In November 2019, after some deliberation, I decided to leave AA and try my hand at moderate drinking. At first, it went great. It was an amazing feeling to be able to go to dinner and have 2 glasses of wine, then stop. I really, really enjoyed those glasses of wine.
But, alas, it would not last. Two glasses turned into three, turned into a whole bottle. In February 2020 I went on a cruise with my Mom and my best friend and definitely devolved into binge drinking on the cruise. Two days of the cruise we had drank so heavily the night before that we stayed in bed half the day sick. But I justified it as okay because everyone parties on a cruise.
Except it didn’t stop after the cruise. When I got home I was still drinking way too much. Some days popping like 13-14 beers. Or 2 bottles of wine. I’m lucky that I didn’t have any real consequences other than weight gain, but it could have been bad.
Back to AA
After a particularly big binge on April 10, 2020 I decided to quit again and get back into AA on April 11, 2020.
Do I think I will never drink again? I don’t know. I feel like it would be naive to say never again, but I know that I definitely need to stay away from alcohol. In the best possible scenario it’s empty calories, but more realistically, it’s leading me toward fatty liver and diabetes.
Getting back into the program, I feel resentful. Angry. Mostly with myself. My walls are higher than they ever were. I am not like these people with these crazy stories of smoking meth in the bushes. I wanted to think of myself as better. Yet here I am, in the same program as them.
Do I think AA is the best or the only solution to deal with drinking? No. But it’s what I did before and what is familiar, so for the sake of expediency I decided to get involved again. A friend who got me involved in AA originally suggested that I go with his girlfriend as a sponsor. It’s an interesting power dynamic to have someone that is younger than me - and both of my previous sponsors were men - but so far so good.
One of my first assignments from the new sponsor is to write my story, so here it goes.
My Story Before AA
Most of my life I’ve had the need to escape. Before I discovered alcohol in college, my way of coping was just being an overachiever that was always busy so I didn’t have time to feel. In high school I took a full load of classes, plus community college classes at night. I did sports. I did volunteer work. Junior and Senior years I worked as well as went to school. All of this meant that I basically just didn’t have downtime, didn’t have time to think or feel, which kept me from being aware of how crappy I felt inside.
I didn’t feel good about myself, felt like an oddball, an outcast, didn’t really have close friends like I do today. I was also overweight, so I wasn’t cute. But I was smart. So I used achievement, being busier than everyone else, being better as a means of feeling good about myself. (Looking back, it’s no surprise people didn’t like me, I had an air of superiority).
Once I graduated from high school and got into college, I was knocked down a couple pegs in terms of my big ego. I went from being the smartest kid to just average. I also had my first real opportunity to meet new friends, from a completely new pool of people, rather than the people I had known since I was a kid. And I did. This was my first opportunity to be a social butterfly.
Between work, school, and my new friends I finally felt pretty good about myself. I always had something fun to do. Had no real reason to escape. Looking back, these 3 years in community college were some of the best in my life to date.
But…then real adult life came along. I got a better job, cut back on school, worked a lot. And the real pressures of adulthood kicked in. I felt isolated, lonely, like I didn’t fit in with my coworkers. I still had friends, but we didn’t hang out constantly anymore, the pressures of real adulthood kept us all busy.
To cope with this, I ate a lot. Put on a lot of weight. Worked this job in overnight tech support which I absolutely hated and simultaneously lived in terror of being fired (super bad work culture). Eventually I did get laid off (this was during the great recession) which gave me a little nudge in the right direction of chilling out a little.
Unemployment was good for me - I was back onto a semi-regular schedule. No more working overnight, isolated from my friends. I got serious in school again, got a new job at Apple, transferred to SDSU to finish up my degree, made new friends, and then eventually left my job at Apple to study abroad.
Studying abroad in Vietnam brought its own challenges. And my classmates and I drank a lot. We missed home, were on an opposite time zone from home, and were in this country that was culture shock for many of us. The only taste of home that we had was each other. The alcohol helped us to cope, loosen up, and have fun. Most nights had us drinking and chilling in someone’s room until the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t binging yet at this point and came to regard alcohol as a social crutch that made me more sociable and outgoing.
Alcohol made me brave enough to save the girls from a flying roach. And, when sober, I have an irrational fear of flying insects.
Once I came back to the US, I was jobless again. So I cashed in my Apple stock and lived off of it a couple months while I focused on starting a business and being self-employed. This was also, coincidentally, my senior year of school. And there was a bar on campus.
After every midterm, exam, challenging presentation, really any excuse we could come up with, my friends and I would head to the bar after class and share a couple pitchers. Again, alcohol served as a social crutch for me. It took me from being an oddball to being a social butterfly.
I took the next semester off school to travel and went to Ireland with my cousin and his friend. With their influence, we basically binge drank the entire week we were there. And thus began my relationship with daily or near-daily drinking.
The year was 2012, I went back to school, finished up my last semester, graduated with honors, and had a lot of fun in the process. I used every opportunity I could to go to happy hour with friends. I would only have 1 or 2 drinks at the bar because I knew I had to drive. But then when I got home, I would keep drinking. Drinking for oblivion. Everything was pretty good at this point in my life so I couldn’t really tell you why I was drinking. Other than the fact that I liked the effect.
In my adult, post-school life I fell into a routine of work, networking, gym, drinking. Pretty much every day I drank. I was paying for an expensive personal trainer at the time, and many days when I went to workout with him I would get sick and feel faint or throw up from all the booze I drank the night before.
I was participating in a hair loss study at the time - and they take before and after blood work - to see if the drunk affects your blood chemistry. And every time they did blood work on me, the doctor would call and talk to me about my liver enzymes. Finally, at the end of the study, she wasn’t even nice about it. She straight up told me that it looks like I have hepatitis and if I don’t stop drinking, I’m going to die.
I quit for a couple weeks - this was a wake up call for me - but it wasn’t enough to get me to stop altogether. I’d drink in moderation for a couple weeks and then be back to binging. Feel bad, quit for a few more weeks, drink again, binge again, in a vicious cycle.
Drinking was part of my identity. Especially wine. It made me feel sophisticated to know so much about it and I really really enjoyed drinking it. I spent many weekends in Baja wine country with my friends, binge drinking.
Finally the year was 2017, my 10 year high school reunion came. I kept it together at the reunion, but went to a couple more bars after the first bar. And I let myself go. I drunk text a guy I led on, come came to the bar to meet me. The parts of the night I was able to piece back together embarrassed me. So I reached out to my friend Danny who I knew was involved in AA and told him I was ready to quit.
I believe this was on a Sunday and I told him I was going to check out a meeting the next weekend. And he was like nope, come to this meeting tomorrow (Monday). So I did.
My Story in AA
I will always vividly remember coming to AA the first time. I was terrified, practically shaking. I didn’t know what to expect. My first impression was walking up to this group of guys smoking (including Danny) out front of the church that hosted the meeting and having to introduce myself.
But… I eventually got used to it. It didn’t become awkward. I could stand up and speak at meetings. I enjoyed the first 6 months or so with the new group of acquaintances I had made in AA. I treasured the times we went out to eat after meetings, the occasional parties I got invited to, and the fact that there was always something to do.
I got a sponsor pretty quick, got to know him, worked through the steps and my walls began to come down a little bit. At first I was super resistant to the idea of powerlessness (not to mention a higher power) but he eventually got me on-board. Then I went to Sri Lanka and India on a 6 week backpacking trip. In Sri Lanka I ended up having one sip of alcohol, which my sponsor told me was a relapse, so when I came back I had to begin fresh with him. And he had to break down my walls again.
This time my walls were broken down for the next 2 years, give or take. I got over the idea of a higher power, worked through a whole bunch of baggage with my sponsor through Steps 4 and Steps 5. And then completed the steps with him - his first sponsee to complete them - and went on to sponsor my own guys.
At this point I felt like I had a solid group of - if not friends, at least acquaintances - who I looked forward to seeing at the two meetings I was regularly going to. But like most things in life, it was fleeting. Things changed. People moved, a whole group left one meeting and formed a new one out of a resentment, my sponsor got a girlfriend and basically dropped me. My newly found social bubble was burst.
But then I got invited to a party. And met a new group of people. This new group invited me to a “Step Doey” - a group of us met once a week for 12 weeks to do an accelerated version of the steps. I met new people from different cliques, who, for a while seemed like my new group. After the Step Doey ended, we formed a new group of artists, makers and creatives to work on The Artists Way, a 12-step recovery for artists. We spent 14 weeks together and many of us found a new sense of identity with the group. Not only alcoholics and addicts, but also artists, with a common set of shared issues that tend to come with the artist personality.
Unfortunately the sense of cohesion with this group didn’t last either. 6 months later, none of us even keep in touch. It was a total bummer. I think this is where I started to drift from the program. Went from two different senses of group identity and a sponsor that I pedestalized to feeling alone.
In approximately Spring of 2019, I parted ways with my previous sponsor after he was absent for about 6 months and got a new sponsor. Joe. Where my first sponsor was essentially the first warm body who made me feel comfortable, Joe was someone who had something that I wanted. The job, the car, the family, the white picket fence, and the Buddhist spiritual practice that I admired. As well as around 30 years of sobriety.
Joe and I worked together on a sort of maintenance basis, went up to Sacramento for an 11th Step Retreat and got together once a month to work through some step. I ultimately never achieved the spiritual practice Joe had, mostly because I didn’t work at it, but I was at least still going through the motions.
I started backing off meetings. I couldn’t relate to most of them people in them - frankly I still can’t - and it didn’t make sense to me to invest so much time in something that was no longer an issue. Eventually I was going to 1 or 2 a month - to see acquaintances - not for the message.
I was watching some news show, maybe Meet the Press, and there was a guy on there who wrote a book called The Sober Truth which made a really good case against AA as junk science, using a combination of meta-analysis, study, and anecdote. Meanwhile, things were going really good for me. I had lost a bunch of weight, I was working out everyday, feeling good, looking good, confidence was back. So after talking it over with several friends, my Mom, my psychiatrist and pondering it for a month, I decided to try moderate drinking. After all, most of the issues that led me to drink in the first place (except, apparently, for self-control) had been dealt with through the 12 steps. So I figured that I would be fine.
And I was, for a time. I started drinking again in early November 2019. And although I consistently failed to keep any limits I set for myself, it didn’t become a daily, unhealthy habit until February 2020 when I took a cruise with my Mom and my best friend. I worked hard to sneak as much wine as possible on the cruise ship to avoid paying their crazy prices for alcohol, and still spent like $400 on booze.
After a couple nights out, having 10+ drinks (at $10 a pop) and feeling like absolute shit the next day, I realized that drinking isn’t all that much fun. I don’t know that I was drinking to escape this time, I was just drinking because I really liked it. I liked the effect alcohol has on me. But the problem with being a guy my size is that I have a super high tolerance. So I have to drink more and more and more to get the same buzz, with diminishing returns. To the point that a mild buzz caused me to be sick in bed the next day from a hangover.
Anyway, after the cruise this behavior didn’t stop. I kept drinking a lot. At least 3-4 days a week with 6+ plus beers each time. I put back on mot of the weight that I lost. And wasted a ton of money.
That’s the thing about alcohol, the fun is short lived and it’s really expensive.
My Story Coming Back
I came back to AA, emotionally defeated. Embarrassed, resentful. I thought I was going to beat the system, that I wasn’t like these weird churchy people. And the universe has had a way of humbling me.
I got a new sponsor pretty quick, decided to try a female sponsor this time, two male ones didn’t work, so might as well switch it up. She’s quite a bit younger than me too, which has been an interesting power dynamic, but so far so good.
I took a 30 day virtual chip last week. Haven’t had a desire to drink beyond the first couple of days - and this past Friday when I was on a virtual happy hour with my friends who were all drinking. I’ve also had less mindfog and I’ve been waking up fresher.
I think my sponsor has broken down my barriers somewhat, I’m sure I’m a hand full, but I am back to working the steps, accepting that I am powerless over alcohol after the first drink and that I need to just keep away from it. And…soon I need to get back on the weight loss wagon again. I probably will go back on my liquid diet at Kaiser.