I knew I had a problem with alcohol for years. Because no reason was ever strong enough to make me stop, and anything could be reasonable enough to drink more. I didn’t know how to get help, or even what kind of help I needed. Sometimes I would fall into months long benders, and my life always became a burden, this went on for a decade. When things got bad enough, I’d pull out all the stops to get myself back in control. I thought I could stop when I wanted to. After a while, life was manageable, and I’d start drinking again. In hindsight, I was only delaying the inevitable. It would always be too painful to be myself, only so much will-power could keep me from the liquid lure to escape neurotic thought.
Desperate to take care of my body and mind so I could break away, from the self-imposed prison of my tangled mind. I began to take steps towards finding help that could penetrate my walls of protection and start working with the person behind the masks, instead of letting my ego do all the talking.
Without any confidence in myself to find the way to a better version of myself, I was ready to let someone else lead the way. A doctor confirmed my sneaky suspicion that I was an alcoholic and without hesitation referred me to Jason Bowman, manager and creator of Addiction Solutions Victoria. After my first conversation with Jason, a humble, truthful person. I trusted the Rehab at Home program was my next step. I felt relief. I didn’t have to fix my problem alone anymore; Jason knew the way.
I began the Rehab at Home program during the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. In a way this helped me avoid social situations in early recovery that can unravel progress. I completed the four-week program, speaking to Jason on the phone or Skype daily. Together, we worked on topics that help cultivate my self-awareness and knowledge of the nature of addiction. Jason’s passionate style of counselling creates a light-hearted and supportive connection, so that I could be honest and see the reward of doing the work. Now I am 40 days sober and with absolute conviction, I know letting Jason and Addiction Solutions Victoria lead the way, is the most important thing I have ever done for myself. Because, I am not trying to escape my life anymore, I want to live it.
2. An Introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings
I remember my first AA meeting as if it was yesterday. A day after I completed my rehab program, on the advice of my drug and alcohol worker, I found myself out the front of a church in St Kilda. It was a cold night in the middle of June. To say I was nervous was a massive understatement – I was terrified.
Having rarely entered a church in the 25 years I had been on this earth coupled with the fact that I almost knocked over a sandwich board with the letters AA emblazoned across the front I started to wish the ground would just swallow me up and put me out of my misery.
Would someone see me walking into the church, was I going to be captured by a sect? These were the questions that swirled around in my head. I wanted to back out, to run away and escape, and fast. Fortuitously, the words of my drug and alcohol worker came into my head, somehow capturing my attention, “You use alcohol to escape reality, you have to stop running away, take responsibility and face up to your life or you will never get better.”
The truth hit me hard and somehow my legs started to walk up the stairs, my life was in tatters and I was terrified of going back to drinking, deep down no matter what my head said I knew that I had to do this. As soon as I got to the top of the stairs and looked inside the doors, a smiling face appeared.
How it works
AA meetings are a welcoming environment for alcoholics, all are welcome and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. When I got to my first meeting, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to stop drinking, I was terrified of drinking again because of all the bad stuff that happened, and I really wanted the bad stuff to stop. I knew deep down that there was something very wrong with my relationship with alcohol, but I was still in denial.
The denial started to shift though when I heard alcoholics sharing from the floor. It was like they were telling versions of my story. I related to what they said, the feelings and the behaviours - I was transfixed. I couldn’t believe that there were people out there, just like me who had suffered from the obsession and uncontrollable urge to drink, had done the shameful things that I had done, but who had now found a solution and were sober and happy living full and meaningful lives.
The members at my first meeting listened to my story without judgement, some of them even nodded their heads. The best advice I received was to try and listen for the similarities and not the differences. To try and attend regular meetings for a month before I made a decision on whether it was right or wrong for me, to give it time and take it ‘one day at a time.’ I came to realise that we were all in the same boat, no matter that our journeys looked a little different, when it came to alcohol and how it affected our lives, we were all the same.
Format of meetings
The format of an AA meeting is based on people sharing their story in the hope that it may help someone else. Meetings usually run for an hour or an hour and a half and members take turns in sharing. People frame their shares around what it was like, what happened and what it is like now.
I made that first meeting in the church in St Kilda my home group. A home group is a meeting you attend every week. By going to a meeting each week and getting to know the other members I started to feel connected and a real part of the group and AA as a whole. It was so healing and powerful to feel a part of something after feeling disconnected and alone for so long.
AA meetings are all run by volunteer alcoholics and so different service positions are available to help the meeting run smoothly. Eventually I started to bring the milk each week and having that responsibility meant that when my head tried to tell me that I didn’t need a meeting I would be reminded that other members were relying on me to bring the milk for their coffee and tea. This helped me to get to the meeting each week and gave me a feeling of purpose, it felt good to give back.
In AA a sponsor is another alcoholic who takes you through the 12 steps. The 12 steps are the spiritual program of AA. I met my sponsor in an AA meeting and it has been an enduring relationship that has got me through so many ups and downs. My sponsor provided me with a safe place, non-judgement and guidance through the 12 steps. My sponsor gave me hope when I had none and a promise that if I did what was outlined in the AA program I could not only let go of all the baggage I had been carrying but that I could also be free from the obsession to drink and be happy about it.
I used to think I just had a problem with drugs, and that all I needed to do was change my using habits. Only use certain drugs, only use on the weekends or only use with people. No matter what I tried I always ended up in the same place. Using every day, and using alone.
When I got to rehab, I soon learned that the drugs weren’t the problem. They were a symptom of the problem. The real problem I had was with myself.
I discovered that my compulsive and obsessive behaviours with using drugs, with food and even people were a means for me to gain control over my life, and to control or escape my emotions and feelings.
I never felt as though I was enough, that I was lovable and to be brutally honest I really just couldn’t stand being me. I always felt unsafe in the world and so incredibly unsure of myself. I didn’t believe I was worthy of anything. I learned that these feelings had been with me for longer than I thought, they had been with me since childhood, and they were extremely painful to sit with. So, as I got older, I learned new coping mechanisms that would help me get outside of myself and those feelings, and those mechanisms were obsessing over people and relationships, obsessing over food and how I look, and then eventually to compulsively using drugs.
Trying to run away and escape from myself and my problems wasn’t working, and it was going to kill me. In rehab I was left with myself, and I was taught that I need to start looking inwards, and become willing to understand and heal my wounds so that I would no longer feel the need to escape them.
After months of therapy and sobriety, I can safely say that the feelings of not being enough or worthy and feeling unlovable have begun to diminish. I no longer feel the incessant need to escape myself. I have been able to challenge these core beliefs I have had for so long, and create a new narrative for myself. I realise now that there is nothing wrong with me, and it wasn’t my fault that I ended up in the position that I did. I didn’t know any better, and all I was trying to do was protect myself from being in pain. But I can now see that the drugs were causing me more pain then they were protecting me from, and I have learned new ways, ‘normal ways’, to cope with my emotions and what life throws at me.
I have realised that everyone experiences pain, trauma, sadness and loss, all of this is part of life. But none of these can be a reason or excuse for me to slowly kill myself any more. I want to be present in my life, not escape it. I want to feel everything, because that is part of being human.
Energy is everything, especially the transference between people. I am in a period of transformation. I don’t know if I ever will be clear of change. It might be when purity becomes complete. The place of balance between clean and dirty. While I am creating my moral inventory, the light of awareness is illuminating the egg shells that I’ve paved my path with. I was under the illusion that I sided with the positive side of perspective. Looking for the silver lining in misfortunes out of my control. I carried a badge of honour on my chest that read, “I’m a silver linings person.” Until I realised negativity was influencing me in much smaller ways. I have a limit to how far I will walk on my prickly path for someone else. When my patience and sincerity has worn thin, selfishness springs up through my feet, taking me into the air of my mind, where I retreat and let my ego, mind the body until I want to come back. When I do that, my body settles into a self-condemning and defensive shell, also known as, moody. Whilst I am away, part of me is having such a bad time that she justifies eating for the activity of it. I can kind of see what’s happening, part of me thinks “oh no, she’s going for thirds, she doesn’t want to be here, oh well” and I just let it happen. When I’m not with myself I make all sorts of crappy decisions. Snapping impatiently at innocent family members, drinking too much coffee, filling online shopping baskets, watching hours of television and in the past, I would drink. Since I’ve accepted I’m an alcoholic and am following the path of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve been made privy to, who I really am. A lot of the time I do just enough good deeds to get by as a relatively decent person, in other peoples eyes. I do the dishes, I put my best foot forward, I call to cancel appointments if I can’t make it, I can listen and hold space for friends. But when I’m moody, some kind of damning energy courses through me and I can’t see my way out for the dense thick fog of pure self-centredness. It is the crazy need to be chosen by others that makes me so defensive of my faults. I defend myself against imaginary judgements, made by representations of people in my mind. As much as self knowledge is a tool to realise ourselves, it can only go so far. And that’s where I’m at now. That’s where the A.A. program comes into it too, I have seen my faults of character, I can’t justify leading my life from a place of fear anymore, not if I want to respect myself. I’ve been letting sobriety change me, since I started in March this year. I’ve been letting other’s who know more than me, tell me what to do. Through my experiences with A.A. I am collecting proof that underneath all my layers of defensiveness is everything I need to be the person I respect. I am willing to transform. I am willing to walk into the unknown with nothing but faith to guide me. I am learning the power of action. When action manifests from real goodness, it cannot fail. But what I keep doing is taking action that manifests from impulses to distract myself from myself. There is a muscle that is getting stronger, it isn’t my will power, it’s my willingness to listen to and obey my higher power. Cause they really do know what’s going on and it helps to get out of my own way.
"ASV programs and services provide affordable, evidenced based drug and alcohol rehab options across Melbourne, Victoria. The core program is delivered in the persons home where they feel safe and their privacy is protected". - Jase Bowman - ASV CEO Drug and Alcohol Rehab, Melbourne 2020.