Personal stories – The alcoholic perfectionist

By his embracing the program of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of A.A, this gay man’s life has experienced amazing changes.

The perfectionist trait was well in place by the start of my first employment at the age of 18 years with a multinational insurance company. My mother noticed it, and commented, my employer noticed it, and reaped the rewards. My friends saw it too, in my immaculately kept sports car and my general demeanor, and they had a chuckle about this noticeable characteristic.

So this thing to excel and be a cut above the rest; to be a success and be noticed came naturally to me. Just, I suppose, as drinking did, once I got started. But I didn’t commence my drinking when my school mates, neighbourhood friends and scouting buddies started theirs. No, I resisted for a year or so until I was nearly 19 years as I had a deep seated fear that I could and would become the uncontrollable, irrational, unpredictable alcoholic that my father was. And my brother, three years my junior was already out of control and experiencing problems in many areas of his life, due to his alcoholism (he later died at 25, due to alcohol and drug abuse).

However, my drinking was fairly civilised for quite some years. I found it a “good part of living” to drink large quantities at dinners, parties, pubs, barbecues and the like. Eventually I experienced my first drink driving offence, followed by an arrest, a police charge and disqualification of my driver’s licence. What a shock this was. Especially on those cold winter mornings when I had to push bike it to work. There followed two more drink driving offences, the last one resulting in instant dismissal from a very rewarding sales representative position.

This termination of employment resulted from driving the company owned vehicle into a stone wall in a blackout (I have no recollection of the event). To be awakened in your own bedroom by uniformed police and ambulance officers after the car accident, which found the new vehicle a write off, is a singularly disturbing experience. These men did a quick assessment of the situation. To my disgust I was taken away and locked in a cell, rather than by ambulance to the nearest hospital bed.

After a cold sad and lonely night in police headquarters, the next day I experienced the courtroom, the judge, and then later at work, the sacking from my position of four years. The next five weeks I drank in and out of oblivion with very little recollection of anything much at all. So alcohol was playing a large part in this alcoholic’s life. In all areas, work, play, sex – all situations saw the gluttonous and persistent consumption of large quantities of alcohol.

Being a single gay man with no commitment to a wife or family I believed gave me license to be absolutely undisciplined in drinking, with no moderation, or balance, or thought of the consequences of my behaviour. A close friend frequently said, “You never think about the consequences of your actions when you are hopelessly drunk”. And I didn’t, I was totally out of control and life was progressively becoming more and more unmanageable.

Further time was to pass and many, many more crises were to occur before I reached the end of my 22 years of drinking. Many more car accidents, financial problems, relationship problems, police matters resulting from driving offences, and a hospitalisation resulting from a nasty domestic accident whilst grossly intoxicated, came my way. Work performance also suffered badly as I began to visit the “early openers” and have many drinks before arriving at work some mornings. Needless to say, I was warned, warned again, and after a third warning about drinking prior to work and during the day I was suspended (without pay) and ordered to a rehabilitation treatment centre.

Failure to attend weekly and respond I was told would bring about my dismissal. “Not again”, I thought, “I’ve already had one of these” – and I didn’t particularly want another one. So for 18 months I attended for one hour a week meeting with a psychologist employed by the Government Drug and Alcohol Services Council. This had very little effect on my drinking habits, except to say as far as the job was concerned I became much more cunning about where, when and how I drank during the working day.

Health problems, particularly mental and emotional difficulties surfaced and later became prevalent. So now all aspects of my life were being affected by this disease of alcoholism. My health, my relationships, my livelihood and law matters were becoming increasing “problems”. Then, after so many devastating and difficult situations, a coincidence occurred. Or a miracle, or a set of unusual circumstances – at any rate, the answer to my prayers occurred. I found myself in a meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous.

Attempting to change my lifestyle in the hope I could bring back some control and curb this rotten compulsion to drink constantly, I started to introduce some new interests into my life. I started attending a Community Centre “Drop In” on Thursday nights for gay men and women. Here was a non-drinking, social environment with an emphasis on meeting new people, discussions, and guest speakers. On the top floor of this building, regularly on the same night, occurred a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I soon heard the traditional hand clapping at about every 10 minutes and inquired what was on upstairs. Within a week or two I was sitting on the top floor in the AA meeting instead of the ground level Drop In Centre.

The rest is now history. Years have now passed since my last drink. And I am glad to say that I am a committed, dedicated and loyal member of this fellowship called Alcoholics Anonymous. AA must take all the credit for my nine years of continuous sobriety.

I have learnt a lot about the progressive fatal disease of alcoholism. The disease that affects me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially and morally. I now understand that one in ten people are afflicted with alcoholism and that these people have a different chemical structure from the non-alcoholic. I now know about the disease concept and the alcoholic personality. I have also come to understand from our AA literature that personality traits common to most alcoholics involve grandiose attitudes, perfectionism, childish behaviour and a highly sensitive personality. But more importantly for me, I have found a way of life, more satisfying than the drinking existence. This has been the answer to my problem.

This way of life involves attending numerous AA meetings on a weekly basis. It involves helping others in AA, particularly people who are new, and also assisting the fellowship financially and in the area of service work.

I have embraced the program of the 12 Steps, Traditions and principles of AA and amazing changes have occurred in my life.

AA has taught me to pray properly. I only ever prayed whenever I was in hot water and in trouble. I only ever asked for myself. Now through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous I pray daily and often frequently each day. I give thanks for my sobriety, my health and safety, my sanity and security. I pray for others who are battling this disease. I use our Serenity Prayer a lot and the Step Three and Step Seven prayers in our Big Book. I often, when alone on the beach, say the St Francis prayer from Step 11 in the AA book, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. And there are many others I often use from the AA literature. I know them all off by heart and this helps in my communication with my Higher Power.

I no longer drink, desire a drink or think drink. I am assisted on a daily basis not to pick up a drink by my Higher Power, whom I call God. To overcome the compulsion for alcohol it has been necessary to change my whole attitude and outlook in line with the AA teachings.

This has involved a daily process of :

  1. Doing things that I do not want to do.
  2. Not doing things that I do want to do.

These two guidelines have brought about the changes in me that are necessary for me to remain on this planet, sober, sane and safe. In fact I think these two points are really the only means by which any alcoholic can change from their desperate drinking existence to one of happiness and serenity in abstinence from alcohol. Abstinence is the only answer for the alcoholic. Controlled drinking doesn’t work. I’ve tried and so have thousands, and failed.

They told me when I first attended AA that if I was an alcoholic and continued to drink then one of three things would happen to me. I would die, as a result of an accident or health problem; I would go to jail, due to a car accident, having injured or killed someone; or I would go insane and end up in a mental institution or hospital. The three options didn’t sound too inviting but they did also point out that the fourth option was to continue to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and do what was suggested. I chose the latter.

I was also told that if I continued drinking, if I was an alcoholic, then as an Australian male I would shorten my life span by approximately 12 years. This is the current statistic.

In Adelaide, where I live, we are fortunate to have a large selection of meetings to attend. On each night there is a choice of a least six meetings. Like most cities now we have many different types, ranging from Topic to Big Book & Step Study meetings, women’s and gay groups, beginners and of course the traditional speaker identification gatherings. All ages, all backgrounds, ethnic origins and social status gather nightly through their common bond and common goal to share their experience and their recoveries in AA Not all stay in AA Some say it doesn’t work and they get drunk again. Those who come to A.A and work the program get results.

I’ve heard it said that contained in the first 164 pages of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, is the answer to all life’s problems today. Whether it be the drinking problem, or social, emotional, mental, moral, ethical, love or relationship matters, the answers for living can be found here.

So for me and thousands of others the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is the answer to our problems. It’s the most successful therapy for the treatment of alcoholism and a recipe for living a joyous, happy, sober and satisfying life. All we need to do is work at it and we will enjoy the positive results of a truly wonderful fellowship.