We introduced you to Chris last week—the guy who spent two sober years in AA before taking up drinking again. Here Danielle Stewart continues to unearth more information from him about his post-program life.
Danielle: You’d mentioned feeling resistant to some aspects of program. What specifically?
Chris: I never wanted to do fellowship after the meeting. I even hate the word “fellowship.” It felt hokey and cliquey and like I was supposed to try to move up in this social dynamic. And most of the people were not normally people I would hang out with. Sometimes there would be girls there, which was cool, but I always wanted to sleep with them. It felt like too much work and I’ve never been a good networker. I can schmooze a lot easier when I am drunk. But then again, that was probably me not giving it enough time.
Danielle: Did you work the steps in AA?
Chris: I got up to step 9. When it was time to call people up and apologize I was like, “Fuck that.”
Danielle: How did your sobriety affect your relationship?
Chris: Ha ha. We broke up.
Chris: They say you shouldn’t get into a relationship within your first year and there is a reason for that. I was already in a relationship and so I had to deal. Even though I was getting sober to save the relationship, it ultimately ended up driving a wedge between us. She wanted to be involved, she wanted me to tell her about how I was doing, what I was going through. She wanted to come to meetings and I didn’t want her to. I wanted to be left alone to do it on my own. I was shut down. It was my fault.
Danielle: Did you tell her about Alanon?
Chris: Yeah. She went to one meeting. It wasn’t her thing.
Danielle: It doesn’t sound like the break-up was entirely your fault.
Chris: Ha. Maybe not.
Danielle: So when did you start drinking again?
Chris: About a month before I was going to take my two-year cake. It was my [natal]birthday, May 21, 2012.
Danielle: Did it take you by surprise?
Chris: Nah. I kind of knew it was coming. I wasn’t doing the work or utilizing the tools. I was still going to meetings but I was going through the motions.
Danielle: Did anything happen or not happen that made you decide to go out?
Chris: I remember feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. My alcoholic mind started talking to me. It told me I wasn’t getting the help I needed and that I was giving more than I was getting in the program. It told me I was promised all these things but they weren’t happening and that my sponsor was a cool guy but he didn’t have what I wanted. It told me that after all this time with out a drink, I could handle drinking again.
Danielle: Did you ever think about getting a new sponsor?
Chris: Yeah, kind of but my ego wouldn’t let me ask for help—it didn’t even allow me to understand that I needed help. I thought I was doing everything right. I had a bunch of commitments, took AA calls all the time and was speaking on panels at psych wards and prisons.
Danielle: How was that?
Chris: Kind of cool, kind of depressing. The guys in prison sometimes asked for money or help with attorneys. The people in the psych ward didn’t even seem like they wanted to get sober, if that was even their issue. Most of them went to the meeting just to have something to do or because they had to or because the staff needed a break. No one seemed to really give a shit about those people. It was sad.
Danielle: So do you feel like being of service contributed to you leaving AA?
Chris: I stopped believing in the program—I saw a bunch of people relapse and a couple people die. These were people I really liked and some I had taken the time out to help, some I had even given money to. I took their relapse personally. It sounds stupid but it felt like they were relapsing at me—like they were giving me the imaginary finger. I remember driving downtown to help this guy from one of my meetings. He was using his government money to buy crack. I was like, “Dude, c’mon, you’re 67 years old. What are you doing?” It got to be too much. But ultimately, I started drinking again because I thought I could handle it.
Danielle: And…could you?
Chris: Well, the first year was not bad at all. Being sober had pushed my compass back towards acting again and so I was working a lot. Believe it or not, when I am doing something that I creatively want to do, I don’t really think about drinking. Acting is an addiction in itself but it’s a trap because when the work dries up, the drinking is always there. I think I drink to numb out the boredom. But in the last six months, I haven’t done any acting and a lot of that is because I have been drinking a lot. I haven’t been writing as much or pushing myself to be a better actor. It’s also because I have been working a lot at my bar job and making money, which is another addiction. Making money makes me feel good.
Danielle: Since you left AA, you made a short film about alcoholism.
Chris: Yeah, it’s called Last Call. It’s a slice of life film about a guy with a corporate job that has a drinking problem and is in that phase where he is living a double life and his professional life and his drinking life start to collide.
Danielle: I really enjoyed the film and thought it was really poignant. Is it about you?
Chris: It is modeled after me and other alcoholic friends I met in the program. That is kind of what happens to us; we hide from our disease and put on this façade. I know I did—at least I tried to for a while.
Danielle: Other than perhaps knowing the character really well, what made you decide to make the film?
Chris: I really wanted to do a character study of an alcoholic—I felt like I needed to get that out—but I also wanted to show some of my experience to help other alcoholics. I hoped it would be relatable to alcoholics and addicts and also help non-alcoholics have a better idea of what we go through. So basically, I wanted to help people in a selfish kind of way.
Danielle: Since a struggling relationship is what got you into AA, how has going back to drinking has affected your relationships?
Chris: I feel kind of like I am warped now as far as relationships. I am so not used to meeting someone and talking with them sober, it’s just like drunk hook ups that lead right to sex. And now since I have been sober [this month], I don’t even want to talk with women in that capacity because all those new and sober feelings are coming out—all my little insecurities and problems, all the shit I drank over, are now rearing their little heads and I have to compartmentalize it.
Danielle: That seems exhausting.
Chris: That’s why I have gone back to reading the Big Book and going through some of those principles again. And then I write that shit down: what is bothering me, why am I pissed off going to work? Because I have a good life, I am just sober and don’t know what to do with it. I know I am an alcoholic; the question is, what do I do with it? Am I going to be dramatic and go back to AA or am I just going to fucking have to deal with it? And hopefully it doesn’t get that bad or hopefully I find something else that will push it down, like acting or anything creative. So that’s what I am doing. But I know that alcohol is always going to be there and I have resigned myself to the fact that it will always be a problem for me.
Danielle: Do you believe in a Higher Power?
Chris: I think so, but I believe in an energy more than anything. The word “God” troubles me. It makes me think of some big guy in a cloud with the beard. I believe in the rooms of AA. I felt the energy when everyone relates to a share. It’s a camaraderie that’s spiritual and I always liked that.
Danielle: Do you believe AA could work for you?
Chris: I think so, yes. I felt it working. I enjoyed it. I liked having a purpose. I just think if I do it again I need to not do it so (ironically) alcoholically.
Danielle: As of now, what’s the plan?
Chris: It’s hard to say. Right now, things are under control for the most part. I have bad days but ultimately I am not at a bottom that would force me back into AA with any success. I know I have to be willing to surrender everything in order to stay sober and happy and I am just not there. But not drinking this month has been great and has shifted my focus back to acting and I am thinking about taking a class. What I do know for sure is that on July 31st I am going to see my dad and will probably drink with him; in fact, I will probably drink on the plane.