholism and AA so that I could get to the meetings that weekend. They gave me whole-hearted support and continue to do so. It was another triumph and I began to believe that a sober life and a new beginning were possible.

I worked through the steps with my sponsor. I took service positions and have been continually in service ever since. It’s really that simple, but it has never been easy and often uncomfortable. I had to face my fears and character defects and that took courage. It takes courage for me to be willing and honest. Each time I use a little more courage and become more honest and willing, more progress is made and greater challenges met. There have been challenges: dealing with my childhood abuse, rebuilding a relationship with my partner who drinks, death of friends, financial problems and difficult insecure jobs. Every step of the way there was someone to give me strength. My sponsor sheds light on the thinking and behaviours that trip me up, my home group and friends support and guide me.

The AA literature and wider AA family including meetings abroad give me the assurance that I need not face anything alone. Many of the acts of fellowship that gave me the most courage would not even be remembered by the AAs who helped. The list is endless: the lady on telephone service who took my call, the man who left room in my coffee cup so that my shakes didn’t cause a spill, the first speaker that I heard, the first speaker who scared me but who I identified with, the woman last week who sat next to me while I fretted over an argument with my son, the still suffering alcoholic that I spoke to on Sunday. However small the act of service it makes a difference to both the giver and recipient. I’ve found that this is true of forgiveness too. I’m learning how to forgive myself and others. It’s a gift that is individual each time and costs the giver with no expectation of return. On all occasions it has brought me freedom and sometimes it hurts.

Today I have freedom. Freedom from unmanageable fear and guilt. Freedom to accept who I am, with the ability to love, take risks and forgive. My children are thriving and I experience all the joys and heartache that parenthood brings. I’m in touch with my Higher Power. God never left me and knowing this is the greatest gift. Above all I am confident that I am not alone and have faith that God’s plans are good. I believe that the morning when I woke with the hope of help was the start of a spiritual awakening that led me to AA. I choose each day to live a sober life and have done so for several years. The more often that I hand my will over to God the better it gets, but there are days when I rebel. By the grace of God and the fellowship of AA, each sober day is a miracle and a present to accept and live well.

Keep Coming Back

I was brought up in Scotland and although I had a couple of Uncles in my family who I think may have been alcoholics, there was no-one in my immediate family who were and certainly no-one who behaved as I did! My first association with alcohol was, as is perhaps typical for a Scot, the New Year celebrations. The first alcoholic drink that I can recollect was either a snowball or a shandy. After the New Year bells we were given a small glass and a piece of fruitcake and quickly packed off to bed while the adults did their own thing.

I only really started drinking when I was legally able to, I was eighteen and a Police cadet. I used to go out with fellow cadets and drink normally. I’d have a few drinks, just like everyone else, and feel chilled and then I’d stop. But after a while the Police thought that perhaps a career in the force wasn’t for me and it was suggested that I go into something else. I became a civil servant and moved down to London and ended up in Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise for the next thirty-six years. It never occurred to me that it was a good job with some good perks, I just took the first job I was offered.

After a while I met the woman who was to become my wife and we had two children. Gradually I noticed that on a number of occasions when we went back up to Scotland to visit family I got drunk when I didn’t mean to. Now it’s traditional in Scotland that good hospitality means good measures and I remember waking up not really remembering how I’d got to bed.

In time my relationship with my wife broke down and when my daughter was a year old she decided that she wanted a divorce. She wanted space and I was forced to leave. I initially began again by moving in with a couple. But he was a dope smoker and drank in a way that could be described as alcoholic and being a customs officer, it wasn’t the best environment for me. So while they were a lovely couple who helped me out during a difficult period in my life I decided to move out.

I moved into a little flat that I bought and stayed there for a number of years but over time I began to drink more and more. At one point my boss even asked me point blank if I was an alcoholic or if I had a problem with alcohol. He told me there were places I could get help if I needed it. Well I knew what these places were because I used to train managers to identify strengths and weaknesses in their staff. I remember there was little paragraph in a training module that said that people with an alcohol problem ‘can also go to Alcoholics Anonymous’, but I had no idea what Alcoholics Anonymous was or did. So I just told him that I was depressed.

A few months later I woke up in my flat with a policewoman standing by my bed. My boss had told me that whatever was happening with me that I should call in and let them know, they knew I lived alone and wanted to know that I was okay. I hadn’t called and so, out of concern, they’d contacted my ex-wife who then sent the police round. I’d given my ex-wife a key because I wasn’t drinking all the time and I wanted to prove this to her by saying she could pop in whenever she liked. And at this time it was true, I was managing to drink only on my days off.

Over time my drinking had an increasing affect on my family. I remember my son coming to stay with me when I’d been drinking and, because I wasn’t paying him much attention, he asked if he could go home. I called his Mum and she came to pick him up. When he got home he had a big row with his sister, blaming her for my not living with them at home. I felt terrible about that but it wasn’t enough to make me want to do anything about my drinking. That sort of thing happened frequently.

I recall going back up to Scotland for family parties and having panic attacks as I came out of what I now know as a blackout. I would be in a party with a group of lads and some of my sisters would see me and realise that I’d, if you like, ‘come to’. They would then help me to get back to my parents and to bed and they’d go back to the merriment. I’d then wake up the next morning with a vague recollection that I’d had a blackout, it felt so uncomfortable and embarrassing that I had to go home. That became a common pattern and so, rather than curb my drinking, I just didn’t go back to Scotland as often.

I now know that what I was doing was isolating. I used to think that as a man I ought to be able to sort out my own problems, I didn’t know who or how to ask for help. Consequently I plodded on for another two years before I finally sobered up.

One morning I woke up in a police cell with no recollection of what had happened except for what the police told me. They let me go when I’d sobered up and charged me with a public order offence – drunk and incapable. At that time there was requirement in the civil service that if you got arrested for an offence of dishonesty you had to declare it. But if you got drunk there was no need and so I just put it down to experience and promised myself that I wouldn’t tell anyone at work about it.

I began to spend more and more money on booze. At one time I remember that I got drunk on malt whiskey and woke up the next day not remembering how I’d got started on it. I thought it was such a waste of malt whiskey and so promptly switched to vodka which was cheaper and had the same effect. So from that point on I was deliberately drinking to oblivion with vodka. I continued to isolate further and further. I didn’t call my family as I used to and so I started to isolate myself from the support I used to have and just deliberately drank to black out.

Life felt increasingly uncomfortable but I managed to continue with my voluntary work at a local theatre and one evening, while working in their bar, got very drunk. The next morning I woke up and went to work as normal but felt that there was something wrong with my ankle. After a short while at work my boss arranged for me to go to hospital where they told me that I’d broken it. But rather than curb my drinking the voluntary work ceased and I continued to isolate still further.

My boss became increasingly worried about me and asked me to call them if I wasn’t going to be in to work. But I didn’t do it. I think at this point they began so see that I might have a serious problem. I’d missed a couple of mortgage payments and had told them about it. I’d had letters telling me but had done nothing about them. My boss was so worried that he asked me to go and see occupational health. They talked with me and my doctor who told them that I was suffering from depression. A diagnosis that was likely inaccurate since I’d lied to the doctor about how much I was drinking. He prescribed me some mediation and this gave me an excuse not to drink since it said on the packet, ‘do not drink alcohol’.

A month later I got a second supply of the stuff but this time it didn’t have the same warning on the packet which, to my mind, gave me permission to drink. Instead of ‘do not drink alcohol’ it said ‘avoid alcohol’ – totally different it seemed to me. Around this time I took my son up to Scotland and while we were there we met up with my brother-in-law in a pub. I was drinking Coke when I happened to mention to my brother-in-law, in my sons presence, that I hadn’t had a drink for three months. At this my son piped up and said ‘well you deserve one then!’ Within two weeks I was drinking again.

I still hadn’t resolved the problem with the mortgage and eventually I woke up with bailiff standing next to my bed. My only solution was to ask the estate agent if I could go back into the flat. And of course the answer was no. So I went to a hotel and spent the next two weeks there. Every night I went out and got a bottle of vodka and every morning I would put the empty in a bag and dump it in a bin outside of my room. That was a common pattern for me, I’d even hidden my empties at home in case anyone ever came round. But no one ever did.

Unexpectedly my brother-in-law rang and asked me if I was going to an upcoming family wedding. I told him no since I’d just been evicted. That was the first my family actually knew of my problems. He came down and helped me to go through two years of mail that I had in a black bin bag. A cousin who’d asked me before if I had a problem with alcohol also came down and helped out with all the legal paperwork I needed to do. She wrote loads of letters which I just signed. When she had to go back to Scotland she left me with a list of things I had to do and she called me every day checking that I’d done them.

At this point I ended up in a room in a shared house which was considerably cheaper than the hotel. It was horrible and had cockroaches but at least I had somewhere to go. Then work came round to visit me to see how I was doing. They saw how bad things had gotten and told me not to come back until I was ready. The doctor signed me off for two months.

Just before my cousin had left to go back to Scotland she had said, ‘Look, on a Thursday night in West Drayton there’s an AA meeting. Why don’t you go along to it?’ Well after all she’d done for me I felt a certain obligation to at least show willing. I had no idea what AA did despite the fact that in my job I’d been referring people to it. So I decided to go along and then I could tell her that it didn’t work and wasn’t for me. All of this was decided before I’d even been!

When I arrived I met the guy who would eventually become my sponsor. He told me a bit about himself and introduced me to some of the other people there as a newcomer. I even recognised the guy serving the tea, he was a guy I’d played darts with in the pub. I remember him coming to the pub and telling us he was just out of rehab and then promptly begin to drink with us. Sadly he went back out drinking and a couple of years later I found out that he’d died because of the sheer physical toll alcohol had taken on his body.

Having come to that first meeting the only message I could remember was ‘keep coming back’. There was a lot of other things I’d heard but they didn’t penetrate at that time. The guy who’d introduced himself asked me what I was doing tomorrow and I told him that I was off. So he took me to another meeting the next day in Uxbridge and then later to some meetings in Ruislip until after a period of time he suggested that I should try to make my own way to meetings. At the meeting where I was most regular they asked me to help with setting up the room and so I got into doing a little service which I shared with another guy.

I ended up opening up and setting up the meeting for two years, sober all that time. About two thirds of the way into that time I realised that I wasn’t actually working the programme as such, despite doing service I was still only on the periphery. I’d bought all the AA books and a lot of the leaflets and put them on my shelf but hadn’t actually read them. Then one of the local members was handing out some CDs of AA speakers, I listened to some of them and liked what they had to say. Also, around this time, a room in a house with another AA member became available so I was able to leave the horrible place I was in and move in with another member of AA.

It was a great arrangement for some time. The AA member I was living with was able to help me in all sorts of ways and helped me to get a car. With this I was then able to give lifts to people who needed them and quickly discovered that there were meetings outside of the M25 too. So I ended up going to meetings in Slough, Windsor, Beaconsfield and the surrounding areas and found the group that is now my home group in Windsor.

One of the ladies I was giving lifts to was involved with taking Big Book studies. She had a number of people interested and asked me if I wanted to join them. By the end of it I found that I had an incentive to actually do something. I knew what the book did and didn’t say and she left me with the firm idea that I ought to consider getting a sponsor who would take me through the steps. I had sort of inherited the sponsor I had rather than chosen him and while I had wanted to run, he had wanted me to crawl. But I knew someone in the fellowship that I quite liked and with the understanding of my old sponsor I asked this other guy to sponsor me.

This new sponsor took me through the steps quite quickly, which taught me that the delay in doing the programme was actually mine. When I did it, it worked quite well. That is until I hit step nine – making amends. I didn’t actually speak to my new sponsor for six months, I didn’t like saying to him that I hadn’t done my amends yet. Then one day we were at a meeting together and he said to me, ‘It’s alright for you to call me your sponsor, but you’ve not been talking to me.’ So after this delay we got together and within two weeks I’d made all the amends that I’d been unwilling to do.

I realise now that I’d been catastrophising the outcome, a habit I see in the thinking of a lot of alcoholics, expecting the absolute worst out of any given situation. I’d even been prone to that sort of thinking long before I began drink alcoholically. It was part of my way of thinking alongside my feeling that I’d not lived up to my potential. I used to use those feelings as an excuse for drinking. Today I realise that I’m just a selfish and self-centred individual. Whether I’m quite as bad as I might think I don’t know but I know that the steps have allowed me to be ruthlessly honest with myself.

There’s a saying, I think it’s often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.’ I like that. It might sound twee to some but I’ve found that if I focus on the present, things tend to get better. It’s like I tell those I now sponsor, ‘Don’t worry about it, the man or woman upstairs will look after it’. It’s not that I’ve regained my faith, I’ve not gone back to religion, but I do find myself living by the codes that religion taught me in the past.

What I’ve got from AA is having my conscience back. Today I listen to that conscience and sometimes I think of it as ‘someone up there who likes me’. I don’t worry any more. I used to worry a lot but today I’m able just to take life as it comes. Three years ago my father died and I was able to handle it, it didn’t cause me to drink. My actual wish to drink was taken away from me at a specific date and time back in 2007 and today I see that as a spiritual awakening. Since that time I haven’t even felt the urge to drink. I think about it and talk about it when I’m sharing my experience but I don’t think about doing it.

I used to keep the curtains shut to try to keep the world out when I was drinking. Today I live comfortably alone again and each day I deliberately open them to let in the fresh air. When I have mail I try to deal with it promptly. If someone asks for my help in AA I do it. I may need a bit of encouragement but I do it.

All I need to know today is that I’m an alcoholic and that as an alcoholic I need to take certain steps and in doing that I get what is often referred to as a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of a fit spiritual condition. And a fit spiritual condition to me is just an inner peace that I seek and get from working the programme. Sometimes that peace is shattered by people, places and things but I have the programme to get me back to that peace.

Me, The Serial Relapser

Today I am an alcoholic. Today I am happy, because today I know what is actually wrong with me and how to get and be better. Today, I know that I have an allergy to alcohol. It is an illness that affects my body, my mind and my soul. Today, I am 8 months and 22 days sober. This is how I discovered what was wrong with me, but more importantly, what the solution is.

In some ways I had become used to the daily sickness, the constant obsession with booze, the panic and fear. But it was definitely getting harder each day. I was very familiar with the prison of alcoholism. I mean, I had been drinking since fifteen and the first visits of alcoholism appeared at around eighteen. I am now forty-one. You just can’t question my level of commitment to booze and my attempts to drink like ‘normal’ people. I was fourteen when my mum died of alcoholism – she was twenty-nine. Since birth I had always been moving between London and Ireland, different relatives, different places, different schools and trying to merge into different established lives.

Just before my mum died, I ended up in care in East London due to my parents’ alcoholism and the fact that the neighbours would call the police and I would be removed for my safety. I was twenty-six when my dad died of alcoholism. He was forty-nine. This didn’t stop me drinking. I have two children aged fourteen and twelve and they are truly the most beautiful human beings I could ever know. I couldn’t stop drinking for them. Partners and lovers have come and gone, I couldn’t stop drinking for them. I had been in and out of AA for about six years. I’d completed the steps and thought, at different times that I was doing the programme, but I couldn’t stop drinking. I could tell you all the bad things that happened to me, but would not be as forthcoming about the things I had done to others.

Throughout my drinking career, I managed to have a sideline in the form of fairly well paid work and a lot of the time I managed to give the impression of an average Josephine Bloggs. At one point in my life, I even for worked for seven years as an alcohol and drug worker, so clearly I could never be an alcoholic! But, actually I was. And there is nothing worse than being alcoholic and sat in a room full of alcoholics – they can smell another alkie.

In 2010 I moved from London with my then partner. My alcoholism really thrived at this point. I hadn’t known my partner that long, so we were still getting to know each other, he was also what you might call a ‘functioning’ alcoholic. I loved London, it was warm, and friendly and it was the only place I had ever known as home. I moved to Aylesbury for my daughter as she had been a diagnosed with a tumour and it was thought that she may require some extreme surgery.

I hadn’t bargained on the loneliness, the isolation, or how hard it was to obtain work without being able to drive. I eventually managed to get a job for three days a week. This left four full days for my drinking and often seven, as I would lie and call in sick, or say my children were ill. I no longer had a relationship with my partner, we had ceased even trying to relate. He may have got sick and tired watching me be sick and tired. He would smirk at my hopelessness sometimes as I sat covered in my own vomit. And I would be relieved when he also suffered on one of his benders, at least I wasn’t suffering alone.

After about twelve months my partner left and returned to London – he didn’t tell me he was going, he just went. I responded as any alcoholic might and went on a two week bender, with no thought for my children except for how overwhelming the responsibility felt of having to try and look after them. During this period, my drinking didn’t ever stop.

My day started at about 4:30am, I would wake and drink, I would continue drinking until about 8:30am, when I would have to source some more. Most days the kids went to school, but they sorted out their own breakfast, and lunch. After 8:30 I would get more booze to see me through to lunch time. I would at some point drift into a sort of sleep, wake and get the afternoon booze. This would sustain me until after the kids came home and I would obtain the evening and nights supply.

During this period I would be plagued with fear about the school calling, and dread the kids coming home. I would love the part of the day when I could close the curtains and sit with my wine, watch Jeremy Kyle and soothe myself that there were worse people out there. The kids would go to bed at 9pm and I again would feel the comfort of night and my bottle. Obviously, I would not eat. At some point around midnight, I would drift off again until the early hours and repeat this all over again.

During this period, I started to have new thoughts. I thought that I can’t continue to like this. This just can not go on. I am frozen and can’t stop. And, I couldn’t stop because the shakes and the sickness were unbearable, I would always stop…tomorrow.

I rang AA. And whilst I would like to write that this was the end of my pain, it wasn’t. I spoke to a woman who told me about a meeting. The thought of this helped me not drink that day. I prayed a lot that day. Because I had stopped eating, I couldn’t even hold down sips of water. When I entered that meeting I was full of dread, I wanted to run away. There was a small group of women and they were laughing and looked beautiful. I thought to myself, “they’re not like me, this lot were the ones that had two glasses of wine at night instead of the one glass they planned, but they were certainly not like me”.

Everyone was so friendly. So, I sat, with my bloodshot eyes, my puffy face, my shaky hands and my totally disgust and I listened. I embarked on another journey in AA. Things did improve, and slowly I stayed stopped, I started eating, I talked to people and I had managed about three weeks, when my partner came back from London after four months. Shortly after we were both back drinking and that drama started and continued.

This period was incredibly painful. After some months of this, we both returned to AA and managed to have seven months of sobriety, we both did the programme – I thought. I however, was not doing the programme, I withheld stuff, important stuff, I was dishonest and I didn’t do the programme daily, I did it whenever I felt like it. And guess what? We were both back out in the wilderness of alcohol, pubs, police and violence. I knew that I had to get back into AA but I would have preferred to swallow crushed glass than return, but I just didn’t have any other option.

I took my last drink on the 2nd February 2014 and returned to AA. This is where my story really begins. My partner was adamant that he was not going back and on the 8th March 2014, he informed me by text that he was moving out. I had been sober just over a month. I had no desire to drink. The next three months were simply hell on earth and all the external chaos of money and emotion caught up with me and I faced losing my home due to rent arrears. I sought all the right channels, but the fact was I had repeatedly broken agreements, I had been stealing money from work just to get to work and feed us, and each month I was paying this back. I knew that if I lost my home, I would lose my kids. The strange thing about the idea of losing my kids wasn’t actually about me not having my children, it was about them not having me, because, throughout my alcoholism, I still managed to tell them every night and day that I loved them, I still managed to say the prayer; “Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord our souls to keep, guard me and keep me through the night and wake me with the morning night, Amen”.  I still managed to reassure them to some false extent. As they have no father, or grandparents, I knew they would be in care, just like me. This thought destroyed the last piece of me.

I would drive to work full of fear of being found out, I would think of deliberately having an accident, I would think of overdosing. The only reason I didn’t take any action was because I wanted to devour every moment I had with my kids until the final eventuality. So here I was, sober, not drinking and no desire to drink, but thoughts of suicide. I actually wanted to die. The debts were piling up, my partner had gone and the people I asked couldn’t or wouldn’t help me. I had not shared the level of my fear or the darkness of my thoughts with anyone.

One day, I was in the garden of another AA member. She was one of the beautiful group members I mentioned earlier. Everything poured out…everything…the darkness of my thoughts and the tears just left me. I told her every bad thing I had done and thought. She didn’t speak, nor did her face contort with disgust. She just listened and she helped me. She actually helped me. She helped me in practical ways and more so in emotional ways. This woman, who didn’t really know me, helped me. The events that followed that day in the garden will never ever leave me. It really was extraordinary.

Having had this level of honesty with this woman, I continued to tell her my truth everyday in my inventory. I try to work the AA programme to the best of my ability and I am by no means perfect, but I am definitely willing to grow along spiritual lines and to try and help others.

Today, I am not frightened. Today I have my beautiful children still living with me in our little house that I did not lose and I believe that they are happy. We sometimes say the Just for Today prayer and sometimes we meditate together. Today, I have peace. Today, I have friends and today I have hope. Today, I have a job that I adore and I life I did not know was possible. And, yes, I have challenging days like everyone else, but I still don’t have a desire to drink and every day I laugh. I will see or hear something every day that makes me laugh. Today I am part of life, I am not sitting outside of life watching other people live it. I watched my alcoholism progress, I saw the losses of people and opportunities and I was powerless. My alcoholism was insatiable – it never had enough – it really did want me dead.

I went to AA, finally a broken woman, and through those meetings, I saw people like me and they showed me a simple programme and a way of living that brings me and my children real joy and peace everyday. I wish to pass that on to others whenever possible, because I know it is possible. It’s a much easier way of living compared to the life I existed in before.

Today, I stand with some of those women I had judged and I have learned the enormous pain they too have overcome, and sometimes I too am stood with them and laughing. Just another miracle of the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Talking to the Guiness

Really my story, up to recovery, is the story of others…

I knew a chap once who was a recognisable TV personality. His brother was a more famous actor, recently more renowned for his drinking than any acting roles he was doing. He had a big spread one day in The Sun about ‘winning my battle with alcohol’. I sneered when I read it. He was living the celebrity dream of ‘booze and birds’ even while the print was cooling. ‘Battle’, indeed! Some months later I found myself in a pub in Portobello whispering menacingly to the first pint of Guinness in a fortnight: ‘You won’t beat me. I’ll beat you’.  I remembered my acting acquaintance. My story is about him.

Over the years people gave me an insight into myself; little pennies of experience which set off bouncing down the nails of time like an arcade game. Sitting in a home for the bewildered at the age of thirty-six a stream of pennies dropped and despair set in.

My Mum and Dad were a big part of my story then. They were peasant farmers from the hills of Mourne, in Northern Ireland, with a line of children who pulled them down into a life of duty and sacrifice. My father was as rough as ropes, but not a drinker. Never saw him drinking in the twenty nine years I meticulously avoided knowing him. Mum died when I was twenty nine. I never saw him sober after that. Three years, he got, after a huge abstinence. Stomach haemorrhage, Aspros and booze. My Mum’s lingering death from cancer, her ridiculous faith…that was my story.

Truth was, by thirty-six I was a composite of other people’s feelings, their tales and their conclusions about life. Books had given me my personalities, traumatic incidents of the political kind growing up in a quiet, dirty war in that most beautiful part of Ireland had stamped fatalism and irony on me like a national brand.  When I ended up in a ‘funny farm’, I knew all about psychology and self. What I didn’t realise was that when the ego was stripped away I was a sham, a child in the world of adults… a malformed personality full of bitterness  and fear.

A lot of it came from cunning. I watched what others did and used their characteristics in an imitative way. One person’s self-deprecating laugh became mine, my smile was stolen from someone else who was happy, my wit was built up on old jokes and my exciting stories were the tales of others, retold for you, the audience. You had to applaud. A poor show would break my heart.

In my world if you didn’t have a good time I’d have to give you your money back. I couldn’t stand being unpopular. My story, to thirty-six, was the story of others’ approval. When I could no longer stand in the pub and ply you with stolen sly wit, throwing an arrogant winking eye at drunken girls with a nicked laugh…when the jokes went flat, the credit at the bar grew tighter, the drunken incidents became less manageable and harder to swat away with a quip…when my tolerance of drink fell away strangely at the same time as my tolerance of people…when the shows became unfunny and the crowd was one or two old sots who put up with me…how heartbroken I was that you all left me to it. Didn’t you see I was in trouble? Without people to imitate or to absorb and adapt, I was left to myself…a sham. Imitation is cute at seven. Not so cute at twenty-seven.

All I could do when the theatre fell quiet was go ring my agent and blame him. God, the useless arranger. The one that was long ago rejected and cast aside as ‘ridiculous’. I sat in a church looking at the statues and cursing Christ, the Pope and St. Peter for the mythical nonsense which had stained my imagination as a child, stained it with ridiculous hope. I’d call in on the way home from a morning session in the Lucky Seven, raddled with drink and despair, emotionally tortured, tearful, angry and with a loneliness which saw me ringing my own flat from the pub, listening to the phone ringing in the emptiness. I never have worked out who was supposed to answer it or what I would do on talking to a burglar, but this exercise got me away from the bar for a few moments and made it look as if I had a life outside of the pub.

My story up to recovery is the story of a dozen great barmen, and my story is my brother Peter’s story. He took me in Cricklewood and set me to work, gave me a roof and bottomless material support. I hid out with him in London for years, some of those years sober having graced an AA room, and determined that it was better to live drunk than to die in boring, pious sobriety talking to strangers about your ‘emotions’.

So, this month lost a job, the fourth good one to go that year of painful drinking, the last year of drinking legendary volumes, and Peter sent me off to collect a bet from William Hill’s. £800 on a successful tote place accumulator, as I half remember. On the way back I stopped off for a pint, and came too in Belfast that night. A week later, back in London, the curtains on my show began to close. The homelessness, a doss house for months, picking butts off the street, degradation, living in sweat, fear and surviving on dark humour…a cider-head finally emerged when everyone had left me. I was back on Woodpecker and cheap wine, the passport to another world for the teenage me.

There are many ways to tell your own story, but up to thirty six I had no story of my own. The bit that belongs to me is the bit that starts in St. Luke’s, Armagh. All my life I had the wondrous ability to nod my head and internally say ‘rubbish’. I went into that place a raging emotional wreck, and in the chaos I saw order.

In that surrender to the help of others I found hope. My head stopped saying ‘rubbish’ and started saying ‘perhaps’. By then, of course, drink was a life threatening issue. Without labouring the point, I was in a bad way mentally…in and out of reasoning as the bruising that alcohol gave my brain began to throb without drink. In ways I was mentally worse sober than drinking. In the sanctuary provided by the good people of St. Luke’s I came to see myself and was horrified at how insubstantial I was. I became treatable.

On leaving that place, in Spring 1993, I was awake to myself and the possible roads ahead, good and bad, for the first time in my life. My story begins there, really. I became a late developing human being in recovery, part of what may be the most amazing society in the world. Where I had visited AA years before and swore off it, now I joined and pointed myself down the road with a zealot’s energy. From life being over at thirty-six, and my expectation of living in constant trepidation locked away from ‘normality’, my life has gone to a place I seriously could not credit.

Through all the phases of ‘big book basher’, through my ‘step fascist’ phase, through my ‘yer all doing it wrong phase’, I’ve now got to my ‘easy does it’ oldtimer’s  phase. The essential point is that at fifty-seven I find myself hugely employable with loads of friends, acquaintances, workmates, a wife and three children. I now have a my story to tell if you choose to listen. It’s a story of an alcoholic who leads a perfectly normal life with a continuous realisation that God’s world is wonderful. I am normal. I am a normal, recovered alcoholic.

Normally recovered alcoholics have sponsors, work a twelve step programme and have a home group. Normally they sponsor others and help out in the fellowship….normally they develop their spiritual lives according to their own beliefs. Normally they experience the daily fresh thrill of liberation from old thinking and redundant ways of behaviour, and watch out for the shadow of fear in whatever form. Normally, they learn to put love into effect and to annoyingly smile a lot. That’s about me, my story. A ho-hum miracle has taken hold of me, and I’m happy to testify to it. Life being yourself, taken neat, is fine.

I think back to talking to the pint of Guinness in the Portobello Road pub, glaring at it, muttering threats. Part of that image is comical, part sad. No part of it is me. From fifteen to thirty-six booze was my story above all others, secretly writing each chapter. My obsession was in my background, my pathological unwillingness to seek help or admit defeat. The allergy was in my blood – my DNA is alcoholic DNA, and I will never drink safely. Since I came into recovery and declared the war over, and surrendered myself, God has allowed me to write the real story of myself, the story that will live after me.

Thank You For The Journey

My name is Jean and I am an alcoholic. I have been saying that for fifteen years and even now I sometimes don’t believe it to be true. That’s when I run the video back in my head and it’s then I know I am an alcoholic – no ifs or buts. I know for sure. Here’s why.

I was born during the war and lived with my mother and grandparents while Daddy was in the army. Before he came back Mummy and I moved to a council house on the other (posh) side of town. Dad came home, and after a while my two sisters were born. From an early age I didn’t fit in; not at home, nor at school nor with my friends who lived in the posh houses. And I was painfully shy. I can still remember how I felt when I had to do a reading from the stage at assembly at the age of seven or eight. Went to grammar school – didn’t fit in and at this time I was really ashamed of my working class parents. Started work – didn’t fit in. And so it went on.

My first memories of alcohol were of my uncle giving me rum and blackcurrant at Christmas when I was in my early teens. I loved the warm glow it gave me and of feeling a little bit dizzy. At work I started going to the pub after work with the managers and reps. I found just one drink would help me to relax and be able to talk without feeling shy.

By this time I had a boyfriend and all our friends were getting married. If I got married, it would change things. It would be a way out of my unhappy home life. I did everything I could to make him marry me. It certainly wasn’t for love as I didn’t know what love was. I can see now I emotionally blackmailed him and, with hindsight, we were co-dependent on each other. Although I lived in a loveless marriage, I had three children. We were very hard up. So I worked from home to make extra money while the children were small. A bottle of Spanish wine costing 5/- (25p) was all we could afford on a Saturday night!

Then we started making our own wine. And I would have a couple of glasses in the afternoon in the garden. By now we had our own printing business and life was getting easier. More socialising so the drinking increased – proper wine and spirits now! I started back to work and by now it really had kicked off. Quarter bottles of wines that fitted into my handbag or the two or three double G&Ts during lunch with my colleague (and drinking partner). I would drive home (me – drink driving – don’t be stupid!) and before even taking my coat off I would have a glass of red wine in my hand. First a few glasses and later the bottle and later still the brandy. My husband didn’t even notice – he would come in from his social two pints in the pub, thinking I had fallen asleep. I’d go to bed when I came to in the early hours and the next day I would look in the office mirror and say “never again”.

By this time I wasn’t having fun with booze any more. I hated who I was. I hated what I did – most of which I couldn’t remember. I had to be told. My family were fed up with me. My husband asked me why I was always so miserable. I didn’t know. All I knew was I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

One Sunday I was shouting and screaming and throwing pots of tea at my husband when I suddenly broke down in tears. I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t carry on; I needed help and I was going to phone AA. I knew nothing about AA but managed to ring the helpline. The woman on the other end told me there was a meeting on Monday at the local church. Disaster – I couldn’t park my car as there was a memorial service for a local priest and when I did eventually park, no one knew where the AA meeting was being held. I rang the helpline back and the same person (my lovely sponsor now for 15 years) said she would meet me at a meeting the following day.

I crept in hoping no one would notice me and saw someone I knew. Oh my God! She’d recognise me and know I had a drinking problem. It didn’t occur to me that she was there for the same reason!

At first I didn’t fit in at the meetings either and paid lip service to all that was going on. For the first year every time I shared I cried. I don’t know why. But I did what was suggested – I got myself a sponsor, I got to lots of meetings, I listened (to the similarities not the differences!) and I started on the steps. I think step one for me was when I threw the towel in and picked up the phone. I was a slow learner but I persevered. And through all my sobriety I have done and continue to do service. This has helped me as much others. I’ve made the best tea in the fellowship (that’s a defect I had to work on!), been a greeter, secretary, GSR, Southern National Convention committee secretary, done telephone service, sponsored and done school talks.

One of the things that was suggested when I came into AA was to ‘stay in the middle of the bed’ which is what I’ve tried to do. Life hasn’t been easy – my husband was very ill and died, one of my two sons wants nothing to do with any of the family and I have been unable to make amends to him. My daughter was very ill when her daughter, my beautiful granddaughter, was born and we thought we were going to lose her too when she was just a month old. And recently a very dear friend in the fellowship passed away. But my God – as I understand him – helps me through. I pray, I hand things over, I help others.

I am a loved and am a loving mother, grandmother and friend.

Last year I remarried – someone I had known for many years. And I now know what it is to love and to be truly loved. I was told, to wait for the miracles to happen.

Thank you AA for such an incredible journey and changing me into the person I have always wanted to be. I’m not the finished article yet but, one day at a time, and by putting in some effort ………

I carry a card around with me from my daughter. When she was 17 and had just passed her driving test she downed a tumbler of gin and took my car. The first we knew of it was the police ringing to say that she was well over the limit and had crashed into a tree. She hardly drank any alcohol under normal circumstances but she was fed up with my drinking and our arguments and it was obvious she wanted me to stop drinking. I had nearly killed my beautiful daughter. But still it didn’t stop me drinking. I carried on for a further 12 years. The card? ‘Mum’, it says, ‘I am so proud of you, you are so much nicer when you aren’t drinking’. And she gave that to me just four days after I came though the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous.

One day at a time, I hope to be a grateful member of AA for the rest of my life.

The Luckiest Man Alive

I’m writing this sitting in the terminal at an airport in the United States, the country where AA originally came into being, where Bill Wilson was inspired with his ‘peculiar ideas’ whilst in a mental hospital. I’ve been on such an amazing journey since I came into the Fellowship, and I regularly feel like the luckiest man alive, and thank God for everything I am and the life that I have today, where I can be useful to other people, feel and give love, and through some miraculous process the urge to take a drink has been removed from me since the day I finally ran out of bullshit and fell to my knees and asked God for help, humbly and honestly.

I often hear shares at meetings where people described how they were born into a dysfunctional family. My family wasn’t dysfunctional, although once I had arrived, it eventually got that way. During my years of drinking I always wanted to blame my messed up behaviour on external things, like all of us in AA have done, but the facts are: I am an alcoholic, there’s no history of alcoholism in my family, I have a brother two-years older than me and we had the same parents, lived in the same house, went to the same schools, had the same bunch of friends, and pretty similar interests and hobbies. He is not an alcoholic; whereas I am.

Like many people in the fellowship, when I first arrived at a meeting, I thought my drinking had gone downhill in the previous ten years, but after a while it became obvious that it had been highly abnormal for some time before that, and a bit later, I thought about when I had my first drink. Not a crafty slurp of my Dad’s beer, but the first time in my life that I could drink at leisure – I could decide what I drank, how much I drank, and when I stopped. I was at a friend’s house, we had the place to ourselves for the evening, some food, and some drink. I started drinking, and managed to drink straight through to blackout in the space of ninety minutes, vomited all over my friend’s house and had to be carried home to my distinctly bemused parents. Remembering this while in an AA meeting, it suddenly became completely clear to me. I have never had the power of choice when it comes to drinking – whether to start drinking or to stop drinking. And I don’t believe I ever will have that power to choose.

I was sixteen years old when I started drinking, and the excess of my approach wasn’t something that was particularly unusual as I grew up in a coal-mining town not far from Sheffield. The only entertainments fully endorsed by the local population were a) drinking, b) having sex, and c) fighting.  I’m over six feet now, but at sixteen I was still quite short, so no good at punch-ups, too geeky to be a great pull with the girls, but drinking? Yes, that’s what I did. And I just carried on like that, went to University in the North West of England, where I proceeded to drink too much, too often, played bass guitar in a lot of bands and consequently had the opportunity to use many women for my own personal fulfilment and treated them unacceptably. I met a young lady who I was to spend the next eighteen years with, fifteen of them married.

We moved south, got jobs, had three daughters, I had a successful career, but I drank. And every now and again the wheels would fall off quite badly. I hated myself. After all, I had everything all those happy looking people have, sometimes more, so why wasn’t I happy? Why couldn’t I enjoy life in the way everyone else obviously did? I felt an imposter, an outsider, as though one day I would get ‘found out’ and get cast into the wilderness as a fake human being. So, needless to say, I continued to drink.

One day, I drank hideously at a friend’s barbecue party, went into blackout, and came round in hospital on a drip. I discharged myself and went home.  My distraught wife just said “Why do you do it?”.  In a rare moment of honesty during my life to that point, my answer was “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”  My wife suggested I needed to stop drinking permanently, and perhaps I should visit an AA meeting and see if that would help. So, I called the AA helpline, found a meeting that evening in the town where we lived, and went out that evening to find it. I still don’t know whether I genuinely couldn’t find it, or whether I just couldn’t make myself try hard enough to find it, but nevertheless I didn’t find the meeting and went home.  But I did look up a meeting for the next evening, which was in a nearby town, and I went there and found it, and attended the meeting.

Now I can’t say my memory is accurate, because I almost certainly only heard what I wanted to hear, but I went home and told my wife it was full of God-bothering Bible-bashers whinging on about how tough life is, and how could that possibly help? So I tried various local group therapy approaches, some cognitive behavioural therapy, pretty much anything but AA. Because what I had really heard at that meeting was that if I was an alcoholic, then this had to stop at some point. I disparaged AA to my wife as it was all ‘God this, God that’, and I was an atheist, and that’s all a load of sop for weak-minded people. It was only later that I realised I already believed in a Higher Power, but I’d never acknowledged it. In childhood I believed I was an atheist because my mother was an atheist, so I just took her opinion and put my name on it, and after this AA meeting it was the best excuse I could come up with to not go to AA again. What really scared me was that if I was one of these people, I would have to stop drinking one day. Forever. And that was too much for me to take. I couldn’t even consciously acknowledge this fear to myself.  The whole self-deceit went on in my unconscious mind, stewing away like my days were numbered.

I’d like to say that I had a sudden realisation and went straight back to AA, found sobriety and everything was tickety-boo, but it wasn’t. Turns out I had another ten years of drinking in me yet. Trying to quit on my own will power was constant.  I could manage a week, two weeks, sometimes two or three months, but eventually I would find myself in a situation where it was possible for me to have a drink, and it was mathematically possible that it could be done without getting found out by my wife. Yet I always did get found out. And I always swore off again, as the Big Book says, a resolution, but never a decision. And that’s because it’s a decision I was not capable of making. But I didn’t know that then.

I probably only managed to stay sober for those lengths of time because deep down I was promising myself that I would be able to take a drink again sometime soon.  One day, late in 2007, I woke up from a bender and without opening my eyes I knew I was on the fold-out sofa bed in the living room, so things couldn’t have gone well last night. The house was totally silent. It was a Saturday morning, and my wife and daughters had gone out, leaving me to sleep it off. In the silence I heard a voice in my head. It said: ‘You don’t have to do this to yourself.’  Just that.  I got dressed and without really wondering what to do about it, I drove to the church in the village where we now lived, which was empty on Saturday morning, and went in, and sat at a pew. I just asked for help. No words, really, just feeling totally helpless and asking for help from somewhere, anywhere. And there it was. ‘I’ll find a local AA meeting tonight and get there’.

So I rang the helpline and found there was a meeting not too far away that night at 7pm. I went to the meeting, and I listened a bit more this time. The chap speaking at the meeting told his story. I didn’t identify with his general life situation at all but I did identify with his description of his powerlessness.  It dawned on me that was an alcoholic, and I was going to die a slow and miserable death if I didn’t stop drinking. But the only experience of stopping drinking that I’d ever had was thoroughly miserable, I couldn’t seem to enjoy anything in life, and I hated myself for not being able to, and I drank, and I hated myself more. Late one evening of drinking I hated myself so much that I took a cigarette lighter and burned a hole in my forearm, watching melting flesh dripping off my arm like a candle. That’s pretty messed up, as they say. And yes, it smelled a bit like pork.

The main practical problem I had with this meeting was that it was the weekend before Christmas, and I couldn’t possibly get through Christmas and New Year without getting really drunk, it’s just not possible, surely? So I ruined yet another Christmas, and New Years’ Day dawned, for me, on the fold-out sofa bed again. I was sick and tired of living like this. It dawned on me, like many times before, not that I would kill myself, but worse. I wished that I had never existed at all. The world would have been a much better place without me. Happy New Year.

So, 1st January 2008, I went to an AA meeting and haven’t stopped attending them since then. I met people there who I count as friends today, some of them really good friends, like I didn’t think I deserved. I remember one lady there who today is one of these really good friends, chatted a while with me and I thought ‘She can’t be an alcoholic. She’s really…. normal….’. I found where all the regular meetings in Aylesbury were, and started going to them, a couple a week. I wasn’t sure how this AA thing was meant to work, all this talk of ‘carrying the message’ and ‘working my steps’ sounded a bit nebulous to me.

A few weeks later a new meeting started in Stoke Mandeville, and that’s where I discovered what this program, this recovery, and this life, are really all about. There were people there who were obviously so happy it made my teeth itch and I thought about stabbing a couple of them. But I heard their stories. They had been just like me. But today they were happy. Whatever it was they’d got, I wanted some, so I asked them. Only then did I realise that the Big Book isn’t a vaguely religious text only understood by those who have extensively studied its arcane depths – it’s an instruction book. It tells you how to work out if you are an alcoholic like us, it tells you what to do if you want this solution, and it tells you what will happen if you follow the instructions. And in my experience every single word in the book is true. That is why they haven’t needed to mess with it since those instructions were written down over seventy-five years ago. It works.

I was still full to the brim with fear, of course, and when I realised that in steps four and five I would have to write down and read out all the shitty stuff I’d done over the years, I had even more fear. Now, I am quite intelligent. This is worthless on its own, so nothing to brag about. My thinking mind is the right tool for some jobs only, and getting sober is not one of them. Thinking myself sober was about as likely as an overweight person farting themselves thin. Not going to happen. But I have self will, ego, whatever you want to call it, and my self will is both an insidious foe, and also very stupid. So, having worked out that there would be some things I’d done that were absolutely not going to be part of my steps four and five, I resolved to find a sponsor and do the steps. Just not with any those things involved.

I set about finding a sponsor and one day a chap with this recovery that I wanted invited me round for a cup of tea to talk about the steps, sponsorship, etc.. I think I unconsciously realised what the ‘done thing’ was – that I should now ask him to be my sponsor and help me go through the steps. That was definitely not going to happen. He had looked me in the eye, and I could tell he could see what it was like inside my head, the fear, the panic, the deviousness, the carnage. Nope. I was never going to get away with my little plan, so I didn’t ask him to sponsor me.  In the meantime I managed to smash up my car while drunk and get a long driving ban. After this I then asked a chap to sponsor me, who I thought I’d get away with my devious plan with.

So that’s what I did. I learned much along the way, and I most certainly came to believe in a Higher Power which I decided to call God and still do. But I held that stuff back. I ran around local meetings like an over-zealous kid, introducing myself as a ‘recovered alcoholic’, most likely in the vain hope that if I said it often enough it would be true. But really, this deceit was eating me alive from the inside out. After seven months I was away from home on business, had finished working for the day and was at the place I stayed getting ready to go out for some dinner with a few work colleagues. Suddenly, without warning, a thought came into my head. That thought was: “How about going to the off-licence, getting a half-bottle of vodka and downing it in one before going out to meet my colleagues?”  And my next thought was “Hold on, I don’t drink, and I know what happens if I do drink, and I really don’t want that to happen.”  Then came the next though: “But I’ve already decided.” Now that has got to be the most messed up train of thought going. Already decided. And I knew I couldn’t fight it. I knew only God could help. So I got down on my knees and prayed to God to take away the desire to drink. And He did. But not until the next morning. I had stood up, wondered if God could stop me drinking, and I just knew that whether I wanted to or not, I was going to that shop, I was buying that vodka, and I was drinking it. Right there I felt what powerlessness means, and I hadn’t even started drinking. Welcome to insanity.

Drunkenness ensued, obviously, and one of my colleagues was kind enough to get me back to the digs and get most of me into a bed and covered up with a duvet, before he went on his way. The next morning was a complete miracle and I feel tearful just recalling it now. I woke up with the despair and anguish that often follows a blackout drinking session but this time I knew I was out of excuses. I was totally, totally, without defence against drink, and I was incapable of doing anything about it on my own. I rolled out of bed, onto my knees and prayed to God: “God, please help me.  I’m totally f***ed. I can’t do this on my own.  Please help me.” This time I really meant it. I’d been given a personal experience of the phrase ‘half-measures will avail us nothing’ – by holding stuff back in step four, I had gone half-measures and had drunk again.

I cried a bit more and then got dressed and started walking to the office I was working at. And then a strange thing happened. My hand went into my pocket, took out my phone, and dialled a number. Not the number of my then sponsor. Inexplicably, I dialled the number of the chap I had carefully not asked to sponsor me because I thought he could see into my soul. He picked the phone up. I told him I’d taken a drink last night and I needed help, and I asked him to take me through the steps. He said yes, it would be a pleasure, call me when you’re back home and we’ll get together. Something even stranger happened next, and I certainly didn’t see it coming or I probably wouldn’t have done it. I told him I’d deliberately held some things back on my step four, and as this was the result of that, would he mind awfully if I just told him those things right now? So I did. I told him all the things that until this day, 4th February 2009, were going with me to the grave. And that was that. I couldn’t un-tell him. The prospect of step four now held absolutely no fear for me whatsoever. I was ready to put everything I had into doing the program of Alcoholics Anonymous exactly as laid out in the instruction book. No half-measures.

Later that day, despite feeling pretty rough, I realised I had a nagging feeling that actually everything really was going to be alright. I didn’t realise right away, but the desire to drink had already been removed.  It has never come back. It’s been nearly six years now and they are without doubt the most enjoyable and useful of my life so far. If I died tomorrow, I would not be leaving any wrongs unrighted or apologies unmade. Because that’s what ‘One Day At A Time’ means. I work the program, I follow the instructions, I ask God for guidance and I listen for His inspiration. I feel good today because I do this stuff today. And I do it every day. And whilst I continue to do this every day, I will have found a replacement for the sense of peace and ease that comes after taking a few drinks with impunity – except this replacement is a path which we all walk along, helping each other, being kind and loving, and safe in the knowledge that a loving caring God will keep us safe. God Bless!

The Solution's In The Book

I arrived in AA when I was 26 years old. I felt like 90, looked 50, sounded 60, acted like a teenager and had the emotional development of a 12 year old. I was scared, confused and wanted to die. The shame of attending an AA meeting made me feel sick inside. I was not sure if I was in the right place but the fact is that I was running out of places to hide.

My drinking was killing me and I was disappointed it was taking so long. My work colleague had told me about his father being sober in AA and this somehow had stuck in my head.

This was my last hope. The meetings were full of odd people and nothing was funny from where I was sitting. I heard a man saying it was the first drink that set us off and that idea was a revelation to me. I decided there and then to give AA a try. I went home that night and tried to smoke some drugs and realised it was not going to work if I did that. I flushed the drugs down the toilet. I have not had a mind-altering substance since that day, now over 29 years ago.

For the first couple of years I attended meetings almost every day. I have never been to a meeting I did not need and the only meeting I have ever been late for was my first one, by about 3 years.

It was fun to begin with. The novelty of being alcohol and drug free for the first time in 8 years was quite uplifting. I regained my appetite for food. My bed was dry, I had money, family and workmates spoke to me and in general I felt better physically and to an extent, mentally.

Although I went to many meetings I could never be sure of what I heard. I had a million questions in my head I was too afraid to ask. I did not want to appear stupid. AA suggested I join a group, get a sponsor, collect phone numbers and buy books, which I did. Nothing happened, apart from getting a job putting out ashtrays in my group, which I thought I was best ever person to do so.

The sponsor I never called, the books I never read, and the list of phone numbers looked quite impressive every time I scanned it to see who not to call.

Just as I was about a year sober, I decided that life was no better. Suicide was my best option. It was not my first time thinking about it but this time it felt really comfortable and a good idea. I called a group member to tell him my thoughts and he barked at me to get a grip and get on with things. Tragically he took his own life a few weeks later.

Thankfully I took his advice and attended a different meeting where I met two fellows who seemed content and happy. I liked the way they laughed. They said they had opened a Big Book group and were trying to learn how to get sober by studying the book and putting it in to practice. I decided I would go along out of curiosity and deep down hoped that they were going to tell me that I was not an alcoholic and that I did not need to attend AA any more.

They didn’t, instead they suggested I sit at the beginners’ table, which I indignantly refused to do. By the end of the meeting I realised I did not know what many of the words in the book meant. The following week I returned, armed with my Big Book, a pencil and a dictionary and sat at the Doctor’s Opinion discussion table and started my recovery.

I found out I was very ill, I had alcoholism and it was not shameful to have it. I could recover, if I chose to follow the instructions. My journey started by putting down alcohol and admitting I had a problem. Through the Big Book I learned what that problem was. My attitude towards AA, myself and the rest of the world changed. Although I was afraid that the twelve steps and God would make me ‘too good’ it has never come to pass.

What the twelve steps have done for me is miraculous. I have remained sober, seemingly at times without effort. My problem was removed. I developed a different understanding of myself and my past and I made amends to clear up the wreckage of my life. I have felt free to do whatever I wished for in life. I married, I gained two university degrees, I became a reliable person. My fears dissipated and I was able to do all sorts of things like travelling, socialising, take up a hobby and to be able to sit quietly alone without scaring myself, to just be ME.

My fear of tomorrow and the hereafter has gone along with my death wish. Just for today.

My need was great and the task seemed like a mountain to climb when I first looked at the program. With the help of my group members and sponsor I learned how to use the spiritual tool kit of the Big Book. The truth is that I do not need to be the best, the biggest, the first or an expert in the twelve steps. God loves me as I am.

I heard a man say he was not in AA to outwit anyone but will do his best to outlive them. I have given life my best shot. Success lies in trying. I learn through my mistakes and I grow through my pain. Avoiding these is sheer folly.

We share our experience, strength and hope with each other that we may solve our common problem. That requires we identify the problem, find the solution and apply it as best we can. It’s never been easy, but anything worthwhile in life never is. Then, and only then can we share it as experience, which strengthens our hope, our love and our Fellowship.

I was a hopeless drunk when I arrived. Alcoholics Anonymous and the twelve step program was made for people like me. If you are one of us, I hope you find it. Thank you AA and God bless.

The Ten Year Dry Drunk

I was born in South Africa and I was the youngest of three brothers. I had a wonderful family and wonderful father who I loved dearly. There was great love in my family but I soon also realised that I was a very sensitive person and so started building barriers around me because I didn’t want to get hurt by people. We moved around a lot because my Dad was a builder, which often caused problems with schools, but somehow I coped.

I didn’t know about alcohol at all when I was young because we didn’t have it in the house, my parents gave us a strict Christian upbringing. It was only when I was in my early teens and my mother’s eldest brother started arriving at our house on Saturday mornings totally out of his mind that I got my first introduction to alcohol. He’d usually been bashed up from the night before, his clothes were torn and there was blood all over the place. He had no money on him because he used to go and get drunk every Friday night when he got his pay and he always came to our house because he knew my Dad would help him, clean him up, tidy him up, take him home and give his wife some money so they could have some food.

I despised the man. Everyone in the road used to mock me because of him. It was so shaming. Little did I know I’d be doing the same on the streets of London some years later.

Despite this I had a very happy childhood. I worked hard at school and went straight into work when I finished. It was on a night out in my late teens that someone gave me my first beer. It changed me completely. It was a fantastic feeling and I drank more and more and got drunk that night. I could never stop at just one drink from that day on.

From a young age it had been my ambition to become a pilot. I applied for the South African Air Force, was accepted and began my flight training. I quickly discovered the bar and began to get drunk every night. A few months before our wings parade I was expelled from the course. There had been great hope of me being a pilot, I’d been good at flying after all, but alcohol had ruined the opportunity and so that dream ended.

I had a been-there-done-that sort of attitude and so quickly moved into a new career – construction. It was a good move since it always provided me with enough money to drink. I met my wife in 1970, just a couple of years after leaving the Air Force. She was a wonderful woman, I loved her greatly but very soon into our marriage it was clear that my alcohol and she didn’t really mix. She tried to come between me and the bottle and so I started to drink secretly and then binge at the weekends. On Fridays I would pick up a six-pack of beer and hide it under the seat in my car. By the time I was to pick her up I would have finished them and begun on a packet of breath mints in the hope of hiding the smell.

It got worse and worse until one night she discovered half a bottle of scotch and poured it down the drain. I went really wild that night. I turned the whole house over, broke every piece of furniture and left. I sold my car for cash, a brand new Capri that my father had helped me buy, and came round in Cape Town a few days later with almost no money wondering what I was doing there. A few days later I realized I just couldn’t live without my wife and went back. Both she and my parents had been very worried about me. I just didn’t see the harm I was doing to them back then.

With my wife’s help I stopped drinking in my late twenties. She had been born and bred in the UK and as her mother was nearing the end of her life and needed some help we decided to move. All through this time I wasn’t drinking, I didn’t realise it at the time but my wife was my ‘Higher Power’ at this point. With the benefit of hindsight I now know that this period of my life was what is known as a ‘dry drunk.’

Everything went well for several years. In the late eighties she started drinking more and more, this was nine or ten years after I’d stopped. We were on holiday in Cyprus sitting on the beach. She was drinking some wine and said to me, “Why don’t you try a glass?”. I didn’t put a drink down that whole day and passed out that night. I believe today that I am an alcoholic for life and that the disease carries on progressing even when I’m not drinking because when I picked up a drink after nearly ten years it was far worse than when I had put it down. I got drunk every night after that.

This carried on for another nine years. I used to pass out on the couch night after night after she had gone up to bed. But suddenly she became very ill. That was in the November and she passed away in the following January. This sudden shock helped me to stop drinking again for about a year.

At the end of this time I went on holiday to South Africa to play golf with my brother. I was in a very dark place at this time and met a girl there and began drinking again. The cycle started again and I got drunk every night. I ended up buying a business there and I spent a lot of money. Eventually I lost my house and then everything else, I had nothing left.

In 1999 I moved back to the UK with two black bags and found a construction job. All I was doing was working and drinking. I was working in London and frequently passed out in the street. On a few occasions I remember coming to almost stripped naked with everything stolen. I had become the very man I had despised in my childhood.

I knew there was a problem. So I went to see a Doctor who I knew very well, someone I’d grown up with. It was the first time that I had been honest with a medic because I had never spoken about my problem to any Doctor in the UK. He examined me and took some samples. When I went back to see him for the results he sat opposite me and there was a tear in his eye. He said “ Your tests show that you aren’t going to live much longer. You have got to stop drinking”. I had stopped before and was confident that I could do it again. I just got up and walked to the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll stop.” I said as I left. The last thing he said to me as I stood there was “Call AA.”

It took me another nine months to stop and I was back in the UK. On the morning of October 13th 2003 I came to in filthy digs and just said “Please God – help me!”. I managed to get to work – I was still functioning in some ways – and called the AA helpline. The person on the phone suggested that I go to an AA meeting in Gerrards Cross that night and thankfully I was desperate enough to try it.

To this day I’m grateful for the greeter. When I got there I saw so many people and I felt overwhelmed with fear. In my head I just wanted to turn and run but the greeter came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Will, I’m an alcoholic.” Without thinking I replied “Hi, I’m John and I’m an alcoholic.”

The meeting amazed me. The guy speaking at the front had had a totally different upbringing to me but as soon as he started talking about alcohol I instantly understood what he was talking about. There was something special in that room that night and I left with a new hope in my heart, I realised that I wasn’t alone.

I went to another meeting the next day and got to bed sober again – two days was a miracle for me! The following night I went again and after a little difficulty finding the meeting I got to bed sober again. The fourth day saw me at another meeting and this is where I met my sponsor.

Asking for help was difficult. I couldn’t even look up, I was so embarrassed by my condition. I’d lost my dignity and was very ill at the time, the medical report had been quite clear on that.

I went through some very bad withdrawal symptoms in those first three weeks, I really suffered but I still didn’t drink. And then something amazing happened, a ‘God-incidence’ as I call them now. I was sitting on my bed in this dirty apartment which I’d now started painting and cleaning and I took out the Big Book – Alcoholics Anonymous. I opened it at random and came to the last page of chapter eleven and read ‘“Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” It had a profound effect on me, a spiritual experience, and from that day I stopped shaking and my hope began to grow. I started smiling again, I began asking questions, my whole life just changed.

In hindsight I realise that this was also the moment where I realised that I had to be able to take responsibility for myself and be honest with myself. Because of my upbringing I was never a cheat or a crook but I certainly lied to myself. I got so confused. I honestly realised that I drank every night and so it made sense to go to a meeting every day. It was fantastic. The more I listened, the more I learned.

I had quite a few more spiritual experiences and I began doing the steps. I think it’s marvellous how the steps follow one-another. In step three I found that despite my Christian upbringing I was often confusing my own will with God’s, I had to learn that God is in overall charge, a bit like a parent, but I found this difficult and often found the serenity prayer a great tool. It helps to give me a few moments before I react. My life has to be His now.

My sponsor explained that steps one to three were important in building a solid foundation, and being a builder, I know about foundations. I have to have a strong foundation so that I don’t fall down again. So I nurtured this seed that was planted at my first meeting, I knew that I was powerless over alcohol and understood that I needed God’s help. And now I see that little seed has grown and is now bearing fruit. Thanks to the program that compulsion and desire to drink has left me but I know from experience that if I ever should pick up one drink I won’t be able to say no to the next one.