by Kathleen C.

As a teenager I was proud of having a bad attitude, of being a rebel. My opinion was that I was right, and anyone who told me what to do was wrong. Drinking was part of my rebellion. I went to Catholic school and we had lots of rules, written and unwritten. One of them was that good girls shouldn’t drink or have sex.

So of course I had to get drunk to have sex. I lost my virginity at a party, drunk, in bed in the dark with my boyfriend and two other couples, all also drunk and all fully clothed. One of the other girls was from my same Catholic girls’ high school. When we emerged we were both amazed when we saw each other in the light. “Kathy?” “Mary Ellen?” We were rebels on the inside but we were good girls on the outside.

I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out

Sophomore year at a Catholic women’s college, my drinking and drugging finally caught up with me. I was flunking out, I was dealing a little marijuana to my classmates, and I thought my part-time job with a radical student organization was way more interesting than classwork. So I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. Now I could devote myself full-time to rebellion against the Establishment, and even get paid for it. I didn’t last long. My body couldn’t handle nights of drinking and drugging followed by days of work. Before long I was back home in my parents’ house and then briefly in the hospital, recovering from a bout of hepatitis. 

“Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84)

I found a part-time secretary job with some old comrades from the student organization, who had found a refuge at a prestigious university. It was previously a men’s college, and the powers that be decided to start admitting women. I talked my way in, despite my wretched grades from my previous school. I knew I wasn’t qualified, I didn’t fit the profile, but I threatened to just show up for classes, whether the school accepted me or not. They should admit me; the rules didn’t apply to me. They did. I accepted their financial aid, but I continued to drink, skip classes, and miss deadlines. Imagine the surprise of my classmates at the nighttime Women in Literature class when I walked in with my thermos of brandy and hot tea, which I generously passed around. 

I somehow graduated, even got a Creative Writing master’s degree, and moved to San Francisco. Now I was in the headquarters of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I should be right at home! Everybody in San Fran was a rebel of some kind. I found a job and a new boyfriend, and proceeded to make his life a nightmare with my drinking and using. He loved me enough to marry me and assume major responsibility for our twin daughters, while I pursued yet more education.

However, after graduating by the thinnest margin, I couldn’t pass the qualifying exam to practice the profession that I was supposedly studying for (with a glass of white wine in one hand and a joint in the other). Flunking that exam was when I hit bottom. I finally realized that being a rebel wasn’t working any more. 

Her life looked really good to me

photo credits available upon request from [email protected]

My younger sister had been sober for a few months and had started twelve-stepping me, dragging me to meetings in Los Angeles, where she lived. She lured me with stories of all the movie stars we would see. She was right about the movie stars, but what convinced me to give A.A. a try was the way her life had changed once she got sober. I saw her practicing the principles of the A.A. program in all her affairs. I saw her being honest toward people she had hurt, taking care of herself, and helping others. Her life looked really good to me, and I wanted what she had. I quit drinking, passed my exam, and got a job, at 90 days sober.

Attitude: opinion or way of thinking. Outlook: prospect for the future; mental attitude (Oxford American Dictionary)

I was still a rebel. I thought the rules of AA didn’t apply to me. I should be allowed to work the program my own way, not like other people. My sponsor didn’t try to make me do anything. She told me the Steps weren’t rules, just suggestions.

She showed me by her example. She was a regular at our home group, she answered my phone calls, and she even had an H & I commitment. I admired her but thought I was too busy to do much more than attend that one meeting. I mostly practiced the program of A.A. one night a week for the first five years until a woman at a conference took me aside and told me that doing the minimum wouldn’t keep me sober. “If you’re not moving forward in your program, you’re sliding back, you’re going to drink!”

I started going to more meetings and worked the Steps again with my sponsor. I actually did what she suggested. I felt better. I heard things at meetings that helped me. Do a 10th Step now and then, pray and meditate, be available to the suffering alcoholic. Eventually, someone even asked me to be her sponsor. My new sponsee was an A.A. enthusiast who went to chip meetings, to dinner with groups of sober alcoholics, to celebrate somebody’s A.A. anniversary or just for the fun of it.

My A.A. life was starting to get mixed in with my “real” life. I invited my sponsor to dinner with me and my husband, who really liked her. I invited my family to my home group’s annual holiday pot luck. My husband and I just had a party to celebrate my retirement after 24 years at that job I got with 90 days sober, as well as my husband’s birthday, and our 30th wedding anniversary. There were a lot of A.A.s there, and a lot of our other friends too, and everybody had a great time. I hate to admit it, but following the suggestions of A.A. (I’m glad we don’t have any rules) has given me a lot better life than being a rebel ever did.

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