Grateful for my DNA, being a recovered alcoholic is the best part of my life. I cannot fathom another way to experience this life other than through the wide-eyed wonder of sobriety. For the past fourteen years, I have plugged into energy beyond the limited container of self which has allowed me to be a light giver; part of a solution in this big, messy world.
My mindset as a child was drastically different. Born with an existential crisis raging inside me, I felt stranded here. Is this it? There’s got to be more….? People often ask about your first childhood memory, and those two lines repeated regularly are mine. Sobbing as I watched ET is another early memory. I identified with his longing to return home. I didn’t know where my home was, but it didn’t feel like it was on Park Avenue. After reading more on extraterrestrial life, I started taping notes on my window pane at night so my alien family could locate me; beam me the hell out of here.
When this didn’t happen, I shifted my focus to finding C.S Lewis’s Narnia by knocking on every inch of wall in our apartment. After exhausting that possibility, I started studying parapsychology and the occult, asking spirits from my Ouija board to send me signs. Increasingly detached from the movie set world around me, I became acutely aware of the subtext, the conversation occurring beneath the spoken conversations being had all around me. I noticed how people’s words and energy didn’t match. The awkward gestures, the break in eye contact, the divide happening in the most well-intentioned interactions. I longed to connect with people beyond the sterile, soulless way I witnessed.
The opportunity to drink presented itself at age 11. I was at my older friend Edith’s house up in Maine, where my family spent our summers. She taught me what proof meant on a bottle of alcohol and how to replace the alcohol you drank with water so your parents wouldn’t catch you. My first drink was a shot glass of Wild Turkey. It burned my throat going down, and I was concerned that it would damage my esophagus for a few minutes before a warmth overtook my body. Everything softened, my friend looked hazy as we stared at each giggling uncontrollably. We climbed out of her bedroom window onto the roof and lay in the sun for hours listening to The Grateful Dead. A secret portal to another world opened at last.
I drank to quiet the voice in my head. I drank to make the world more bearable. I drank to experience a connection with other people. I drank because of a genetic predisposition that I inherited from my father. I drank because of the undercurrent of anger in my home. I drank to be “cool” and create an identity for myself. I drank to be loved. I drank until I couldn’t remember why I needed to drink in the first place.
Alcohol helped me cope with painful events. When I was seventeen, my father shot himself. His decision tormented me until at the of age twenty-nine, buried alive under years of mistakes and self-loathing, suicide seemed like a logical escape plan. I stockpiled prescription medication asking myself every morning if today was the day that I would end my life. Alcoholism is a progressive disease; it works until the wreckage outweighs the relief. Once the elevator starts descending, it never goes back up. When suicide becomes a re-occurring, rational conversation; you have reached the basement.
Giving up drinking was not a conscious choice that I made one day. The series of random people and experiences that flooded my life at a critical time had nothing to do with me and can’t be written off as coincidence. Something that resided deep inside me chose life. For the first few years, I hated going to “meetings” in church basements. Apparently, AA was the last stop on the train where losers came to complain. I didn’t believe that I had anything in common with them; my story and pain were unique.
The best part of AA is that you don’t have to like it or want to be there for the process to work. If you don’t drink, go to meetings and work the step program with a sponsor, you will transform in spite of yourself. You can share about how much you hate it there, and people will smile and tell you after the meeting how much your rant helped them.
I heard many people share at meetings that sobriety restored them to the way they were before alcohol kidnapped their souls. I didn’t understand this concept because I never had a self, there was no material worth keeping. I dumped my broken Thayer shell and started building from scratch.
Inside any AA room, people are in different phases of recovery and the context is always growth. We unzip our personalities at the door, committed to sharing our truth from a deeper place than personal opinion. It’s an inclusive, no matter what community filled with pure emotion. Strangers saved my life.
Freedom is knowing that I am only rowing the vessel of my life, relinquishing the navigation to a force much more majestic than my limited brain. Today, I can step outside myself, show up and serve another human being without strings attached. The best part is that I can’t claim credit for what I have become.
For myself, I don’t believe in the anonymity part. AA was established over a hundred years ago when alcoholics were locked up and given electroshock therapy. When I want to connect with someone new, it’s the first thing I tell them, what they need to know about my story to know me. It’s the gift that I have to give away. Aside from being able to help someone else who struggles with any addiction or knows someone who does, my life is a stand for transformation.
None one is damaged beyond repair. Being broken is only a story. When I came to understand that the most shameful parts of my past inspire and support others, I stepped into strength. Becoming useful gave my life meaning. The darkest corner inside you? The one that you built cement walls around years ago and don’t dare discuss with even your closest friends?
Your gold is waiting for you there.