by Caroline M

I was hung over again, head pounding, in a terrible mood. It was also a school morning so I was rushing with breakfast and lunches for my two kids and getting myself ready for work. I went to get milk from the fridge where the cat was weaving back and forth, making a fuss to be fed. I stuck my foot under its belly and hefted it out of my way. Roughly. The cat yowled. My kids yelled, “Mom, what are you doing?” I slammed the fridge door shut by way of an answer.

When I was hungover like that, I just wanted everyone and everything to get out of my way and now! Today I cringe at the memory of what my kids had to put up with when I was drinking, never mind booting the innocent kitty out of my way.

Following another horrible hangover at Thanksgiving in 1984 I put myself back on the wagon, which I had done many times before. I was always shocked that even after years of not drinking I still couldn’t have one sip, or one glass, without getting drunk – sick drunk. The fun had stopped years ago but I still harbored the illusion that maybe it’d work for me like it used to. Maybe this time it would relieve the tension I’d feel going into a strange setting, maybe it’d help me just one more time to shake off the rough day at work and be a more relaxed happy mom. But instead I’d turned into a mom who kicked the cat and put our lives in danger on the freeway.

I’d turned into a mom who kicked the cat and put our lives in danger on the freeway

Now it was Christmas and without my nightly bottle of wine I was restless, irritable and discontent while others around me were full of the joys of the season. I decided to celebrate in the spirit of grandiosity and throw a British-style Christmas party for all my clients. But I just couldn’t imagine Christmas without sherry. Even though in my mind I wasn’t going to drink it, I thought I would find a way to use it in a recipe so I bought something cheap from Safeway and began cooking.

Pies were in the oven and I thought I should now make a sauce using the sherry. A sauce for what didn’t really matter, the important thing in that moment seemed to be opening the sherry. I just couldn’t keep my eyes off that bottle. I’ll never forget the comforting thunk of the cork as it sprang free and the smell of that cheap sherry that seemed to instantly seduced me, like the whiff of an old lover’s aftershave.

I couldn’t resist its lure. Without a second thought I began guzzling straight out of the bottle and within a few minutes the kitchen started spinning so badly I had to steady myself against the counter and I thought I was going to throw up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the holiday pies so I called my son to the kitchen, telling him I wasn’t feeling well and to turn off the oven at a certain time. He looked at me, saw the bottle on the counter and said those words that pierced my heart “Oh Mom. You didn’t!”

Something in me just broke. I had a strong physical sensation in my chest, like a door slamming. I knew in that moment, without question that I was done drinking. In that moment, I conceded to my innermost self that I had lost all control of my drinking and was undeniably an alcoholic.

Mom, you didn’t !

I learned how to go on a date sober, go to clubs, parties, dances, to go out for coffee

I staggered off to bed and the next day, Thursday, December 20, 1984, having not slept at all, with a pounding head and a heavy heart, I walked into the noon meeting at the Marin Alano Club in San Rafael. The room was full of cigarette smoke. There were only a couple of other women, and many of the men there looked like they were on their break from a construction site, guys I wouldn’t normally mix with. But it didn’t matter. I knew I was safe and felt an instant kinship with everyone there. Most importantly, I was ready, really ready to listen to direction for the first time in my life. I had been a know-it-all, hated others telling me what to do. But all that changed, in fact had to change. I heard them say 90 meetings in 90 days. They said, “Keep coming back.” They said, “Easy does it.” They said, “One day at a time.” I soaked it all in and did my best to follow instructions. When I called other women in the program, the wisest responses were along the lines of “Well honey, I don’t know how to solve that problem but I do know not drinking and getting to a meeting will help.” And it always did.

Following directions, eventually I found a sponsor, worked through the steps and in turn re-worked all the steps with sponsees. It’s a wheel that keeps on turning and each day I get to start again. I still appreciate waking up without a hangover and a clean slate for the new day. I ask God to let me be of service, however it would be in the best interest of the other person. It’s not always comfortable or convenient, but I’ve learned how to stretch out of my little comfort zone and little by little I make spiritual progress. I notice my reactions are kinder; I’m slower to anger; I make sure to stay connected to God through the 11th Step. Each night I review the day for things that might have been done better and write a gratitude list for all the blessings I enjoy.

Through God’s grace I haven’t found it necessary to take a drink for any reason including divorce, breakups, deaths, illness, loss, financial concerns, and I can take no credit for that. We don’t get sober on our own, nor do we stay sober without ongoing attendance at meetings and working the steps with a sponsor.

Over the years I’ve learned to mourn sober, to cry and write and talk out the pain of loss and disappointment through the 4th and 5th steps. I’ve learned how to look at myself honestly, accept my human frailty, be satisfied with “progress not perfection,” and do my best to amend behaviors that are harmful to myself and others.

Old habits die hard, but the new habit of sobriety was oh so much easier than the shame and guilt that came with hangovers and cringing at ugly memories of bad behavior. The new habit of going to meetings – ninety in ninety for my first 3 months – was a revelation. After a year or so I learned how to go on a date sober, go to clubs, parties, dances, to go out for coffee, ice cream, movies, join a church, take walks on the beach – all without alcohol, something I could never have imagined possible.

Over time I’ve also learned how to be a better friend, parent, listener, team member. I don’t take offense nearly as easily as I used to. Through the 4th and 5th Steps I became aware of how my actions affect others, and even though I know I’m not responsible for how others react, I can be more sensitive to the fact that others have feelings and take those into consideration. I think things through a little better instead of instantly giving others a piece of my mind because that would make me feel better in the moment. The instant gratification monkey stays safely in its cage.

In AA we learn about the benefits of pausing when agitated and I’ve found that my daily practice of the 11th Step slows me down. I actually do get to pause before speaking or acting. I had a really awful habit of interrupting, I just couldn’t wait to share my thoughts and opinions, but I’m learning to wait my turn and hold my tongue. I’m still me, but an improved version. Thank you AA for the incredible, blessed makeover.

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