What in God’s name is this boring-looking book? It was my first night in rehab and I sat in bed before lights out reading this book they gave me as part of a “welcome” package. Being sober and going to bed was strange. Not having alcohol in my system to knock me out was unfamiliar. And going to bed with my thoughts was absolutely miserable. All I had were a few books, journals, daily devotions and a Bible that my mom had given me with the hopes I would start to read them. I have never been a big reader (that’s hard to do drunk) so my hope was that reading would bore me enough to put me to sleep.
Well, I was wrong. I started reading what everyone kept calling the Big Book. It was blue and had Alcoholics Anonymous written across the front cover. As soon as I started, I couldn’t stop—much like my drinking. (That’s sober humor; you can laugh.) I remember reading just a few pages of it and thinking, “Why the hell has no one ever given me this book before? Why wasn’t it in hotel nightstands instead of the Bible? Why wasn’t it required high school reading? Why wasn’t this the basic text of my freshman college seminar class?”
Personally, I think everyone should read it, alcoholic or not. And I’m not alone: the Library of Congress named it as one of the 88 “Books That Shaped America.” It spoke to me. Alcoholics often think it was written just for them. I thought there was no way other people could feel just like me and clearly the book had been written in 1939 with me in mind. I learned later that was just because I was just really self-centered, but you get my point. I knew within the first few chapters that I most definitely was an alcoholic. This book knew my thoughts, my problems and the working of my mind, but it also knew the solution, which it outlined quite nicely with these 12 steps everyone talked about.
It eased my mind and comforted my soul just a little to know that others were just like me. I read all the stories in the back of the book night after night, thinking to myself, “That’s me” and “I’ve done that,” and having some moments of gratitude that I didn’t yet relate to everything—that some of these horrible things I was reading hadn’t happened to me yet. I knew from my own history that the disease of alcoholism is progressive and it only gets worse with time.
You hear a lot of truths in the rooms of recovery. There is this lingo everyone uses that is weird and overwhelming at first. Two-and-a-half years later, I speak it fluently.
The Big Book tells us that we have to “smash the idea that we can drink like other people.” Well, okay, but how? You see, as crazy as this is going to sound, I didn’t realize that I had lost control of my drinking. Once that was pointed out to me, it was obvious but I was living in such an alcohol-induced delusion that my reality wasn’t reality at all.
I tried desperately for years to control my drinking and could not understand why I always failed. Well, I failed because I am an alcoholic and my brain doesn’t react to alcohol like a non-alcoholic. I always thought it was the sixth or 10th or 24th drink that got me drunk. Turns out it was the first one.
I did things even the book didn’t mention. I tried all the ways to control my drinking that the Big Book describes and made a few of my own. I tried drinking beer only. I tired drinking wine only. I tried only drinking cocktails in hopes I would drink slower. I vowed to never drink alone. I tried limiting the number of drinks. I would only drink at parties. I would drink only at home. I wouldn’t drink before I went out. I would only drink before I went out. I swore off shots. I quit day drinking. And the list goes on.
My attempts were all short-lived and it was never long before I was back drinking like I wanted to. No rules, no limits, no control. Because let’s face it, no alcoholic wants to try and control their drinking, we just want to think we have that control and we try like hell to prove to ourselves and maybe others that we can control it if and when we want to. And just like the Big Book says, “All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals—usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.”
Man, that sentence bitch-slapped me across the face hard when I read it for the first time. That was me. For years, I thought I could stop if I wanted to, but the days, months and eventually years came when I wanted to stop drinking and I couldn’t. A few days into rehab, I was on chapter four of the Big Book and read, “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”
Well, damn. There it was. If there was ever a question in my alcoholic mind, it was answered. Of course by the time I got to rehab, I didn’t really have any questions of whether I was or wasn’t. I knew I was an alcoholic but having it confirmed was…well, sobering.
To get sane, you first have to realize you’re insane. I had no idea just how sick I was until I got sober. My insane thinking kept me married to alcohol for a long time, believing things would get better if I could just figure out how to control my drinking, which drink got me drunk, what the magic number was. So, when I found out it was the first one, that solved that! Just one drink isn’t an option for me because it’s never just one drink and it’s never been just one drink. I don’t drink like a normal person. My brain responds differently to alcohol and once the first drink goes into my body, it starts the phenomenon of craving.
I don’t care how people get sober. I don’t think there is one way. But the only way I can give experienced advice is on how I did it and it started with the Big Book and the 12 steps. When people come to me questioning if they are an alcoholic or not, I tell them to read the Big Book because afterwards they should know if they are or if they aren’t and they probably won’t have to read much more than the first few chapters. Of course, if they’re anything like me, they probably already know the answer to that question but just want confirmation.
So, let me end with this: If you are trying to control your drinking, you have probably already lost control. I say read the Big Book and find out for sure.