On the Road to Recovery

My name is Matt, and I am an alcoholic. I always knew there was something very special about alcohol, and I quickly became fixated with it even as a child. But it wasn’t until years later that I really got to see just what alcohol could do for me and just how powerful it was. My first drink, I experienced this amazing sensation that was so deep and so profound that it changed my life forever.

I was about 15 years old and at a friend’s older brother’s house party, feeling shy, insecure, and with the constant thoughts of “I can’t talk to those girls, I’m not wearing the right clothes, there’s no way I can dance”. I was so wrapped up in me, and really worried about other people’s perception of me, yet I was always so quick to judge others, saying to myself “you’re not cool enough for me, I’m not going to hang around you” or “I’m not cool enough for you”. I’ve always been like that, trying to judge my position with the people around me. It made me a very uncomfortable person to be around. But I didn’t really know just how bad my daily existence was until I got some relief from it during the very first drunk.

I had to force those first few beers down, as I didn’t like the taste, but I could sense that something was changing inside of me, the Big Book describes it as a sense of ease and comfort. Well, it was just electric! In an instant, my whole world opened up, all my fears seemed to melt away, I could just relax and this energy would develop and I felt I could do amazing stuff, like dance, talk to the girls, and I could square up to people, totally unafraid and connected – I had arrived! This was living.  Most importantly I realised I could now have some fun – so for me I’d thought I’d found it; the secret to life, the answer to all my problems. Or so I thought. I was to have no idea that I was to forge an obsession with a potent poison that would one day take all but my very life away.

In retrospect, I can see that something else happened that night, for when everyone else left that party, I had not finished drinking yet. I just wanted to have more. I began madly searching for more alcohol, finally finding some cooking brandy in the kitchen pantry. I sat in the darkened kitchen, held my nose and threw down three more shots. Already I had developed a “phenomenon of craving” that was to lead to the gates of insanity and death.

Now with alcohol, life became doable. I could get through a week of hassles and drama, knowing that I can again experience complete elation just by taking a drinks. If I can just keep the resulting damage down to a minimum, this is going to work I thought. And it did for a while. With alcohol in my system, I did things I could never do sober, I definitely never would’ve had to courage to ask a girl out, never would’ve kissed a girl, or travelled overseas.

Unbeknownst to me at the, little by little everything else in my life started to slip away the more I drank. I dropped out of the school band, the football team, lost interest with all outdoor activities, and eventually lost interest with school. In the times I was sober, I started to perceive that my life wasn’t quite what I thought it should be. I wasn’t happy at home, I didn’t have enough money, I became depressed and resentful at people and the world, and I became increasingly angry. Everything I tried to do just seemed to end in failure, and although praised as “having potential” as a kid, I just seemed content to just stuff it all up.

The pain of life really sucked, but all that changed in an instant when I drank, and as a result, I found myself drunk a lot, because essentially I loved those hours and nights blissfully intoxicated so much better than the dreary pain of being sober.

I started to drink by myself as early as sixteen, I would come home from school and rather than do my homework I would just pour myself half a glass of grapefruit juice and half gin (I quickly worked out if you used the wardrobe key, it would unlock the liquor cabinet also!). The family would come home and we’d have dinner and all that stuff, with me being pleasantly tipsy.

Finally I turned 18, and that’s when my life started to take off, I could now go out and all around me people were drinking and having fun. I had had a sense that my drinking was bad, and I shouldn’t be doing it as a kid, but now it was OK to do this I could look around and justify my behaviour and drinking because everyone gets drunk on Saturday night, after work everyone has a few beers, Christmas Eve everyone goes to the local Pub and gets smashed, etc. so what I’m doing is perfectly normal.

Even though I had a few scrapes, I always seemed to be able to get things back together, or just move along if things got too bad.

I somehow got into university and had another good year enjoying all the style of being a university student, namely being drunk a lot. But after a year, I could no longer rely on my natural talent to get by, for when I had to start to do the work I just couldn’t seem to do it. I also would find myself drunk at really inappropriate times, like when I had an essay due. I would get all the books out of the library and I would sit down with every intention of writing it, but I‘d think “I’ll just get a glass of wine, that will get the creative juices flowing”. So I’d have a glass of wine and suddenly I’ve just got to have another one and another one. Before you know it I’m wasted and gone down to the pub, blown all my money, and finally coming home next day absolutely shattered. Eventually uni just slipped away.

My relationships were so fleeting, always starting with so much promise as I was always saying “We’ll do this, we’ll do that! We’ll travel the world together!” But in reality I was just a hopeless mess – there was nothing going on and I could not follow through with anything. I was all talk and living in my own sick delusional world.

The next three years were pretty bad; I couldn’t work for longer than a few months. I took jobs in the bar industry where I could drink all the time. During my drinking binges I started to go to places where I didn’t want to be, with people I didn’t want to be with, and doing stuff that really scared me. I even commenced to have blackouts. I would come out of a blackout and I would be ‘out’ in the city with no shirt and shopping bags full of corn chips, just thinking “what happened?” And stuff like this was going on every time I drank, but I couldn’t tell anyone, like my friends or my mum. I would come home and I would be so sick, revolted, and disgusted at the things I’m doing, and I would feel so full of shame. I tried to push these horrible memories deep down inside me. I just hated it.

I started to appear at hospital emergency rooms covered in blood after drunken accidents, and then began to see countless counsellors, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and even the priest at my local church. Everything that we tried just didn’t seem to work. Mainly because I never followed any of their suggestions as I felt that they didn’t really understand what was going on and I couldn’t relate or be honest with these generous and caring people.

It all came to a head after a mega bender, I brought back all this wine home and got pretty plastered, and I started to cut myself. I was in a really bad way, absolutely mad. I can’t really describe it but I did end up in a psychiatric hospital with no belt, no shoelaces, and no lighter. I now began to get some clarity into the situation I was in. I heard alcoholic and alcoholism mentioned, but I found it all so funny as I seriously thought that me being there was like work experience, and that if I wanted to become a counsellor or a psychologist then this is a place I could work, I was so sick with delusion I wasn’t even there…

With my mum in tears and the doctors telling me I’m an alcoholic and that if I don’t stop drinking I’m going to die, It had really become apparent that I should stop. I even had the scars on my body to prove it. I even thought to myself, “They’re right; I’ve got to stop drinking”.

I was prescribed some more medications to go with my anti-depressants; some anti-paranoia, anti-psychotic, and some valium to go in the mix. Also, to my great delight, I was given a form for sickness benefits! I couldn’t believe my luck, now I had legal drugs and I’m getting paid! I thought I had worked it all out. But I had failed to grasp the full magnitude of my dire situation – I really had no idea of the amount of trouble I was in.

Upon leaving the hospital I had arranged to stay at my sister’s place, on the condition that I didn’t drink, as my mum had had enough of me living with her (and good on her for saying so!). So I left the hospital with a big bag of medication, a bit of money saved up, a new girlfriend, and a firm resolution to live up to the promise made; that I would not drink anymore. If drinking is the problem, then surely all I have to do is stop drinking and everything would be OK.

On my way to my sister’s place I walked past the pub, and as I had a few minutes before the train arrived, I thought it a good idea to put some money in the pokies. While playing, from nowhere a thought came to mind “why don’t we just have one beer?” And with it all this force got behind saying “yeah! That’s exactly what we should do, we need to feel better”. There was a vague resistance to the notion “But didn’t you say you were not going to drink?” then another thought came “It’ll be alright, you’ve done a week in the hospital and it’s been pretty hard work, you deserve a break!” Well if you put it that way, I guess I’ll have just the one beer then…like that I started drinking again, as when I took that first drink the same thing happened as happened every time I drank, I experienced that phenomenon of craving where I just had to have another one, and another one, and then all those plans, all those things I was going to do to stay sober just vanished and now I just had to get good and drunk, which I did.  I spent the little money I had, and eventually I made my way to my sister’s place, as I knew she had some alcohol there and I’ll figured I could just go there and start drinking at her place. But she wasn’t having any of it, for when I finally appeared, I was confronted with a hysterical family because they had all gone looking for me, and with tears and rage in her eyes, she took one look at me and said “go away, I never want to see you again!”

My alcoholism just proceeded to get messier after that as I painfully and slowly came to terms with what alcoholism is and what it means to be a real alcoholic. I tried everything to stop drinking, I had all the reasons to stop, I knew it was killing me, I promised my family, I had the threat of being kicked out of home, threat of losing my job, all that stuff, even doctors had told that my liver is that of a 60 year old and if I keep drinking the way I drink, my liver will fail. But I would always return to the drink.

I finally found myself, just after leaving my fifth rehab, with the realisation that I am an alcoholic. I accepted that on such a deep level – I knew I was completely hopeless; a dead man walking.  I was powerless over alcohol, and could not manage my own life. I had done Step One without even knowing it.

At 25 years of age, I was in a very lonely place, I thought my life was over, not only because once I start drinking I can’t stop and I do crazy, crazy, stupid stuff, but that also I can’t live without a drink as when I’m sober I’m restless irritable and discontent, where life just isn’t fun and there is no point in living. I wanted to die and be done with it, but I even lacked the courage to kill myself; true misery and pathetic hopelessness.

However, I found myself in AA again, as really there was nowhere else to go. AA had always been there that whole time during my recovery. There was always a meeting open with people welcoming me back in.  But if you had asked how I was going I would’ve said something crazy like “yeah, I’m doing really well thanks….” yet I was really very sick. But now with Step One working for the first time, I finally heard a recovered alcoholic sharing at an AA meeting. He was an electrician from London, who had come out to Sydney backpacking. He shared that he had had the same problems as me, he shared about all those experiences that a drunkard has, he even laughed about it! I remember thinking “’you can’t laugh about stuff like that!” But it just didn’t seem to bother him anymore. He shared about all his attempts to stop his drinking, and how nothing had worked, like taking ten quid to the pub or just trying to convince himself that he would have just two drinks this time.  I really identified with this; I could see that this guy was just like me, but then what he had to say next was to change the course of my life.

He shared about a program of recovery that was available for me, just like it was for him, and if I was take certain spiritual actions, the Twelve Steps, and put them into my life, I could recover from alcoholism and live not only free from alcohol, but free from the bondage of self and go out and have an awesome life happy joyous and free.

Not really comprehending what all that meant, I did sense that this guy had an answer. He wasn’t in the same pain that I was in, he seemed easy in his own company and the company of others, and he was smiling and enjoying life. That attracted me to him. I remember having heard him before previously at another AA meeting, and he had said the exact same thing so consistently I could see that this guy wasn’t just having a good day, he had in fact recovered! He mentioned sponsorship and that he actually followed the suggested actions. I somehow felt that this guy understands from actual experience and that I could trust him unconditionally.

He extended the hand of the fellowship when he said “How are you going?” What came next was perhaps the single most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my recovery, that of asking for sponsorship. I wanted to ask, but I just mumbled something incoherent, then eventually whispered “will you be my sponsor?” In my mind, my pride and arrogance was screaming “No don’t do it! Don’t ask for help, you don’t need it, we can figure this out ourselves!” but I guess my ego was all but obliterated by the terrific beating I gave myself while drinking, and with all inner resistance gone, I was finally able to ask another alcoholic who knew how to recover what to do and for the guidance that was essential. A window of opportunity taken and just like that I was well and truly on the Road to Recovery.

My new sponsor said he would be honoured to sponsor me, but he also asked “are you willing to go to any lengths?” and he stressed that we were going to start now, on a program of vigorous action, here are some suggestions to do each day, we are really going to go for this. Against my own judgement, I followed these suggestions as I was desperate. Basically I started working the Twelve Steps as outlined in the Big Book. I did it to the best of my ability at the time, and it was an incredible experience with the journey being the best part. As a result of these actions I had begun to have a spiritual awakening, and the more action I took the more I awoke.

After about five months and being half way through Step Nine, I suddenly realised that I’m okay. I had acquired a new level of acceptance and peace unlike any I had ever known, a feeling that everything is going to be alright. I had found my Higher Power that was there all along, I just didn’t how to see it. It was around me, inside me, it was everywhere. This whole Twelve Step process is designed to unblock everything that is in the way of me and my higher Power. Things like resentment, fear, and ego had to go. Selfish and inconsiderate habits were out too. I started to enjoy the company of myself and others, and really started to enjoy life. The greatest thing also happened without me really thinking about it, I found that I just did not want to drink any more, I didn’t even think about it. That sense of ease and comfort that alcohol promised so early on, just came times one hundred with my Higher Power in my life. I just do not want to drink anymore. That’s it, rock solid recovery.

My sponsor also stressed that I was not cured alcoholism and that I have to keep working at it. That is something I endeavour to do today, by being an active member of the AA service structure, continue to work the Twelve Steps, sponsor others and to remain sponsorable. I don’t have all the answers. I came to AA a hopeless alcoholic with no idea how to stay sober, and I still am, but I now have a sponsor, the Big Book and the fellowship of AA and ultimately a Higher Power to keep me sober.

My life today is beyond anything I could’ve dreamed. I have a host of friends, I’ve the privilege of being part of a fantastic AA Home Group. I’ve had the great opportunity to see other people recover too. That really has been the best bit about AA, that not only has the miracle of recovery happened to me, but I’ve seen it happen in other people. That’s a real buzz and hopefully this story helps someone to find their own recover journey.

I’ve now done previously unthinkable things, like go back to university to finish my degree with first class honours, all thanks to AA as I now have the tools to deal with the drama of life. It really works and makes life so much easier. For example, I can go to uni and ask for help “I don’t know, can you explain it to me?” With an attitude like that I couldn’t fail. I have a job in the industry I studied in, and I just bought a new car, as well as playing first grade football and experiencing all the joys and challenges of relationships; all things that I always so wanted to do, but alcohol just took away.

As a result of coming to AA, putting it first, and making it the central fact of my life, I have the most amazing life today. I just do AA and everything else seems to fall into place without much thought or effort on my part and my life just seems to open up freer and freer. I’m excited about this, and privileged to have had this opportunity. If you are new and suffering from untreated alcoholism, give AA a go; you will be amazed.

Matt S.
Munich, Germany

 

Editor’s note: this article has been published in accordance with our ArenA Editorial Policy.