So You're An Alcoholic, Now What?

It's not the end of the world, it's the start of a new one. You aren't alone, and there is a solution.
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realising you are alcoholic

My therapist told me I was an alcoholic. This was news to me! I drank every day as my parents and friends did. She said she wouldn’t see me anymore unless I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought my life was over, I will never have fun again and might as well join a convent. 

Of course, I stopped seeing her; no one tells me what to do!  But it did get me thinking, and then into the rooms of AA. I later thanked her- it was exactly what I needed, but not what I wanted.

I'd stopped having fun with alcohol a long time ago. It wasn't social drinking anymore; I drank every night until I passed out. But it was the blackout drinking that convinced me I needed help. It is terrifying to wake up and not know what you did the night before, especially as a woman.  

Apparently, I had an intense make-out session with a gay man and danced on top of a bar half-naked, and I still have no idea how I lost my favorite stiletto. This was why I was ready to throw in the towel.

Then came the anger. I was furious at the entire Irish race for having made me this way. If only my dad had dealt with his alcoholism, I raged, this wouldn't be happening to me. Why me, I lamented, it was so unfair!

Why not me? As far as diseases go, I'm grateful I get to show up at meetings as my medicine, instead of the hospital. But I am getting ahead of myself. It took me a long time to be grateful.

It's so embarrassing to be an alcoholic, weren't they the men in trench coats who lived under bridges? I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my family. But I continued to show up to meetings, determined to learn to drink like a gentleman and then get on with my life.  

But my schemes, as they often do, unraveled as I began to listen. How could these people be laughing and having fun in an AA meeting? This is all so SERIOUS. Eventually, I could relate to what people were saying, their feelings, and their struggles with this misunderstood disease.

Changing behavior isn't easy, that's why there is a ton of support in the program to get you through. I would rant and rave about my perceived misfortunes, and they would tell me to keep coming back. I told them they were a bunch of phonies and I hated being in AA, and they told me to keep coming back. I was jealous of everyone who could drink, but then I realized no one is stopping me from drinking, but my life worked much better when I didn't.

I never really understood what separated me from normal drinkers. I thought if I could figure that out, I would be able to overcome it. I would pester my roommate with questions: how did you know when it was time to stop before you threw up? My stopper was broken and once I started I couldn’t, didn’t want to stop.

I was a vomiter.  A public vomiter, in subways, taxis, and stranger’s bathrooms. I would vomit so hard I'd break blood vessels in my eyes. And I still didn’t know I had a problem. Alcoholism is insidious, baffling, and powerful.

I soon came to see I was treating my underlying mental health issues with alcohol. I drank to ease my anxiety and depression, and without my "medicine" it became worse. The stigma around alcoholism is nothing compared to the stigma around mental health issues in this country. I'm thankful to have found several medications so I no longer have to suffer. I’ve done enough of that.

But Sheila, you say, this is all well and good for you, but what about the GOD thing? I never really had trouble with that, being raised Catholic, even though I had to fire my vengeful God a few times until I found a gentle and loving one. I do have a problem with organized religion, and that is where the spirituality of the program once again saves me.  

You can pick your own Higher Power or use the Group of Drunks as your HP until you find one that suits you. These people have found a solution to the drinking problem. I had not. Some people get sober being atheists. There is a refreshing lack of judgment in the rooms of AA.

I floated on a pink cloud for a year before I crashed hard. “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt” was a big punch line when I came into the rooms. That is when the steps I had kept putting off became necessary if I didn’t want to relapse.

There are books and seminars for "normies" to do the Twelve Steps. I stand in awe of these people. My sponsor said to me, “You'll do them when you are in enough pain.” Truer words were never spoken. The pain comes from having to face your life without the mask of alcohol covering up your discomfort and unhappiness.

But though I complained and dragged my feet throughout the whole process, the results are life beyond my wildest dreams. Freedom from the bondage of self, being a worker among workers, and the ability to pursue my dreams instead of just fantasizing about them.

I really liked that no one was in charge in AA. I have a big problem with authority; most alcoholics do. I read a book about questioning authority that really got my panties in a twist. Having gone to Catholic school for twelve years and having been raised by strict parents, this book liberated me. Religion was shoved down my throat for so long, as soon as I moved out, I stopped going to Mass and thought if God wanted to have a relationship with me, He’d have to come knocking. And boy did He ever get my attention with the wallop alcoholism gave me.

I’m now grateful to be an alcoholic and am happy to give back that which was so freely given to me. Having had a rather disadvantageous upbringing, I'm now able to thrive in ways I couldn't have before the program. I have a stable relationship, thriving career opportunities, and comfort in my skin that never would have been possible without the program.   

The best part of AA is being able to give it back to fellow sufferers. Being an alcoholic is a shitty way to go through life. To see people “get it” and watch their lives transform is “not to be missed,” in the immortal words of Bill W. I was always chasing happiness outside of myself, never realizing that it is an inside job. Serenity and peace of mind are not something that you can buy, but they are the most priceless gifts you can give yourself.

I still remember the thrill of walking down the street in early sobriety, enjoying the stunning architecture of the city and the beauty of nature. Usually, I couldn’t function in the early morning and if I was, my head would be aching from the night before and I would be staring at the sidewalk endlessly reviewing my misery. Today, my world is so much bigger and brighter for not picking up that first drink- because it is the first drink that will get you drunk. One is too many and a thousand is never enough.

As Shakespeare famously said, "Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Don't let your problems define you, choose to live in the solution.

Sheila is an LA-based writer and actress working in the Television industry.

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