Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA
Already in kindergarten I felt different from others. I often felt ashamed and that I couldn’t do things right. I mostly felt disliked throughout school, sometimes because I was the teacher’s pet, sometimes because I would treat other kids badly to compensate for how I felt. I was also a crybaby.
But I was an avid reader, and always did well throughout school.
I went to college for a year, met the man I married at the start of my second year, and we married over Xmas. The idea that I could have sex when I wanted appealed to me greatly. Before meeting my husband I had dated a man who always seemed to know what I was thinking, and I found that scary. My husband, on the other hand didn’t know, and didn’t understand me. I liked that.
I was not the kind of drunk that crossed an invisible line sometime. I was already across it by the time I had my first drink. My family went to dinner to celebrate my 16th birthday, and I have no memory of what I wore, what I ate, who all was there, or what birthday presents I received, but I sure do remember the whiskey sour my Dad let me have. I spent the evening desperately trying to come up with some way to talk him into letting me have another. I drank rarely, but every time I did, I always wanted more.
Early on I was often able to have one and stop, but I always obsessed about wanting more. Every time I could have as much as I wanted, I did, and had frequent blackouts. The first blackout I actually knew I had had was when my husband and I had drinks before dinner, wine with dinner, and drinks after dinner. I knew we were going to make love, when we started drinking. The next thing I knew it was morning, and I couldn’t remember anything beyond the wine at dinner. I never figured out a cool way to ask, “Did we have fun last night?”
Our marriage got rocky after our third child was born. I suffered through a number of suicidal depressions, which, of course, my husband did not understand. I had had depressions since childhood. I was trying to figure out how to kill myself by age nine. I once asked my husband if I could see a psychiatrist, and he said he would rather divorce me and let me figure out how to support the kids and myself. I often thought about killing both the children and myself, but luckily I never tried to do it.
At Christmas time my depressions would be even worse. Every Christmas, I made all sorts of things for everyone in the family, but I always wound up in a deep depression for what I had not completed. I was a “glass-half-empty” sort of person – even for quite some time after sobriety. My Dad always preached that anything worth doing was worth doing perfectly. My motto seemed to be anything worth doing was worth overdoing. The severe depressions continued, getting worse and I used alcohol to treat them.
After I got sober in 1975 I realized at least part of my depression had been related to prescription weight loss medication which contained mood altering chemicals and that got worse once my doctor wouldn’t prescribe any more and I was in withdrawal.
Meanwhile I suspected that my husband was molesting our daughters. Eventually I walked into the kitchen just as he kissed our 18 year old daughter in a definitely erotic manner. I felt unable to do anything about it, but wanting to be there for my daughters kept me from killing myself entirely with alcohol.
A friend from the Unitarian church had called me which had occasioned my latest attempt to not drink. She knew that my middle daughter kept running away from home, and she wanted to suggest that she come to live with her for a while. I was drunk when she pulled up to meet me, and I turned and ran for the house, falling and skinning my knees in the process. She called me a couple of days later to say she did not understand and hadn’t wanted to embarrass me. I was beginning to get honest, and told her I had been drunk.
My husband and I had been seeing a counselor at the Air Base, and a few weeks after this incident, afraid I might not make it through another weekend, I finally admitted to the counselor that I “might” have a problem with alcohol, and he gave me a list of the three available AA meetings in town. I was a few weeks sober by then – one more attempt not to drink. I went to AA the next night and have been sober since then.
After I stopped drinking, my marriage was going downhill rapidly, and my husband was trying to get me to drink again, while I was trying to get him to stop drinking. One night he offered to fix dinner and served a glass of my favorite wine with dinner. I pitched a fit and went to bed without eating.
I was told early on to get women’s phone numbers so I worked up the courage and asked, but all three who were sober had excuses for not giving it to me. Finally I asked one to be my sponsor, and she agreed, and gave me her phone number. This was right before I was going to visit my parents in Oklahoma. I started to work with her after I came back, but I eventually had to let her go because she was coming on to me, but she did give me confidence to make it through the trip.
I went to some really good meetings in Oklahoma. My mother had called me when I was about two months sober and I was not home so I told her I was at a meeting. She asked, “A church meeting?” I said, “No, an AA meeting – I’m an alcoholic”. She got off the phone quickly and called my sister in Chicago to ask what she had done wrong to make me an alcoholic. My sister, whose best friend was alcoholic, had been to open meetings with her and to some Al-Anon meetings, so she told her if she and Dad wanted to know, they should go to Al-Anon and they would tell her, knowing that was the hook that would get her there. So they went.
When I was nine months sober I moved away from my husband, and lived on what I made substitute teaching. By this time, my children were gone from home except my son and he was leaving for college. I had one time affairs with two different AA members, and a longer one with a third. It was glorious for about six weeks, and then I sunk into a really deep depression. One daughter had finished high school and started college, and the other had moved in with a boyfriend.
I found my second sponsor about the time I moved out of my home. She and I were visiting an AA member in the hospital and she asked me if I would like to talk. She asked me if I had a sponsor, and when I said “no” asked me if I wanted her to be my sponsor and in tears I said “yes”. Her next question was whether I was suicidal. More tears and another “yes”.
I had never told anyone about my suicidal thoughts until then. Then I admitted it only because the woman who became my sponsor that day asked me about it.
I had admitted to not believing in any God when I was maybe nine months sober and they all put me down for it. The only reason I didn’t get drunk then was that a man stopped me after the meeting and told me he had just heard a speaker with quite a few years sobriety say he didn’t believe in God. He told me to not listen to the doom sayers.
My sponsor said I needed to go to treatment. She called Livengrin in Pennsylvania and they said it would be about a week’s wait. She asked me if I wanted my mother to come and stay with me until I got in, and then she called her for me. By this time, mother had been in Al-Anon for a year, so she made plane reservations and went to her meeting to ask if it was okay. When they heard I had asked for her, they said, “Go”. I took a 4th and 5th step while in treatment, which was neither searching nor fearless. I did not even admit to the affairs.
I returned home to try to make the marriage work. About eight months later, my husband sued me for divorce. Six months after that the divorce was final. He remarried two months later.
I wanted to leave the area, and my sponsor and the counselor said it was a good idea, so I moved to Des Moines, Iowa. My son was nearby in college. I found work quickly, and kept applying for other jobs also, and ended up becoming an EKG tech.
I stayed with this job for three years, but my boss was a drunk who would sometimes call at night, slurring her words, and give orders contrary to what she had said before she left work. Sometimes, we got in trouble for not doing what she said, and sometimes for doing what she had said. Eventually I had enough and quit.
I had saved up enough money to make it through a counselor training program, so I spent the next year doing that. One of the requirements of entering the training program was to complete the 28 day treatment as a patient, except we went home at night. Among our assignments we had to ask help from three other people who had already been through the program. I was five years sober already, so I figured it didn’t apply to me. They wanted me to ask for help from someone sober only a few weeks? So when I turned in my assignments they failed me and just waited until four days later I figured out I better go ask for help after all. Then I passed. Humility wasn’t my strong suit in those days.
I spent the next 25 years working as a counselor, until I retired. There were several “geographicals” along the way, and a number of depressions, some severe enough to need antidepressants for a time, some suicidal. What kept me from going through with it was the devastation I had felt when a member of our group committed suicide. I could not do that to my group.
My son finished college with a double major in physics and math. My older daughter finished a two year assistant veterinary program and later returned to college and completed a bachelor’s in microbiology. The other daughter completed a GED. I have an excellent relationship with one daughter and my son, while the other daughter struggles with mental illness and addiction. My son is in his own 12 step program, and that makes our conversations easier. AA has taught me that the only way to make amends to my children is to listen respectfully to what they tell me and not argue or offer excuses.
In my 40 years sober, I have had both my parents and a sister eight years younger die. I have had several accidents with broken bones. I was fired from a job as director of a treatment center, and another job as a counselor. In spite of all, I have not tried drinking again. While I know the first sip or two would feel good, I never want to feel again that awful feeling of despair when I could not stop. The long term benefits of sobriety far outweigh any short term feel-good.
I started trying to get an AA meeting for agnostics and atheists started a couple of years ago, but could not find a place to hold it. Finally, in Oct, 2014, there were four of us interested, so we got together, and after a couple of false starts finally have found a nice, stable place to meet. We have had as many as 24 at the meeting, and now another group has formed agnostic group has formed nearby as well. We do not use prayers, but end with the responsibility pledge.
I finally have the support I have always needed.
This is a chapter from the book: Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA.