In Part I, I wrote about how former NBA star Allen Iverson’s battle with alcoholism really hit home with me. I ended Part I just as I stopped drinking because I checked myself into a psychiatric ward for 10 days.
Even though I volunteered for the 10 day stay, I fought most of the programs and activities. I thought things like art and music therapy were the biggest waste of my time, and group therapy was torturous. Being there, though, gave me the opportunity to look (literally) into what we, the patients who had free reign to walk about, called the “koo-koo ward.” Peering through the glass door, we could see several glass enclosed bays with patients who were wearing strait jackets or sitting screaming or God knows what else. You couldn’t help but feel you weren’t that bad off because you weren’t like them, but it began as a sort of smugness with no concept of thankfulness or grace at all.
I don’t remember what it was, but think it was an art therapy class where something inside me changed and I stopped resisting and started “getting with the program.” When I was in junior high and art was a required course, the teachers always let me know I was not very good at art. My motto until not that long ago was, “Don’t do anything you know you stink at doing.” (This is one reason I never played much tennis.)
When I got out of the hospital, I continued with therapy, something I still participate, although I’ve built up such a healthy toolbox that I often go several years without seeing my therapist. When I do need to see her, it often only takes one visit to get me back on track. (She is THAT good, and it helps I’ve been seeing her off and on for over 20 years now. Don’t laugh; I’ve had the same hair dresser for over 23 years.)
Staying clean & sober for as long as I have been is not something that is easy; I do not take my sobriety for granted. I’ve always been rather open with it, preferring to answer when someone new to me offers me a drink, “No thanks, I don’t drink; I used to have a problem with it.” I do not have a problem being around it whether at events or an after work social with friends. I know how my life was before drinking, and I know how it’s been after, and I just don’t want to go back.
Like many, I got my first taste of sober living through the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had started attending meetings shortly before I went into the hospital. I had intended to go into an Al-Anon room and “accidentally” ended up in an AA room. The God language bothered me at first, but I could relate to the concept of a “Higher Power.” It became freeing to know that I was under the spell of something I could not beat unless I gave up control.
I suffered greatly from “oldest child” syndrome, also known as, always thinking everything was my fault. I don’t know where this came from; my parents never tried to put blame on me. I think the type of depression I was later correctly diagnosed with (major recurrent depressive episodes) was with me from birth. Looking at my family, I do see a genetic component, and some of it is cultural with the Irish tendency to not show emotions.
Do I ever still feel like I want to drink? YES! It does not happen very often. When I get stressed because I am not using my healthy toolbox, I have drunk dreams. There are like no other kind of dream. I wake up seriously believing I got drunk the night before. It is very frightening, and tells me I need to quickly reach into my toolbox and correct my path.
I cannot emphasis how important AA was to my recovery, particularly the first 5 years. I am not, however, the poster child for how to maintain your recovery by continuing to participate in AA meetings. I do things that are frowned upon my many in the program such as cooking with alcohol, drinking non-alcoholic beer, and going to places where there is likely to be heavy drinking such as wedding receptions, cruises, and company holiday parties. I do what works for me; your mileage may vary.
In Part III, I will write about this mysterious toolbox I have.