In the months that followed, I talked myself out of the God shot and into the coincidence. I talked myself out of the fear that had brought me to that meeting, telling myself I wasn’t that bad. Because I didn’t get a DUI or get fired or end up in strange men’s beds I didn’t really have that bad a problem. Yes, I got to work on time, and with make-up on. Yes, I put on a good show for the world, but I should have known better than to believe my own masquerade.
The fact was, when I poured “a glass” of wine and swore to myself it would be just a glass, it wasn’t. I worried about destroying my liver, because drinking an entire bottle of wine at least three nights a week had to be overtaxing its capacity to cleanse my blood of all the Malbec I was pouring into my system.
After I stopped drinking, I went to a meeting here and there, but didn’t do it consistently, didn’t get a sponsor. I told myself that I had stopped drinking because I wanted to, because I chose to, because I was strong enough to. I joined an online group where women like me – women who had good haircuts and drank good wine, who didn’t have bad teeth or bad grammar – supported each other in their sobriety. Some of them were in AA, working the steps, sponsoring and being sponsored, but others weren’t, having decided that online groups, podcasts and blogs were all the support they needed.
I thought so for a while, too. One of the blogs I read was by a woman who said enough and got sober, all on her own, with only her blog comments and Twitter feed for support. After three years of sobriety, she got a book contract to tell the story she’d been telling on her blog. It was a story of determination and accomplishment: I chose sobriety; I did it. It was the antithesis of AA, and I loved it, because I wanted to be the antithesis of AA. Yes, AA helped my dad get sober, saved his life, even, but I could save my own life, thanks.
Less than two months after that scary, awful, wonderful early morning meeting, I decided I wasn’t that bad, and was going to try moderation again. Aristotle said that every virtue is the mean between two extremes. “Moderation in all things – including moderation,” said with a sly wink, had been my motto, and I was going to prove myself a good Aristotelian who could moderate if it killed me.
I had “a” glass of wine, which turned into three or five or whatever it was that left me hung over, sick with shame and determined to go cold turkey again. I did it without meetings or the steps and so I didn’t do it for more than another couple of months, when I decided to “moderate” again. This time I was successful. I did have just one glass, and not every day, just now and then, one or two, being very Aristotelian and proud of myself. But having to think about it, which was exhausting and demoralizing.
The morning after the first time I had an entire bottle, I quit for good again. I can’t remember if I went to a meeting that morning, but I started going again, in a half-assed kind of way, not getting a sponsor, not doing anything that would require commitment or accountability, which being the daughter of a 12-stepper I knew was a bullshit way to do AA.
Bullshit notwithstanding, I stayed sober five months. Sober, but miserable, what they call a dry drunk in AA. As the one year anniversary of that first meeting, which sadly was no longer my sobriety date, approached, I was reading another sobriety blog, this one by a guy who had twenty years of sobriety and for all that time had been working the steps, both with a sponsor and as a sponsor. The things he wrote about service and sponsorship reminded me of the things my dad used to say when he was in his first decade of sobriety. Back then, I would think, Oh, Lord, there he goes again with the 12-stepping, and try to look interested in “being of service” and all the rest of the recovery-speak. Two decades and countless gallons of ruby-hued poison with notes of ripe blackberry, warm spice and oak later, that recovery-speak sounded very different. I looked at my reasonably affluent, reasonably successful middle-class self and thought, what the fuck is the matter with you? I knew what was the matter. Self-pity and ego and bullshit was the matter. I needed to work the steps was the matter.
So I went to a meeting early Saturday morning. I wanted to share, wanted to say I needed a sponsor, but there were a lot of talkers and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I went again the next morning. It was a huge meeting, the biggest I’d ever been to. One of my neighbors was there, and a lady from my Zumba class. No sharing that day either, but someone who did share was a woman, who had been a speaker at an earlier meeting I had attended. I’d gone to hear her because someone I met at my very first ever meeting texted to tell me I should go because she was an amazing speaker. She was. The things she said that day had stayed with me, and when she shared at that Sunday morning meeting, I worked up the nerve to ask her to sponsor me, and she said yes.
It was like that first meeting, almost exactly a year earlier. I got scared enough, desperate enough, to step outside my comfort zone and do something I felt as though I needed to do, because I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. That is admitting powerlessness. That is Step One. I thought I had taken it a year ago, then stepped back and spent a year in self-pity and ego and bullshit. I thought I had taken it again last week, but my sponsor said I might be on it a while. I said, as long as it takes.