The first A.A. meeting I ever attended, was on December 16, 2015. I had drank a huge amount the night before, and crossed a line I never thought I would cross. Many A.A’s (as we call ourselves) first meeting results from similar events. Once I got into work that morning, I googled “AA meetings Chicago“. Although the meeting finder is pretty crude, I found a meeting nearby, at lunchtime. Going to a meeting for the first time was intimidating. I had no idea what to expect, and felt like bolting before it started. The meeting started, and before he had a few words out of his mouth, I could tell that the chairperson was Irish. In fact he was from Dublin, like me. I don’t believe in signs, but having a Dub there certainly put me at ease.
At every A.A. meeting, a series of questions are asked, one of which is if it anyone’s first A.A. meeting in life. I decided, in for a penny, in for a pound, and raised my hand. All eyes towards me. Everyone became very enthusiastic. The Irishman was chairing and leading the meeting. Usually two different people have the roles. The chair runs the meeting, and the lead talks about their experiences before the program, and life now. Not all meetings are “speaker” meetings. He recounted his journey to A.A, most of which took place in Dublin. I knew a lot of the places he mentioned. I got a lot out of the meeting, and while I can’t say I felt at home, I didn’t feel quite as intimidated by A.A. as I had.
At the end of the meeting, several women came up to me. One of them gave me a packet, with some A.A. leaflets, and the phone numbers of all the women there. Everyone was very welcoming, but I was still nervous, which is not like me. I didn’t feel comfortable. Afterwards the chair and I walked back to my office together. We talked about home for a bit, and then got down to business. I asserted that I was not an alcoholic, because I did not have a physical addiction. I thought you had to have withdrawal symptoms and drink 24\7 to be a “real” alcoholic. He asked about my drinking habits, and said that while he couldn’t tell me if I was an alcoholic or not, it sounded like alcoholic drinking to him. He said only I could admit to that. I knew I had a big problem with drink, and indeed had when I first started at thirteen years of age. I still did not accept that I was “one of them.” That all being said, I still resolved to staying off the drink.
Over the next couple of months I probably attended four meetings. I felt I didn’t need A.A. to keep me sober. My resolve was strong, which is also not like me. I managed to stay sober until May 2017 – seventeen months later. I found those seventeen months easy, and had no desire to drink. Five months before I broke my sobriety, depression that I already suffered from, went from manageable to severe. I had some thoughts of suicide in 2016, but they were controlled with changes to my medications. On Christmas Day 2016, I thought for the first time that it was quite possible I might in fact kill myself. After discussions with my psychiatrist, I agreed to be hospitalized, which I was, for four weeks. So began 10-12 hospitalizations that year. I also attended multiple outpatient programs, both for substance use disorder, and mental health issues. We come to May 2017, when I went straight from the hospital, into a residential program.
The residential program was for depression only. There was no substance abuse component. Anyway, I had been sober for 17 months so it wasn’t on anyone’s radar, including mine. After only five days, I absconded, and went to a bar to drink. I wasn’t even craving alcohol, I think I was acting out – a thirty nine year old acting like a teenager. I was extremely impulsive over that period. I had six tattoos done in a few months, multiple piercings, and shaved my head. I thought the drinking was no big deal, and it was a one off. Between May and October, I drank a few times, sometimes ending in hospital for self-harm. I still thought it was no big deal, because I was not addicted (in my mind), and mostly acting out as I saw it. My psychiatrist tried to hammer home that I was not in control of my alcohol, or behavior to some extent, but I still was in denial.
When October came (September 30), I drank very heavily, and through my actions required a blood transfusion, and seventeen days in the hospital. A condition of my release was that I attend a dual-track program, for substance abuse, and mental health. Everyone wanted me to do another residential program: my outpatient psychiatrist; my inpatient psychiatrist; my therapist; and my inpatient social worker. Nowhere would take me because one of my physical health condition: heart disease. I went to another outpatient program. They required me to attend A.A. meetings daily, which I did. I was starting to come around to the idea that I might in fact be an alcoholic. I tried several different meetings in a few locations, before settling on The Lincoln Park Alano Club (LPAC) as my main location. There were some really nice people there, male and female, and I felt a lot more at home, than at my first meeting almost two years early. I stayed sober for two weeks this time. After another short stint in hospital, I was back to A.A. and my outpatient program. I once again went daily, and met more and more people.
I started feeling a part of something, even though I wasn’t really working with a sponsor. I recognized several people each meeting, and we started greeting each other by name. I still had trouble with the word “God,” even though everyone insists it can be anything you want, and not the traditional idea of God. I wasn’t working the steps, which are a path to acceptance and maintaining sobriety, and still didn’t lean on my sponsor at all. I finished my outpatient program on December 28th, the day before the first anniversary of my first hospitalization. I was feeling quite vulnerable, because I now had nothing to do during the day, and my anniversary had brought up some intense feelings. My psychiatrist and I both acknowledged that this was a crucial time, and we were closely in contact. I had stayed sober for seventy one days, a record since I’d broken my sobriety in May. On January 7 2018, I caved. After nine days in the hospital, and the outpatient program I had finished a couple of weeks earlier took me back again. I was continuing to go to A.A. daily this whole time. I only lasted a couple of days this time, and drank two days running. It was the weekend, and on Monday the program kicked me out, after securing me a place at a substance use disorder program.
I had attended this program for a week in September 2017, and was surprised they took me back. I did well there, going to meetings every day, as is their requirement, often with fellow patients. I continued to make friends at LPAC, which kept me sober. I also made great friends at the sobriety program. I stayed sober for forty seven days this time, breaking it by taking pills. We were now in early March. I was in hospital (medical) for two days. I felt like an idiot, and was kicked out of the program. I was developing a bad pattern. I started at another new program, which dealt with both my issues. I was being passed from mental health, to substance use disorder program, back and forth ad nauseam. I was only in this program for two days, when I relapsed again. I was in the hospital for fifteen days this time, nine on medical, and six on psych.
It is Wednesday, and I have been out seven days. I drank the first three. So I have four days sober. I have continued to go to A.A. every day, even when I was drinking. I figure drinking and going to A.A. is better than drinking and not going to A.A. I met a close A.A. friend today for coffee. We were both complaining about going to a women’s only meeting at LPAC. I much prefer the mixed ones. We went anyway, and oh my God, it was amazing. I think I’ve found my favorite meeting (my home group). I wanted to drink tonight, and on the way home thought about buying booze. I truly believe having gone to that meeting saved me from “going out” again (the A.A. term for relapsing).
I see my psychiatrist on Friday (two days away), and I’m dreading telling him I drank on my first three days out of hospital. The only way to stay sober, is complete unadulterated honesty. I practiced that today in the meeting. I spoke about past drunken misbehavior while I was at my worst in my twenties, injuries I sustained while drunk, and nearly have to move back to Ireland due to my drinking. Apart from being cathartic for me, I hope it helped someone in the room know they’re not alone. I’ve been to about one hundred and thirty meeting in the last six months. At almost every one, something someone has said has struck a chord. And when it hasn’t, it still helps to know that I’m not alone in this struggle. This is a true struggle. Alcoholism is a progressive, fatal illness. The longer we stay feeding our habit, the worse we get. We drink more, our behavior worsens, and the risk to our life sky-rockets – either though damage to our bodies, or risks we take with our lives. A.A. has been proven over years, to be the best program for cessation of substance use – alcohol and otherwise. Many people are put off by an alleged “cultish” atmosphere. I have found the people in A.A. to be amazing, helpful, friendly, and compassionate. I’m still working on getting through some of the “God” thing, but it’s the only thing I think can truly help me. All I know is that I need to “Keep Coming Back,” as the A.A.s say.