Category Archives: Quitting

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.


The First Month

The first month was sleep, and boredom, and pneumonia.  The first two are pretty common, I think.  The third may have just been me.

Andrew left town the day after my first AA meeting, which ended up being the actual first day I spent without alcohol in god knows how long.  He was gone for two weeks.  I spent that time going to meetings — something like 5 my first week, 4 the next week, and tapering so on until my current level of 1.  I spoke to Andrew every day but never mentioned that I had quit drinking.  I kept that to myself, for some reason.

I remember the exhilaration of driving to meetings at night, sober.  The exhilaration of feeling like I was doing something amazing for myself.  That I was doing it, finally doing it.  I also remember the panic when I got home each night and realized I couldn’t drink.  The panic thinking of trying to sleep without wine.  At some point in the evening, usually around 8:00, I would crave unconsciousness and would go to bed.

I’ve since read something that makes a lot of sense to me about why we sleep so much when we quit drinking:  It’s our only remaining escape from ourselves.  We used to use drinking as the escape valve at the end of the day — now our only option is sleeping, so off to bed we go, often ridiculously, absurdly early.  And that’s okay.  Also, I remember facing the expanse of the evening and wondering if I would ever want to stay up past 9pm again — if I couldn’t drink, what was the point?  But I’m glad to report that in month 2, most of the excessive sleeping has tapered off, and I’m once again staying up later than I should.  Sober.

I remember eating candy by the handful, having read somewhere that us winedrinkers need extra sugar at first because our bodies were used to getting so much of it each night through drinking.  I ordered sour watermelon candy by bulk and didn’t hold back.  As it turns out, I’m now having a hard time letting go of the sugar, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that particular stopgap.

I remember having an internal battle every single evening when I drove home from work past the two, three, four places I rotated my nightly wine-buying.  I would hear that little voice, and I had to fight it by almost arguing out loud.  When I got home and parked my car, when I climbed the steps up to the cottage, when I was safely inside, then I knew I had won the battle.

Oddly, I kept booze in the house.  I was never tempted to drink hard alcohol even when at my worst, though I went to pretty great lengths to make sure the wine flowed.  But Andrew bought me a bottle of wine the day before I quit, and I have kept it in the house.  It’s a sort of vote of confidence in myself, an acknowledgment that my drinking is just between me and myself, a realization that I want it enough to ignore that bottle of wine.  It has been a reminder of my strength.  A reminder of my desperation and of my commitment.  I like having it there.

My first sober socializing happened the first weekend after I quit drinking.  Some friends invited me over for sunset drinkings in the yard of their new house, and I accepted.  I was pretty nervous. I felt it might be a mistake.  But I grabbed a few bottles of kombucha and went on over.  And you know what, it was great.  I had a great time.  I realized right then and there that maybe my drinking had been hindering my ability to socialized.  I felt so present.  Undistracted.  (Thirsty Still has a great post up that touches on this topic.)  Although I will say that having committed to attending an AA meeting after the cocktail hour was a great incentive.  And it was absolutely thrilling to drive to that meeting, sober, after successfully navigating my first cocktail event.

I made lists in a journal I bought to help me quit.  Every day I would make a silly list, like:  1.  Get up early.  2.  Walk Petunia.  3.  Shower.  4.  Work productively.  5.  Go to a meeting.  6.  Do not drink.

Every day, the last entry was, “Do not drink.”  And the next day when I checked off the ones I had accomplished (usually all except work productively – more on that below), I took great satisfaction in checking off the “do not drink” entry.

Maybe the hardest part about that first month was the brain fog.  I had this idea that I would quit drinking and my job would be easier — I wouldn’t be distracted/hampered by hangovers, for one thing, and for another I wouldn’t have to skeedaddle out of the office as soon as I could to get that first drink.  But that brain fog was NO JOKE.  I no longer had hangovers, but I just felt like I couldn’t get my brain to engage.  Days and even weeks went by in that first month where very little got done.  I was panicked about it.  I’m a lawyer, and I had a lot of big deadlines coming up.  I quit drinking when I did in part because I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of work I had and felt I simply couldn’t balance my drinking with it anymore.  And so I had quit, and I couldn’t get ANYTHING done.  It was a horrible feeling.  Sinking, desperate.  What do you do when your brain just won’t WORK?  And on top of that, I got the flu and then pneumonia.  I was bitter that I couldn’t even enjoy feeling great after quitting –  I still felt like utter shit.

The brain fog passed, fortunately, probably around week 5 or 6.  I lost all that time, and since then I’ve been playing catch up, working weekends, 15-hour days, etc.  It sucks that I’m way behind schedule now and working all the time to catch up — in all my cases; these things tend to snowball — but when I think of the alternative, it’s just a small price to pay.


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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