I made it, the first week. I had been sober for just over eight days. It is the first time that has happened for many years. A little of the battle smoke has cleared. I am scarred but alive. My life is in transition, I am changing. I no longer want to be the family drunk. I am sick of being the topic of conversation. The shift is subtle and yet it is profound. I now care, my family and my health matters. What my wife and children think is important.
There are a few things I know intuitively I should do. The first port of call would be my general practitioner. “I’m declaring myself a recovering alcoholic” I told a dumbfounded family doctor. “But Tom, you’ve never had a drinking problem,” he replied. I don’t see him often and he didn’t know me well enough to know the truth. “Yeah, Doc – but I am. Can you recommend a good psychiatrist?” In my early search for sobriety I had the mistaken belief that the problem was psychological. I believed my excessive drinking was the result of a weak-willed mind and pliable moral fibre.
The shrink prods here and pokes there, but there is nothing he can easily uncover. I might stand accused of mental flabbiness by others, but there is nothing in the psychiatrist’s line of enquiry that suggests this. “Nope, I can find nothing wrong with you. But I applaud your decision to stop drinking. More than that, I like the way you are taking responsibility, well done.” A little later on I meet with an acquaintance who is also struggling with his own addiction. If anything, there is a bond, a shared and common pain. Through him I find out about a large online group of people who are interested in stopping drinking. I register as a member and I get a cyber badge that tells me how many days I have been sober. It is just a little over a month, but I am strangely proud of my 35 days smiley face.
I am invited to come to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at a local church hall. The 5-30 Express it’s called. Each person attending is given a number and when called, stands up and speaks for three minutes about their alcoholism. “Is there anyone attending AA for the first time?” asks the facilitator. Gingerly, shyly I put up my hand. “Yes, me.” There are warm smiles and a spontaneous round of applause. I feel welcome, appreciated. I feel a part of this assorted group. They are my people.
I stand up and face the expectant room, I need to hold onto an old piano for support. “Hello, my name is Tom, and I am an alcoholic.”