In 2015, I was asked to share at my home group AA meeting. Generally one just gets up and shares from the floor, unscripted – using the basic three step approach of ‘what it was like’, ‘what got you into recovery’ and ‘what’s it like now’ to frame the share. At that stage of my journey, I thought it was beneficial to write down my journey and whilst probably a little formal to some, I took the risk as I felt it was the best way I could express myself then. It was also incredibly cathartic writing out my story. I hope you might get something out of this too.
Thanks for the opportunity to share at tonight’s meeting. Before I get too deep into this, please be warned, I am just a garden-variety drunk. I haven’t been in car crashes, or prison and I have only taken hostage a couple of ex’s, but… I did damage my confidence, shatter my soul and roast in utter remorse and disgust. Lest, you wish to identify….
I remember little of my childhood, but I do remember feelings of inadequacy, confusion, sadness and terror that seemed to plague me. This is because I learned how to dissociate (leave my body) from these feelings at a very young age. What I do know is that there was abuse and there was lots of terror and at nine years of age, one evening, I wrote a letter to God to spare me of my life. I woke up the next morning, alive. He didn’t listen. Even at such a young age, I wanted to escape and so four years later, at age 13 when I picked up a drink and took drugs, I finally got my relief. I was a drunk at my first drink, but I didn’t know it. I couldn’t tolerate it then, at the end I couldn’t tolerate it either, but there was lots in between where I could. The stuff made me feel powerful, in control, strong, invincible. I liked to drink by myself before school, a few nips here and there. Anything to take the edge off. No-one guessed it, it was my little secret. Perhaps I was playing the game out that was played to me as a kid ‘ the everything’s a secret game’. Yet I was hollering for attention – the rebel, the loud mouth, the tough chick – no one can touch me/ hurt me attitude. Don’t get too close, you won’t be able to handle what’s on the inside. “Friendships” founded on creative relationships, refuge sort in keeping busy, meetings, meetings, meetings.
Thankfully I liked arty stuff, which kept me interested enough in life to keep holding on. I put on performances, made films, did spoken word, alcohol fueling the occasions, but nonetheless getting wasted then was fun and productive.
I went from small town Perth to London, to Melbourne. The big city in between too big for me and the first time that I experienced a niggling of the depression, emptiness and despair that was later to consume me. I was 21, I had a life ahead of me, yet I couldn’t see past 30. It didn’t matter, I was going to make it, I was going to be successful. A break up in London, a few weeks before saw me sitting on a chaise lounge drinking straight out of a bottle of vodka. I screamed at the boyfriend in drunken rage, desperate to pin my problems on him – ‘you’re just not smart enough’. He looked at me strangely. He was a laywer after all and I didn’t even have a degree. I didn’t know why I couldn’t put the bottle down that night.
Fast forward, I am in Melbourne. My nightly routine is a bottle or more of wine, best when I am by myself because I don’t have to share it with anyone. But everyday I wake up and I ride to Uni (keen to get that degree) and sweat it out. I sometimes even use the University’s sauna or pool to detox. I want to feel good again, fast. I hate leaving even a little bit in the bottle from the night before because it means I have to drink it the next day and I know if I start, I have to open another bottle and then another one. I go on detox diets and the first time is good, I am clean and sober for a week. I feel fantastic by the end of it. I pick up again. The next time I do it, I am on edge and break the detox, drink red wine but refuse to eat to at least honour part of the regime….
I am obsessive, I work out I am a control freak, but after a conversation with a lover, we figure my performance studies degree is the therapy I need. I consider AA. No one has ever told me about it, I just know about it and in the back of my mind I have a feeling I am going to end up there one day. Not yet.
The depression grows. I move faster, I drink more, I get in a relationship, this time it is serious. 6 years serious. I do post graduate studies in film producing. Sometimes I feel like a robot, I wake up and say I am not going to drink again but by afternoon I change my mind and head to the bottle shop. I get a job on a big international TV series in the production office. The dream gig, I watch as the driver and runner move from their lowly jobs to Visual effects junior producer within months. I stay in the same position, downgrade to photocopying endless scripts and struggle with stress. I hate myself more and more and the voices in my head tell me how utterly worthless I am. My attitude stinks. It is everybody else’s fault I don’t know what to do. I wonder if I will ever be happy. Drinking makes me feel safe and warm and like everything is going to be okay. Something happens, a fight, and I decide to go to AA to stop drinking. I cry at my first meeting. Everyone is very nice but strange and they are terribly honest. I last three weeks and a bad day after work, means I find solace in the bottle. I feel better and forget all about AA and being honest.
The relationship exposes me. I realise I can’t handle intimacy. I seek help from a therapist, but anything to do with my past is like a black hole. I know something has happened, something is wrong, but I can’t access it. I am determined to fix myself, get better, sort it out, get over it, but the more I try, and the more I drink, the less I am able to fix anything.
I have affairs every six months or so. I get reckless, I tell myself. I need an out. I feel no guilt, I feel nothing. I start to seek answers. i am convinced I am having an existential crisis and google what that means over a bottle of wine. I start meditating and yoga. I study law of attraction. I start to will money, that will be my answer. I have no money, I overspend on wine as I refuse to buy in bulk (a cheaper option), because I know I am going to drink it too quickly and I don’t want any hint that I may be an alcoholic. I yell at my then partner, ‘you’re just so negative’. But it was me that could only see black, and I was dragging them through the tunnel of no light.
I flip from one creative outlet to another, this time I decide to set up a business online marketing. I need clients and I find one, I don’t know it yet, but he turns out to be my future husband. It is an odd world, a carpet factory out in the burbs, (I’m an inner city girl thank you very much). But we both like drinking and he brings out a bag of speed, which means that we can both drink longer and all of a sudden the hole starts to shrink, or at least appears to and because I have no boundaries, I have an affair, ditch the long term relationship and find myself making marketing videos for a man who is radically different to me, but makes me laugh, and I can indulge and he buys me dinner and I just want to feel good, you see. But again, the high doesn’t last and so I need to fix myself again and this time I head overseas to study – if I change my thinking everything will be okay. The course is amazing, but I remember one night I whispered scared to a friend I had just met, ‘please help me stop drinking’.
The second last day the trainer tells a story of an alcoholic woman and I realise that is what/ who I am and I am embarrassed and ashamed but because I have just learnt hypnosis I decide to go into trance and sort it out. It works. For three weeks. But I return home and go into the old environment. Working part time in a fine dining restaurant, with two superbly functioning alcoholics. I start to experience anger and irritability and I hear the voices again. The voices whisper that I should kill myself. I am too scared and ashamed to tell anybody. I wouldn’t know where to start. I think I am making far too big of a deal of this thing and I don’t understand why I can’t get control of my life, because after all I now have a masters certificate telling me I am a certified neurolinguistic programming practitioner and can solve all your problems, so surely it is easy for me to solve mine, right??!! I pick up a drink. The waiters are happy. Its okay, I control it. Some days I drink more than others, but overall I seem to have a good grasp. The suicidal whispers go away but the ideation is there, though I remain tight lipped.
I am still travelling to the burbs and drinking with my yet unknown future husband, but I don’t want to be there and I don’t know how to get out. We drink whisky, I yell at him that it is all his fault. I wake up with a pounding headache and say that I am off to AA. I turn up to the Box Hill meeting that Saturday afternoon and I hope no-one talks to me.
I spend the next five months in and out of the rooms, testing the whole ‘ am I really an alcoholic? thing, only to admit defeat on the 2 April, 2012. It doesn’t mean I delete the big “F” off sticker I have on my forehead, but it does mean I get a sponsor, do the suggested things and start to do the steps. I am so desperate to get rid of my crap and have a psychic change, I would have done anything. I have to go for coffee with other sober women. I have to share. I have to experience these really uncomfortable feelings and I have to stomach the shame, the guilt and the remorse that I had repressed, that was starting to come up. I slept a lot. I went back to study a post grad in teaching. I got back into the old relationship, thinking it was my drinking that was the sole cause of its erosion. It didn’t last. I started hanging out with the man from the burbs again, he was getting sober too, so at least we had that in common. I couldn’t be by myself, and besides, he made me laugh and was very positive about the whole thing. Living Sober, one day at a time, easy does it, its progress not perfection. I felt like such a loser. I didn’t know whether I could do any of this stuff and I didn’t know whether I even wanted to live, but I was too scared to kill myself. I just fantasized about it. I kept doing the suggested things, and everyday I got up and said the third step prayer and thought about my day and I shared the crap that I was housing with my sponsor through the steps and on some days I felt a real sense of joy and peace, kinda like the early days of drinking and drugging, when it was okay, but this time it was better, because it felt more real, more sustainable. This too shall pass, they said and I dipped again. I asked my sponsor if I would always feel like a ‘depressive loser’. She told me not to pick up the first drink and to get to a meeting. Getting up the 30 days was the hardest, but once I did that, I thought that 90 was that bit more achievable, when I did 90 I could do six months and when I got six months, I thought I could go for a year. Once I got a year, I thought I would give anther year a go and so on. My sponsor told me I needed to start passing the program on to others.
But first, I did my head in thinking about who God was and if he was real and I wrote lots and discovered that I thought he hated me and that I was evil and if he didn’t exist then it would prove ‘they’ were right and that ultimately there was no such thing as hope. People talked about living sober and being grateful and I beat myself up because I was such a selfish bitch because I couldn’t feel any gratitude. The voices in my head got louder and at eight months living sober I hit a real depression. A mild anti depressant helped and then therapy started outside of AA. I knew I had to go in all guns blazing. Later, I also started prayer ministry.
One day I did the drill, the third step prayer, the thinking about my day meditation on page 86 and then Jesus appeared. I was on a beach and he was there and he started walking and I followed. I kinda knew who he was, having been raised a Catholic, but in that vision all I knew was that I needed to follow. Soon after, I had a desire to go to Church. I couldn’t believe it. I hated religion. Thankfully I lived in East St Kilda and the Church God led me to was progressive; the people were warm, creative, smart and talked about having a relationship with God. There were no rituals and instead my understanding became about faith and spirituality, not religion.
And so my journey since has led me to being baptised, has led me to renouncing my old way of life (which clearly wasn’t working for me) and wrestling with the demons that come with living sober. I should mention that during the second year of my sobriety things did get better. I got a job at a Film School and started to put my training and experience to better use, I finally gave my heart to the sober man in the burbs and we got married, something I never ever thought I would do. I now have money, but it doesn’t rule my thinking, and we have a house and I am a pretty responsible in all my affairs. But the whole living sober thing is dependent on a few things – it requires me to take action. Like going to the bottle shop was taking action, this time, it is a meeting. Like drinking myself to oblivion was an action, albeit a passive one, praying and service is what I need to do instead. I need to take inventory and get involved with AA, speak to my sponsor, because over these last three years, I have tried to do it otherwise but I end up slowly going insane inside my own head and not telling anyone about it. My default position is suicidal ideation, depression and negative thinking and self talk. When I first came into AA I heard a man share that he had come to realise that there is a part of him who wants him dead and I recall thinking, ‘that’s a bit dramatic’, but I too have a part that wants me dead. It is called the disease of alcoholism.
Through my therapy, I have come to discover that the voices inside my head are the parts of me that split off from the trauma I experienced as a child. And so I have accepted for the time being that I am a multitude of parts, and rather than relying on the quick fixes to get over this, I accept that the journey of AA and my journey with God, is this slow and daily and sometimes really painstaking process that involves suffering, but that sees me being born again in a new image, in His image. And when I accept that and surrender to it, the pain goes, momentarily and I feel free. I have to repeat this process daily, otherwise I revert back and I forget what Living Sober means. Thanks for listening to this part of my story.