Hi, my name is Garth and I’m an alcoholic.
In Alcoholics Anonymous we are asked to share in a very general way “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now”.
I grew up in a single parent alcoholic household. My father was a very good man, who did the best he could to raise me with the tools that he had at his disposal. He taught me things like how to speak properly, how to treat people with respect, and how to go through life as an honorable person, and I can say without a shadow a doubt that my father loved me very much and would do anything for me.
Unfortunately though, my father was an alcoholic. I’m not sure if he ever went to AA but I know that he went to treatment several times, but it never stuck for more than a couple of month. My father was the kind of drunk that couldn’t drink and work at the same time. So every so often he would get the craving for a couple of beers and then he would get started on one of his binges. Those runs lasted for weeks, or months, his business would collapse, and him and I lived in a state of poverty due to his alcoholism. We did not celebrate birthdays or go on holidays, we did not involve ourselves with community or family, and my childhood can be described as a grey isolation.
This became a bit of a problem for me when I started attending school. I lacked some of the finer social skills that a child needs to get on with other children. I could play pool against adults as a child in the bars, but I was a bit lost on the playground at school. Maladjusted to life, and looking like I came from the wrong side of the train tracks with my second hand school blazer, I found school to be a difficult experience. As a child I recall being incredible sensitive and I had no coping skills. If someone hurt my feelings I would either get aggressive and attack, or I would run away.
A self-conscious and anxious child. I tried to fit in, be accepted, be a part of, but I could never seem to get it right. Eventually I just thought “to hell with it”, and I turned my back on my fellow man. I figured that if I was unable to fit in, then I should rather learn to enjoy my own company. I became a solitary child, an introvert that books and art.
Recognizing that my sensitivity was a problem, I figured out a rational solution to that too… If being sensitive was a problem then one should simply stop being sensitive. If one feels pain and that pain does not serve you in any way, then that pain should not be felt. The good things in life were only temporary, and anything that brought a person joy should be ignored because it’s the pathway to disappointment. My solution as a child was to go through life feeling nothing, like a machine, because if you feel nothing you will be ok.
My relationship with God wasn’t very good either. I got this idea from somewhere that if I was a good boy and I did the right thing then I’d get what I wanted. I prayed for the usual things, a new bike on Christmas, I wanted a soccer ball, and I wanted a new life. What I got for my prayers was a generous helping of disappointment, so I figured if God wanted to be all powerful and run the universe that was fine, and if I could be left out of His grand designs that would be fine too.
So, sharing in a general way, you could say that as I was becoming older my fears and insecurities began turning into rage and resentment. In high school, I did find a place where I belonged, and that was with that group of maladjusted, dysfunctional kids, that you find in any school or learning institution. And we had a lot in common, we turned resentment into a team sport, and we just stood around giving decent people a hard time, engaging in petty vandalism and whatnot, and we hung out together because we didn’t fit anywhere else.
We might have been dysfunctional kids, but we were also intelligent kids, and we liked to try new things. We experimented with everything that we could get our hands on. Better living through chemistry! We did everything from paint solvents to medications, to other harder drugs, and we were very enthusiastic. We did everything we could to improve this dull, grey existence that we found ourselves trapped in, and I don’t know why I never got addicted to harder drugs, because they all carried on with narcotics and I went down the Alcohol route. I figure maybe it was because it was just safer to carry around, you couldn’t really get arrested for possession of alcohol, its so easy to get hold of, it was convenient, and everywhere you go, people drink,
So alcohol became my thing, and its only because I’m sober now I can look back and see why I drank. I’d be the odd one out, nervous, shy, depressed, don’t fit in, very tense, angry, afraid of how people looked at me, and what they were thinking, I’ve got no personality. I always felt awkward. But after a few drinks I could relax, I could have a conversation, I had more confidence, I could talk to women, It gave me a personality, and it removed those social barriers. I just felt better after a few drinks. Two drinks allowed me to breath easier.
But I realize now that alcohol was doing things for me that I couldn’t do on my own. When I’m sober I’m still that screwed up angry and frightened kid, and I think without even realizing it, that I just became dependant on the emotional and social effect that alcohol gave me. When I had alcohol, it was unnecessary for me to grow up. I didn’t need to develop a personality of my own, or learn any social skills, or overcome any fears, because I automatically got that after 3 drinks, and eventually it just becomes natural for me to have a drink in my hand.
As most of us can attest to, drinking may start off fun but it usually doesn’t stay that way. I knew that sometimes I’d over do it, and there were massive warning signs that told me to slow down, and well-meaning people would try talk to me and help me, but I just never paid attention to them, because cause alcoholics of my type live in a dream world of delusion, I just couldn’t see the truth about my own drinking. I was always coming up with the excuses, (she left me, the cat died, my boss is an idiot), always playing the victim, always blaming others and staying drunk.
Basically I was wandering through life without a real plan, just following my own guidance, and I was always comparing myself to the people around me, and I could see how happy all these other people looked, and I got the idea that in order for me to be happy I need the things that all these other people have. So I made that my mission, I want to be like these normal people, and I regarded myself as being intelligent, I could do anything I put my mind to, and I was very good at coming up with ideas, but I just never seemed to get it right. I was always changing jobs, girlfriend, friends and where I live on a regular basis, but nothing was ever good enough, nothing ever managed to change how I felt inside, I just couldn’t seem to find that thing that will make me happy.
All I was really doing is just chasing my tail. I was still emotionally and spiritually separated from the world around me. I was suffering these huge bouts of depression, frustration and anger, and I started thinking that maybe there’s something wrong with me, maybe there’s something wrong with my brain… So, I’m reading self help books and psychology manuals, and I’m trying to figure out what the problem is, but I’m getting nowhere, and eventually its off to the doctors, and therapists and they talk to me, and send me for blood tests, to see if I’m chemically imbalanced or something, but they couldn’t help me, and what they do with people they don’t understand is they give me anti-depressants, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills, and none of it worked. The pills they gave me just made me so stupid I couldn’t think, and when I adapted to the medication I’m right back to square one again, and that’s not an opinion on medication (AA has no opinions on medication), some people need medication to stay alive, but for me taking medication never solved any of my problems, but I took them anyway because I thought they would help and I was getting desperate.
For a decade I was wandering around in circles trying to make my life work. I’d come up with these fantastic plans and bursts of enthusiasm but somehow my plans always fall short, and whenever my plans failed I’d get a bit more depressed, I’d go on a serious binge and get my medication changed. Again. Then I’d come up with a new plan. Again. Always stuck going in circles, and my drinking is always in the background, getting progressively worse.
Eventually there came a day when I just run out of plans.
I believe them when they say that alcoholism is a progressive disease, because I used to be that guy who could go out and just have 2 drinks and enjoy myself. I somehow got to a point where I’m not going out anymore, because I’m an embarrassment to my friends when I drink. I’ve completely lost my ability to control my behavior and my emotions. I have no idea who I will become when I drink, or what will happen. I don’t know if I’ll be severely depressed, or violent, or fine, or just fall asleep. Eventually I was drinking alone because I couldn’t stand to be around people anymore. One day, there was nobody left.
My father drank himself to death after the last argument we had back in 2004. I had destroyed all of my personal relationships, and all I had left was my job.
All I was doing, week after week, month after month, is I would get home from work, take my medication and drink myself to sleep. I was destroyed, there wasn’t anything left in me. All that was happening now was that my mind and my body was busy collapsing. I was having DT’s, hallucinations, blood infections, seizures, throwing up blood, bright orange skin, and a lot of other interesting and disturbing things were happening.
I knew this wasn’t a healthy way to live, so I figured I would try detox for 2 weeks just to let my body recover. All I wanted was 2 weeks but I just couldn’t make it. I tried a couple of times and I was shocked when I only lasted 3 days. 3 days is the longest I can stay sober on my own willpower. I’d say to myself “I’m not drinking today”, and that same day I’m walking out of a bottle store with something to drink like I wasn’t even in control of my own body, and it was a horrible feeling, my willpower just didn’t exist, and I was frightened because I’ve never been dominated by anything before. I was drinking even when I didn’t want to drink.
It was 5:30 on a Monday morning when I finally crashed, I was medicated, finishing off a bottle of vodka and I was still sober, and I just felt like I couldn’t go another step. I’ve heard this referred to as pitiful incomprehensible demoralization. I had no vision for the future left, I had no hope left, and I had never felt so empty in my life. I was lying there considering my options: trying to decide if I should commit suicide, or maybe drink myself to death, because I knew I was going to die, it was just a question of when… and I began having we call moment of clarity, it was as if I could see the truth about myself for the first time.. in that moment I knew that things were never going to be different., I knew that all my plans for a happy life would always inevitably fail. I knew that my life was over and that this was it, and it wasn’t really anything dramatic, It was just a calm, clear realization that I was at the end of the line. That my book was finished.
While I’m lying there this thought pops into my head, about going to go speak to this guy who was in Alcoholics Anonymous, because this guy worked next door to me, and everyone knew I had a drinking problem, and they planted the seed in my mind that if I wanted to do something about my drinking, then I should go speak to this guy, and that’s what I did. Strangely enough I didn’t want to stop drinking, I just desperately needed to do something different with my life….
Three days later I attended my first meeting, and since that first meeting the changes in my life have been profound, and to my mind, beyond belief.
It was a transformative moment, for me to discover that I was an alcoholic, that there was a reason why my life did not work. It explained so much. I came it to contact with others that felt the same way I did, and for someone who had always felt isolated in suffering, to become part of a fellowship where my behavior was not only understood, but there was also a solution available to me. For the first time in many years I came to believe that there was something that could help me, and for someone who thought themselves dead already, this new hope was priceless.
I saw the 12 steps on the wall, and because I was desperate I bought the whole package. I went to meetings, I read the literature, I repaired my relationship with god, I did the introspection and self-examination. I made the amends, and I was of service to my fellow humans. I figured that the harder I worked at my recovery, the more rewarding life would be, and there would be less chance of me ever drinking again.
To a large extent this was true. I got sober December 2007, and I have had many happy moments and experiences. I have worked hard, been recognized for my skills, become a man among men, learned how to become a father, and had a few beautiful and rewarding relationship. All the things that were missing from my life before. I learned empathy, and gratitude and how to be a person.
In my 8th year of sobriety (or possibly before that), I began to have doubts regarding my faith. Some things were not making sense to me, in particular the idea of an interventionist God. For many years I had believed that God had intervened in the lives of alcoholics, to rescue them from certain oblivion, so that we may become productive citizens and help others. This did not quite make sense to me, since there were many instances where people who were far more deserving did not receive the gift of God’s grace, and I found myself asking why a lot….
There were many small things that made me question my faith, and it was after watching a news story about a fatal nightclub shooting in the USA, that my beliefs were truly challenged. I could no longer maintain the cognitive dissonance that made the idea of an interventionist god possible, a god that would prefer to save a drunken criminal over 50 terrified innocents. My faith fell and shattered, and I realized my atheism.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a faith based program of recovery. The good news is that one is welcome to have faith in whatever you like. Faith is a good thing, it keeps the fear at bay, it helps me through the hard times. I used to have faith in god. Now I have faith in the therapeutic process of the 12 step program. Very little has changed for me. I still practice the same fundamental principles that have kept me sober in the past. The only real difference is that instead of praying, I pick up the phone. Much criticism has been leveled at those who are staying sober without god, but much of it is unfounded. AA is more about the actions we take, and less about our theological convictions. I have seen many who have testified and preached to the heavens, only to drink again. Alternatively, I have seen many more keep their beliefs to themselves and just do the work necessary, who have gone on to live rewarding and fulfilling lives.
The only thing that was of concern to me was that I may not be welcome within the AA fellowship, being the only atheist among a legion of believers and all. Thankfully we have created a small, secular oasis, that at present meets once a week. The meeting is atheist, agnostic and free-thinker friendly, and of course, being an AA meeting, it even welcomes the believers too.
I am extremely grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous for saving my life and showing me how to live, and part of that gratitude is repaid by showing others that recovery is possible regardless of their beliefs.