The amber fluid swirled around in the glass as I set it down. What had started out as my friend, then became my enemy was no longer doing anything for me. In the beginning, alcohol had soothed me, elated me, made me talk, loosened my inhibitions; then it agitated me, depressed me, made me morose and silent, and tight as a drum. Seemingly, I could no longer get drunk and obliterate my problems, not that it ever really did that, except for a few hours; then the reasons I drank loomed larger and more insurmountable during my hangovers. However, in continuing to try, I wasn’t sober enough to function.
All these years I had blamed my husband, my job, , my health, my circumstances, my childhood memories as the reason I had to dull the edges, create a buffer between me and the world. Now, look at me, no more excuses, but I was still holding on to my panacea for everything from marital fights to car-pools to sinus headaches to a bad day at the office. Why? Why? I lowered my face, swollen with tears and bloated with alcohol into my hands. “Oh, cut out your melodramatics, there’s nobody here to see you or care!” My own thoughts shocked me into sitting upright, and I realized that it was a side of myself I hadn’t listened to in a long time, the same side of me that I usually tried and was able to block with a few drinks. My mind felt strangely clear and an unusual calm descended over me.
“Let’s look at the facts,” this stranger within me continued. “You used to say you drank because of the kind of job you had…or didn’t have, or you didn’t feel secure. Do you like your job now? Do you make enough money? Do you feel secure? Though heaven knows, someone’s been watching over you; it’s only by accident that you’ve been doing what you’re supposed to do for a change, and even able to hold down a job.”
“Yes, to all of the above,” this meek, humble voice I knew better answered.
“O.K.,” the cold voice continued. “Second point, you used to say that you had to drink because of your husband, that he made you nervous or angry. Now that he’s moved out, what is your excuse?”
“Loneliness?” the meek voice queried.
“Oh, you know deep down that you enjoy the peace and quiet much more than the constant haranguing! And you are also glad that you can drink whenever you want to. All your excuses are out the window, “ louder and sterner (still in my head; oh, great, now I’m having a conversation with myself).
Somehow, I knew though that I couldn’t lie to this ruthless interrogator, who was holding a mirror to my soul. I looked around at my pleasant cozy house, my two children sleeping peacefully in their beds; every reason in the world to enjoy life to the fullest, and I was trying to escape it. What was wrong with me?
The day before had been Mother’s Day and it was a blur. I had no vivid memory of it. This morning when I had tried to brush my daughters’ long tangled dirty hair; I had quailed inside at my failure to mother them the night before. No baths, no hair washing; they, at 7 and 10, had put themselves to bed and I had passed out. Hadn’t even contacted my own mother, or at least I hoped I hadn’t. No Mother’s Day greeting was better than a slurred one. The silence in the house was deafening as I listened to my last question ringing in my head, “What’s wrong with me?”, pleading with myself for honesty for once, no more pretexts, no more self-recriminations without solutions.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out!” my own voice startled me as it shattered the stillness of the room. My hand shaking, I picked up the glass of poison, and knew it no longer had power over me. Walking into the kitchen, I poured the contents into the sink, and down the drain. I turned on the lights; I had been sitting, as usual in the dark. Walking back into the living room, I paused at the oval mirror in the hall to peer at my reflection. Somehow, I knew I had changed in the last few minutes; I looked closely to see if it would show to the outside world. The face of a troubled thirty year old woman gazed back at me, the tracks of my tears still visible on my face. I looked closer into my eyes; surely the fear that had been ever present for years hadn’t already been replaced by a small measure of confidence and determination?
Don’t ask me how I knew, but somehow, I did know, that I would never again have to depend on something synthetic for emotional security. That if I did, I would have to look at the real source of my problem: me. I could no longer blame anyone or anything for my situation. I had to take responsibility for my own actions. No one but me poured the liquid toxin down my throat. No one but me could stop.
Walking to the phone, I picked up the phone book and looked up the number of Alcoholics Anonymous. My hands shaking, I dialed the number. “Hello,” I said, “I wonder if you could help me?”
The strong, soothing, sober voice on the other end, said “What’s the problem?”
“I am”, I responded. “I’m the problem.” It was the First Step.
(Author’s note: As my family knows, after a few “slips” after that night, I have had continous sobriety through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous since July 22, 1973, thirty five years to date. Also, in the program of A.A., anonymnity is stressed; remaining silent at the level of press, radio, and T.V. I decided that it was ok to publish this story here in the event it could be of service to others).