“I am grateful to be an alcoholic.” It was those words that caused me to walk out of my first AA meeting. This is about how I got to that point on June 24th, 2016, what has happened since and how accepting I had a problem….an illness undoubtedly saved my life.
Throughout my teenage years, I struggled with anxiety and bouts of crippling depression. To all on the outside, everything was fine, I was outgoing, I played sport, I went out with friends, did OK with girls, it all seemed great but nobody could see what was going on in my own head, and in fact in my own body. That’s because people, especially men, who struggle with these issues become great liars, we have masks, we can wear different ones at different times but they all have the same aim…to hide what is really going on underneath.
I battled with this on and off for years, and to be completely honest, I can’t remember when exactly, in my mid 20s, the anxiety returned, there was no trigger, there doesn’t have to be, it creeps up on you like a dark cloud and once you are gripped you can not see any way out.
Asking the question what came first, the depression or the alcohol, is like asking if the chicken or egg came first, I don’t know, what I do know is that as my anxiety and my depression got worse, so did my drinking and drug taking, my self-medicating. I needed it, I deserved it…if you woke up every morning filled with fear and dread wouldn’t you do something to make yourself feel better too? Or so I thought. Never, not once, did it cross my mind that what I was doing wasn’t normal.
I wasn’t an alcoholic as I didn’t drink every day, I wasn’t an addict as I only partied at weekends, but when those weekends got longer and the recoveries got worse I realised I was stuck. It was like I was falling into a hole but I was digging it myself. I was self-destructing. The anxiety got worse, the self-loathing was out of control, so I dealt with it the only way I knew how, I numbed all feelings, everything, I took myself out of my way of thinking and avoided real life. The more I ignored things falling around me, the worse it got, the harder I tried to get away from it. It was a downward spiral and I had no way out.
Hang around enough AA/CA/NA meetings you will hear the phrase ‘the insanity of the illness’ and it is just that, an illness. The insanity for me was lying in bed contemplating suicide because I had drunk too much again, unable to sleep because I had taken cocaine, and then my only answer to that, was to do it again the next day to get away from myself. If you think addiction is about willpower, it’s not, because every fibre of my being did not want to take that first drink or drug, but I was defenceless. It is an illness and it can affect anyone.
It was a long-term friend who went to my parents as told them he was worried about me. He risked our friendship he cared about me that much. My first thought was ‘who does he think he is? Going behind my back.’ What that friend did for me, saved my life, I can never repay that. It was because of that, that I went into a rehab centre and got the help I needed. The first step to recovery is acceptance, and the hardest thing to accept for me, was that alcoholism and addiction is an illness and letting go of the guilt feelings, and being able to stop blaming myself took some time, but I now use the 12-step program of AA and through that, I have got myself back. I don’t need to know why it works for me, it just does.
Each alcoholic has their own story, we all have different paths, different breaking points but many of the feelings are the same and the one overwhelming feeling we all share is that finally surrendering and accepting help was the best thing that ever happened to us. I will never forget on the way to rehab my Dad said it was ‘the happiest he’d seen me in months’ and as crazy as it sounds, it was. I had nowhere left to hide, no masks to cover me up, no more lies. I am not alone, I always thought I was but there is a whole community out there, all helping each other. Anywhere in the world I can go to a meeting and sit in a room with like-minded people and share all my shit…good and bad.
Is it easy? No, but is it worth it? Definitely. Do I sometimes crave a drink? Yes, but the difference is, I don’t need it. Now, 14 months later, I can say it too, “ I am grateful to be an alcoholic.”