Sitting in a South-East London church on a saturday night, clutching a copy of the Big Book, page open somewhere in chapter 11, I found myself looking around the room at the collected group, wondering where all the hot, career driven, gym going 25 year old alcoholics were. Wherever it was, it wasn’t in this church. That’s right, I had, after 71 months, that’s nearly 6 years, done the dirty and gone back to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
71 months ago, at the grand old age of 19, I had left my last AA sesh having an hour beforehand stumbled out of a police station into the 11am Salisbury city centre sunlight. I had had a ‘wake up’ call – ‘coming to’ out of a blackout whilst being finger printed and DNA swabbed by the police, with no recollection of what had brought me there, will do that to you, and I didn’t feel the need to return to a meeting again.
It’s not like I had stopped drinking anyway, although for the most part I had, but AA for me then represented the only outlet I had to deal with, discuss, hash over, my issues with drinking which, aged 18, I had realised weren’t normal. I wanted help, and didn’t know where else to look.
So what, on day 52 (not that I’m counting) of sobriety pulled me back on a Saturday night otherwise characterised by torrential London rain? In the past I hadn’t felt that AA was a space for me – I was too young, I couldn’t relate to others there with their stories of ‘white knuckling’, divorce, bankrupty and waking up and needing to take a drink to get out of bed, they couldn’t relate to me, I wasn’t an alcoholic, I didn’t need to stop drinking I just needed to sort out my drinking.
What had changed? Well, for one thing, I had realised that I didn’t drink like a ‘normal’ person, and no longer felt like I could. The prospect of drinks with friends became a mental troubleshooting exercise – should I leave my phone at home, how about my wallet? How would I get home from X at 4am when completely wankered? Would I be able to not disgrace myself this time? Would I wake up in my own bed? Would I have pissed myself? Would I remember how I got there?
A game of ‘Taxi? Bus? Miracle?’ was always a personal favourite to wake up to on a Sunday morning, perfect distraction from the fact I was still wearing all of my clothes, no longer had a phone, and had of course, pissed myself.
I got tired of everything in my life that I didn’t like being tied to my drinking, and me carrying on like I couldn’t do anything about it. So I stopped. And I have written about it, spoken about it, and I think about it for the majority of every day.
And I’m exhausted by the sound of my thoughts on drinking, by the sound of the keys on my laptop as I type this. I find it incredibly frustrating that my life feels just as alcohol centric now as it did when I was actually drinking, if not more so. More than living a life without alcohol, I would like to live without thinking about it, or thinking about my not drinking.
So I went to the AA meeting to hear what others thought, for a change, and because I now felt valid enough within my sobriety to qualify.
I don’t know the 12 steps, beyond the first one – powerlessness in one’s relationship with alcohol and how this make’s a life unmanageable – and I couldn’t tell you what the serenity prayer goes like.
But there I was, sitting and listening to a recital of chapter 11 – ‘sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Hum, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.’
One of my biggest struggles with AA, one that is not uncommon, is with the religious language. My experience over the last 10 years has led me to be inherently selfish / self preservationist (potato/potatoh?) and this is a cycle that has perpetuated itself. No-one took me off the park bench or pavement I had woken up on, led me home, put me in a bath, soothed the self-loathing I felt, washed my sheets, then sat with me whilst I didn’t sleep, too anxious and overtired to allow myself the undeserved luxury.
I did all those things for myself. I also woke up one day and said I was done, and I also am the one who has maintained sobriety for 52 days. Give myself over to a greater power? I am my own greatest power, I refuse to assume a passive role in my life again, having done so for a decade.
I don’t mean to attack AA, and those for whom it has worked, and who remain sober today. Congratulations if this applies to you, and you are reading this – I don’t mean to detract from a programme that has helped you to a point of recovery.
But this is my story, and I’m telling it on my terms. I’ll respect yours, but I expect the same honour accorded back.
Why is it that, half way through the second decade of the 21st century, that there is such a vacuum in the discourse available to the younger generations that will engage an age bracket that is told that they will not be able to afford to buy a house unless they get to the top of the job ladder, in an age where we are more likely to swipe right to connect than to make that connection face to face?
I first started questioning my drinking when I was 16, and 3 years later found myself feeling further isolated within this relationship by my AA meeting because I didn’t feel like I had the age, or life experience, to be as valid as those in their mid-40s who attended. This isn’t an attack on that particular meeting, just as this piece isn’t an attack on the meeting I attended tonight, I just don’t understand where I fit into this, and looking back at my well intentioned 19 year old self, I am heartbroken that I don’t see another path that I could have taken to get me to where I am today.
‘You need to run that gauntlet, for 6 years, waking up on pavements, in strangers beds, doorways, having taken yourself to lower points when you didn’t think it would sink further because you didn’t realise you were sinking. You will think you are just having fun. You need to fall far enough to get to a point where you can help yourself, because you finally can’t ignore yourself.’
AA is fantastic for so many people, and I congratulate those whom it has helped – every individual journey is different and I’m sorry if I have missed the point – I never purported to be an expert, and wouldn’t dare suggest I was. I am 25 going on 16 now, an adult learning to be a child so I can be an adult again. I just wish this reversion wasn’t necessary, and that others won’t have that experience, as they try to find a discourse that they can relate to and recover through.
I don’t blame AA for this – its unfair for me to expect a structure to remould to fit me, just as it is the other way around, and I wasn’t ready when I was 18 to stop, I felt that I knew better and that this couldn’t possibly happen to someone who hadn’t even been able to enjoy legal drinks for a year.
Please, let’s have us a discussion, let’s all sit round the table and create the discourse that will help create options for other young people who don’t know what options they have, who don’t know how far there is to fall, who won’t know what they’ve lost until it is irreparably gone.