Recovery Is Possible: Former ASAC Patient Shares Her Story

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A Message From Amy:

First I’d like to thank Lisa, at ASAC, for asking me to write this, I’m still not used to people wanting anything from me besides “to go away”.  Thanks to Lisa, Lavonne, my sponsor and the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am willing & able to write my recovery story today, to be of service to those that are still suffering, if possible.  By the grace of God, sponsorship, the 12 Steps, and a rock solid, supportive tribe, my sobriety date is May 26, 2014.

To say that I was clueless about Alcoholics Anonymous and alcoholism is an understatement. At my lowest point, I actually called the local Alcoholics Anonymous number to ask about various meetings and what the letters next to them meant, when she told me that the meetings with “C” after them were for members of Alcoholics Anonymous, I asked if there was an application for me to fill out to become a member.  (True story)!  I have been around plenty of people that drink excessively, however I’ve never personally known anyone that was in recovery.  I always thought excessive drinking was a choice, or lack of will power.

I grew up in a loving home with a brother that is 2 years older than me, a mother that thought I did no wrong-I never had consequence and a father that worked hard to provide for his family.  My parents weren’t big drinkers, maybe a couple on Christmas Eve at a relative’s house but definitely didn’t have alcohol in the house.  That’s NOT to say that the rest of the extended family didn’t drink (refer back to my comment about “being around people that drink excessively but never knowing anyone in recovery”).  When I was 9, a cousin told me that my brother and I were adopted.  I had no idea what that meant but when I asked my mom about it, all I heard was “I wasn’t good enough for my birth mother”.  Thus started my journey of character defects; fear of abandonment, never feeling good enough, etc.  I was so scared of being “sent back” that I tried to be the best daughter I could possibly be, however when I was with my friends, I was someone completely different.  I learned at a very young age to bring out my representative when I wanted others to think or see me in a certain light.

I had my first drink at 13; a cousin and I stole a couple of beers at a family cookout and split them, I hated the taste but it made me feel so grown up and there were no consequences!!  Weekends in high school consisted of a large group of us finding an abandoned barn or dead end road, cranking up the tunes & drinking whatever we could get our hands on for the night.  I didn’t drink every weekend nor through the week; being in sports and cheerleading, I did have an image to uphold. HA

If you would’ve asked me 5 years ago when my drinking started becoming a problem for me, I would’ve said after I moved to Cedar Rapids in 2009.  Now I can admit the truth; alcohol has been a problem for me since I was in college; I dropped out of college because the Dean told me that he was putting me on academic probation (showing up to class drunk, if at all didn’t help I’m sure.  I was so angry at him, I thought he was singling me out because, in my mind, I was so popular); many, many, many broken relationships because of fighting while drunk, of course it was always HIS fault; a DUI, who doesn’t drink their sorrows away?  I know I did, I was distraught over my divorce-this wasn’t my fault; I could continue with the long list but I think you get the picture.  I had grown up never having consequences for my behavior, so as an adult, I wasn’t about to start accepting consequences, I just ran.  Very delusional!

My husband and I married in July 2009 and by October 2009 we were already having issues.    New marriage, new city, no friends, no family, new job, and empty nest – my only child was at college…I laid all of my happiness on my new husband’s shoulders without realizing it.  Real life is a lot different from dating; little things get in the way like work, bills, meal prep, errands, etc., I was feeling very neglected (remember my fear of abandonment and not being good enough).  As much as I dislike the word needy, I had become one of those women that I’ve always made fun of, needy.  Problem was, the needier I would get, the more my husband would pull way, and the more I would drink….and thus the cycle began.  I still didn’t think I had a drinking problem, I mean, everyone we hung out with drank, and I was no different.    As we were stuck in the vicious cycle of pulling away/drinking/pulling away more/drinking more, my husband would beg me to slow down, suggest maybe I had a problem with alcohol, get angry and make threats, etc.  I would always shut down and get defensive – “how dare he say I drink too much, he needs to look at himself”!  Toward the end of my drinking career, I had tried numerous times to quit on my own at his requests, unsuccessfully.  I’d go 2 weeks without a drink then either reward myself openly or start sneaking pulls from the bottle I had hid in the office, my gym bag, or in the garage and continue to lie to hubby about “not drinking”.  I wanted his love and acceptance.  At the time, I thought I was making a choice to drink, that I was rebelling against his demands – I had no idea what the obsession of the mind and the phenomena of cravings were.  Page XXVIII of the Big Book would eventually become my saving grace.

March 19, 2013 I walked into my very first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I had no idea what to expect but I couldn’t wait for them to teach me how to drink like a lady so I could graduate and get on with my life.  Again, very delusional!  I bawled like a baby the entire meeting but felt, for the first time in my life, like I’d finally found a place where I belonged, like a huge weight was lifted off of me & I could breathe deeply for the first time in 42 years.  2 weeks after entering the program, attending meetings, and meeting with my sponsor, I was served divorce papers.  My first instinct was “What?? Why now?  I’m going to Alcoholics Anonymous, look at me, I’m not drinking anymore; I’m getting better!”   My last drunk was apparently the final straw for my husband.  Unlike the other times we’d fought over my drinking, I was ready to release him from being my hostage; I wasn’t going to beg him to stay, I was too tired to fight anymore.  I told him that I loved him and that I wanted to remain married but I couldn’t promise him I would never drink again.  After more time in the program, I think he could see a change in me, even though I couldn’t string together more than 3 months of continuous sobriety, I was willing, which was something new for me.  I couldn’t focus on whether or not he was going to leave if I drank, I had to focus on my sobriety and what my life was going to look like-I think THAT scared me more than anything…LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL!!

By June that year, after a few relapses, my husband and daughter set up an appointment for me at ASAC (very thoughtful of them, huh?).   He had decided, by the grace of God, that he was in this for the long haul, I’m sure he didn’t realize what he was signing up for at the time, neither did I.  Begrudgingly I went into ASAC for my assessment, scared to death they were going to lock me up, instead I  found out that I was an alcoholic – and to think I wasn’t even 100% honest with them about my drinking, yikes!  I started meeting with a counselor, who suggested that I enter the intensive out-patient treatment program.  I went to a few meetings but didn’t feel those meetings were where I’d get the most benefit from.  The counselor suggested that I start seeing Lavonne, the family counselor and forego the group meetings.  Of course, my ego kicked in and I felt like I was getting special treatment because I was unique, different from their normal clients – again, very delusional!

Lavonne’s patience and understanding touched me in a way I didn’t know possible – I mean, I couldn’t figure out what she wanted from me in return.  Admitting I wasn’t perfect (to myself or others) and asking for help just seemed so pathetic and weak.  And here this lady wanted me to tell her my deepest, darkest secrets?  Was she crazy?? For the first year or so, my representative showed up to those appointments; I chose words carefully, I dressed professionally, I sat with good posture and remembered my manners  – I didn’t want her to think I didn’t have my life together.  Ironic huh, I’m seeing a counselor for alcoholism and the affects it has had on my family and I’m worried about her thinking I have my life together??? Again, very delusional!  I had come to grips with Step 1, or at least the first part; admitted I was powerless over alcohol but I still wasn’t sure that the 2nd part of that step, that my life had become unmanageable, applied to me.   I still had my marriage (barely and maybe just in name but I still had it), a home, a good job, and a supportive family; what I know now is I had a lot of “yets”, hadn’t lost my job yet, been in prison yet, physically injured anyone or myself with my drunk driving yet, but it was just a matter of time if I kept living life on my terms.

Lavonne helped me get to a place where I felt safe opening up about feelings that I’d stuffed deep down a long time ago; she taught me it’s ok to remember things, but not to let those memories define me.  To stop believing the lies I’d told myself for so many, many years.  She helped my husband and I on our communications, we’re now able to “truth talk” without fear of offending the other one.  Both of us will avoid conflict at all costs, at least we used to.  Today I can tell you that I honestly can’t recall the last disagreement we’ve had, and it’s not because we agree with each other 24/7, it’s because we’ve learned over the years to show each other respect and talk about things as they come up rather than stockpiling them until something totally unrelated, like him leaving the toilet seat up or me ordering unnecessary stuff online, sets us off.

Looking back, I can see that the first year in the program, I was too busy making sure I said the right things, went to the right meetings, wore the right outfits – I wanted everyone to think that I didn’t belong at the tables; that I was different, even better, than them, all the while taking everyone’s inventory and picking out the differences between us.  The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is work!  A lot of hard work and most of us don’t want to do it.  I mean who really wants to take an honest look at themselves, identify their character defects, and write down all the messed up things we’ve done to others?  I sure the heck didn’t want to, but at the same time, I was so tired; mentally and physically, that I knew I had to do something different.  Just sitting around the tables wasn’t going to keep me sober, I had to move my feet and follow the suggestions laid before me – I HAD to become willing to go to any lengths for my sobriety.

My last relapse, and thankfully my relapses were one night occurrences so it wasn’t as difficult to get back to the program because sadly enough I’ve watched many friends in the program leave and never make it back before this vial disease wins, I was alone (huge trigger for me) and felt I deserved a reward for landscaping the back yard.  I’m a horrible liar but get a few drinks in me and I think I can convince anyone of anything – hubby never fell for it (maybe it was because I was slurring my words and stumbling down the hall), instead he and my daughter held another mini-intervention.  To this day, I can still see my daughter’s face and hear her voice when I apologized for being such an embarrassment to her (ever the manipulator), she looked at me with the saddest eyes and said “I’m not embarrassed by you mom, I’m disappointed in you”.   WOWZA, a parent doesn’t forget those words!  At this point, I had to admit that the 2nd part of Step 1 was true for me; my life had become unmanageable, and Step 2; came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity – at this point, this was kind of a no-brainer, Lord knows I’d tried everything I could think of.  Nothing I tried worked to quiet my crazy brain.

I reached out to Lavonne, asking for suggestions, “What do I need to do? Should I go to in-patient treatment? Why can I not “get” this? What am I not doing?”   She point blank told me, “You need to get 100% honest with yourself, and start making sobriety your top priority”, well that totally pissed me off – I WAS being honest and making sobriety my top priority, geez, I was going to 2 meetings (most) weeks.  I had a life outside of Alcoholics Anonymous or did she not realize that?  She also suggested that I start going to Lisa, the director, along with seeing her every 2 weeks, she didn’t think in-patient would be a good choice for me (whew…I threw that suggestion out there hoping it wouldn’t stick to begin with…still trying to manipulate situations).  My first meeting with Lisa changed my life!  She asked me to tell her my story and why I felt I struggled with staying sober.  I gave her my “ole faithful” line of being adopted and fear of abandonment, rejection, etc., thinking “she seems cool, I can probably get her to co-sign my BS”, only at the time I didn’t realize my “ole faithful” story was an excuse, I’d been lying to myself for so long that I totally believed it.  She looked me in the eyes and very seriously said “Yeah, is that all you’ve got? When are you going to let that lie go?” I was livid but relieved at the same time, she was the first person (that I didn’t run from) that had ever called me out on my BS and made me start facing some consequences.  In the year that I worked with both Lisa & Lavonne; I switched sponsors, I dove head first into the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, became the Board of Directors Secretary for a for a local non-profit organization, got a home group and became treasurer of it, got a promotion at work, went back to school for my Master’s degree, and my marriage had gotten stronger than it had ever been.  Miracles or coincidences?  Nothing in God’s world happens by mistake, this I know today!

Step 3 was, and still is at times today, a struggle for me; making a decision to turn my will and life over to the care of God as I understand him.  Like most alcoholics, I am a little bit of a control freak and being told that I had to “stay where my hands are”, not planning things, was and is, a struggle.  I am so used to having things laid out for how something is to be done, following an SOP.  I wasn’t sure how turning my will and life over to God was supposed to look.  I was told to pray about it, which I did…a lot.  The beauty of Alcoholics Anonymous is that if we’re truly honest with ourselves and willing, God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.   I have been blessed to see the miracles that can happen when I stay out of the way, THAT keeps me going and trying to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand him on a daily basis.

Step 4 and 5 were scary but so freeing at the same time.  When I first came into Alcoholics Anonymous, I remember telling myself that I’d have the 12 steps done in a few months because I like to think of myself as an overachiever.  I quickly learned that I had to be solid in Steps 1, 2, & 3 before I could let God guide me into Steps 4 & 5; otherwise it was just going to be another attempt at me trying to manage my life and the outcome.  Step 6 & 7 were/are huge for me; entirely ready to have God remove my defects of character and humbly asked him to remove them.  Although I still have a lot of those defects of character today, I have to remember that God works on HIS schedule, not mine.  However, I have to be ready to let them go when he’s ready to remove them.  A lot of them I like to call my “sick safety nets”, which I know today only holds me back from growing in the spirit of the Light.  Steps 8 & 9 are a work in progress for me; make a list of ALL persons I’d harmed and became willing to make an amends to them ALL.  There were quite a few names on my amends list; of course I wanted to control how this step was worked, so I grouped the names into categories: “now”, “maybe”, and “never”.  Little by slowly, by sitting with my step 5, talking about my fears with my sponsor and making my “now” amends, some of the people on my “never” list moved up to the “maybe” list without me realizing it.  God works in miraculous ways for sure.  Step 10: continued to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it, Step 11: sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as I understand him, praying only for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out, and Step 12: having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I try to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all of my affairs – these 3 Steps are ones that I am very faithful in on a daily basis.  God has done for me what I could not do for myself, I am grateful for that and try to live my life as he would have me today.

Today, I seek to find the similarities with me and the others around the tables; I walk up to the newcomers, introduce myself, and welcome them home.  I have to always remember who I am and where I came from, because if/when that woman comes knocking on my door, I sure the hell don’t want to answer it.  Women so freely gave me their love, compassion, and time when I first came into the program, that’s the least I can do for the newcomer that is scared to death and still suffering.

My sponsor, Alcoholics Anonymous, Lavonne and Lisa have all taught me how to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee, and a respectable member of society and for this I am eternally grateful.  I still struggle some with fear of abandonment and not feeling good enough, today I speak to my sponsor about these feelings rather than my loved ones.  I have learned that when I voice these fears to my loved ones, it’s essentially just another way of me trying to manipulate them.

This alcoholic is actively sponsored, actively sponsors women, tries to work the 12 steps of the program daily, and is involved in service work and the fellowship of the program.  Some of my dearest friends sit around the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous, they have a raw honesty that I crave, they “get me” when I’m stuck in my crazy head, they don’t judge me and they love me unconditionally.  And to think, I came into this program to learn how to drink like a lady, graduate and get on with my life….instead, I was given a life beyond anything I could’ve dreamed of; love of family and friends, rekindled friendships and new ones, peace, grace, and confidence.

Sober life doesn’t mean perfect life; there are always ups and downs, as it says on the walls of so many rooms “Live Life on Life’s Terms”.  I had no idea what that meant for a long time, today I get it.  When things are difficult today, I know I have choices, I have tools to use to help me cope with things, and picking up a glass of wine is not one of them!!  For to me, to drink is to die!

Amy has given back and volunteers at the front desk at HOI

When my job was a little more flexible, I’ve done various activities with the women/children at HOI, taking AA meetings in, sponsoring numerous women and sharing my experience whenever asked.  I have a real connection/soft spot for the clients at HOI, maybe because I have a daughter and I’m extremely grateful she didn’t have to go down that path.  I have a tendency of wanting to mother the girls and get too close but sometimes those girls need someone to love them until they can love themselves.  Seeing the look at the girls faces when they can relate to something I’m saying, and seeing their kids excited to see me walk in….THOSE things are some of my favorite parts.