This is a weekly column about abstinence based twelve step recovery, finding small moments of beauty, and getting over your ex.
I am an expert in nothing. Not alcoholism or Drug addiction. Not sobriety or recovery. And definitely not love or relationships.
What I am reasonably well-versed in however, is my own story. I was there when it happened…
Well, I was present.
Physically at least.
This column isn’t meant to serve as a baseline for all substance abuse issues or failed relationships. I am in no place to be giving advice to anyone about anything. I believe very few of us are. At the moment, I feel like I know less about myself than I ever have. If you were to meet me in person and ask me how to be a better, or how to be happy, I would look you in the eyes and say, ‘I don’t know’. Newly sober people can be like that, you feel childlike and spongy.
What follows is a collection of thoughts and experiences I have had while navigating an extremely difficult portion of my life. How I’m getting through it without picking up a bottle or hurting myself or those around me. And how Alcoholics Anonymous is playing a part in that. My goal in documenting this is that someone might read it and feel less alone. Or that it might make the idea of recovery less scary, and more tangible to someone who may need it.
But again, this is by no means a guide to wellness. Consider this as kind of a customer review of AA as an organisation and a wellness platform.
After hitting rock bottom and alienating myself from everyone who loved me at the end of 2021, I came up with a plan.
The kind of plan only an alcoholic can come up with on the second day of a bender.
While listening to Creep by Radiohead.
And chain-smoking on their mother’s porch.
I’d go cold-turkey on alcohol, get back in shape, and finally finish my degree. With all this momentum I’d be able to lift myself out of the depression and apathy that had characterised my life up until this point.
My ex would be moving back to Australia from England once her visa was sorted and, seeing how much I’d matured, we’d work things out. She is the only woman I’ve ever loved for a reason. When things are meant to be they’re meant to be. I’d called her a few weeks before in a drunken black-out. I couldn’t remember what I had said but it had left her afraid to speak to me on the phone. This was a rough patch. But my drinking was to blame – not me, right? I told myself that sobriety was the way back.
The next time we did speak was in May of 2022. She told me she wouldn’t be coming back to Australia after all.
She was in love with someone else.
She spoke in curt sentences and had to end the call abruptly when I started telling her ‘How much I’d changed’ and ‘How good sobriety was for me’. I knew then that what we once had was gone. And that no matter what I did it was never coming back.
I couldn’t blame her for this. What future could you see with a drunk so full of self-loathing they were unable to love you back?
My plan had failed. And I was arrogant and misguided to think it would ever have worked in the first place.
After choking back 4 or 5 cigarettes – and some frantic tears and yelps – I decided I had two options:
1. Open the bottle of Maker’s Mark in the liquor cabinet. Get fucked up and not have to deal with this shit right now.
2. Take myself to a room full of old drunks and tell them about my problems.
I had the bottle in hand and I’d peeled the wax cap off. Putting my nose into the neck I breathed the fumes in deeply.
The scent reminded me of my mother’s Chanel No. 5, my childhood dog’s paws, my grandad’s leather boot polish. It was my home. A special comfort made just for me.
Four and a half months was a pretty good first go and to be honest I never expected to get this far in the first place. No one would blame me for relapsing. And more importantly I wouldn’t blame myself.
I had been here before. Many many times. So overcome with feelings of pain and self-hatred that the only release was to drown myself in whatever substance was at hand. Liquor gave me instant gratification and before long I would be crying and laughing and thrashing around. It was a warm embrace that clouded my senses and told me to let it all go. If I didn’t want to feel what I was feeling I’d have to stay drunk. Maybe for a few months. Maybe longer.
When you are drinking with a purpose like that the pain comes in waves, but the antidote is simple: Drink more. I knew I could get to a point where I wouldn’t care about anything anymore and a broken heart would seem petty and small. It was how I’d been dealing with my problems since I was sixteen. But, I’m twenty-six now and where had it ever gotten me?
Somehow, despite myself, I didn’t drink that day. Instead, I put down the bottle and messaged my best friend, Brendan. I told him I needed help. We found the address of an AA meeting that was on that evening, and he agreed to come with me.
The meeting started at 6pm. It was held out the back of a small community centre and as we walked down the driveway towards the white picket gate, I fantasised about running in the opposite direction. One of my favourite bars was nearby. A pint would have really calmed my nerves. Brendan stood between me and the gate.
“Are you sure you still want to do this?”
I was terrified.
Maybe I could just talk to him about everything instead like we used to. Sharing a bottle between us and hugging and crying until we both forgot what it was that had made us so despondent in the first place. That drunken connection was sacred to us. He could see I was visibly shaken. My lips had twitched into a grimace.
Something inside told me I had to press on. If not for myself then for those around me. At some point I had to take responsibility. I felt the weight of his hand on my shoulder. I had to say something now.
“…Well, I’ve tried everything else.”
He opened the gate and I followed him in.
If this column has raised issues for you about your own alcohol consumption and you’d like to talk to someone, you can contact AA General Service Office 24 hours a day on (03) 9529 5948. A family member or a friend may be a great option too. We’re never alone even if we feel like we are.
The worlds better with you in it.
Artist: Sarah McLachlan is a third year Bachelor of Creative Writing student who likes to draw in her spare time. She wishes to combine both her art and writing skills to create a webcomic of her own one day, but she’s also open to illustrating for books and book covers. Sarah is also a major The Legend of Zelda fan and can be found drawing a lot of elves. You can find her at @hideriame02 on Instagram.
Editors: David Farr and Grace Harvey