Category Archives: AA

Chain-Smoking Basement Dwellers

I figured it was worth revisiting the topic of AA, since I think I’ve only mentioned it on here a few times in passing.  Once, maybe, in describing my first meeting, and then perhaps twice more just briefly.

Yes, so.  I did not want to go to AA.  Fuck that.  I considered myself way too independent.  I’m not a joiner.  I don’t like clubs, or groups.  I’m into exclusivity, not inclusiveness.  I’m an atheist, for god’s sake.  I hate cults.  And self-help books.  And people who talk in slogans, period.  I don’t like churches, I don’t like bad coffee, and I don’t like styrofoam.  I don’t like people who know more than me, and I don’t like admitting there’s something I don’t know (or can’t do).  I don’t like any of it.  So my position, even after I knew I had a problem, was that it wasn’t for me.  No thanks.

But I kinda trapped myself, see.  On December 31, 2012, my New Year’s Resolution was that I would quit drinking for a year.  For all of 2013.  I made the resolution sort of a big deal.  As a general matter, I’m not a resolution person.   But a few years prior, my New Year’s Resolution had been to quit smoking, and it worked.  So I took this one seriously.  I told Andrew.  We were camping in the desert.  It was freezing.  I was drinking wine by the campfire, and I told him I was quitting for a year.  I could sense his relief, which was scary.  He said he would support me however he could.   And then, as part of my resolution, I promised myself that, if this didn’t work, if I wasn’t able to quit this time, when I was taking it so seriously, then I guessed I’d have to go to AA after all.

I lasted 19 days.

I didn’t head to AA right away, of course.  Instead, I drank steadily all the way through 2013, and then even into the beginning of 2014.  But when I finally decided it was time to stop, I knew my promises would be empty without something more behind them.  I had already used up all my chances to do it on my own.

I’ve blogged already about when I quit and what I thought of that first meeting.  But what I haven’t blogged about is how I kept trying different meetings, even getting brave enough to attend some in my own neighborhood, until I found a few I like.  In LA, where I live, there are a handful of meetings with an agnostic focus, and I gravitated toward those.  Also, I go to meetings in my own neighborhood and neighboring ones, which means I identify with a greater number of the attendees than I did at that first meeting.  Sure, there’s still a range, but there are youngish people, like me, and other people who didn’t lose a car/job/relationship/their freedom, like me.  That was, especially at first, really important to me, because I needed to feel like I actually belonged there and wasn’t a “less serious” case, or somehow “not a real alcoholic.”  (I still have moments where I feel superior to other people there, but I try to nip that kind of shit in the bud.)

So, where I am now with this thing is that I go to about one meeting a week, and I actually like going.  I like hearing people’s stories.  Sure, I get annoyed by some of the terminology, and I take what I like (support, etc.) and leave the rest (working all the steps, especially the religious ones, getting a sponsor, etc.).  I’m not sure I’ll go forever, but I do notice that I feel calmer when I leave a meeting, and I feel like it lifts my spirits.  It’s nice to have a place (besides here!) to vent about the difficult parts of sobriety, and I like feeling like I’m being there for newcomers to the meeting.  It’s nice to be reminded how desperate I was, how raw, and how thankful that there was a place I could go when I had run out of options for trying to quit on my own.


Our Past Selves

Someone from this AA meeting I go to once a week sent me a Facebook friend request.  When I was scoping out his page, I was struck by how the person represented there — the person he seemed to be before his recent sobriety — seemed like a lot of fun.  Seemed carefree, and funny, with a wide social network.  Seemed like a much more compelling, attractive person than the introspective, almost timid newly sober person I’d seen at the meetings.  I caught myself thinking, man, it doesn’t seem worth it.  If you had to trade that irreverent, funny, up-for-anything, doesn’t give a fuck dude for this new, painfully self-aware, vulnerable, navel-gazing version, maybe just drink instead.

There are (at least) two things wrong with that reaction, of course: First, the life that Facebook tells people we lead is never very close to the truth, so that fun-loving, social guy probably wasn’t really who he was.  I know, from having heard his stories, how miserable he was.  So when I get nostalgic for him over the fun times he’s missing, I’m surely projecting – it comes from my own sense of loss.  And second, the version of him that I see in meetings is almost certainly not who he is now, either.  Those meetings are all about getting vulnerable.  All about exploring feelings, and stuff like that.  So probably the dude is still funny and irreverent sober.

But yeah, the projection.  I know I sort of miss the person I (thought I) was, who was willing to live dangerously, who said yes, who was up for anything.  The life of the party, the most fun at weddings, the one who never said no to just one more.  Now, I’m this tea-drinking, early-morning-waking, ducking-out-early-from-social-events person.  I was just going to type that I don’t recognize myself, but that’s not true — I actually recognize myself, a past version of myself, closer to the version I was pre-booze.  But I still miss that drinking Hilda, that drinking version of me, that party girl.  Maybe that was never me, but it was nice to pretend.  It’s just a little sad to say goodbye.

Oysters and Champagne

It was a pretty intense meeting last week.  Some dude told a story about pawning all his relatives’ stuff, some other chick told a harrowing tale of living on skid row, doing heroin, and turning tricks to fund her habit.  And then it came to me, and what did I want to talk about?  How damn annoying it was that the manager of some fancy restaurant had the nerve to bring us complimentary glasses of champagne just because they were out of the oysters we ordered.  God, what an asshole I am.

And if you’re wondering whether I checked myself and saved my tale of woe — woe!  not only were they out of oysters, but also I had to face a glass of champagne! — for another time, the answer is no.  I mean, my struggles are my struggles, right?  Or, if my life is unmanageable for me, it’s unmanageable, right?  Yeah, I keep telling myself that.

But it really was sort of hard.  Dinners out are hard for me.  Of all the types of drinking, I romanticize them the most.  If I had quit drinking 10 years ago, I would have those pangs about bars and clubs, I’m sure.  But recently my favorite drinking, the drinking I think of wistfully, through rose-colored glasses, has occurred in restaurants.  A good bottle of wine, good food, good conversation with my love, or with friends.  That buzz.  The color of the wine, the smell.  The taste.  So for the first month or so after I quit, I avoided restaurants with wine lists.  Truthfully, I avoided restaurants, period.

Anyway, this particular night, we went to a favorite place.  Andrew and I had both been working like crazy, and we needed to reconnect.  I ignored the wine list, sucked it up, and ordered sparkling water.  He ordered a beer.  We settled in, food started coming, and all was well.  Until that damn champagne arrived.

Maybe I should have sent it back, I don’t know.  It was just a friendly little gesture from the manager, and I guess I was surprised by it.  So the glass just sat there.  I sipped my water and tried to ignore it.  Tried.  Tried being the operative word, here.

It just kept sparkling at me.  Those little bubbles rising charmingly to the surface.  The candle flickering behind it.  I kept it there in front of me because  I wanted to prove that I could ignore it, I guess.  That I would be okay with it sitting there.  And I mean, I guess I didn’t touch it.  But it was so incredibly distracting.  And it not only distracted me during dinner, but I kept thinking about it afterward.  I mentioned it on the way home, as a sort of celebration of the fact that I didn’t drink it.  (P.S. I enjoyed driving home.  Sober.  Fast.  Try to pull me over, copper.  Have I been drinking?  I fucking wish I’d been drinking.)

I guess all that’s to say that, look, okay.  Me facing down that dastardly glass of champagne isn’t the hardest, toughest shit I’ve ever done.  It just isn’t.  It’s also not exactly sleeping in a car on skid row, getting stabbed, spending time in jail, or any of the other shit that even the put-together-seeming folks in my weekly meeting have gotten themselves into.  And it’s not to say I haven’t had my rougher moments drinking, either.  But at this point in my sobriety, having quit at precisely this wine-sniffing, restaurant-fetishizing point in my drinking career, a glass of champagne is a challenge.  It is.  It’s a challenge that tests me.  And while one slip up would just lead to me having a glass of wine, I know that that tantalizing glass of champagne would lead me right back down to guzzling, and right back down to the depressed, helpless, hopeless state in which I found myself two months ago.  So I guess I take that stab wound and raise you a nice Barolo.  Happy 60 days sober to me.

When I Quit

I had been looking at AA meeting schedules online for more than a year.  I would decide to go to a meeting in the morning and then chicken out when 4pm rolled around.  “If I’m going to quit,” I’d think, “I want my last drink to be something spectacular.”  So I would buy a crazy pricey bottle of wine and then just drink it all.  Then I’d just drink the next day anyway.  It was a pretty expensive pattern.

One Sunday night, I finally picked a meeting in Pasadena, the next town over.  It was in a church, which, blegh.  Still, I was gonna go anyway.  But once I got there, I couldn’t tell where the meeting was.  There seemed to be people all over that church, meetings of unknown nature in every room.  I was too embarrassed to ask anyone.  At some point, I found a meeting schedule posted, and it indicated that the meeting had actually started a half-hour before.  That was my excuse.  I would try again tomorrow.  On my way out, a woman rushing in smiled and asked me if I knew where the 12-step meeting was.  I just said “no, sorry” and kept on going.

I obviously drank that night.  I drank with my partner, Andrew, and then I took my glass into the office where I had recently installed a comfy chair.  I finished the bottle and probably more.  I felt, as I had been feeling more frequently at that time, like someone was making me drink against my will.  At some point in the evening, I started crying.  But what was different than the other times I cried while drinking was that there was a mirror in front of me — the sliding closet door.  I remember thinking, “help me,” although I’m a steadfast atheist.  I could see how incredibly sad I looked, how broken, how destroyed.  I felt crushing self-pity.  I promised myself, actually mouthing the words to my reflection, that I would quit.  That I would get help, that I would free myself.  I promised my childhood self, I promised the person I had been.  I remember mouthing the words, “It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.”  Crying, but smiling gently at myself through my tears.  Of course, I finished the bottle anyway.

The next evening, I tried again.  I picked a meeting in Altadena, again a good 20 minute drive away from my neighborhood.  This time, when I couldn’t tell where the meeting was, I asked an older man.  He was going to NA, himself, but he pointed me in the right direction.

I walked in and sat down at the conference room table.  There were about 12 people there.  It was pretty depressing, actually.  Someone reeked of booze.  People looked sad, and like they were struggling.  And oh, man, there was so much talk about God.  I kept cringing.  It was a participation meeting, which meant that I was asked to speak.  I just identified myself — as an alcoholic, no less! — and said it was my first meeting.  Other people spoke (mostly about God — ug).  And at the end of the meeting an overly friendly woman pressed me for my phone number.

I hated that meeting, but walking out of there, I felt an incredible sense of freedom.  Andrew and I went to dinner that night, and I had a single glass of wine (my last).  I didn’t tell him where I had been.  Ever thoughtful, he had brought me a bottle of wine on his way home from work, but I just tucked it in the cabinet, drank some tea, and went to bed.

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