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  • Now that I have your attention regarding AA and the impact it’s had on my family, maybe it’s time to tell a little story whose latest chapter is still unfolding, as I write. I mentioned about a month ago how I had recently discovered a robust AA fellowship right in my own back yard. This has brought a dimension to my life that has been missing for some time, now.

    I was actually kind of “anti-meeting” for a long time – for many years, actually. I had a lot of reasons for being that way, and there’s a whole long story about why I became that way. I'll go into a little bit, here.

    My experience had been, I went to a lot of AA meetings for two and a half years, which helped me to feel okay about not drinking. I won’t say they kept me from drinking, because I was pretty much done with drinking. Just the thought of it always brought me back to the terrors of where drinking had left me shortly after getting out of the Navy – selling my blood plasma three times a week, unable to get through a day without drinking and getting loaded, and slowly losing my mental grasp on reality. That was followed by months of suicidal depression after I decided to quit.

    I was never going back to that, and I could never forget it. I learned enough at those meetings to know that it only got worse if you went back to it. Worse than where I had been was impossible for me to fathom. I wasn’t going back there. I would rather die than do that.

    But, I was still getting away with getting high, smoking pot and opium, and the occasional other mind-altering substance, while maintaining an emotional level with my V.A. prescribed lithium. It was a nice balancing act that worked for a little while – if it had continued to work, I never would have stopped doing it. Those were a good couple of years that I did that. I had a steady job that I liked, some promising relationships with women (although, with the lithium, it was a little hard to express myself, emotionally – that’s where the pot seemed to help, or so I thought).
  • But then, it all began to come unraveled. It started when I took a bit too much cocaine that was being passed around at a party, and I went for a little out of body excursion. Not sure whether I was coming back, or if I even wanted to come back, my best buddy brought me back, whether I wanted to or not.

    He kind of made it clear to me that it wasn’t my time to check out, just yet. Then, he went and checked out himself, five days later, and left me wondering why? To complicate matters and cause me months of mind-fucking myself, totally puzzling out the existential questions of the universe, while getting high as a kite alone, was the fact that he had declared himself an atheist the first time I saw him after he’d contracted his fatal disease (Hodgkins).

    I didn’t go to many meetings during this period. I mostly just worked, got high, and spent a lot more time with my friends in Connecticut, who knew my friend who’d died. We pulled each other through that winter. It was rough for all of us.

    By late February, I was beginning to worry that I was losing my mind, again. This time, it was the neverending existential questions that were just driving me crazy.

    It occurred to me at some point that it might not be normal to be sitting alone in my apartment, night after night, week after week, getting high alone and playing endless games of strat-o-matic baseball by myself. I was playing out an entire season of baseball – for every team in the league.

    I became completely obsessed with that game, to the exclusion of sleep, eating right, or friends. I just completely lost myself in a major league baseball season of my own creation. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my basement, I still have all of those score sheets and stat sheets from that lost season. They’re a reminder to me of where things can go.

    One night, in the middle of a double-header, just after smoking my second joint, as I made my line-ups for the second game, I had a moment. I don’t know if it was a moment of sanity or a moment of just complete and utter loneliness. I remember stopping, setting the cards down on my kitchen table, and saying out loud, “Oh, God, I’m alone!” I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I was so tired, and in an endless sea of emotional pain.
  • Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my AA Big Book sitting on the kitchen counter. For some reason, I picked it up, and started flipping through it, looking for something. I’d never really read that book. It made no sense to me, and I’d never found it especially interesting. But, this time, it made perfect sense. For the first time, I understood what it was talking about. It was talking about me. It was the first time that I identified myself as an alcoholic. Ironically, after all those meetings I’d been to, I didn’t get it in a meeting – I got it from a book. Looking back now, it kind of makes sense, knowing what I know, now.

    I hadn’t been to a meeting in months, but I decided to go to one that night. I liked it, so I went to another one the next night. The meetings were suddenly different, now that I realized I was just like all of those people, that I was, indeed, an alcoholic. It was a revelation, and an oasis. I was no longer alone! It was wonderful to be around others who had what I had.

    I still came back home and blew off a joint a couple more times after the meetings, still not quite making a connection between the drinking and the smoking. After all, everyone knew that pot was not addictive. Plus, I could go days without getting high, and it didn’t lead me to where the alcohol had led me.

    AA then wasn’t like it is today. Today, most of the people from my generation and younger, did more than just drink, and in AA, they’ll talk about it all, and it’s usually okay. Back then, the older folks around AA were very insistent about AA being for alcoholics, only. If you had a problem with drinking, and wanted to stop, you were welcome. If you had a problem with drugs, you were welcome, as long as you didn’t talk about your drug problem. They couldn’t help you with that. They were there strictly for the drinking problem.

    And, like I said, I still didn’t believe that I had any kind of a problem with drugs. Why would I? I had a good job, I wasn’t drinking, and things were going okay, aside from the fact that I was grieving my best friend’s death, which was pretty normal to be doing.

    But, a guy in an AA clubhouse boldly mentioned drugs in his story that he was sharing. He did it subtly enough that he didn’t stir up the ire of the old juiceheads too badly, but us younger ones got his drift. I had to talk to him after the meeting. He turned me onto N.A. – Narcotics Anonymous.
  • That’s where I first heard the message of total abstinence from all mind- or mood-altering substances, including pot. An addict is an addict, no matter what the substance. That sunk in, and after one more relapse, a couple weeks later, I’ve been clean ever since.

    I did 90 meetings in 90 days – in fact, it was more like 150 meetings in 90 days. I got involved and did service work. Then, I got very involved in writing the book on recovery, which N.A. was just beginning to pull together. That became my new obsession for the next couple of years. Whatever else I was doing, I was always going to meetings. I probably attended 3000 meetings over the next 4 years. I came to hate meetings. But everyone said you had to go to meetings to stay clean, so I kept going. I wanted to stay clean.

    I finally heard something different. I found a group where people didn’t go to meetings to stay clean. They went to meetings to help the next person. They weren’t crazy, like I was. They seemed to have a level of normalcy going on in their lives. These were people who had experienced recovery. I did what they did, and I found recovery, too. I went to that group’s meetings, but only to help the new guy. That group eventually got kicked out of N.A., because they used AA literature and that was banned in NA. It took awhile, but that group eventually fell apart, and stopped being very effective at helping newcomers. I drifted away and raised a family, instead.

    Recovery had taken care of my addiction, and life just happened. I pretty much didn’t go to a meeting from 1987 until 2012, except for once or twice when we would decide to check one out, but that was it. I never had a problem with drinking or drugs in all that time. It just wasn’t part of my lifestyle, anymore. I didn’t need it, and I knew where it would take me, so I didn’t even think about it.

    Since 2012, I’ve been going down most Fridays to my little group of Addicts Anonymous that meets in a tiny room at an AA Clubhouse in Georgetown, only because this guy asked me to come down there, and I had been thinking about getting back involved in 12 step work. Then, my brother invited me up to his AA group’s retreats in Connecticut.
  • That’s where I was reintroduced to the Fellowship of the Spirit that AA really represents for any recovering or recovered alcoholic. It’s an unbelievable sense of comraderie and shared experience that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. It’s like the feeling that survivors of a shipwreck must feel after the ship’s gone down, and they’re still floating in the life rafts, with help on the way. There were meetings at those retreats, but I felt right at home in all of them, and they all accepted me as one of them. That was the first time I realized that AA had changed, after all these years. It had become more inclusive, and now I felt like I truly belonged there.

    It still took me a couple more years to get past my aversion to meetings, that harkened back to those days when I was looking for answers in those meetings, and just going to them out of habit and obligation. Finally, early in December, I decided to just go check out an AA meeting down the street. It was great! They were just like the folks at those retreats in Connecticut.

    I went to one the next morning that they told me about. It was even better. Each meeting I went to, I felt more and more like I was right where I belonged. I kept running into this one guy, at every meeting I went to, a relative newcomer from Long Island, who works in this area during the weeks. We’ve become best buddies.

    I was worried that people would wonder who the hell I was, showing up out of the blue, not having been to meetings in several decades. Nobody cares about that. They’re just glad to see me, and I, them. It’s great to be back in the fellowship. It feels like it’s right where I belong.
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    Images: Luís Perdigão, Ivan Shade, Dominik Schroder, Logan Troxell, and Caleb George, c/o Unsplash.com
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