Not Bad . . . but Sick

I am an alcoholic. By the grace of God, the 12 step programme found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and the experience, strength and knowledge of people like you in the AA Fellowship, I have been without alcohol since the 31st of July 1991.

I was born in Zambia to a Polish refugee mother, and an Afrikaans father. I can’t remember when I took my first drink, as my father was a very heavy drinker – it is not my right to call him an alcoholic, but he certainly fits the description in the Big Book – and we were encouraged to drink the foam off the top of his beer, taste a little sherry on special occasions, and when we were young teenagers, to drink with him at home.

In order to justify his behaviour, my father used to try to make his drinking into family occasions whenever he could. He took us to his ex-servicemen’s clubs and bought us liquor. I was ‘kicked out’ of a bar when I was with him. At only sixteen, it was five years before I was legally allowed to be there in the first place.

As teenagers, my sister and I would go to dances where, when our own money was spent, we would try to con people into buying us more drinks. Usually men, and I often got very drunk. Fortunately, as my mother insisted on picking us up herself at a pre-arranged time, we didn’t get into any real danger.

At that stage drinking was still fun, but when I was at college, I went on a ‘blind date’ with a girlfriend and two men we had not met before. They took us to a bar, and I insisted on drinking only soft drinks, because I had already realized that I often went ‘over the top’ when I started drinking. An early warning, that I failed to heed.

When I was 21, I married someone from an alcoholic background, but we didn’t drink in those early years. He worked in road construction, and we lived way out of towns, but there was always alcohol available if we had wanted it. We didn’t bother with it though.

However, when I was 27 we did a geographical shift to Botswana, and we both started drinking there. There was no gradual decline either. It was as if we had been drinking during all those earlier years. I knew I was in trouble almost from the beginning. I drank until I threw up, rinsed my mouth out, asked for another brandy, but this time with water please, as the Coke had caused me to be sick!! Of course, at the time, I didn’t know that this sort of thing was merely excuses to avoid the truth.

I became an unreliable mother to my three young children. Very demanding, insisting that they did things my way, was always drunk at parents meetings, always had beer in hand at sports days. Altogether not someone they could be proud of.

One evening my husband took our three year old son to the neighbour for a ‘drink’. I stayed at home, leaving the ‘men’ to their own devices. Of course, I was drinking. When husband came home, he put our son to bed. I was in bed myself by then. I was woken by a strange sound in the night, went into the children’s room, and found that the little one had thrown up in his sleep. It was obvious to me that he was VERY drunk. His father and the neighbour had allowed him, at age three, to drink with them at the home bar. How would this drunk mother have felt if my baby had drowned in his vomit? But did that stop me? I cleaned him up, put him back to bed, and poured myself a drink.

Then there was possibly the longest blackout ever. In 1988, by now again moved, this time to South Africa, my daughter celebrated her 16th birthday. We had a party at home for her. I found out about that party in 2013, 25 years later, from a young man who had been an invited guest. He told me that I, the mother of the home, was lying in the entrance hall, blotto drunk, kicking the guests as they came in. I asked what transpired. He said my daughter dragged me by my legs into my room, and locked me in. Then the guests all went home. I don’t know where her father was at the time, nor have any recollection of the party.

Everything centred around alcohol. Money was often short, but the first thing on the grocery list was the ‘bottle’. Children went to school with broken shoes, and once my son got into trouble for sticking his shoe up with Prestik. (Blue Tack) His loving mother hadn’t the money for shoes, but he came home to find me drunk.

I tried to stop, but always found a way to put the blame on husband. If he didn’t drink, I wouldn’t either. If he wasn’t so aggressive, beating me up, I wouldn’t drink – without realizing that, if I wasn’t drinking, I wouldn’t be hanging around for him to beat up. I would have left long before – but his earning money was what kept me in booze.

In 1986 I heard a talk show where the guest, a sober alcoholic, explained that there was a solution. He gave a contact number for AA, and I called. Then I told hubby that we should join AA and stop drinking. He said I should go ahead and stop, which would leave more money for his drink. That, of course, was OUT. I carried on for another five years.

One Thursday night I was horribly drunk. My two children still living at home, told me to get lost, as they were sick of me. A young lodger simply said ‘Trix, I think you are bloody stupid’ and God was behind those words. I saw the light. I replied, ‘Yes, I know. I am going to stop drinking.’

For the next six days I tried to drink all the alcohol in the country, as I had no doubt I wouldn’t drink again after the AA meeting on the Wednesday. Tuesday night my vodka was finished and my daughter gave me half a whisky glass of sherry she had brought from a party and kept safely in her room. I promised it would be the last, as I was going to quit the next day. Naturally, she didn’t believe me.

At my first meeting I was told that I wasn’t a bad person, but a sick person, that I could get well by working the 12 steps, and to ask, daily to a higher power, whether I believed or not, for a sober day. And I did. I read the book, and began to do the steps, starting with my amends to the children. I didn’t have a sponsor. My first fifth step I shared with an Al-Anon lady. But, like Doctor Bob, the desire to drink didn’t leave.

Then, two days before Christmas that year, I went to buy a nip of alcohol for the Christmas celebration. I saw a wonderful holiday special on a litre of my favourite vodka, and picked up the bottle. Suddenly God nudged me in the ribs again. I had a clear vision of drinking not one shot, but of course, the whole bottle. I knew in that moment where this would take me. I left the bottle there.

When on Christmas day my daughter, now nineteen, thanked me for the best Christmas she had ever had, the first she remembered me sober, I realized that I had not wanted a drink. End of desire to drink. I think I left it in the liquor store when I had that vision, five months after I stopped.

I promised her that by next Christmas her father would have stopped too. How right I was. Twenty days later he was dead. A direct result of alcoholism.

I had to find employment, for the first time since I got married, which I was able to do. It didn’t matter that it was not a high paying job, as the demands of my addiction were no longer there.

I then embarked on a serious attempt to do AA work, attended meetings, dealt with newcomers, went on 12 step calls, hospital visits, and stayed sober.

In 1993 I married a widower, John, who was a motorcyclist. Something I had always loved but, because of my poor eyesight, I could never do myself. So the pillion seat became very comfortable. I acquired six step-children, the youngest two of which were still living at home. The boy was the young man who told me how I had behaved at the sixteenth birthday party at which he had been an invited guest – five years before his father and I married. He and his younger sister fully accepted me – as do the other children, though quite grown up already – and the girl now calls me Mom, as she doesn’t regard me as a step mother. A great happiness for me.

My own children married and my grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 22, have never seen me drunk. In fact, one of them asked me, when he was about sixteen, what an alcoholic was! John fully supported my alcoholic work, and drove me and my drunks around, allowed me to have them in the house, and never begrudged me time with them.

In 1996, when I was almost 5 years sober, he retired and we moved to the small village of De Rust, where there was no AA. I tried to get things started, but unlike the Flower of the South, things didn’t work. It seemed that all my words fell on deaf ears, but I did stay happily sober.

In about 2006 or 2007 a young lass who had been working in an Asian country introduced me to online meetings, A strange type of fellowship at first, but I soon learned that there is as much wisdom online as face to face. I was able to help and encourage newcomers and, online, I found my first sponsor ever, a wonderful lady who knows the Big Book thoroughly, and sponsors according to the directions described there. She has taught me how to work properly with newcomers, and I am finding myself much more comfortable in my sobriety and confident to sponsor.

My sponsor has also directed me to some really high powered Big Book study meetings online.

By working steps ten and eleven daily, working with others, not always alcoholics, attending online and face-to-face meetings, I find happiness and growth.

My John died in 2012 and I was able to accept God’s will for my life. We had been good partners and had been very happy. My working of the AA programme taught me to allow him his right to drink alcohol at home, with his friends and biker buddies. I have no fight with alcohol. John was not allergic to it.

I now have a special sober alcoholic in my life – who is a biker too, of course. Because he speaks the language of our area, he is very helpful to those we try to help.

We have recently been working with the wife of a drinking man, and were able to take her to meet an Al-Anon lady. She came away with a new outlook on life that is a joy to witness. The occasional heartening success is a blessing we would not like to miss.

Let me remember that: I am responsible … when anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there.  And for that, I am responsible.