The eleventh of January marks a very significant date in my life as it was the day I walked into my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It wasn’t the happiest day of my life, but it was the start of a journey that has changed my entire belief in myself and afforded me a second chance at life.
Nobody sets out on their path ever believing they will end up an Alcoholic – I know I certainly didn’t! I had so many hopes and dreams for myself – I believed I was destined for great things, but somehow my life took on a different course and I became a person I pretty much didn’t like.
Growing up I was painfully shy, drowning in low-esteem and leading a life of an introvert. You would rather find me curled up with a book than out making friends. Things changed in High School when I experimented with smoking and took my first drink at the age of seventeen, lighting up like a Christmas tree! Drinking and smoking gave me the illusion that friends found me interesting, I could finally climb out of my shell and I succumbed to these enticing pleasures.
Upon finishing high school, I dreamed of becoming a journalist or a writer of some sort, but due to financial worries at home, this ambition became pie in the sky. At the age of eighteen, I was lucky to find a job working in Pretoria and Cape Town for six months at a stretch. As I had never lived on my own before, planting roots in Cape Town was tough to instil without family or friends and marred with loneliness and utter despair.
A year later, I met and fell instantly in love with Neil in Pretoria. Our courtship was brief, for I fell unexpectedly pregnant and we had a shotgun wedding! I was incredibly lucky to find a wonderful man who loved me unconditionally, took full responsibility in welcoming our daughter into the world and shared parental duties. I was blessed to have found my soul mate:-)
Living in Cape Town was bittersweet – although I loved being married, raising a daughter and running our home, it was tough not having a support system to rely on as both our families lived in Pretoria. Good fortune was on our side when friends from our hometown moved into our area and we ignited our friendship and they became our family. We spent all our free time together, socialising and having fun. I drank sometimes too much (like most people), my eating patterns were undesirable and exercising was too much hard work.
Four years later, I gave birth to our second daughter and this is where the cracks started appearing. I noticed my drinking habits had progressed to a level that scared me. When I drank, I had the intention of getting drunk and had turned into a typical binge drinker! With this behaviour came an added bonus of blackouts! I would cause scenes and get into sticky situations which I had no recollection of when I was sober. I had become a Jekyll and Hyde and couldn’t fathom how I’d landed in this position.
When my family and friends relayed what I’d gotten up to during my drinking sprees, I was mortified. I wanted to crawl into a cave and perish for I couldn’t believe I had turned into a monster. Try as I may to change my wicked ways – curbing my drinking, abstaining, willpower, reading books on controlling alcohol – nothing worked!
I had hit my rock-bottom and knew my drinking days were numbered and the time had come to change my lifestyle. I couldn’t deny I had a drinking problem any longer for I couldn’t look my daughters in the eyes – how could they respect me when I couldn’t respect myself! Not only had I failed them, I had disappointed myself and I had no inkling how I was going to turn my life around.
After researching the AA relentlessly on the internet, I decided to phone their office and enquired how the program worked and what their secret to sobriety was. When I received a response of, “attending meetings” and “staying sober one day at a time” I was completely baffled how these two concepts were going to save me? But I was at the end of my tether and if it didn’t work – it would only add to the string of failures my life had spiralled into.
The first meeting I attended was on a Saturday night and it was slap bang during my drinking time. However, I’d taken my last drink and smoked my final cigarette the night before and I was a nervous wreck. I recall people introducing themselves to me and not remembering a soul, only seeing a haze of faces. When the meeting commenced and the Chairman asked me to introduce myself, I wanted to bolt as my heart was pounding out of my chest. I mustered up the courage and softly introduced myself and indicated I had a desire to stop drinking. The group welcomed me and informed me to listen to the discussion with an open mind and I sat rooted to the spot the entire duration.
Something happened at that meeting, something I could not understand at that early stage of my recovery, but what I fully comprehend now. My Higher Power had walked into that meeting with me, held my hand and has never left my side since. Sitting in that environment I couldn’t admit I was an alcoholic – alcoholics were homeless people who aborted their families, lost their jobs and the ability to live meaningful lives – not young middle class women like me! The stigma that word carried hung over my head like a rain cloud for weeks. But what I was witnessing first-hand was members in the group not feeling ashamed to be called alcoholics – they accepted it, they were happy, joyous and free and I wanted that more than anything else in the world. I learnt I had a disease, an allergy when it came to alcohol and no amount of willpower in the world could have helped me to abstain from this obsession. When I eventually admitted I was an alcoholic to the group a few weeks later, a mountain of shame lifted off my shoulders.
I found an AA sponsor who welcomed me into her heart and home. We met once a week and together went tirelessly through the twelve step program. She was instrumental in my recovery. I cried on her shoulders when life became unbearable, she steered me in the direction of faith when I couldn’t find the answers I yearned for and believed in me when I ceased to believe in myself. I truly felt I had found a Guardian Angel within the rooms of AA who shared her experience and loved me unconditionally.
Staying sober was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was incredibly difficult shutting the door on my drinking lifestyle, an existence I had been leading for years which had become second nature to me. All of a sudden, I no longer had the crutch of alcohol at my disposal and living a sober life was like becoming an infant again. I had to change my entire way of life – I couldn’t keep alcohol at home, I was terrified of sitting in a restaurant watching others drink, I refused to attend social gatherings for fear of falling into my old drinking ways. I had to alter everything – my thinking, my behaviour; I had to LEARN to live a clean life.
As the months rolled by I realised how much healthier I was feeling, I no longer woke up with a pounding hangover and fear in my heart, I could recall my whereabouts the previous evening and a newfound energy was bubbling inside of me. Even though I was still painfully shy – I was slowly opening up in the meetings and contributing as best as I could to the discussions. I decided to join Weigh-less to transform my eating patterns and took up running and swimming to shed the excess weight. I followed the same principles I learnt in AA – taking everything ONE DAY AT A TIME, instilling the concept of learning and practicing relentlessly, to never give up on myself even if disappointments knocked the wind out of me, I would pick myself up and try again tomorrow.
When I reached my first AA birthday on the eleventh of January 2011, I couldn’t believe how far I’d come. The greatest gift I received was when the craving to drink vanished from my life and I truly felt like I was floating on a pretty pink cloud. My family was unbelievably proud of me, not only had I received a second chance at life, I had succeeded in changing our destiny.
I have protected my sobriety with all my heart and soul. It was and still is a very personal and profound experience and only those in the same boat can truly grasp the incredible journey one travels to get to that place where you’re no longer ashamed of your past and who you’ve become. I would not be leading the life I’m living now, wouldn’t have conquered my demons, succeeded in losing weight, transformed myself into an athlete and finally found my way back to my true calling in life – WRITING, without the guidance of AA, discovering my Higher Power, growing spiritually fit and the unwavering love and support of my family and friends.
Every year around this time I reflect on my past and the pain from my darkest days’ cloud my thoughts. However with every sober year I accumulate – rays of colour appear on the horizon – a RAINBOW marking the end of the rain, of my unhappiness, bringing beauty and joy into my life:-)