When I attended my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1981 I was seventeen years old and I didn’t expect it to work for me. I had known I was an alcoholic for some time by then. An AA speaker had come to our high school. He talked about the blackouts, the shame, the inability to stop after taking that first drink. He also talked about the magical feeling that alcohol had given him early on, when he first started: the warmth, the way his fears lifted and suddenly he felt absolutely perfect.
I related to all of it. I figured someday when I was old like him, maybe thirty-five or forty, I’d have to go to AA too.
Over the next year a number of things happened to speed up that process. The black-outs became more frequent. I had a habit of coming to in the middle of something horrifying—sex with a stranger, walking along a high brick wall, threatening violence towards my best friend, running from a police officer, throwing up on a neighbor’s carpet. In the last weeks of my drinking I was raped. I was terrified and alone and my self esteem was so low that I didn’t even recognize it as rape at the time. I was drunk after all.
At seventeen years old, I wanted to die. Alcohol no longer took away the pain, and none of the other drugs I tried worked like alcohol had. I had no belief in AA, especially when I heard the members mention God or Higher Power. I hated myself drunk or sober so I didn’t see how not drinking was going to help. But I had nothing left to lose. It was one last thing to try before suicide.
I went to at least one AA meeting a day. I called AA members. I got a sponsor. I read AA literature. I prayed to a God I knew was not there. I did these things convinced they would not work.
But they did. The compulsion to drink left me. My life—and my beliefs—changed.
In AA people often say it’s easier to live your way into right thinking, than think your way into right living. And for me, that has held true. If, when I’m feeling down, I take positive action—playing with my children, or going for a walk or making amends for something I’ve done wrong, or helping another alcoholic—my world and my perspective invariably brighten.
Today I believe in AA and God and in the power of one alcoholic sharing her story with another. Today I am what I always wanted to be as a child—a mother, a teacher, and a writer. I am also a sober alcoholic, which wasn’t on my list, but for which I’m utterly grateful. On Christmas Day of this year I will celebrate my 26th year since my last drink. If you had told me that would happen at my first AA meeting, I never would’ve believed it.
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