This week’s Sober Story comes from Derek, a 50 year-old living on the Kapiti Coast. He has not had a drink for nearly 13 years.
Hiding behind a bottle.
I enjoyed having a drink from a very early age. I was allowed to have a small glass of beer on the rare occasions my parents opened a bottle, and to me, it was the nectar of the gods. I can remember once thinking about Christmas, and it was not presents I most looked forward to, it was having a beer! I was probably around seven at the time.
I had little opportunity to drink while living at home, but I moved to Wellington to go to university a few days before I turned 18. On my 18th birthday, I went to party where I blacked out, somehow got home, and then vomited out my window. The next morning, I had my first proper hangover, and I swore off alcohol. That afternoon, I went to the pub. I more or less applied myself during my first term at university, but after that, I was more likely to be found in the pub than in lectures, and I dropped out of university during my second year.
As the years passed by I drank more and more until I was drinking every night. If I was working (which I often wasn’t), I would struggle out of bed after just a few hours’ sleep, somehow go to work, and go out drinking again that night.
I got drunk more and more often. Usually when I had not intended to. Sometimes I did incredibly stupid things, such as climbing the funnel on the Arahura ferry. I had depression, lost jobs and relationships, and got into trouble. I dealt with it all by drinking. It took away my problems. But only until the next day.
I finally reached the point where if I did not drink until I passed out, I would have hellish, terrifying nightmares. Merely getting drunk was not enough to stop them.
By now, I was regularly having a drink (or several) first thing in the morning, although usually only in the weekend. I was rarely drinking in pubs now; I was mainly drinking at home by myself. But I was still certain I was not an alcoholic and I would prove it by going ‘on the wagon’ for a while. A week or so was usually enough. Then I would celebrate by having a session.
When I got married at 35, I somehow broke my habit of daily drinking. I tried all sorts of tricks to make sure I did not get drunk when I did go out, but no matter how hard I tried, I would make a fool of myself at the worst possible moment. Drinking had become like Russian Roulette. I had no idea what was going to happen once I started drinking, other than that the outcome was not likely to be good.
One day, I met a friend in the pub. Halfway through my third pint, I felt a feeling come over me which later reminded me of what Dr Jekyll must have felt while drinking the potion that turned him into Mr Hyde. Suddenly, getting home to my seven month pregnant wife was no longer a priority. All that really mattered was where my next drink was coming from.
The next day I went for a long walk. I had had reached the point that James K Baxter described in his work ‘Conversation with an Ancestor’ as: “… that level of hardship or awareness of moral chaos where the soul is too destitute to be able to lie to itself”. I had to do something about my drinking, or I would lose everything and everyone that mattered to me. When I got home, I phoned Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and I found out that there was a meeting in my town the following day.
The first person to speak was an older lady who described how she used to secretly drink in her garage at night. I was shocked: that had been one of my tricks! Other speakers shared their experiences and I realised that everyone had been where I was. The places and dates may have been different, but their stories also my stories.
I was asked if I would like to share. I hesitated for a few seconds and then said “I am D…. and I’m an alcoholic”. I immediately felt like twenty years reckless living had been lifted off my shoulders. That was nearly thirteen years ago now, and I have not had a drink since then.
I genuinely wanted to stop drinking, I accepted my powerlessness over alcohol, and I was prepared to work the programme. We sometimes hear stories of people who said AA did not work for them. All I can say is that if you really want to stop drinking, and you are prepared to thoroughly follow the steps, they rarely (if ever) fail. I now lead a fulfilling and generally happy life. And I have no doubt that if I had not gone to AA, I would now be in prison or in a psychiatric institution. Or I’d be dead.
The 12 Steps of AA have given me my life back. Life still has its ups and downs, but now I deal with life’s issues. No longer am I hiding behind a bottle.