September 28, 1986
That’s one date that I hope to never forget or change. That’s my sobriety anniversary.
On September 27, 1986 I was a bridesmaid in my best girlfriend’s wedding and that night, I had my last drink of alcohol. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up a bit. No, I won’t go into a long and boring drunk-alogue, if you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. Suffice it to say, I drank. A lot. And I drank for all the wrong reasons: to escape, to forget, to not think, to be numb. Oh I told myself that it was fun, that I was the life of the party when I drank but I was lying to myself and anyone else who’d listen.
I had my first taste of alcohol as a little girl, with my dad and grandpa and uncle. They would sit outside and listen to the KC Royals on the radio and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. They would give me tastes. I thought it tasted good. No big deal, right?
The next time I had alcohol I was in high school. Someone would always swipe some from their parents’ bar and share. I remember watching a classmate throwing up in the bathroom and thinking that she was so cool. HUH?
Once I graduated, my parents moved to Topeka and I went with them. I was 18. I met a couple of friends and one of them became my drinking partner. She and I could buy wine coolers and we’d drive around and drink at the same time. It’s a miracle we never crashed or killed ourselves or anyone else.
This continued until I got to the point that I could legally buy wine or rum or anything else. Wine was my drink of choice. It was affordable (cheap). I drank to excess while I was living at home with my parents; they either didn’t realize what was going on or they were in SERIOUS denial. Me, I vote for the denial.
When I was given a serious talking to at work is when I hit my first bottom; my job at the bank was on the line. I was told to straighten up and fly right or that I’d get fired. I behaved for a while and only drank on weekends when my job wouldn’t be affected. But something scared me and I started going to therapy. Maybe if I blamed my parents for all my problems, I’d feel better. Well, therapy was helpful but any time David (my first therapist and fave therapist of all time) mentioned alcohol, I told him that I didn’t have a problem.
By the time I was 21, I was ready to get out from my dad’s strict rules and be independent. Yeah, good idea. I moved out in May and was seriously partying every weekend; I met another friend and she became another drinking buddy. We drank together until she met her future husband in a bar and married him; last I heard, they were divorced.
I saw David off and on over the years, since my life was so crazy and out of control. He kept mentioning alcohol and asking me how much I drank. My best friend, my roommate, the one whose wedding I was in? She was in therapy and came home with a questionnaire for me, asking me about my drinking. Everybody was against me! I got drunk at them. Naturally. What else do drunks do?
The last week of September, 1986 totally sucked. My best friend was getting married, I was miserable and couldn’t get drunk enough to get through the week. Friday, September 26, I left work early and got smashed, knowing that in a few hours I had to go to my best friend’s wedding rehearsal and dinner. I remember it was rainy and cold outside. I was drinking wine, probably the cheapest stuff I could afford.
I came to, rolled over and hit myself in the face with the bottle and started crying. I called David and told him that I couldn’t take it anymore, that he had to help me. I wanted to die. I couldn’t get drunk enough to stop hurting. He promised he’d do what he could but that it was MY job to get sober and stay sober. He offered in-patient alcohol treatment and out-patient treatment at a local center. I told him I wasn’t going to let anyone at work know what I was doing, so I had to do out-patient. I also told him I wasn’t sick enough to have to do in-patient (ha, I’m sure he believed me).
Somehow I got out of bed and made it to the rehearsal and dinner; the wedding the next day was nice, and I’d like to tell you that I was completely sober at the dance. I had a beer. ONE beer. And, you know what? I have a picture, I don’t know who took it, of myself sitting there with that ONE beer. How many recovering alcoholics have a picture of themselves on their last night of drinking?
Sunday morning I woke up without a headache and remembered David and what he said was going to happen. Turns out he couldn’t get me into out-patient therapy until October 13. What the heck was I going to do until then???? He told me to go to AA. What?!? Yep, AA. He gave me a schedule and sent me on my merry way.
My first meeting was at the 2100 Club in Topeka, Kansas.
My second meeting was at a church on 17th street in Topeka, Kansas.
My third meeting was at the old hospital on 10th street in Topeka, Kansas.
Finally, I made it to treatment. The night’s leader was Frank; he met me in the parking lot and when he saw me, said, “You must be Patty? Hi, Patty, I’m Frank and I’m an alcoholic and I love you.” I almost got in the car and drove off. What the heck kind of place was David sending me to?
I couldn’t relate to THOSE people. They were alcoholics. They looked like alcoholics. I sat there in my dressy clothes and heels from work (I was a mortgage loan closer at a savings and loan association) and thought I was better than them. Ha! They sure showed me. They put me in my place almost immediately. I learned that alcoholics look and act like me. Because I was and am an alcoholic.
It was tough…finding a sponsor and working the steps, all twelve of them and not just the ones that looked easy. Living the steps. Going to meetings and making them the priority in my life. Discovering – or maybe I should say re-discovering my Higher Power, whom I now call God. Remembering that I’m not my own Higher Power. Giving my life over to Him and doing His will and not mine.
I was able to return to church; I had stopped going because my hangovers interfered. It was amazing, God loved me even those years that I had turned my back on Him. I remember Frank telling me that God wasn’t lost, I was. Wow, was I ever. Once the alcohol cleared out of my brain, I was able to see so much and learn so much.
I have had some really tough and beautiful sponsors: Pat and Betty in Topeka are the most memorable. They both loved me when I was so unlovable. They both loved me in spite of myself.
OH, and remember my second meeting? That’s where I met a really cute guy. We exchanged numbers, to the disdain of both of our sponsors. There’s an unwritten rule that you should NOT get romantically involved during your first year of sobriety; there’s something called the 13th step, where newly sober people go after other newly sober people and take advantage of them. People warned this cute guy and I not to get involved. I heard horror stories from everyone and so did he. His sponsor was adamant that he put his program first.
Did we listen?
Yes and no.
We kept sobriety first. We got involved, romantically. We got married six months later. We celebrated our 25th anniversary in April, 2012.
Has it been easy to stay sober AND married? No. Marriage is hard. Sobriety is hard. But, we live the steps in our relationship with each other, we depend on God first and then each other. Over the years, we’ve looked at our friends and so many have been involved, even married, and now they’re all divorced. Are we lucky? I don’t think so. I think we’re blessed. It’s taken a lot of hard work and it’s been so worth it.
We’ve lived in many places over the years and AA exists everywhere. There are meetings that are wonderful; there are meetings that are boring. What I’ve learned is that when you put into the meeting, you typically get out of the meeting. I’m grateful that I sobered up in Topeka, Kansas and that we lived for a couple of years in Rogers, Arkansas because in both of those cities, there are some EXCELLENT meetings. I used to giggle at some of the people in Rogers and call them “Big Book Thumpers” because they would quote the Book at meetings but then one day, I heard myself quoting the Big Book…ha! I was a Thumper, too. Something to be glad of!
When we moved to this part of the world (SW Missouri), we were both attending meetings regularly – yes, still, after all these years! I’m as close to a drink TODAY as a newly sober woman. Lately we’ve fallen off attending meetings. Not a perfect plan. Do I ever think of drinking? Yes. Life is very stressful and there are moments when I want to drink so badly and then I remember all that I have to lose: sobriety, my son, my husband, my home, my job….it’s not worth drinking over. Nothing is.
I still have my Big Book handy. There’s a newer edition out since I came into AA in 1986 but my notes are scribbled all over the Book and I can’t re-write history. It’s incredible to read through the pages (which are falling out) and see the notes in the margins and think of how far I’ve come. And I’ve come this far by the Grace of God. People congratulate me when I have an AA birthday but I remind them that I only did the foot-work, God did the carrying and the granting the Grace that saw me through.
There are meetings at our church that I’ve been thinking about going to. My former sponsor called me the other day; recently I saw her at Walmart and she was buying beer. That scared the heck out of me. When she called, she asked me about going to a meeting together. I think I’ll call her and plan to go to one as soon as possible.
Oh and by the way, October 13 was David’s birthday. I told him I was going to treatment as a birthday present to him and he said, “If that’s what it takes.” That’s what it took, David. It was a gift to you at the time but over the years, I’ve come to see it as the best gift you could have given to me. Thanks bunches.