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Physically Well, Mentally Strong, Spiritually Serene
My name is Ean, I am an alcoholic, and very grateful to know I am one. I have an illness, not a weakness, and thankfully I now know this. Because of this, with the help of AA I have been able to achieve my first year of sobriety at the age of 52 after 37 years of excessive drinking.
I am sitting in a campervan on a short break in the Scottish Highlands overlooking the sea, and the sun has just broken through. At 7.30am I am already showered and the van is clean and tidy. Thanks to AA I am feeling physically well, mentally strong, and spiritually serene. I feel happy, and that’s not an expression I have used for a very long time.
I am honoured and humbled to have been asked to speak, in three days time, at the Aberdeen Convention in front of a room full of people. Probably 200 or more, not the 10 to 15 I have become used to at meetings. I know this because in the last year I have attended a lot of meetings, found a sponsor, became active in a home group, am doing the Steps to the best of my ability, and involve myself in service as much as I can. And I am nervous…very! But I need not be, because I am in the company of people who understand. They have all experienced exactly what I have been through, even if their paths have been different to mine, so I know I need not worry. As my wise and experienced sponsor says “Let God guide your words.” I have learned in AA that listening works, so I will follow his advice.
I reflect, and contrast this with my life only 13 months ago. Ironically also in a caravan, away from home by necessity on what I now understand was a geographical. Through an alcoholic haze, I remember looking in the mirror and not recognising the creature staring back at me, my only thought being the next drink, even though I desperately wanted that feeling to stop. Thirteen months ago I had hit my rock bottom and I genuinely didn’t care if I lived or died.
I started drinking regularly around the age of 15 although I had tippled at alcohol for as long as I can remember, be it the dregs of my father’s beer bottles from the night before, the wine I was allowed at the dinner table from my early teens, or the consequent experimenting with the contents of my parents’ drinks cabinet. It just seemed a natural thing to do. As I sit here now, it is hard to believe that this habit was to continue to dominate my life for the next 37 years.
By the age of 16 I considered myself to be fortunate to look older than I was and be served in pubs or at the very least blend into a group of drinkers, all older than me. Pubs became my focus most nights of the week from even that young age, as well as starting to go to weekend parties, as most normal teenagers also do but without the midweek drinking!
Within just a year evening drinking had already ceased to be sufficient for me, even though I was still at school. Although my teachers said I was a promising student, the advent of my first motorbike gave me the freedom not only to extend my range of parties but to spend most school lunchtimes in nearby pubs, as my new mode of transport had turned these pubs into locals and, quite often, I would not even bother returning to school after a few lunchtime pints. My education was already second. I even proudly encouraged other school kids to do the same, although it’s only now that I realise that the novelty faded quickly for most of them whilst I continued the habit, often alone. The now weekly parties were also becoming binges to blackout rather than social occasions, resulting in waking up the next morning with absolutely no recollection of how I got home, the motorbike somehow outside the front door answering the question. Perhaps the first example of my Higher Power working for me!
Like most alcoholics, I could fill many pages with my consequent drunkalogue as my life, fueled by alcohol, gradually started to embrace cars (even more dangerous), jobs (precarious and short-lived), and relationships (ineffectual or damaging). Suffice it to say that, although I was able to experience certain levels of enjoyment with what I believed to be the benefits that alcohol could bring me, inevitably they were always counterbalanced by the usual mayhem all problem drinkers create.
I was brought up in a musical family and developed a natural talent for music which, for most, would be considered a blessing. On one hand it was because it allowed me to make a living as a musician, having reneged on my studies in order to prioritise alcohol. On the other hand it placed me in an environment where alcohol was universally accepted and often even encouraged. It is one of few jobs where the performing artist is often rewarded in alcohol by the customer. Perfect!
Because of this tolerance, I was able to mix my musical and drinking careers fairly effectively and even built up music businesses, some of which were quite successful. To the outsider I seemed a successful guy who worked hard and played hard. I knew deep inside even then that I had a worsening problem but as all alcoholics know denial is our trump card which I was increasingly forced to play.
By my thirties not a week would go by without at least a couple of days being lost, and by my forties the hangovers and the all-day sickness had largely disappeared, replaced by the constant flow of alcohol that was now keeping me topped up permanently. Whilst I knew this was not good (at one stage my blood pressure was 195/107) I simply could not stop. I would try to delay my first drink as long as possible, even promising myself not to succumb that day, but inevitably I would tell myself I’d just have the one…as we alcoholics are incapable of doing!
It took me until my fifties to hit rock bottom. On one occasion in my mid-forties after a major binge I had been taken to an AA meeting involuntarily, so I technically experienced the Fellowship for the first time, but my self-will was far too rampant to accept I was ‘one of them’. Despite witnessing and acknowledging that everyone seemed friendly, happy, content, humorous and helpful, I walked out of that room determined to prove I was too strong to need to go to meetings like that.
In the end it took me until the age of 52 to reach my all-time low and finally concede that alcohol had me beat. From that moment on, my life began to improve on a daily basis. However, I still had to have that one last defiant stance before I finally bit the bullet!
A month before the most important moment in my life, I voluntarily went to an AA meeting, the seed having been sown by the kind but forceful chap who had bundled me into his car and dragged me to that first meeting. I still see him at meetings today. He didn’t persuade me into the Fellowship that day but, having finally accepted I needed help, AA thankfully was my first port of call - something I remind myself of when I try to help suffering alcoholics who don’t adopt the Programme straight away.
I came out of that meeting having informed the group that whilst I thought they were a lovely bunch of folk, my problem was different to theirs. My solution was going to be restricting myself to 50 units a week, and if that wasn’t already impressive enough for them, I was even going to have two days a week off alcohol altogether! A few weeks later I went back and said “My name’s Ean and I’m an alcoholic”. I still cringe about the previous visit, although my sponsor said “That’s just your ego. Get over it!”
Today my life is much simpler. I have ebbs and flows just like every other human being and I know my life will never be perfect but I’m beginning to realise that it’s not the issues you have in life, it’s how you deal with them. I now have a Higher Power in my life, both spiritually and in the rooms, and crucially I have learned to listen. My life is no longer driven by self-will and I thank God for that in every sense.
I’m happy to listen to everyone nowadays, both in and out of the rooms, but particularly to those who have years of sobriety. Like many other alcoholics, I can suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’ but there is one subject I do NOT analyse and that is AA. It is working for far too many people, including me, to put what I am experiencing today at risk. I tell myself “It’s not religious, it’s not a cult, it doesn’t bleed you dry, so get on with it.”
I realise now that it really is a simple Programme for complicated people and the only payback is to try to carry the message to still-suffering alcoholics. To keep this you need to give it away. Today I understand and try to live by that expression. Not only does this keep our wonderful Fellowship alive and growing but the rewards of seeing someone come into the rooms broken, as I was, and coming back and gradually getting better, brings me more pleasure than any other.
As my sponsor said at the very start “A whole new world will open up in front of you. Just keep taking the medicine”. He’s right and, God willing, it will continue to do so one day at a time.
Rubislaw Tuesday, Aberdeen