I didn’t think AA was a group for 24-year-olds. When I thought of it, I thought of my Granddad Bob, who was set to pick up his 15-year chip when he died a few years ago. I’ve known alcohol is a problem for me, in a way it isn’t for everyone, since I was 19. I was studying abroad in Brighton, England, and one night while my friends were in their rooms working on final projects, I decided to go out alone. I hadn’t been sober one night in the 20+ days I’d been there, and I went to a club with some people I met at the pub on campus. I only remember flashes after that—taking shots; kissing strangers; looking up from the floor of a bathroom stall at a woman who asked if I was okay; wandering out onto the beach to find the sun was rising; laying down on the sidewalk of an empty street in the fog; getting into a cab that pulled over multiple times for me to throw up; and waking up, miraculously, in my bed the next morning.
That was almost six years ago. My world has changed and shifted so much since then it’s mind-blowing, but alcohol has been a constant. I’ve written posts about the struggle before, but I made no resolutions because I thought that, ultimately, I was in control; that these bad nights were just lapses in judgement; and that, because a few times in the past few years I’ve been able to go a month or two without drinking, I didn’t actually have a problem. But not too long ago I took a step back and looked at the big picture:
I can’t remember the last time I stopped at one drink. I’ve had several sexual experiences while drunk that I know I must have consented to but did not want. On multiple occasions I’ve ended up alone in the middle of the night wandering the streets after bar-close. I’ve left voicemails I don’t remember on an ex’s answering machine, and because drinking had become such habit, I was waking up each morning in an immediate panic, wondering what I’d done to embarrass myself the night before and how much damage control was necessary.
On Monday of last week, I had dropped Basil off at doggie daycare and pulled up in front of the coffee shop to get some grading done, but a twist in my gut had me looking up, for the twentieth time in the last few months, the schedule of area AA meetings. There was one starting in seven minutes, and I was five minutes away from the location (because in Marquette, you’re always five minutes away from your destination). Attending, making such a weighty decision, had seemed so burdensome and impossible all those months and days before, but in that moment, all it took was a glance in my side mirror, a tap on the gas pedal. After achieving the tiniest momentum, suddenly the decision I had to make changed—it became the decision not to stop myself from going, which was, for some reason, decidedly easier than acknowledging how deeply necessary this move was for me.
I was a day and a half sober, scared, embarrassed, and completely unsure of myself when I walked in the room. But there was coffee and donuts, and everyone was kind and seemed genuinely happy to see me though no one knew who I was. They let me exist quietly in that room with them for an hour, allowing me to take up as much or as little space as I was comfortable with, and at the end, the group leader passed around a 24-hour chip that everyone held for some time and put their good wishes and prayers into. When he handed it to me, of course, I started crying, some of the first sounds I’d made since I arrived, but I was so grateful—am so grateful—to be welcomed into a vulnerable space where people go each week to lay everything out in the open; to admit their fears and failures and struggles to a group of people who get it, who listen without judgement and say “thank you” each time a person makes the brave decision to risk honesty.
Yesterday was just my second meeting, but I’m nine days alcohol-free, and life is markedly different. I have prolonged, pulsing headaches that flare up throughout the day, and every morning I wake up with a hangover that feels worse than when I was drinking. I have to confront my fears, worries, and insecurities—my demons, if you will—pragmatically, rationally, and with my sober truth. But it also feels like there are twice as many hours in the day. Each morning, I remember everything I said and did the night before, and when I do make a decision, it feels like a choice. Because I’m trying to quit sleep meds and am not drinking myself to sleep anymore, I’m learning how to gently and graciously take control of my thoughts and quiet my anxious mind, and I’m happy to report it’s been a week since I’ve used anything but Yogi Bedtime or Stress Relief teas when it’s time to wind down.
I know I’m usually not shy about writing blog posts, but this one has been the most difficult yet. I started writing this last week, but I’ve been nervous to hit “Post”—thoughts of my boss, students, future employers, or even just someone who doesn’t like me very much getting ahold of these words and thoughts and using them against me. But I’m a writer, and if I’m not spewing my truth at the world when I feel compelled to, then what the hell good am I anyway?