My AA Story
By Alex M.
Growing up as an only child in an alcoholic family was the perfect incubator for an isolated, selfish, self-centered life. My father shared his alcoholism with his mother, and with many family members before her. He was a callous, abusive drunk, whom I rarely saw sober. I was grateful he ignored me, since I was terrified of his rages and unpredictable behavior.
My mother was a narcissistic, aggressive, controlling woman, the daughter of a nomadic World War I veteran. Her love was conditional on how I behaved rather than who I was, and was withdrawn if I failed to measure up to her standards. She had a mean streak, with a hand so fast that she could slap you before you knew it was coming. You did what you were told, kept quiet and never argued. A secluded silence was the safest defense.
One of my earliest childhood memories was sitting at the top of the stairs in my house, watching my enraged mother chase my drunk father round and round the first floor. Both would whiz by the bottom staircase, picking up speed, dishes and pans flying, and I always wondered if they would ever run so fast they would just melt away and disappear.
The rest of my family was secretive, insular and somber. None were genuinely affectionate. We were a family bound by blood but not by love: no touching, no emotion, no tears. I quickly learned to “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel” at an early age. We rarely visited each other, although we would occasionally attend church together during the Christmas and Easter holidays. No matter how often I sat in those cold pews, I never came to believe in the enigmatic, ethereal God those people worshipped. I was an atheist before I knew what the word meant.
Unable to fit in with my family, much less my peers, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be a part of rather than apart from. I felt unappreciated and unloved, and concluded there must be something wrong with me. I knew if I could figure out what that was, I’d be accepted and able to prove to the world I was important, just like Bill W. had wanted to do.
So I began to behave in ways I thought others wanted me to behave. I’d put on the pretend mask and become whatever you wanted me to be. Many times it worked, and I would feel your love and approval. When it didn’t work, I became agitated and angry, seeking escape into the fantasy world of my books and developing imagination.
To my great relief, my parents divorced when I was eleven, and I said goodbye to a menacing alcoholic father I never wanted to see again, and hello to a single mom constantly stressed trying to make ends meet with a low wage job and no child support.
Entering my teens I mercifully discovered alcohol. What a magical elixir! My anxiety, anger and fear melted away. I was on top of the world, riding that magic carpet of peace and contentment. Everyone loved me, and I was finally accepted into the herd. I didn’t have to hide my daily drinking, only the amount I drank. No one cared in those days.
Despite my relief from drinking, over time I began to feel more detached and alone than ever, so I just drank more to forget my woes. My only pleasure was school. I loved learning things, and wanted to be a physician when I grew up. I studied hard, was somehow able to balance my drinking with my lessons, finished college and graduated from my hometown medical school.
After moving to the Boston area, I acquired my first wife and additional medical training. My hard drinking had not progressed, and I set up shop to treat and heal the citizens of my local community. Like Dr. Bob, I never drank on the job, but I drank a lot off the job. So much, in fact, that after ten years my wife filed for divorce saying “You’re never here for me. All you do is work and drink and I’m sick of it,” as she walked out the door.
I assumed she didn’t understand the real me, so I made a geographical move back home. It was there that I discovered the finest woman I had ever met, and we quickly fell in love. At that point I decided to overhaul my life by getting honest, accepting that I was becoming more and more dependent upon alcohol, and that I had to stop drinking “so much.” And I did. I stopped getting drunk, but I wasn’t sober.
Seven months after we married my soul mate died of a cancer we discovered the week after our honeymoon. We were both 43 years old at the time, and my world collapsed. I no longer cared about anyone or anything. I hated every living being and had a rage I never knew possible. My wife was taken from me just as I was starting to get my life back in order, and someone had to pay.
I sought revenge by committing to drink as much as I wanted, and do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Besides, maybe more alcohol would heal my broken heart.
Somehow I remained employed as my drinking escalated, and after a few more years I found a new drinking buddy that became wife number three. Even though we were both hard drinkers, my illness progressed and hers did not. The committee in my head began meeting constantly, reminding me of yesterday’s misdeeds and fueling tomorrow’s fears. Alcohol drowned out that guilt and shame, but not for long.
One day, out of the blue, I heard that fateful snap. I woke up from another blackout and realized I had been unconscious for the past three days while I had out of town guests staying with me. I remembered nothing. I knew then that I had reached that jumping off place of deep loneliness and despair. Hopeless and helpless, life was not worth living. With no way out, I was doomed. I was an alcoholic.
So I stopped working, hoping my savings would last until I died of drink. I rarely left the house except to buy booze. I divorced my wife, cut off my family and friends, never answered the phone, and kept the TV on round the clock to keep me distracted whenever I was able to open my eyes.
For days on end I repeatedly stuck a shotgun in my mouth, pleading with myself to pull the trigger. When that didn’t work, I gave up and resigned myself to living life as a hopeless, useless drunk. Somehow I’d figure out how to manage each day, and who knows, maybe tomorrow would be different.
After a few more months of self-destruction, I was totally worn out. I couldn’t stop drinking and I couldn’t kill myself, so what options were left? I knew about Alcoholics Anonymous, and heard rumors some folks who went in there were spit out sober. Why not give it a try, I thought? I could go for a few weeks, and if it didn’t work, I could always return to drinking and embrace the shotgun. My problem was, I truly didn’t know how to stop drinking. Maybe those folks could tell me.
I slid into my first AA meeting drunk, but remembered to ask them how to stop drinking. They explained the one minute at a time, one day at a time approach that had worked for them, so I tried it. I stayed home alone for a week, not drinking, fearing I’d have a detoxification seizure, wondering why I couldn’t think straight.
After that first week I started going to as many AA meetings as I could each day, and listened to people tell me how much better their life was sober. When I was introduced to the 12 Steps and Big Book, I noticed both overflowed with God. All the AA members told me God got them sober, and would get me sober too, if I would let Him. When I said I don’t believe in God, they said “You will.” I wondered “How can I force myself to believe in something that doesn’t exist, and why should I have to anyway?”
My astute sponsor was very supportive when I told him I had no god, but I knew I could aspire to be a better person through practicing the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps. So I decided to call my higher power in AA the principles of the steps, and found I could easily use them to motivate and guide me through life. In my mind it all boiled down to the Golden Rule anyway, so it couldn’t be that hard, even for an atheist that never needed God.
After making my amends in Step Nine, my obsession to drink vanished as a result of doing the step work. After completing all twelve steps, my spiritual awakening consisted of a permanent change in my attitudes and actions. No longer bound by guilt and shame over the past, I was mindful of living in just this day, trying to do the next right thing right using the principles of the 12 Steps, and no longer fearing what tomorrow might bring. Self-esteem returned. I was much less selfish and self-centered. I felt like a human being. I fit in with my new herd, called humanity. Free at last.
Today I have the privilege of being able to spend part of each day touching another alcoholic in some way. By doing so, I try to help someone stay sober and stay sober myself. It’s a simple recipe for a simple life, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m comfortable in my own skin, have no resentments and few fears, and my relationships with my family and fellows, though bumpy at times, are founded on the love and tolerance Bill W. spoke of in the Big Book. What more could anyone ask for?
Web Links – Books and Articles by Alex
AA Books (Amazon for softcover & Kindle. BookBaby BookShop for ePub)
- Daily Reprieve – AA for Atheists & Agnostics (October 2017). Amazon and/or BookBaby.
- Design For Living – Daily Meditations on the 12 Steps of AA for Atheists & Agnostics (March 2018). Amazon and/or BookBaby.
- Gods of Our Misunderstanding in AA – Not just for Atheists & Agnostics (October 2018). Amazon and/or BookBaby.
AA Grapevine Articles (As of Oct, 2018)
- Have Kit Will Travel (June 2018)
- You’re Under Arrest (April 2018)
- Step Twelve (March 2018)
- Lunch and Service (August 2017)
- Yesterday’s Mistakes (April 2017)
- God On Every Page (October 2016)
- Replay Resentment (February 2016)
- Home But Not Alone (December 2015)
- 24-Hour Delivery (February 2014)
- Cruising For A Boozing (October 2013)
- Daily Reprieve
- Design For Living
- God On Every Page
- Friend of Jim B. (Published in Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA.)
Alex M. is a retired physician and life-long atheist living in the Bible Belt where he got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous in 2006. Since so many newcomers flee AA because of its God-centric focus, Alex believes his responsibility is to share his experience on how recovery can be attained through the AA Fellowship, its 12 Step program and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous when one does not believe in God.
He has published three books: Gods of Our Misunderstanding In AA – Not just for Atheists & Agnostics, complements his previous two books, Daily Reprieve – AA for Atheists & Agnostics, which is a daily meditation book on the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Design For Living – Daily Meditations on the 12 Steps of AA for Atheists & Agnostics, which is on AA’s 12 Steps.
The international AA Grapevine magazine has published ten of Alex’s articles, including “God on Every Page” in the October 2016 special edition AA Grapevine for Atheist & Agnostic Members, and that article is also included in the 2018 Grapevine book One Big Tent.
He has also published in his AA Area Newsletter and wrote an article called “A Friend of Jim B.” for the book Do Tell! Stories by Atheists & Agnostics in AA by Roger C.
In 2010 he started a program which takes AA meetings to alcoholics in his community who are unable to attend their regular meetings due to medical conditions or legal restrictions. An article on this outreach service called “24 Hour Delivery” was published in the AA Grapevine in February, 2014.
His home group was the first atheist-agnostic AA group in his region. Service work remains the foundation of his recovery. He is active in AA sponsorship and volunteers for various service committees in his local Intergroup.
Alex is also an Ivy League college English Major and avid reader, loves Pre-Code Hollywood films, relaxes by gardening and woodturning, and lives with two headstrong rescue cats in a farmhouse built in 1842.