Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Eleven days sober

It feels very odd to say "eleven days sober". This is now the longest I've managed for about three years, the last time I did a sober January. Let's have a look at the pro's and con's.
  • I'm eating like crazy. (That's in the sense I eat American-size portions now for my American friends.)
  • I'm sleeping normally too, so I have energy to actually do things and have been early for work every day for the last fortnight. (That's two weeks for my American friends.)
  • Saved an absolute fortune. A drink habit in the UK is expensive, even on the cheapest stuff. It's very difficult to estimate because by nature an everyday drinker doesn't keep track of how much they are really spending on drinking (denial is an amazingly powerful force), but if I rough it out at £5 in the day and £5 at night during the week, then throw in three nights out a week at £25, that's £100-125 a week on drink and drink-related stuff like lazy food and taxis, so I'm looking at £400-500 a month gone on my drink habit. (That's $600-750USD for my American friends.)
  • I've reminded myself I am capable of living with myself sober, something that while in the middle of a long drinking session ie. the last three years, I began to doubt and fear.
  • I've finally made it to AA meetings to figure out if it's something that may help me in these times when for whatever reason, the drinking has to go on hold for a while. The jury's still out on that one but it's been interesting so far and I'm keeping it up until my trip in May at least.
I guess at the moment, with my trip to the States coming up, the money thing is the best out of those. It's not all rosy, though.
  • It's weird being... me. I guess I always drank because I felt uncomfortable almost 24/7 and drinking takes the edge off that anxiety. Now, I'm a lot older than when I started drinking to self-medicate these feelings and a much different person. I am a lot less anxious while sober now, which I think just comes with age. There are still times though when the old symptoms come back; I stutter and stumble over words, find reasons to escape social situations, retreat into myself. I'm not enjoying dealing with these again when I know just a couple of drinks would make me behave like anyone else, but at least they are not as bad as they used to be.
  • Obviously, temptation is around every corner. In the case of work, literally, the pub is on the corner next door. I miss pubs. I've never been a "home" sort of person and miss being out and about as much.
  • I miss the silly times being drunk with all the Americans (and Canadians). I've been keeping track of things on Reddit but I can't help feeling like the designated driver or a bloody chaperone watching over a kid's party. I last a little while before I feel like I just don't fit in and quit it. I miss that a lot.
Balancing the two out isn't a hard decision. By packing in drinking for a while, I can go and see my girl for a couple of weeks and have a great time over there with her instead of sitting at home drinking on my own. My body is really appreciating the break too - no more side-pains, vomiting or headaches. I'm trying to keep all this in mind when it comes round to 1pm and I have an hours break from work, with a pub right on the doorstep, and temptation comes knocking at the door...

Next step: trying out the AA meeting at Sacred Heart on Sunday night, the church two minutes round the corner from my house. It seems to make more sense than losing all my Monday night travelling to and from the Darwen meeting. I'll see how it goes.

Friday, 1 March 2013

An experience of AA

It's been over a year since the last entry here, my last real attempt to quit for any length of time. I can't remember if I managed it or not, but it's pretty unlikely. This time I'm not trying to quit completely, just pack it in for roughly ten weeks 'til I go to the States to see my fiance. Oh shit, yeah, did I mention? We're engaged. I almost keep forgetting.

I went to an AA meeting with a mate from work on Monday night. That was weird. I'd always been curious what they're like and well, here's an honest account. In the interests of openness, I should state I am atheist and have been drinking daily for around five or six years with breaks of no more than a month one January and the odd few days while ill. Over the last few years it has ruined great relationships, cost me a fortune and damaged my health which has led me to this point where I want to give anything a shot to help me cut out the everyday drinking and become the social drinker I always was.

So, you go in - this one was at a United Reform Church with a dedicated AA room, I guess, as it has the logo attached to the door - and there are rows and rows of chairs. Maybe thirty people milling around getting coffee and biscuits - this is a fairly busy meeting, he tells me. We sit at the back after he introduces me to a few of the people he knows - apparently almost everyone is a regular, and one guy describes AA as his social life, going to six meetings a week.

There's an awkward moment when I'm handed a sheet by the chairperson to "read" - I presumed it meant for me to read, then my mate explains it's what they take turns reading out at the end of the meeting, some kind of vows or something. Fuck this. So I go up to the front and quietly say to the guy that this is my first time and I misunderstood. He's cool with it and hands me a beginner's pack.

It seems the format is that the chairman does some sort of reminder of why everyone is there, because we're all alcoholics, and quickly runs through what will happen. He asks everyone to say hi to the newcomer and I get a lot of greetings. And then it's on to, well, what is the term, the... lead speaker? The accused? The confessor? She is a woman in her mid-30s who gets the rest of the first half of the meeting to tell her story - or "share" as the terminology they use is - in as much detail as she likes. It goes all the way from her youth through to where she is now, 13 years sober and for the first time ready to sit at the front and talk about it. It's really quite an intense experience as she goes into detail about how she ended up feeling she needed AA to help quit for good, and the 20 or 30 minutes fly by.

A short break for another coffee, and then it's on to more of the same, just in a cut down format. People seem to take turns saying, "Hi, I'm Bob and I'm and alcoholic", to which everyone replies, "Hi, Bob", and then Bob launches into a monologue about whatever is on his mind. When I say "his", I should mention that the split of men to women was probably two thirds to one third, so there is not a huge disparity by gender. It being my first time there, quite a few of the six or seven shares were directed towards me, encouraging me to come back and recounting the first time they came and all the fears and doubts over whether they would ever come back. One guy in particular told his story which was essentially a mirror of my own - the functional alcoholic hiding it just enough most of the time until it creeps up eventually and causes chaos. One other share hit me the hardest; a man in his 60s saying how the hardest thing about going sober was dealing with having feelings again; how for the first time in years his grandchild ran up and grabbed his leg and he actually felt something inside other than wondering where the next drink was, and he cried.

They were all a genuinely nice, normal bunch of people. If you met them in the street, you would never know they were struggling every moment of their lives not to pick up a drink and drift into blissful oblivion. They are just the alcoholics among us who for their own reasons have decided they just cannot keep that lifestyle up any longer. I was the youngest in the room by a good 10 years but I have reached that point, too.

The meeting draws to a close with everyone standing in a circle holding hands, reciting something I presume you are supposed to learn eventually, and then you leave at your own pace. I had to shoot off as I had a lift waiting but four people stopped me before I could leave to give me their numbers and tell me to call them any time I felt desperate. I've never seen compassion like that outside of CA.

I do not know if AA will help me, or even what help I am looking for. I know at the very least I want help towards long-term moderation, if not total abstinence. I have no idea who it will or will not work for until you yourself have tried it; this is just to give you an idea of how the meetings go, here in the UK at least. My only advice would be to give one a look out of morbid curiosity if nothing else, as some of the stories you will hear will echo your own experiences down to the bone and it's quite a fascinating feeling.