I’m in California this week, so I realize Monday morning is far gone for most of you (and it is actually nearing dinnertime here), but I found myself in thinking about what I would do if I were a dear friend of mine who is today again on Day One. Or more accurately, thinking what I did do over a year ago when I walked into an AA meeting and, much to my own surprise, told a bunch of strangers that I was an alcoholic and wanted to stop drinking. Those people saved my life, by the way, and at some point I’ll tell that story. Or maybe just erect a huge statue to them and release a thousand doves
But this Monday, I have been trying to figure out why that was a Day One that stuck. What made that particular moment the one that launched my sober life when so many other pledges and prayers didn’t take? I understand and fully appreciate that everyone is different, and what worked for me may not work for you. Sober bubble baths, for example? Just made me want a glass of champagne to complete the picture. And really no one, especially me, needs to contemplate my naked belly unmedicated.
So what I’m about to share, I do in hopes that it might help someone else get where I am now — one year and two weeks of sobriety, so hard won and so worth the struggle. I also realize, once I started writing this up, that I have a LOT to say on the matter, so I’m going to break up my own person “How It Works” into several posts, maybe not all right away. And like they say in AA, Take from this what you can use, leave the rest.
I think the first, biggest difference on my last Day One was was that I stopped thinking.
Since I started drinking at about 18, I had always been a “game” drinker. I worked in a profession and hung out with people (and family) for whom drinking was a part of any social (and most business) gathering, meal, or event. We weren’t winos, we were wine connoisseurs. We didn’t have a problem, we gave great dinner parties. That sort of thing. But over the last decade, things got more desperate in my drinking (either that or I realized that they did — fodder for another blog post). I started not being able to limit myself to two glasses, even on just family nights at home. I started drinking before I went out so as not to seem to drink to much when I was out then drank more when I got home. I began to enjoy drinking alone more than I enjoyed social drinking.
As these habits started to become obsessions, I began to make stricter bargains with myself about moderating, deals I never kept. I gingerly looked up information on alcoholism but decided I could not be an alcoholic because I could not quit — I could not imagine a life without alcohol (recognize the logic there?) I checked out AA meetings, where they were. I watched my brother and sister-in-law (both eleven years sober today) and their friends for afar (and with a disdainful smirk on my face, because I thought they were no fun anymore now that they couldn’t handle their liquor — yeah, I was THAT asshole alcoholic). I spent many a three a.m. up in a cold sweat, regretting that I again could not remember how much I drank or what I did or where my purse was. After sneaking out of the bedroom, locating wallet and cell phone, and hiding the bottle I killed after everyone went to bed, I would lie awake until dawn, planning how to stop, at least for a while, just to show that I could. And none of my elaborate schemes got me even two days of sobriety.
What did get me into that meeting on my real Day One was that I stopped thinking. I stopped trying to control my free fall. I walked over to the meeting place in a (hungover) fog, not thinking beyond the next literal step, not having a clue what I expected from the meeting, not having an agenda at all. I sat down with a bunch of strangers told them my name, and started sobbing.
Previous to this, all of my efforts to stop or (mostly) moderate had been MY plans. I had set the rules (then broken them). I decided what I needed to do. On my Day One that stuck, I had no plan beyond getting in the door to the meeting. I had no idea what to do once I got there and asked for help.
I completely gave up control and put it in the hands of the saints at that meeting. They sent me home with a copy of Living Sober, which I read cover to cover, twice, that day. And I did everything the book advised, like I was a piece of Ikea furniture and that book was the assembly instructions. I went back to a meeting the next day, hungry for more guidance, and kept going to a meeting a day, for ninety days, just as I was told. Later I found the wonderful sober community online and started following advice here.
Now, for the most part, I don’t let my (crazy alcoholic) brain get involved in deciding how I’m going to stay sober. I leave that to sober friends, AA, and, yeah, a higher power of sorts (I’m not involved in an organized religion, but I have developed a spiritual practice that helps guide my sobriety).
So I guess my first piece of advice to those out there hoping like hell to get to a Day Two, Day Ten, and Day Ten Thousand is: Stop trying to outsmart your addiction. You can’t. Just admit defeat. Tell alcohol: You win. I’m not playing anymore. Take your bucket of beer and go home. Then, for as long as it take, for me it may be a lifetime, put your sobriety in the hands of the enormous and loving community of ex-drunks, who I guarantee you will welcome you — as I was welcomed — with laughter and support and guidance and companionship and, most of all, the promises of a happier life than you can ever imagine.