by Paddy S.
It began by not saying my prayers regularly and attending only open AA meetings. I justified not going to closed meetings by saying to myself that there was nothing more for me to hear or know about sobriety.
My recovery had reached its peak, as it were, and it was definitely not like I had hoped it would be. I was seven or eight years sober at the time and the disturbing notion that “this is all there is” began gnawing away at me.
At open meetings I began criticizing the speakers. Not openly to others, mind you, only in my own mind. I found speakers boring and repetitious and began to feel they were insincere. I would get a knot in my stomach, feel very restless and leave meetings as soon as they were over. I found myself not wanting to meet other AA members and wished I had never gotten involved with this crazy outfit.
At one meeting, I heard a speaker say “I am 12 years sober and I ought to be feeling better.” The speaker went on to describe how life had become mundane, joyless and depressing, and he did not know how this could be after so many years of sobriety.
The speaker was describing my state of mind that night. I too was at a loss as to why after an initial few years of good contented sobriety it was now all disappearing.
With no answers readily available, I blamed AA itself and reasoned that I had outgrown its usefulness in my life. I decided that perhaps I should now attempt to stand on my own two feet without the ‘crutch’ of AA.
I went to fewer and fewer open meetings, until one day I heard a speaker who was so boring that I stopped going altogether. This speaker, in my mind, was the last straw; the deciding factor in my decision to stop going to meetings – to quit AA. Enough was enough. I stopped going to meetings entirely.
My mental and emotional health began to slide very quickly. I became extremely irritable and refused to talk to AA friends who called on the phone. I would leave the house and find myself downtown hoping something might happen to put some excitement into my life. Sometimes I would not remember driving downtown, a distance of eight miles.
I began to feel that everything was a burden and a hopeless liability: my wife, the job, the children, the in-laws, the country, etc.
I became terribly indecisive. I often tried to go to a movie and at the last minute would change my mind and go to another cinema, only to do the same thing again. I found myself driving around in discontented circles, confused and unable to make myself happy no matter what I did.
AA people came to the house and begged me to come back, but I could not. I was unable to bring myself to return and told them so. Some great barrier had arisen between me and that which had gotten me sober in the first place.
I began to consider the idea that perhaps I was not really an alcoholic at all. Not that I wanted to drink, but perhaps I had taken the wrong course when I got sober by going the AA route.
I began to blame people: my sponsor for his hair-brained suggestions over the years; my wife for her inadequacies; my friends for their lack of understanding. I began to feel very angry. One day I got out of my car and berated a “lollipop” traffic director for a gesture he made to me.
I began to feel disconnected from people, places and things. Interest in things fell off. I only did what I felt I was obliged to do, like going to work, because I was too afraid not to. Unease and uncertainty dogged me. I wanted to escape from my life.
Strangely enough, I never felt like drinking. I was not in good shape mentally or emotionally, but I could not really see this myself at the time. This period of being away from AA lasted about 18 months and was a period of unhappiness, disorientation, irritability and self-absorption.
Through a series of events, I was convinced by an AA woman who I ran into accidentally to go to a closed AA meeting. I really don’t know why I went. Perhaps because I liked her or wanted her approval. Maybe I just agreed because I did not want to argue the matter. Or perhaps it could have been my saner self somehow unconsciously intervening as a way to save my life. Regardless, I went to the meeting.
At that meeting there were nine or ten people around the table. The subject under discussion was what happens when people don’t go to meetings. The people at the table were in various stages of sobriety, ranging from three months to several years. All of them talked of their “not going to meetings” experiences. All of them had got drunk! I was the only one there that night at that meeting who had not taken a drink … yet.
It became very clear to me at that meeting, and it remains as one of the clearest thoughts I have ever had, that I would drink again if I continued along my present course. It was not a question of would I get drunk; it was simply a question of when. The inevitability of this was as certain to me as night follows day.
I left that meeting with a deep realization of the seriousness of my position. It suddenly became apparent to me that if I was to return to AA it would have to be at a new and deeper level than I had heretofore realized.
I went back to that meeting regularly for a number of weeks. Not knowing what else to do and not having anyone to advise me, I decided that I would again read the book Alcoholics Anonymous, but with one significant difference. This time I would see what it had to say to me directly and not as interpreted by others. So often I had been told by others what certain things in the book meant; this time I would simply read and let the writers of the book speak directly to me.
I re-joined an AA group, attended regularly and re-connected with my former AA friends. In my re-reading of the book – and in being open to what I read – I was somehow able to see more clearly the things I had not seen before.
I at last understood that I must live my life in the day; I must try to give away what was given to me; and I must try to pray regularly, no matter how I feel. I saw that “the solution” was indeed a spiritual one and I realized that I would need AA in my life until the day I die. I got comfortable with that somehow. I saw that my alcoholism was as deeply ingrained in me as anyone else.
I realize now that I had become spiritually bankrupt in sobriety. It was worse by far than the bankruptcy I felt when I initially joined AA. Back then I was using alcohol to numb my feelings. Now I had no alcohol. However, that meeting I went to opened my mind to the certain knowledge that I would again go back to alcohol. I knew that a drink would numb me out again just like it did before, but this time it would be much worse. My fellow members who had gone back out could testify to that.
I began to ask around if anyone else had experienced anything like this and discovered that it is very common. As best I could ascertain, sober members often arrive at this “dark night of the soul” or “dry drunk” anywhere between five and twelve years of sobriety. It becomes a great test of our faith, our convictions and our connection to the program.
Through God’s grace some of us come out the other side wiser and humbler for it.
Some don’t, and drink again.