Was I born an alcoholic? I don’t know. All I know is that I am one. My story originates in England in 1939, where I was born into a world at war. My father was overseas serving King and Country, so my mother had the responsibility of caring for three children, plus coping with the stress of the unknown.
After dad returned home, he vowed he would lead his little family to “a better life in Australia”. In 1952 we all set sail for this strange new land on the other side of the world where we settled down very quickly in our adopted country. Dad was a builder, so was in great demand during those boom years of growth in Australia.
My parents both worked very hard and neither of them drank much except the odd glass of brandy at Christmas time. By this time I had gained a little brother to our midst and this had quite an effect on me since there was 10 years difference between us. I resented not having the limelight any more, no longer was I daddy’s little girl and this compounded the feeling that I was ‘apart from’, not ‘a part of’, my family!
Leaving school to work as soon as I could, I slotted into a variety of jobs, but always some vague restlessness urged me on to other pastures. About this time, I picked up my first drink at a teenage party for a friend. The effect was electrifying. I could converse on a level that I never believed possible. My silver tongue became the life of the party! I ended up on the front lawn of that place, throwing up and vowing never to drink again!! Quietly though, I amended that statement to “I’ll never touch that rotten port again”. I figured that the port wine was at fault.
Joining the Women’s Royal Australian Navy at 17, I was virtually granted licence to behave exactly as I pleased, subject to the disciplines, of course. I proceeded to do just that, caring little for the great career I could have had if I applied myself more. My drinking did not cause too much trouble during the two years in the Navy, although I noticed that I did not drink like other people. I drank too fast, and I became preoccupied with the thought of the next party or whatever occasion where I knew there would be alcohol.
I left the Navy to get married. My husband drank like I did so I found comfort and formed a great alliance with this man. Three daughters later, the fights had begun, and I had taken to swearing off the booze on a fairly regular basis. I just could not understand that I had a problem. I would not drink for weeks at a time, months sometimes, so I couldn’t have a problem could I?. It was him, of course. It was all his fault. I drank on in ignorance and I began to get very abusive toward my children, especially when they came between me and a drink. Blackouts or alcoholic amnesia became normal. Of course I did not know they were blackouts, I just thought that I had fallen asleep at some stage and missed part of the action.
I began the rounds of the doctors’ surgeries with mysterious complaints, eventually admitting, some time down the years, to one doctor that I had a drinking problem. This resulted in my attending a clinic as an outpatient under the care of an eminent psychiatrist who was a specialist in the field of alcoholism. The psychiatrist tried his best with me, based on the smatterings of truth that I sometimes provided him with. He suggested that I not drink for one year. Still, I did not see too much of a problem so after some nine months of trying to outwit this good man, I picked up a drink again, and again went on the old familiar treadmill of chaos and misery.
After that one-year experiment, I progressed downhill fairly rapidly. I tried everything I could think of, to be able to drink like other people – even to mixing up a brew of mashed potatoes and milk to put a lining on my stomach so that I would not get so sick. Hangovers were horrific. The nightmares were getting worse, I would wake up in the night brushing imaginary spiders off my face. I took to sleeping with the light on, a bucket ready at the side of my bed and a knife under my pillow, ready for whatever.
Thoughts of homicide crept in. I planned a thousand deaths for my drunken husband in a thousand different ways. I began to live in my fantasies because they always ‘came out all right’. I was slowly going insane and did not know it. Then came a weekend which began like any other weekend. Saturday morning hangover…take it quietly in the beanbag for the day…will never, ever drink again. Saturday night, down at the club, just a couple to ‘feel better’. Then the internal shakes started up because I could not drink very much now. Sunday morning, a barbeque at another club, a few drinks…feeling a little better today…a few more, then oblivion again.
Monday morning: a curious glance around the messy, smelly lounge room with its broken glasses and bottles and a record player still grinding away, playing nothing in particular. My head and eyes ached and I was retching on nothing – nothing new. My husband made a derogatory comment about my appearance. Nothing new. But something happened at that moment. I mentally agreed with him. I felt worthless, useless, and very unloved. One look in the mirror told the story. I went to the telephone and after a search through the directory rang Alcoholics Anonymous. It was July 1, 1979, and I haven’t needed to drink in the years since those unseen hands guided me to the ‘phone.
The miracle is that I knew nothing about alcoholism, knew nothing of the existence of Alcoholics Anonymous or even where to find it. I attended my first meeting that night and heard others describe what it was like for them. I had come home at last. One year down the track, my husband asked for help. He is still a member today although not my husband any more. It seems we got along just fine as drinking buddies but could not tolerate each other sober. Six years later one of my daughters also found Alcoholics Anonymous and is happy and well today.
I try never to underestimate the power of example that I have found in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous – which is by attending meetings and putting back that which has been freely given, so that I can maintain my sobriety. No more ‘swearing off’, no more ‘going on the wagon’; just a nice comfortable feeling of having been rescued. My life and attitudes have had to undergo some very radical changes for me to maintain sobriety. I discovered that, quite frequently, I had the ‘cart before the horse’ and jumped to more conclusions than a kangaroo in full flight.
I have needed to learn how to converse with people, without the need of a drink, and to learn to write without the need to set out the bottle and glass to ‘tap into the creativity’. These are the gifts of sobriety as I see them. I have a little farm from which I derive a small income. The sheep and cattle are well fed and watered and cared for. I enjoy a close relationship with another member of the fellowship today. We have shared each other’s company for some time now, and although not every day is what I would like it to be, it is what a Higher Power determines it shall be.
My acceptance level is proportionate to the amount of time I spend on prayer and meditation. If I fail to keep up these mental exercises, then I pay the price in mental turmoil.
Much has happened since that AA first meeting. There have been weddings, births, accidents, divorce, and all the things that those who are not alcoholic experience. I know that I once would have used these events as excuses to have a drink — now I must rely totally on a Higher Power to see me through. Just recently, the father that loved me in his own strange way, died. I went to the hospital to say goodbye, grateful to be sober on the day, and grateful that this man had seen me get sober and more importantly – stay that way.