I was in my mid-fifties, principal of my own successful practice, with a large family. I was financially comfortable and could do just about as I pleased.
So why did nothing seem to please me? Why was I so dissatisfied and critical of everyone and everything? Why did life seem so insecure, just waiting to collapse around me? Why was the world such a depressing, fearful place to live in? And why did drinking alcohol seem to offer the best and sometimes only, relief from the increasingly intolerable way I felt?
My childhood was fortunate but unappreciated. I left parents I didn’t care for as soon as I could to start further education – vet school – and proceeded to ignore them.
A glimmer of hope that life could be made tolerable flickered as I learned to drink alcohol. It altered the way I felt – at first I ceased feeling lonely in a crowd; given the next drink, I could actually be a part of, join in with, a group of people; and then I could become the centre of attention, the star-turn, the world started to revolve around me.
Alcohol became more important to me than food, drink, air to breathe, anything and anybody. My perception of life gradually changed, my understanding of honesty and truthfulness was increasingly warped and distorted, and for 40 years I thought I was getting away with it! I could justify any and all of my actions; I could talk my way out of any situation (and that includes with wives and taxmen). I believed I was absolutely credible, and that all those around me at home, work and play were extremely lucky to be manipulated and controlled by me – it saved them from having to think and act for themselves!
I accepted that it was my position in life to assume responsibility for absolutely everyone and everything, whatever the cost to me – a burden I found increasingly difficult to bear. Life became gradually harder to live, more wearisome, depressing and lonely, despite my consistent and increasing alcohol intake.
Perhaps my biggest sadness of those actively alcoholic years is the immeasurable harm, mainly of a psychological nature, I inflicted upon the people around me. And I believed I was doing the best for them! The “Amends” steps of my recovery, a lifelong effort to repair and compensate for the damage I did to others, is a seriously important and welcomed privilege today.
Eventually, alcohol stopped working for me. I stopped drinking a few times – easy – but staying stopped seemed impossible. When I stopped I felt better in some ways. I wasn’t smart enough then to know that alcohol was a depressant, an effect I certainly didn’t need! Feeling better I would drink again, as nothing else was in my life to take the place of the “alcohol effect”. I have only ever taken alcohol to get drunk; I know no other way to drink. So I did the same thing, got the same result with my drinking, and thought I was going insane. I did reach that point where I could not face life with alcohol or without alcohol. The jumping off point….
I absolutely acknowledge today the vital necessity for me to have had a “rock bottom” of a comprehensive and thorough nature. My world, as I perceived it, fell completely apart. Today, I am grateful that I was left with my life – just! Medics gave me a week to live unless I took their help. Gone – my family, my ability to work, my home, my material possessions, my money – the lot! And today I know that it was the best thing that could possibly have happened for me. I recognise and am thankful for those around me who, out of tough love, made the decisions that gave me a fresh start.
In my early recovery, I realised that something positive had always looked after me, with or without my permission, and was definitely still working for me, whether I liked it or not! I always landed on my feet; got out of scrapes; things happened for the best and timed out very well – usually without any effective input from me!
I needed medical help to get me off toxic chemicals – principally alcohol – and to restore a proper nutritional programme. It happened.
I needed psychological help to see and experience my life from a different point of view, repelling my obsession to drink. I got it, and, most importantly, continue to accept it as a normal part of my day, today.
As a “functioning alcoholic”, I worked and lived apparently successfully, skilfully and effectively, despite having alcohol continuously in my body deranging my behaviour and emotions. I have many clients today who have faithfully employed me for 40+ years, along with their children and grandchildren. Twice now they have nominated me for “vet of the year” awards in national competition! My professional and private life seemed ideal to many “outsiders”. My work colleagues saw a more irrational, temperamental and unpredictable side of me. My family received the worst of my behavioural range, later to be accurately described as “obnoxious” by my treatment councillors.
My family, particularly my wife, tried many ways to help me see that I had a drinking problem and to do something about it. They tried to make me happy and enjoy life, without any lasting success. Doctors and psychiatrists missed the point – I was far to “intelligent” to let them recognise and spoil my drinking habits.
The essential recognition of my alcoholism came from a long standing business acquaintance from which I sought financial help at my rock bottom. I believed that as long as the money side held up, my family would return – how could they possibly leave everything I was providing for them?! In fact, my family placed a court restraining order on me, preventing contact, and my business acquaintance “12 stepped” me – told me his story. Unknown to me, he was an alcoholic who through the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 – step programme, had stopped drinking 10 years earlier and had seen his life turn around as a result.
It was my turn to be “manipulated”! He told me that I might need to go to a health farm for a week or so to recover physically, he made arrangements and waited. One morning I was so ill I gave up my struggle to work, couldn’t face the humiliation of public hospital, and agreed on the “health farm”, anticipating a luxurious recovery. But my swimming trunks and squash racquet were not required! I found myself in a “treatment centre” for members of the medical professions addicted to alcohol and drugs. And I learned that the usual length of stay was 5 weeks! Impossible! I had too many far more important things to do! I couldn’t afford the fees – and was promptly informed that I couldn’t not afford the fees! In fact I stayed longer, as I was a slow learner.
There was a process for me to go through. Initially I had to accept that I had a problem with alcohol. I was faced up to the evidence – the wreckage of every part of my life – and my denial of this extraordinary possibility was removed. With this new personal realisation I thought my family would understand that I was ill and want to help. No such thing – I tried every route I knew to persuade them, bargain with them, and got nowhere at all – they had had enough. I was furious and behaved accordingly. When asked how I felt, I told my counsellors that they were being paid to find out; I informed them how much per minute they were costing me. My head was planning a totally revengeful and dissolute life, “to show them all”, as soon as I could get home. But all this got me nowhere and the hopelessness, sadness of my situation sunk in. I did a lot of crying, which only eased up as I eventually accepted the position I was in and realised that help was being offered.
I learned that I had a defect, a disease which caused in me a mental obsession to drink alcohol; and when I did, the alcohol in my body reacted in an abnormal way, setting up a craving for more and more, altering my emotions and behaviour until I became comatose.
I was told that, a bit like sugar diabetes, treatment was available to contain, not cure, my problem, and offer me offer me a decent and honest way of life. So my illness, my alcoholism, was no longer an excuse for further unacceptable behaviour. I had the choice and opportunity to start a recovery programme. I was given to understand that I had to want and work for recovery for myself, not just to try and please other people. I was assured that many other alcoholics already in recovery would be only too pleased to help me. I had believed that I was too old, too ugly to change anything. I had stood by a major road trying to walk in front of H.G.V’s. But now I was being told that I, my life, was worthwhile, and a new, different glimmer of hope flickered.
I have learned that most obstacles in my recovery are in fact stepping stones, not stumbling blocks. My first concerned the multiple problems I had accumulated. I simply learned that I should only tackle the problems that really applied to today. Of the remainder, many were unreal and imaginary, many would, given time, sort themselves out, and the few remaining needed to be addressed only when they became today’s problem. Invaluable information, that helped me become available – I was becoming teachable.
My treatment centre was like a preparatory school, it got me into a receptive state for my education. You see I needed to be introduced to and then thoroughly and continuously work the 12 step programme of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am quite certain that I would never have walked into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, and then continue to attend and work the programme, without very firm counselling and guidance. My stay in treatment was in fact extended until I was ready to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for myself. I detested the early A.A meetings – I was told “you will get to like them” – I was certain that was utterly impossible! But after 30/40 meetings, 1 ½ hours long each with every minute seeming like a day, I could tolerate them. Gradually, slowly, I have come to really enjoy and value my A.A meetings, as they said I would!
Curiously, even from very early days, I somehow felt better after a meeting than before it. So the attraction of the fellowship started. I gradually started to listen to what the people in the meetings – recovering alcoholics – were saying. I heard them describing their lives whilst drinking, and recognised that so much of my own story was similar. Not only did their stories ring true, but they were told often with humour – people were laughing at their own crazy behaviour when drinking! These alcoholics in recovery went on to say, to share with me, what they had done about their problem; what gave them the strength to carry on their lives without alcohol. And they told me how their lives were now turning out, slowly and surely, to be so much more worthwhile, even happy, peaceful and content at times. Freed of the shackles of alcohol they could choose to do so many more things; they became available to life!
This gave me some hope, even though I hung on to the belief that what had happened for them couldn’t possibly happen for me! But the evidence kept stacking up, and became overwhelming – if I did as the experience of the fellowship of Alcoholic Anonymous suggested, my life inevitably would get better and better and…… Today I know, even take somewhat for granted, that my life will continue to improve indefinitely if I work my 12 step programme with a continuity of effort.
So what did I have to do? With the guidance of my fellows in A.A groups, and specific help of a sponsor (for me the gentleman who originally directed me to treatment), I had to learn to work the 12 step programme, gradually incorporating its principles into my way of life until they became more and more naturally an automatic part of my behaviour patterns.
This involved, to start with, admitting the nature of my problem – my alcoholism – realising that there was treatment for it, and accepting the help on offer for me to take this treatment. The work I needed involved thoroughly examining the emotions and behaviour patterns of the whole of my life, without any exceptions, particularly looking at my fears, my resentments and my improper conduct. This information had to be written down, thoroughly considered and then shared out loud with another person whom I trusted with such information. The “something/someone that looked after me”, was essential to help me see the truth in these matters. To see right from wrong, and discover what I had defectively done, as well as the more loving alternatives. I had to come to terms with the fact that my beliefs and actions had become so misdirected that I actually needed to act in many instances in the opposite way to that which had become my “normal” pattern. A tall order, but as I accomplished this work I found it to be the truth. I learned that primarily my character defects involved fearfulness, selfishness, self centeredness, dishonesty and inconsiderate behaviour, with endless combinations of these elements.
These discoveries laid the foundation for the steps that were to change me as a person. As my defects and short comings were revealed to me, they became objectionable. I didn’t want any further part in them, and they could be let go. To acknowledge my wrong doing it was necessary to make amends in everyway possible to everyone I had harmed. In many cases with those dearest to me this will be a lifelong opportunity of repair!
To maintain my improving attitudes I consistently now am aware of my actions throughout the day – I feel uncomfortable if I recognise I am doing, thinking, acting wrongly, and need to put things right and apologise as best and soon as possible. All the time I ask for guidance and strength to do the right and loving things. This I understand simply as spiritual guidance, the benefit of this spiritual 12 step programme. Somehow this seems readily available to me. I cannot fully explain it, I accept that I don’t need to understand it and that it just happens, it works and my life develops very much better.
It is a pleasure, privilege and necessity for me to share my good fortune with others suffering from alcoholism. This serves to remind me to continuously use my recovery programme, my psychological treatment. I do know that the more effort I put in, the better I function. And there are so many ways that gradually have come my way in treatment and recovery to serve the aims and principles of the A.A fellowship. These opportunities in themselves have been, and continue to be, so important in promoting my own wellbeing! The tasks so often seem beyond my capabilities, but I have learned that if those around believe in me, I will learn to be competent, thereby enhancing my education.
The bottom line is that I no longer have any desire to drink alcohol – haven’t drunk for nearly 10 years now! So my mind, behaviour, emotions are no longer altered, anaesthetised by alcohol. I act in a far more acceptable fashion in every way, and have gradually become an asset to society – I know this ability will continue to improve indefinitely if I continue working my 12 step programme.
Today, my relationships with other people are improving. My ex-wife took a closer look at me 6 ½ years into recovery and decided I might be fit to talk to again. 2 ½ years later we became engaged and now a year further on we live together with our youngest son. Slowly does it! If all works well, we plan to remarry. But it takes a long time for those I have harmed with my drinking to trust me, and four of my seven children are not yet able to communicate with me. I remain very willing, unconditionally, to be part of their lives should they ever choose to know me in recovery. I work with any extraordinarily loving group of people, my second family that I care for so much. This ability today to care for other people, rather than just thinking of myself, feels so good. So I develop, and am available for, an increasing number of friendships. And I have learned, somewhat late in life, that my relationships are the most important assets I have.
I work again as principal of my veterinary practice, and am in the process of letting this go to my younger colleagues. I don’t know exactly how this will happen, but everything is gradually fitting into place, and I have absolute faith that the right solutions will be reached in due course. My drinking career certainly affected my financial viability; so I accept that my working life may have to be extended. Material things – my needs are very adequately met, and I am grateful for lots of treats. The debris and destruction of my past are gradually clearing, and I really appreciate what I have the good fortune to have. It may be rented or borrowed, but is mostly within my means – grandiosity takes a back seat now!
Life happens – for example in my sober years, my mother has died, my practice has been destroyed by flooding, I have had 2 new hips and stent put in my heart. But all is well. I established a loving relationship with mother before she died aged 92. The flood permitted practice updates and improvements. My health problems promoted a much improved style of living, safeguarding against future problems. As I’ve said, I believe some higher power looks after me, and this faith is vital in my recovery from alcoholism.
All I have to do? Not take a drink of alcohol – one day at a time. Work the 12 step programme and practice the principals of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous in all my affairs. Not really such a big “ask” for such incredible rewards! It works if I work it! Contentment, peace of mind and serenity are now within my daily experiences!
Back in June I was taking lunch with a long time member of A.A. The waiter asked him if he would like to order a drink from the wine list. He replied immediately – “No thanks, I don’t want to miss Christmas!” I know today if I don’t take that first drink, I don’t need to miss any more of my life. For this I am very grateful.