Just back from the longest break I’ve taken from my Monday morning meeting, as well as the blog! This morning felt like a welcome back party for me… 14 attendees, an incredible number for a summer meeting. Three of those attendees were brand new to both sobriety and this meeting. Newcomers have a way of energizing the group, because no matter where we are in sobriety, we can look back and remember well the experience of being new to a room full of strangers who have figured out a way to stop drinking.
Because of the newcomers, I went back to the beginning of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (also referred to as The Big Book), and we read the chapter “There is a Solution.” My tendency, when faced with sharing with newcomers, is to remember how the readings sounded when I was trying and failing to get sober, and contrast those memories with how much I take from the readings now.
For example, this chapter describes in detail the life of a “real alcoholic.” I remember reading this chapter in the early days and feeling relief, because nowhere in that description did I see myself. “Whew!” I thought, and continued to drink. I suppose I glossed over these lines:
We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a month or a week ago. We are without defense against the first drink. -pg. 24, Alcoholics Anonymous
When I read those lines this morning, I remembered vividly an event that happened almost nightly in my active addiction.
3:00 am, or thereabouts
I awake with a start, having
passed out fallen heavily asleep a few hours before. I awake with a feeling of dread that affects every cell of my being: my heart is racing, my head is pounding, swallowing is next to impossible for how thick my tongue feels. I know with certainty that sleep is a distant memory, so I make my way to the dark, empty family room downstairs.
I leave the lights off and sit, waist-deep, in a tar pit of guilt and shame. The only thing that keeps me from siding under is the panic of attempting to recall what I might have said or done throughout my hours of drinking for which I will have to answer in the morning. Did I make any drunken phone calls? Pick a fight with my husband? Leave alcohol lying about the house?
As I process the previous hours to the best of my ability, I consider the insanity of the situation from a problem-solving perspective: what can I do to prevent this from happening again? It hits me like a lightning bolt. Just don’t drink tomorrow. By not drinking, I will not have to panic about what I drunkenly did or said, I will sleep through the night, and I will feel physically better.
The feeling of relief upon hatching this plan is palpable. I can breathe again! I am feeling so much better having made this promise to myself I am able to climb back up the stairs and sleep for another hour or two before the day begins.
The next morning, I remember this plan and I feel triumphant: today is the day! I will simply not drink and all will be well. This jubilant feeling takes me all the way to 4 pm, and the memory of my ritual glass of wine start to crowd in with the memory of my middle-of-the-night promise.
In a few moments, the lure of that glass of wine grows stronger, and the 3 am promise grows dim.
A few moments after that, I couldn’t, even if I wanted to, remember the insomnia, the physical discomfort, the guilt and shame of 24 hours before. And, let’s face it, I do not want to remember.
I pour the first glass of wine, and I make a new promise: just have one or two, I reason, and I will have the best of both worlds.
I’m pretty sure we all know how that night’s story ends. If uncertain, start at the line that starts Time: 3 am.
That memory, which took seconds to recall, hit me like a thunderbolt as I read this morning’s selection. I shared it with the group, which, not coincidentally, is the most important tool I’ve been given in my 12-step program: get the thoughts, no matter how dark, how painful, or how shameful, out of my head and into a group of understanding, like-minded, sober individuals.
In my 3 1/2 years of sobriety, sharing what is going on with me has never once yielded anything but positive results. I always, always, feel better for having shared what is troubling me.
Which is the other big component of this chapter:
But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished. -pg. 18, Alcoholics Anonymous
From my sharing of this experience, others chimed in with things impacting their lives: upcoming vacations, flying alone for the first time in sobriety, first sober weddings. And each member reported feeling better just for having voiced the concern aloud.
Then the bonus: plenty of experienced ex-problem drinkers to share experiences of their first sober vacation, wedding, and flight, with practical solutions for each.
Functioning electronic devices were a huge challenge on my vacation, so my miracle (in addition to the meeting itself) is the ability to publish this post!