Today is Jan. 22, 2018. I have been sober for eight years today, and here’s my story.
I first got sober on June 14, 1988. Flag day, for what it’s worth.
At that time I lived in Omaha Nebraska. I went to my first meeting on a Friday night—at the gay and lesbian meeting in the cafeteria of a hospital— “Live and Let Live.” I just looked them up, and they’re still meeting at 8:15 on Friday nights—sending love to you guys! Thank you!
I became a daily AAer—sometimes more than one a day, but Live and Let Live was my home group, and there I met a group of other young lesbians who became my tribe. Men were welcome to our almost nightly coffee house meetings after the meeting, but the core group was about six women.
I was “in the middle of the program” when I was younger. Daily meetings, daily phone calls, hiking together, going out to eat together. . . It was a good time. During that time, I ended a long-term relationship and had a brief (six month) relationship. All the things you’re not supposed to do in early sobriety, but I made it anyway because I had the program, a sponsor, and my tribe.
After a few years, we started to peel off members of our group one by one. One of us went out, one just kind of wandered away (not sure about her), two moved to San Francisco (not together, strangely enough), and I moved to Minneapolis.
I thought I’d have it made in Minneapolis. They actually had a gay club with daily meetings, and it wasn’t too far from where I lived. But, I had a hard time making friends. In fact, I was scheduled to meet a guy from the club for lunch (my first real connection there) the day I slipped on ice while hiking and shattered my humerus.
After surgery, I moved back home to San Antonio. I couldn’t dress myself. I certainly couldn’t work as a home health care aid anymore. So, I moved back in with my mother.
I started going to meetings at Lambda and at Club 12 when I moved to San Antonio. I also became a member of a wonderful church I still attend.
But just like Minneapolis, I had trouble finding my people. I attended random meetings, and I stayed sober, but I didn’t even have a sponsor. And, of course, as many people experience when they move, these people just didn’t do AA right.
I eventually started going to daily NA meetings—At first because they were in walking distance from my house. Here I met my sponsor and some people I became fairly close to. I became active in service work for a while, and I started attending the Sunday evening women’s meeting at Lambda, where I also met some good people to spend time with.
After my sponsor moved to Illinois (see, it’s your fault, Gini!) I became less regular in AA, the daily NA meeting moved, I didn’t work with anyone on the steps, and I thought I was okay. After all, I had more than a decade of sobriety, I had worked the steps (most of them anyway), and I had a close group of people at the church. We met every Tuesday night to discuss the scripture for the next Sunday (God Talk), and I felt that I had a tribe there.
In the meantime, I went back to school and got my master’s degree in English, and I cared for my mother through several bouts with cancer, broken bones, and emphysema.
After I got my masters, I started teaching. That first December, I went to a faculty member’s home for a Christmas party. I didn’t know anyone but her, and she was busy. I hate parties, and I really hate them when I’m alone. But I liked this woman, and her friends seemed cool (all professionals and lesbians), so I stayed. At some point in the evening, the bottle of this year’s dandelion wine came out. We were all given tiny glasses of it. I drank mine.
This is not your typical story, as I didn’t immediately run out and start heavy using. But I thought about it. Daily. “See, you had a drink and you didn’t get drunk, or even drink again. You are not an alcoholic.”
About six months later, I had wine with dinner. And then beer at lunch. And then I was drinking daily. In the meantime, my mother was dying of cancer. Is that why I drank again? I don’t think so. I think I drank again because I’m an alcoholic and I have a disease that will talk me into using again. Even if I have many years sober, even if I have a relationship with God, even if I go to a meeting a week or so.
The next year my mother died, I got a full-time teaching job, I got a girlfriend (this was stretched out over some time, mind you). My girlfriend hated the church, so I convinced myself that I did too—to keep her. I left the church where I had my little tribe, and I settled in with her for a year. My drinking got progressively worse. I was hiding it. I was lying about it. I was counting the hours until I could drink again. I lost that first full-time job, but got another right away. It was the first time I was ever fired, but I didn’t really connect it to the drinking.
I left the girlfriend. She was emotionally abusive, and I was a lying drunk who was also a professional victim. It wasn’t pretty.
I tried to get sober several times. I’d get a month, two months. . . But I’d always end up out again. I didn’t go back to church out of embarrassment, which I excused with saying I didn’t believe. And church is a Patriarchal institution anyway, right?
My health was getting progressively worse, and my job progressively precarious. One day I went to a doctor who said she was concerned about my liver count. I don’t know why I told her the truth, but I said, “That’s because I drink a lot, daily, and I cannot stop.” She told me that I had to go to a psychiatrist and to AA. I protested that AA wasn’t doing it for me. She said, “Studies show that AA with a sponsor is the only effective treatment.”
I called a shrink who wanted to put me in detox, which I resisted. After all, I’m a college teacher. The nurse said, “Okay, we’ll wait for Spring Break.” It was January. I didn’t think I’d get sober if I waited until spring. Indeed, I wasn’t sure I’d be alive.
I tried easing off. That night I had one drink and stopped. Of course, the next night I drank until I passed out. So, I called my old sponsor, who is also a nurse, and asked her if I could get sober without detox. She gave me a list of symptoms to watch out for, and she told me to give them to my roommate with the instructions that he was to call an ambulance if I went into DTs. I didn’t, thank God.
Somehow, through grace, I got sober this time.
I stayed sober, I sort of worked the program, I did service work, I had some disappointments with people in the program, and I kept my distance emotionally. I’m not blaming the people who disappointed me. We’re alcoholics, and human, we’re bound to mess up. Keeping my distance emotionally is something I do to protect myself.
A few years ago, I almost lost my house. I got a new sponsor (I had been working with a lovely woman in San Diego—what is it with me and long-distance sponsors? And she advised that I get someone local). This was another moment of complete desperation. Like the day I got sober, I knew that my life needed drastic change.
Doug and I started doing the work around money. Life got so much better! I didn’t lose my house. I even got better at my job and got a raise. Life got better in other ways, too. We had weekly meetings at Doug’s house, as he was sick and couldn’t go out to meetings often. That little group became my new tribe.
I went back to church after a friend died, and my new pastor guilt-tripped me. She warned me that I would be sorry if I missed out on time with one of the older members of the church. Ironically, she died a year before he did. But I found my church tribe again. I started to open my heart to God again. I became active in the church.
After the money stuff started to ease up, I found I still had work to do with my emotions. So, I started therapy. Shortly after that, Doug died, and our little tribe became even closer through his last illness and death. It’s been less than a year since Doug died, and I’ve started doing the work with a new sponsor (a member of the tribe) and with my therapist, who’s also in AA.
Life is getting better. My last birthday I had a gathering of AA, church, and work friends—my life is becoming integrated.
Here’s what I’ve learned: I must do the work. It doesn’t end; it just changes. Sure, I’m not struggling daily with the desire to use. Sure, my finances are in much better shape. Now I’m working on being more open to feelings and doing some more healing from childhood trauma. Who knows what I’ll work on in the future. But I know it will be something.
My sponsor’s sponsor’s sponsor had his 50th year sobriety birthday last month. He works. Daily. And he is kind and spiritual and funny. I want what he has.
And I need people to do the work with. I need a tribe or two. I need a pastor. I need a sponsor. Right now, I need a therapist. And that is the way it works for me.