Step 1. "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."
Yup, I have hard days...when I forget that a lack of power is my dilemma.
People sometime ask me if I have hard days being sober and by "hard" I assume they are referring to the overwhelming desire to drink and those white knuckle moments that an alcoholic goes through at times. I certainly had those types of "hard" moments, more so during the early months of sobriety where it feels like I can't breathe, my insides are twisted into knots and I want to crawl out of my skin. I still have brief moments at times though they come less often, ended quicker and are less intense. However, Step One doesn't just address my alcohol use; it addresses my entire life. The simple fact of the matter is that not one of us can control life, other people or events. Life is unmanageable and I am powerless over it and you. Add alcoholism a person's life and it is like throwing a match onto gasoline.
I will never forget my very first sober week and it still amazes me that I lived through it. I was detoxing, going to work where I fought to stay focused and counted the hours till quiting time. My former party friend, who introduced me to AA over the weekend, kept in touch with me by text and phone. Leaving work at 5pm, I would drive home by the liquor stores I had frequented on a daily basis and fight not to pull into the parking lots. For years I would go to a different liquor store each night because I was embarrassed to go to the same store and feel the need to make up some lame story of pending guests to explain the large amounts of alcohol I bought on a daily basis. During the last year of my drinking I simply didn't care anymore what they thought and went to the store closest to my home. Six months after I was sober the liquor store went out of business which I tried not to feel responsible for. Every day I wanted to say "screw this!" on an hourly basis, why was I putting myself through this, especially when it was unnecessary. I knew I didn't have a drinking problem, I just needed to learn to control my drinking and my life a little more successfully. I hated life, I hated feeling the way I felt and I hated going to AA. The chaos and voices in my head and the continual mental arguments with myself left me mentally and emotionally exhausted.
As exhausted as I felt, I could not go home or hide away from the world because I had to attend legislative functions every evening. My job involved working during a legislative session and that meant every evening after 5pm there were several socials to attend and alcohol was everywhere. It was all around me....and it was free. I couldn't keep my eyes off the drinks at my table, at the bar, in people's hands. I was afraid that I would pick up a drink and then I wasn't sure if I would ever try AA again. For some reason I knew in my bones that I to try AA, at least until I figured out what was wrong and how to fix it. During those evenings I could tell you what everyone was drinking, how much and how fast. There were times when the smell of wine, whiskey and whatever else clouded my mind and made conversation almost impossible. I held onto my diet cokes and drank one after another like it was my life line. I was sure everyone could tell what was going on with me, that they could somehow sense my thoughts. There were frequent offers from people who wanted to buy me a drink and there were often questions of why I wasn't drinking. For me to not have a drink in my hand was something new. I am the type who once starts ends up being one of the four or five people that always shut down the bar at closing time. "Ok just one more" was my most common phrase. So, when those who knew me and questioned me as to why I wasn't drinking my lies came fast and furiously. I claimed I had to work super early the next day, that I was on antibiotics and couldn't drink "damn it" or that I was on a crash diet trying to get in shape for a trip. It didn't occur to me to say something like "I don't feel like it tonight." In my mind that would be a such stupid thing to say, plus it would be a dead giveaway because who the hell doesn't feel like a drink ever?
At that time I had no idea what the "program of AA" was, and I had no idea what was going on in my body and mind as they adjusted through those first days without alcohol. I was not prepared for the physical, mental and emotional upheaval that removing alcohol from my system was going to have on me. I had never attempted to stop drinking before...why should I? I never thought I had a problem. Sure my 2nd husband would mention more and more often during our marriage that he thought I had a drinking problem, but I just resented his comments. I didn't know what happened, but somewhere along the line he had turned into a such kill joy and was so controlling. In my mind I was just having a little fun or trying to relax and deal with life.
(Actually I do remember one time when I had said I was going to stop. It was the last Christmas I lived with my 2nd husband, before we separated. I was drinking daily at that point and both of our lives had turned into a living hell, although I thought the problem was his attitude. On Christmas Eve it was obvious that I wasn't going to have a present for him, since I didn't actually bother to go shopping that year, so I told him that for his present I wasn't going to drink for one week, starting that day! In my self-absorbed fog, I convinced myself that I was being overly generous. He was, much to my relief, actually pleased with my announcement. However, by that evening I was drinking...because it was after all Christmas Eve, which is a very bad time to start a week of not drinking. So I told him I would start the next day....that day never came.)
So now that I was actually not drinking for 2, 3, 4 days in a row, my body and my mind did not know how to cope and I felt as if I was crawling out of my skin. Nothing helped, so I would white knuckle it until 7:45pm and then sneak out of whatever work function I was attending. I would race to the 8pm AA meeting like there were hounds at my heels and slide into a seat, safe for one more day. Only then could I stop holding my breath and unclench my jaw for one hour.
During that first week in AA I introduced myself, by my first name only. I would not say anything other than my name. I would not finish the typical AA introduction of, hi I'm so and so, with the phrase "...and I'm an alcoholic." I knew that if I actually said those words there would be no turning back for me. Either I would have to do what the AA people did, whatever that was, and never drink again which was not a thought I could cope with or even comprehend. Or...I would pick up a drink and continue with my lifestyle. However, if I admitted that I was an alcoholic and drank I knew I would be doing so with the knowledge that it was a choice I made. I knew I would end up dead or trying to die. Fortunately as I sat in that smoked filled room night after night I could not escape what I was hearing in the meetings. I could not escape the fact that these people had a peace, a calmness, they laughed and had joy. I so desperately wanted to have what I saw they had, but I was so full of doubt. The problem was I was convinced that the reason they were full of peace was because they didn't have my problems. Inside I was sure that my problems were unique, I was broken and I had deep shameful secrets that I was sure no one would ever understand (how little I knew). However, I also heard a level of gut wrenching honesty being shared and it started sinking in through the fog. I had never ever experienced people being that open, vulnerable, honest in front of total strangers before in my life. I heard people share about their experiences, which were every bit as bad as mine, sometimes worse. I heard them tell my story like they had lived and felt it. I heard about lives that had changed and I heard about having hope. Since, I no longer had any other options or ideas of what to do anymore, I finally faced the fact that I was powerless over alcohol and I admitted that my life was unmanageable. At my 5th AA meeting I introduced myself with "hi I'm _____________ and I am an alcoholic."
Such a difficult, simple, terrifying, liberating sentence.