If you have read My Drinking Story you’ll know how I ended up at the age of 41 at the doors of a rehab. After the last day of drinking (14th May 2004) I stopped again. Now I’d been doing that for the last 13 months but this time there was a new zeal, something inside of me was different this time I was going to do something. I didn’t really know what but something.
The 14th was a Friday. I got through the weekend without a drink. On the Monday I headed to work and resolved to talk to a nurse in the Occupational Health dept there. She’d helped me a lot previously, particularly when I’d come back from New York after 9/11 recommending and organising for me to see a counsellor for some time.
I should take a little dip out here actually to explain some stuff that had happened in the lead up to this time. After 9/11 I had some counselling, did I have PTSD? I don’t really know, my blood pressure was up and my medication changed, I was anxious, extremely angry etc. Anyway the counselling turned in the end to matters of self-esteem… although I don’t like that term I prefer self-worth and via that counselling and the nurse I’d gained something. However I had short changed myself as often before my counselling sessions I’d have spent some time in the pub opposite their offices and often went straight back there afterwards. I definitely lied to them about how much I drank but then hey doesn’t everyone lie about how much they drink? Apparently not, only those with something to hide! Also in the year I’d been trying to stop / control my drinking I’d been on a course about interaction skills – basically it was all based around Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis model. But some of the group discussions had been very open and I had built a great deal of trust in the small group I was in. They knew I had a problem I was working on and were supportive as well as confidants to my thoughts. Lastly my boss nominated two people for “executive coaching” earlier that year, I was one of them. Only one was to get the opportunity. I went to meet the coach (who had been my boss’s coach and was highly rated) in London. After that meeting my boss met me and said “You weren’t chosen, the other guy was”. I was non-plused, no disrespect to my other colleague but I thought I was the obviously better candidate with more potential etc. However he had a personal letter to me from the coach – in simple terms it said. “I can see you have a drink problem. Get that sorted before you do anything else and I may help you in the future”…. Bitch!!! Oh – sorry. To be fair, I’d been to the pub before meeting her.. etc. etc. etc. So this background is that I had been reaching out, unsuccessfully in my year of madness up to then so a lot of my barriers were lowering and I was now just finally beaten and willing to try anything.
The nurse suggested going back to counselling with the same outfit as I’d used before. To be honest, I wasn’t convinced, I’d previously pulled the wool over their eyes, I also wasn’t sure they were specialists. When I said that she said “Well there is the psychiatrist who can assess you. He might recommend a residential treatment centre. Would you do that?” I said “Yes” without knowing what it meant or why or anything.
I met this guy a couple of days later and he introduced me to another bloke after about 40 mins. This other guy was incredible, I thought clearly the most qualified person in the field. He just asked how I drank. He then interjected and would say “… and then how difficult is it to stop?” … “Do you actually know how many you have had by then?” …. “Do you think about when you’ll drink in the day as soon as you wake up?” etc. I later of course found out that he, like me, was an alcoholic, that was his true qualification, not his counselling diplomas or whatever.
Anyway I decided to try this place they offered to me. So I went home and told my wife. She was distraught, she wanted me well but going off to rehab for some indeterminate time wasn’t in her plans. However my mind was made up – I had to get help. We sat the kids down in the front room. I remember my 8 year old daughter’s face looking up with a worried expression – she was convinced this was the “Daddy is leaving home now. You’ll be living with Mummy only from now on” speech – no doubt enhanced by the previous manic Friday evening and frosty atmosphere there’d been since.
Off to rehab then. I turn up and they just stick me in a group session there and then. This guy talking about his drug use. I got up said “Sorry I’m in the wrong group. I’m here to drink normally”. And I left to the howls of laughter in the group behind me. I went to another group – a girl who was talking about why she needed to wear so much make up. Boy I was confused. I nearly just went back to reception demanded my phone, wallet and keys back out the safe they’d just put them in and then drive back home – well actually to the nearest pub probably. But I stayed.
Soon I realised this 12 step thing was it no matter what you were in for. Most were drugs of various kinds, often mixed with drink, a couple of alkies like me, a few with food problems, one exercise and image, a gambler and one with a sex addiction. What a bunch. I was also about the oldest, one guy was a little older than me but when I arrived most were in their 20s or 30s along with a couple of real youngsters in their teens who didn’t stay in the normal accommodation block and had been placed in rehab by the courts.
Daily pattern was – up early. Some had chores in the morning or through the day. Meditation meeting about 7am where we were supposed to all meet and have a group meeting without any staff there – attendance was never great at that but I always went. Breakfast then group work throughout the day. Most were centred on a person and where they were in their work so “Graham. Step 1”. We had workbooks the rehab had designed where we answered questions – these then guided the group work. The counsellor would guide through and probe etc. but all others could join in asking about stuff, or even reflecting on it for themselves. We’d have to write up a daily diary after the closing meditation which was about 8pm and once that was handed in you could get your mobile phone back briefly to call your family. Many, many tears and stuff on those calls. So difficult.
Saturdays we had the afternoon off and some who’d been there the longest were allowed out on a trip where a nurse accompanied you. I went on one to a bowling alley – we looked like a motley crew with our gaoler with us frankly. Most odd. Sundays we did sessions in the morning and then our families could come for lunch and then spend the afternoon with us.
First Sunday, my wife and son came – my daughter never did. My wife decided she didn’t want her to be there at all. I was desperate to see them, but our session over ran they went to walk around the garden – honestly you’d have thought I was on a first date the anxiety I was showing. We got lunch and sat together. My son looked me in the eye (something in a drunken row not too many weeks previously I’d accused him of never doing) and said “Is this going to work?” Ouch. OUCH!!! Like a sledgehammer blow. I told him I wasn’t sure but I hoped so. My wife left that day in tears especially when she was told that the parcel of stuff she’d brought for me needed to be searched first.
I did just over 5 weeks I think in treatment. I went up and down. I cried. I shouted. I read. I listened. I learnt. The one thing I did get was that they took us to an AA meeting and suddenly despite myself I identified with these people in that room and unlike me who was being looked after in essentially a loony bin they were in the real world getting on with their lives. But they displayed so many of my characteristics – low feelings of self-worth, but at the same time a massive ego, they generally couldn’t deal with life unless they drank, they drank like me, they related to the world like me – i.e. don’t come near me you’ll hurt me etc.
I left on a Wednesday to go see my son get a prize at his school. I was sat there proudest Dad in the world. But also shit scared -the drive back home was one full of worry. I’d wondered about not going home but staying in a half way house. Would it be better to not live at home? Was that the problem i.e. not being able to cope as a husband and parent? But I’d so missed the family in my weeks away surely that wasn’t right. But I didn’t know.
The Thursday I started to catch up on paperwork and phoned work to say I’d come in for an interview on the following Monday. But it started… that voice in the head saying “Go on. Go for a drink. You can handle it. You aren’t like those others, you know how to do it now”. It was hell! My wife suggested I go to visit my Mum who was still alive then. I did. She made my tea, sandwich, cake, biscuits – just like Mum. She asked what I was going to do going forward. I mentioned AA. “Will you go?” she asked. “I suppose I should. There is a meeting just along from here actually”. She told me to go – 41 and Mum still knew best! Sadly that meeting closed some while back – I really miss it although after Mum died it was a place of mixed emotions for me.
I walked in on my own. There was a guy who’d been at the meeting the centre had taken me to on the Tuesday night. There was about 40 miles between the two I never thought people would travel that far. This guy shook my hand and welcomed me – he laughed at my plans and said “Tell God your plans. He likes a good laugh”. Bastard! I thought – not talking to him again. He is one of my dearest friends in AA now!
I went back to rehab a day a week for some weeks then for evening meetings for some more time. But I went to AA. I went on the coming Monday, after popping back to rehab and there again another guy I’d spoken to at the meetings the centre had taken us to. I was incredibly lucky to get that continuity, it really did draw me in.
I asked a guy to be my sponsor – I suppose he still is but I don’t like that term and I don’t like the slavish “I only do something once I’ve spoken to my sponsor” mentality I sometimes here. I talk with this guy, and others, they offer me advice if I ask for it. He will call if he’s not seen me. I call him from time to time and tell him what is up with me etc. In the early days I called him daily if not more.
I started to redo the steps. The start in rehab was good, I’d done up to Step 5 before I left and did 6, 7 and 8 on the day programme. But I went back and had to start again as my head cleared and more stuff came up.
I got into service in AA. First as literature secretary at my home group – great way to read all the books without having to buy them first! Seriously I recommend it to newcomers now. I then was asked to be secretary at a meeting I went to regularly. I thought it because they saw me as someone special – no they knew I needed to learn that the meeting was not about me at all and I needed a touch of humility, patience etc.
I started a blog. Deleted it. Started another and now this one. I’ve done a lot of service at group and intergroup level. I’ve done school talks, talks to professionals, talks to companies etc. I’ve stood out in the cold as part of alcohol awareness with the council and talked to people about AA. I hope I carry the message. If I do I hope the message is. “You can get sober. You can stay sober.”
Today I’m 9 and half years sober (Update August 2015 – over 11 years now!) – I have an unbelievable relationship with my family. There is undoubtedly damage between my wife and I, she struggled with me going to AA so much in the early days but I try to balance it now. She knows it matters to me and she’ll just say “Aren’t you going to a meeting tonight?” Sometimes that is just because she is wondering – sometimes I think it is a hint she thinks I need to get centred again! 🙂 I’m quiet open about my recovery – I don’t see the point of me having this and not offering it to others. There is some nonsense in AA about the levels of anonymity that people think the traditions state… it only says “Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity” – relations with the general public it then talks about broadcasting only as AA members. Simply this is about AA never becoming a cult about the personality but the principles it holds dear. Others may wish to never disclose even to some of their closest family that they are in AA – me I happy to tell those who cross my path when it is relevant – because I wish to attract people who might need AA to try it.
Today I can cook a meal without it being world war three in the kitchen. I wake up and know what I did yesterday. I wake up and alcohol isn’t directing my every move and decision that day. I don’t waste hours and hours and hundreds of pounds on the booze. I try to be honest and show integrity. I try to live the steps through my life on a daily basis.
Today above all – I’m happy being me – no long the miserable, morose bore I used to be. Well not much anyway 🙂
If you believe you have a problem with alcohol and would like what I’ve outlined I now have I urge you to reach out to a healthcare professional or someone else. If you want please contact AA I hope you will be blessed with the same love, understanding and encouragement I have.