Personal Story: “I Just Needed To Master Self-Control, Or So I Thought”

Hello, my name’s Oskar, and I’m an alcoholic.

My last drink was on November 7, 2018, one day after my first AA meeting.

Since then I have rarely gone a full week without at least one AA meeting. I do service, I work the Steps, and I try to practice AA principles in all my affairs. Life in sobriety is not a picnic, but AA has given me tools and techniques to live a sober life, and deal with life’s problems without disappearing into apathy like I did in my drinking days.

When I look back on my life, I can’t say that I had a horrible childhood or something like that. It was ok, as far as an “ok life” can be growing up in the failing Soviet Union and post-Soviet Latvia. We had a couple of alcoholics in our family, but I did not see them often. My dad drank beer every evening with dinner, but I hardly ever saw him drunk. My mum was tough but also really loving. I know the weight of her hand, and by modern standards probably she could qualify as abusive, but when I grew up, I did not see it that way. I was the third of four children, and we grew up poor, even by Latvian standards. As long as I can remember I always felt that something was missing in my life. As a child, I thought it’s stuff or money that is missing, then I thought that people around me were the wrong kind. Later on, I thought it was the country I was living in that was problem, and so on, and so on… I could not understand this void I felt, but I always blamed something or someone else for my spiritual malady.

To be honest I don’t remember which of those first times was the very first time I drank, but by age 10 I had been drunk already a few times. I also can’t remember what exactly intoxication did to me and why I liked it so much, but looking back, I can see that since the very beginning I drank alcoholically. I drank until there was nothing left, or until I was sick or passed out.

By age 14 I started to seek alcohol deliberately. I start to smoke and idealised the wild party lifestyle. In school, I did the bare minimum, and hoped that people (grown-ups) would leave me alone. To me, almost everyone else was fake or phony, and as I saw it, I was the reincarnation of Kurt Cobain and the rest of the world could go you-know-what themselves.

By age 20 I dropped out of college because in one drunken weekend I spent the money that my mother borrowed from our relatives to pay for the whole semester of my school. My relationship with alcohol then would have already qualified me as an alcoholic, and nobody would be shocked had I sought help, but I was not done yet. I started work in sales, and it turns out I was good at it. I made a decent amount of money and started to have some ambition in life. I worked hard and partied harder. Back then I did not drink daily, but long weekends and three-day binges were a regular thing.

In my mid-20s I started to suffer from panic attacks, so I went to see a therapist. She was the first one who said that I have, and I quote, “an addictive personality.” I took those panic attacks and my therapists concerns seriously, and that was the first time I decided to get my act together. Over the next 10 years, these periods of sorting my life out had become a regular thing in my life. More and more I found myself emotionally and physically broken, so I started to work out, tried not to smoke and drink and build healthy routines, and tried to eat well, etc. Some periods lasted longer, some shorter, but every time they ended the same way – me emotionally bankrupt, drunk for weeks and without any clue how to live a meaningful life. I changed jobs, girlfriends and countries, but nothing helped sort my life out for real.

In the last few years of my drinking I knew that I was an alcoholic, although I did not know what it exactly meant to be an alcoholic. In one drunken cry for help, I said to my brother: “I think I’m a functional alcoholic.” But I still was convinced that I could fix this by myself. In my mind, it was not so complicated, I just needed to master self-control, or so I thought. I tried harder than usual to drink like a gentleman, and was so surprised and disappointed when I could not.

I was so confused. Not drinking seemed like such an easy idea – I just needed to not put a drink to my lips and swallow it. That didn’t sound so complicated. So why I couldn’t do it?

From movies and pop-culture I knew that AA was a place where you go if you have a drinking problem. In August 2018, I looked up “English speaking AA in Stockholm” (I was living in Stockholm back then), and sent them an email, explaining that I can’t control my drinking, even when I want to. Someone quickly replied and offered to meet up for a coffee or go to a meeting the same day, but I decided not to go. I figured I had a job and a roof over my head, so things were not that bad with me. Sure, my life wasn’t so bad if you compare it to living on the street.

A few months later I was brought to my knees yet again, broken and confused of what happened with my determination to control my drinking.  Honestly, I did not want to stop drinking forever, I just knew that I couldn’t continue living like I this. I decided that I will not drink on the weekdays, and will drink only the weekends. I managed to not drink on Monday. By Tuesday evening I was sitting home and trying to watch a show, but all I was thinking was how I need to go to my local pub. Now looking back, I like to think on this moment as a proof of a power greater than myself that made me reach out to those AA people again. There was a meeting in an hour, so I decided to check these AA freaks out in person.

I loved the meetings from the very start, and I know it’s not like that for everyone. The people were friendly and interesting, and they seemed honest. Most of all, they knew what they were talking about. I had never heard anyone speaking about the obsession with drinking like they did before. I went home full of hope, and did not drink that evening, thinking that I would go to meetings now and again and it will be end of my drinking problem. The next day after work I drove home, and somehow, completely not of my own will, I drove to the closest booze shop, and bought my regular weekday amount of five beers and a bottle of wine. All my good intentions were gone. I did not understand, how that happened, but I drank all of it and wanted more. That was the last day I drank. After that I understood, that in order not to drink, I needed to go to those meetings. So, I almost did a 90 in 90 (I did not go to meetings on Sundays, I left those days for myself to do nothing). I learned more about alcoholism and gained a better understanding of my behavior.

Now I know, that alcohol was not my problem, it was my solution to life. For a newcomer, this may sound like some fortune cookie wisdom, but as I was able to see it, not drinking was not the hard part, living sober was. To me AA is not a program that teaches me how not to drink, but it gives me the tools to live sober. And so far, this sober life has not disappointed me.

The first year of sobriety was the hardest, but also the most meaningful thing that I have ever done as an adult. It was wonderful and horrifying at the same time. I learned so much about myself.  Some things that I learned I did not liked, but now I know how to fix those things. It got better with every new day, and doing the steps has elevated me to the next level. Last October, in my friends wedding anniversary, I danced the whole party, I was not drunk, I was not high, I just wanted to dance and have a great time. My joy of life has returned, and now I have moments when I feel truly happy for being alive… like truly happy for being here and now. I had not felt like that since childhood. As I said in the beginning, life is not a picnic, but today I have all the tools to manage my life and I’m a part of a community that cares about my well-being.

To all the newcomers, I recommend to keep your mind open and don’t quit before the miracle happens.