†My name's Andy, and I'm an alcoholic. I have not found it necessary to take a drink since I walked off the streets and into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on November 14, 1974. I tell you that because I did not go to a treatment center, and I have had continuous sobriety from that first day. Since I've been in AA, I've noticed many people sharing about how many slips (relapses) they have had in the process of trying to achieve sobriety. I've been very blessed, and I know it. I want newcomers to realize that they too can remain sober from the start. When I arrived I felt hopeless. If I had not identified with those AAs with long-term sobriety, I think I would not have succeeded. I needed to hear about their success living sober, and I did. I found hope.
I was born in a small Midwest town, the youngest in the family and the only son. I had four older sisters. My forty-four-year-old father was an active alcoholic who in his college years had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. My forty-year-old mother did not drink. My dad was a business success, but his drinking got in the way, so my mother worked two part-time jobs to help the family make ends meet. From my earliest recollections I knew what alcoholism was. I hated my father and vowed never to be like him. I desired to make him as miserable as he had made me. I was the only "heir" to the family name, and I knew that when I grew up I would certainly do a better job at business and with family than he did.
I think I must have been a severely depressed child. Wherever I went I felt that I didn't fit in. I felt like an outsider, even with my family. I was alone and lonely. When I was twelve years old, a friendís father sexually molested me. However, I did not feel abused. I felt attracted to males. Today I know that it was an abusive situation, and that I was the recipient of that manís lust. But, even had I realized it at the time, there was no one to tell.
My father's drinking got progressively worse. He became unemployable, and the community in which we lived became too small. We packed our bags and moved a hundred miles away to a larger city where two of my sisters lived. Dad sobered up and got a new job. We all hoped this would be the answer, but within two years he was back to the bottle. My mother started working two jobs again.
Dad became critically ill with liver cancer. On his last night of life my mother and I were by his side at the hospital. His breathing became shallow, and his feet began to turn blue. Mom rang for the nurse, who didn't come. She sent me to get the nurse. I walked down the hall slowly, taking my time, hoping my father would die. I didn't want that man to continue ruining our lives. When I got back to the room he had died. I still can hear the sound of the nuns' skirts swishing down the hospital hall. My prayers had been answered, and the alcoholic was gone. Our family life became calmer and more predictable with the comfort of Social Security benefits. We had a steady income at last. Then I started drinking. I was about to continue the alcoholic tradition of our family.
At age fourteen I got drunk for the first time. A friend and I stole a fifth of Scotch from his dad. We mixed it with Kool-Aid to mask its awful taste. I remember being very concerned that I would not get my share of the mix. Even then I knew I would always want more. I vividly remember my miraculous transformation. Suddenly, I felt good about myself. I could dance and look everyone in the eye. I felt as if I finally had joined the human race. I loved the exciting new feelings of being a likable, easy-going, and handsome person. Shame was removed. The feelings of self-pity, loneliness, and anger disappeared. All of that came with my first drink.
The next morning I woke sick as a dog. I had totally messed up my bed. I couldn't remember what I had done the night before, and I felt completely destroyed. But I began to remember what a good time I had had drinking. I remembered what a wonderful guy I had become. I wanted to drink again as soon as possible. I had found my new best friend. Alcohol had saved me from me and from all of those horrible feelings I had had about myself.
I had few friends and was an average student in school. I drank every weekend and other times, too, whenever the opportunity arose. My first date in high school was with a bright, popular, and beautiful girl who invited me to the Sadie Hawkins dance. She was from the right side of the tracks, from a wealthy family, and she didn't drink. She said she was going to "fix" me. She was my ticket to status, happiness, and bliss. Everything I ever had wanted was potentially available with that girl. Most importantly, she was crazy about me. I cared very deeply for her. But I also was attracted to males, and throughout high school I maintained a double-life. I had an intimate male friend as well as my beautiful girlfriend. Because of my fundamentalist religious training, I lived with a serious, penetrating, and very emotional guilt. It was the early 1960s, and being gay in my area of the country was considered a disgrace. We were "sinful perverts." I prayed hard and repeatedly to my God that I was just going through a phase. I prayed that one day I would get well. My drinking increased.
I was suspended from school so many times that I fell back a year and graduated a year later than I should have. I married my high school girlfriend, the only girl I had ever dated. She came home from college one weekend and announced that "we" were pregnant. The parents hastened the wedding along. A week before the nuptials she found out she was not pregnant after all. It was too late, and she and I were compelled by convention to tie the knot. I didn't have the guts to just say no.
What a life it was being married! I hated the job I had with a major automobile manufacturer, so I went to college at my in-laws' expense (they had three generations of college graduates in their family). She was a registered nurse supervisor and enjoyed a career of her own. We had two beautiful children, a girl and a boy. We had a wonderful home and nice cars. We took great vacations. It would have been a storybook marriage except for my alcoholic drinking and my deep and secretive sexual orientation. I drank so hard I burned out my wife's patience. I tried not to drink, but I never stopped with any success. Trying to fix me was too large a task for her. I always got worse. She left me. The next four years were a nonstop drinking binge. My life was out of control.
Divorced, drinking heavily, guiltily, and obsessively seeking sexual encounters in the night, and getting fired from my job then rehired (thanks to the union I belonged to), my life was a drunken and emotional mess. I was ordered into counseling to keep my job. To the very well meaning but uninformed psychologist, I told the truth about my drinking and my sexuality. Her opinion was that after I took care of my "problems in life," I would be able to drink normally. She told me that my sexual orientation as a bisexual was okay. (Instead of making me happy, I felt sad about that.) She then introduced me to her secretary, who was just ending a marriage in divorce. We were married within six weeks with the psychologist as a witness. I drank more than I ever had before, and I got fired again. Something was wrong with this most recent cure.
I had an alcoholic woman friend at work. She took me aside one day and told me her recovery story and about a fellowship called AA. This was when the "God of my understanding" began to intervene in my life. I wanted what she had. I wanted sobriety.
She took me to my first meeting, and I continued going to a meeting every day for three years. I worked with my sponsor, did the Twelve Steps as best as I could, and I devoted myself to AA service work. My life got better and I worked harder and worked more overtime at my job. I was becoming a regular citizen again. It felt very good to do the right thing for a change.
In AA I addressed many character issues, but one remained hidden and tucked snugly away. My sexuality would not be ignored. Nor had I come to an understanding of the difference between my newfound spirituality versus my old hate-driven religion. Then, the God of my understanding delivered my greatest blessing in sobriety. I don't know what happened, but I awoke in a locked-down hospital psychiatric ward. I had had a total breakdown/breakthrough. I was depressed. I felt that I had failed all my AA friends who had helped me. I refused medication because I had been advised by AA friends that it wasn't good for me. (Lesson: Take medical advice only from medical professionals.) They gave me a series of electroshock therapy treatments. I got worse after every one. I was in the ward most of that year. I received my five-year sobriety medallion there. My sponsor brought it to me. He loved me and did the best he could, but he did not understand fully the emotional condition that I was in. I needed outside help, too. Upon release from the psychiatric ward, I was lead to the outpatient section. The doctors informed me that if I didn't succeed on the outside, I would be brought back and never leave the hospital again. The doctor said that if I refused to face my "dragons," I would forever be lost. Through this doctorís understanding of AA, his clear view on my sexuality, and his determination to help me face my sexuality, I have healed emotionally. That doctor gave me the opportunity to work through my potentially deadly fears and problems, and I remained sober while doing so. I have not been back to the psychiatric ward since that time, which was over twenty-three years ago. It was all those fears I couldn't or wouldn't face that saved me! They refused to let me hide any longer. I learned I am who I am because of them. I found a new God who loved me! I'd been saved.
When I returned to life and to AA I was a changed person. I scared a few of the old AA hard-liners. I kept my sobriety, my chair in the AA meeting rooms, and I continued to learn.
At seven years sober I quit my job of twenty years. I returned to college the same day my daughter went to college. I acquired a degree in addiction counseling. I have worked in that field since that time. God helped me to find a life partner. He and I have been in a monogamous relationship for twenty-two years. I have a wonderful relationship with my two children, their spouses, and my two beautiful grandchildren. I have been very blessed by the God of my understanding. I'm active in my local AA community. I also am a respected member of our online AA group. I can tell you that my current success is not because I now have all the answers and insist that everyone do this or that properly. It's not because of the length of my sobriety either. It's because I share my own AA journey with other recovering alcoholics and speak my truths from my heart. I don't hide "what I was like, what happened, what I am like now"! I learned a long time ago that no one knows all the answers. I don't, and I know that you don't either. Sobriety is a process, and emotional healing is progressive too. Telling the truth is essential, at least it is for me, if I am to be "happy, joyous, and free."