How I Got Sober: Zoe

How I Got Sober: Zoe

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This post was originally published on October 23, 2014.

Despite evidence to the contrary, many alcoholics use three really common defenses to keep from getting sober: 1) I’m too young; 2) I’m not bad enough yet and 3) I don’t want anything to do with the God thang. Zoe used all three until they all stopped working at once.

By the end of my drinking at the age of 28, drinking was no longer a social event for me, even though I jokingly refer to myself as a “social drinker” when I tell my story because my idea of social drinking was getting smashed and going on Facebook. But the sad truth was that at the end, it was just my dog and me in my apartment and I would pass out somewhere between Jeopardy and Two And A Half Men.

Following the breakup of a four-year relationship that ended as a direct result of my boozing, I diagnosed myself with depression and made an appointment with a therapist. In the back of my mind I knew it was the booze, but I was hoping that the shrink would tell me differently. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going in while I was still drunk from the night before. She must have smelled the booze off of me, because one of the first things she asked me was how much I drank. “About 15 to 18 beers,” I replied, and I surprised myself by giving such an honest answer. She asked if that was the amount I drank in a week. “No—that’s what I drink every night,” I said.

She looked a little surprised, then told me that that my problem probably wasn’t depression, and that even if it were, she couldn’t prescribe me anti-depressants because they wouldn’t work with someone who drank that much. Instead she suggested Alcoholics Anonymous. I immediately balked and told her I couldn’t go because I didn’t believe in God. She then tried to talk me into checking into a detox, but I told her I couldn’t go because I had to go back to work. She told me she probably couldn’t help me if I couldn’t stop drinking and that I should probably give AA some more thought.

I went back to work and had a panic attack, so I Googled alcohol withdrawal and saw that it might not be such a good idea to detox at home. I decided to do it in the relative safety of my parents’ home on their couch where I wouldn’t be alone if I had a seizure. When I told my mom that I was an alcoholic, she didn’t seem too shocked, and just told me to go to AA. But when I told her I didn’t believe in God, that bothered her (I was raised Catholic) much more than the news about my alcoholism. My grandfather had passed away seven years earlier and I’d decided right then that there was no God. How could there be? But I went to AA anyway.

The first meeting I went to was in this opulently beautiful Catholic church, and after the meeting started, I began to feel like I was in a safe place and actually felt comfortable. It was the first time in a very long time that I had felt that way. So I went to meetings for about a week, then joined the group and got a job giving out chips, but I felt I didn’t really need talk to anybody or get to know them. So instead of asking questions, I just tried to figure it out on my own. I knew I didn’t need a sponsor because I’d bought myself a Big Book at Barnes & Noble and had started taking myself through steps. I checked off Step One, skipped Two and Three because of the whole God thing and then just stopped at Four because I didn’t know what taking my inventory meant.

After about 60 days of this unengaged routine, I started drinking again because I decided I had this stuff figured out. I also decided that I was too young and since I was only drinking beer at this point anyway, I wasn’t that bad—forgetting that the party now consisted solely of me drinking with my dog. I kept going to meetings though, so that I could get an A in AA, but didn’t tell anyone I was drinking again. I would go to a meeting and hit a liquor store on the way home. I was trying really hard to control my drinking and that wasn’t working very well, plus I had the proverbial “head full of AA and belly full of booze.”

My last drunk was on the 4th of July weekend, and it was fairly ugly, although I don’t remember most of it. I came out of a blackout in my apartment, shaking and not knowing what day it was. I was in an absolute panic and it felt like every nerve ending was on the outside of my body; I just wanted to kill myself. I had a couple of bottles of pills in my cabinet and I was thinking that suicide was the only way out. Suddenly I remembered something that I had heard at a meeting—that when people were really desperate, they got on their knees and asked for help. I had never tried it before and I don’t know if that was because I was afraid it would work and I was using my whole God thing as an excuse to not do it, but I was really fucking desperate at this moment.

So instead of taking those pills, I got down on my knees and begged something, anything—God, my grandfather who had passed—for help and said that I didn’t want to die. Something told me to get to a meeting. I went to one in my own neighborhood, South Boston—something that I hadn’t been doing before. (Since I’d detoxed myself before on my parents’ couch, meetings in Brighton were closer to my parents’ house and I recognized people there, so I kept going throughout those first 60 days and then in the following controlled drinking phase.) Also, I had to go to a meeting in Southie (where I lived) that weekend because the brakes on my car were gone and I had no way to get back to Brighton, even if I didn’t have to face the shame of coming back. My point is that it was not part of my normal routine to go to the meeting nearest to my house.

When I got into my seat, I just sat there shaking because I was withdrawing so badly. I wanted to put my hand up but I didn’t because I thought I would start crying and wouldn’t be able to stop. But I went home that night and I didn’t drink.

The next night, I went to another meeting in my neighborhood. There was a beginner’s meeting and this time I got my hand up and said my name and that I was an alcoholic and I couldn’t say anything else because the tears just kept coming. But it was the first time I said it and actually meant it.

Right after the beginner’s meeting, there was the regular meeting where a speaker group came in, and who was the incoming group? Yup, one from Brighton that I went to regularly, which included two old-timer women (with about 60 years of sobriety between them) that had tried to help me out in the past. Considering the number of speaker groups in the city that could have come in that night, this did not seem like a coincidence, and that’s when I started to believe that there might be something to this Higher Power stuff. It was a perfect storm—me being completely broken and those women from that group showing up at that moment. And I was just so done, and I became willing to do whatever it took to stop feeling the way I was feeling.

I went back to that group that came in that night on the following night, and reconnected with members that were at the meeting. Then I started doing it a day at a time, going to a lunchtime meeting then coming home from work, changing my clothes and going back across town like I had done when I stopped drinking the first time. I got a sponsor a week later, and she started taking me through the steps, and I got active with my group, taking a job and going on detox commitments. And it worked. I remember at one point I realized that I had 63 days and I thought, “How is that possible?”

And I hung around with the old-timer men because I had a huge fear of women and it was comforting to me. Then I joined a second group and did more commitments, and slowly I learned that you could go to the movies without drinking and I could go out for ice cream and just do normal things without being hammered.

I still go to a meeting almost every day, I sponsor women and life is pretty good. I was so wrong about so many things. I wasn’t too young. I was bad enough. And the Higher Power stuff turned out to be real, at least for me.

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Johnny Plankton

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.