After seven DUI arrests in six states, leading to five convictions, several short jail stints, and two residential treatment programs (22 and 28 days respectively) I tried going back to AA for the sixth (maybe 7th) time. I know in the years since, I've heard many confess how eager they were for the program and say that they immediately wanted what those in AA had, but that unfortunately was not my case. Frankly, I was just burned out over the costs and legal consequences of practicing my freedom and license to drink and drug with complete abandon. At the time, I earnestly think the idea of actually living without was incomprehensible. I was still looking for somebody, somewhere who could educate me somehow in a way I could continue doing what I was doing, without getting caught so often.
Truth be told, I knew from what little self-assessment I'd done in my previous encounters with AA, that coming from a non-recovering family, I had a lot of "baggage" and my chances were not that good. I'd grown up in an alcoholic family (both parents) that had a brief periods of sobriety through AA, but I was too young at the time to be aware of the behavioral differences. My recall was limited to being in a picture taken at an International Convention in Long Beach, CA (1960?), attending a couple meetings with my mother and her friend when a sitter was unavailable, and even being taken on an apparent 12th step call under similar circumstances. I sat at a filthy breakfast table with a coloring book while the two grownups spoke to somebody in another room. No, I wasn't completely traumatized by the events. I was a kid, after all, and so lost in my own world, that the disconnect between that and the world of grownups was just a fact of life.
Unfortunately both parents eventually relapsed, after not much more than a couple years, so what little serenity there was in the household, was replaced by an overriding sense of foreboding, doom, self-defeat, and a lot of crying. Of course, I was still too young to be able to identify and label these things. I just knew that when we ate a family meal, it was always quite late, arguments always broke out, someone escaped to a back room in our cramped apartment and would usually emerge only hours later, often staggering from too much booze. I had probably covered a couple of phone calls from bill collector as back then there was no automatic rolling over to voice mail so phones would ring and ring until somebody pulled the phone out of the wall to silence it. I was of course proud of my success as a 10 year old capable of dodging and making up excuses to fend off these bill collectors.
By the time I have started to experiment with drinking by sneaking a bit here and there, I had already laid a firm foundation for a life of alcoholism, and was only 12 or 13 years old. I do recall being so incredibly curious about the very thing which peoples lives seemed to be dominated by. Drinking after work until passing out, drinking and becoming intensely angry about the state of world affairs, drinking and accusing the neighbors of some civil transgression, drinking and blaming family members of ones setbacks and lack of fulfillment in life, drinking and lack of money, drinking and worrying about running out of booze. It was not long before the experimentation morphed into stealing booze and sneaking off somewhere to ponder by myself these great mysteries which I'd learned people closest to me seemed to drink heavily in order to solve.
And of course for a time alcohol - and later on smoking pot and taking other things - allowed me to feel as though I could master the complexities of life, that I could be a success, and most importantly, that a kid of 14 or 15 could figure out how to survive in an adult world. Most of us eventually do figure out that booze and dope are a pretty sorry excuse for actually growing up, experiencing the ups and downs of life, accepting that its a struggle, building the character necessary to excel, and developing the personality and social skills required to move from a life of painful isolation into the community our fellows. So it was with me.
I had done a short stretch in the military where i thought the discipline and rigor of military life was sure to clean me up, face my fears, and become a real adult for once. Not for me. First, the authorities took a decidedly dim view of so-called "recreational drug abuse." Second, the powers that be took a decidedly positive view when it came to alcohol, often encouraging use to excess. And third, on every military base I was ever stationed the package store where booze was available reminded me of a candy store of my youth. No excise taxes meant that liquor was priced at a fraction of the cost to the rest of the public. Cheap booze, cheap cough syrup, and whatever else I could get my hands on, meant more of what had come to define me, and that meant more trouble with the authorities. There's something to be said for spinning out of control at an early age. When we hit that wall, we tend to bounce.
I "bounced" out of the military and into civilian life. I returned to a former drinking pal girlfriend that lived in another part of the country to retrieve my car and other personal possessions that I'd entrusted to her while I was overseas. My plan was to get my stuff and go live in the desert. Seriously! I had in my warped mind the irrational idea of living in a cave somewhere in the Mohave Desert, drinking my vodka, getting high, and listening to my stereo. At the time, the thought of running electricity to a cave wasn't an apparent consideration. I was in for a change though. Since the last time we drank together she'd found a new life in sobriety and encouraged me to hang around long enough to come up with a more workable plan. After a little thought, I agreed, and started attending her group, without bothering to stop drinking...or smoking pot,....or popping amphetamines.
Early on, I found it hard to relate in meetings, as I heard people talk about their love/hate relationship with the bottle. I thought to myself, "So, if it was that bad, why didn't you just quit. Alcohol was pretty much the only friend I had. It had helped me in so many different and painful situations, helped me to detach, to be aloof, to experience life." Unfortunately for me, I also had to concede that it stopped working. When I drank I had gotten to become more somber, more morose, and obsessed with the futility of it all. But as I knew people beyond my 25 years still drank successfully, I was hoping to find some of those and figure out how to get it working again. Well, that's what the little family of Aliens living next to my eardrum seemed to be telling me every waking moment, anyway.
Happy to say that they moved out shortly after I stopped drinking!
As much as I hear the platitudes today about the desirability of quitting at an early age, there are some problems with that. First, for many of us, the decision to quit seemed quite difficult. I was still young and (I often say today) I could probably have gone another another 10 or 15 years, gradually firing my brain, becoming increasingly delusional, paranoid and incapacitated. Second, because there might not be an intense sense of desperation initially, some initially see little or no value in doing steps. In my drug-addled, delusional head, I was convinced they were some sort of initiation rite, as were the constant invitations to attend people's Sunday church services. Third, there is the possibility of some generation disconnects. I would hear old people who had some time grousing that they'd "probably spilled more than I drank." Those sorts of idiotic comments only served to make me feel as though I didn't really belong after all. Last, most people engaging recovery in my age group were certainly cross-addicted. My usage pattern included whatever was cheap and cheap, usually in that order. In spite of there not being any available non-AA meetings in the small town I got sober in, so-called "drug talk" didn't sit well with AA purists. It wasn't in their experience. When I spoke about how much I'd "free based" the responses I got were questions whether that was some crazy form of baseball. At times early on, I honestly felt I was either so different from those around me that I was being driven away.
Recovery takes time. It is clearly not just and intellectual exercise but a visceral and emotional journey, sometimes elating, and sometimes deeply painful. I recall quite distinctly, the painful emotion I was confront=ted with upon completion of my first (among many) searching and thorough moral inventory. Realistically, I believe today the admonishment that nothing but my own personal subversion can drive me out of AA. I had a close friend who once offer this encouragement to me, saying with a strong determination, "If anyone is going to hit that door (leave the group), it ain't going to be be me." In spite of my early resistance to working any kind of personal program, I started to do the steps intensely, only because I'd gone to a Step meeting regularly and could not come up with anything relevant to say. As they said. "Bring the body around and the mind will start showing up." I became more willing as time went on. I was given some small tasks, I volunteered for others. I became more determined to understand the roots of my behavior, and I read a lot too. I became increasingly interested in what others had to say about the roots of AA, spirituality, the dysfunctional family, religion in general, the defining work of psychologist Carl Jung and others, Sacred literature, and methods and modes of recovery.
Today, I have been without drink or drug for over 32 years. I have found that most of my theological understanding has been derived form years of working with the recovery community. The ups and downs of life - including bankruptcy, divorce, medical difficulties, and death of loved ones - are met with the fortitude and determination that can only be had when one has a firm foundation. But most especially the debilitating isolation of a lone alcoholic/addict slowly circling the drain has been redeemed for a genuine love and concern for my fellows, both in and out of the program, and assistance to support them in their struggles.
Blessings on you while trudging the road of happy destiny.