I didn’t think I belonged in AA because I don’t have a story of hitting bottom. Or if I do mine isn’t nearly as melodramatic as some of the things you hear; like abandoning children, living on the street, shooting up heroin with dirty needles, missing work, taking shots in the morning… My abuse is subtle. Nobody would ever say to me that perhaps I have a drinking problem. I’ve neatly concealed my drinking behind a passion for natural wine, it’s part of my education and refinement of becoming an adult.
Nobody wants to be labelled “alcoholic”. Until you get into some rooms with a lot of sobriety and then the participants can’t stop saying they’re alcoholics and they’re so grateful to be sober. I come from a long line of alcoholics, so if there is a gene, which I don’t believe has been discovered yet, the odds of my having it are very high. I’ve fooled everyone. My grandma frequently says to me that she’s so glad I don’t have the disease. That she’s grateful it didn’t get me. I bite my tongue and nod along, not wanting to tell her for fear of having a “slip” or a “relapse”. What if I can be a normal drinker and I just need to take a time out? Classic alcoholic thought! When I share I say that “I have a desire not to drink today”, not that I am an alcoholic.
I obsess about a lot of things. Alcohol is one of them. As I get closer to 30, at the time of this writing I’m just 6 months away from it, my hangovers have gotten brutal. I have speculated that perhaps clear liquor only, or getting the drinking done before seven pm, or only drinking three nights a week, or only enjoying wine with a decadent meal, just two cocktails (that happen to have six oz of alcohol each)… it is one of these things that will make me a normal drinker. The energy it takes to manage all of these rules could almost certainly be better used somewhere else.
At the beginning of the pandemic I was catching up with a yoga teacher friend who I consider to be very wise and balanced. Even she admitted that she was enjoying a nightly glass of wine. I felt so validated in that moment, if she was drinking nightly then surely I was not doing anything out of the ordinary. The Barefoot Contessa filmed herself making a margarita larger than the size of her face, even Meryl, the perfection that is Meryl Streep was going live on Insta with a martini in hand. Surely, we were all drinking our way through the pandemic and I was not alone.
I blacked out frequently. I spent a lot of time hungover, foggy and unable to think. Spiraling into shame around my drinking and wondering why I couldn’t just have one and drink like everybody else. There is nothing worse than waking up with a pounding headache, and a roiling stomach repeating the same record of negativity for hours until you can finally fall back asleep only to join the ranks of the living an hour or so later. I stocked up on coconut water to help with the hangovers. I went to therapy. I increased the dosage of my Prozac, tried every sleeping pill under the sun. A psychiatrist prescribed me Seroquel to sleep. The lowest dose made me feel like I had sunk to the bottom of the ocean and was still wading through water by the time I finally woke up 12 hours later. I turned to Reddit to find out more about this curious drug and learned that it is given to schizophrenic inmates to help them mellow out after a psychotic episode. I have never been anywhere close to schizophrenic. This was one of the moments I realized whatever I was doing wasn’t working. So I decided not to take the Seroquel again. I continued with my usual 3–5 drinks per night and with my complaints of insomnia.
Cut to: a mob of armed Trump supporters attack the nation’s capital and the democratic society I’ve been so blessed to know is hanging on by a thread. My well intentioned ideas of a fresh start and a more sober 2021 are quickly dashed. I drink whatever we have around. We probably each have our own bottle of wine. To no one’s surprise I have a horrible hangover the next day, I feel completely disembodied and like it is some stand in filling in for me at work. In meetings I can’t pay attention but I can use the excuse of the attempted coup because everyone I work with is going through the same thing.
A few nights later it’s almost worse than January 6, because more ghastly information comes out. The would be insurrectionists had intentions to murder Nancy Pelosi, AOC and Cori Bush amongst others. By some miracle the violence didn’t reach this level but it was a constant deluge of new, heinous information. I’d thought the doom scrolling couldn’t get worse than it was around Nov. 3 but to my dismay it did. I’d jump from Twitter, to NYT, to Citizen to tune into the latest assault or armed robbery in my neighborhood. I was strung out to say the least.
After several sleepless nights I decided it was time to try the Seroquel again. I deserved a solid 12 hours after dealing with a stressful project at work during an attempted coup. I had finished my several drinks around 7 pm that night. And by 9 I decided that I’d had enough time to digest them to somewhat safely take the drug and so I popped 60mg of Seroquel. It crossed my mind that this could stop my breathing, cause a seizure, or some other horrible thing but I shrugged and did it anyway. As promised I sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor. Only this time I woke up struggling to breathe, my body coughed it’s way out of slumber and I hacked for a couple of minutes. I was covered in sweat but I was cold. I got up to drink some water and realized that I was having an allergic reaction to this deadly combination of drugs. This, for me, felt a little too close to an ambulance coming and having to pump my stomach or perform CPR.
They say it’s a progressive disease, which as I mentioned the idea of it being a disease makes me bristle. But I don’t really want to imagine where it would go for me if I continued on this path. Part of me still feels like I don’t belong here in AA, that I’m not hardcore enough, that maybe I’m just looking for a place to belong. A safe place to be held without judgement. Perhaps that is reason enough to stay.
A wise woman said that AA is the only program where one surrenders in order to win. I would like to lay down my load and hand it over to someone else. I can’t do it all alone and the beauty is that I don’t have to.