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The Alternative Club 27!
My name is Jonathan and I’m an alcoholic. God, I’ve said that phrase a fair bit over the last six months - that’s for sure. Which is quite incredible, because for a very long time I just couldn’t say that word. The ‘A’ word. No way. Me an alcoholic? Alcoholics were unkempt, unemployed social pariahs who drank daily. That wasn’t me. I always worked, I took care of myself (or at least I thought I did) and I most certainly didn’t drink every day - though I have to admit it was heading that way towards the end. I just had a wee drink problem - that’s all. But you see, that wee drink problem led me to some really dark places; places that I never, ever expected to find myself in. Eventually that wee drink problem had a real grip on my life and that’s when things had to change.
I’ve heard this shared at countless meetings by many other alcoholics, but I have always felt like a true outsider my entire life. I never fitted in anywhere. I hated everything about myself: the way I looked, the way I spoke. I hated being in photographs, being noticed. I just wanted to blend into the background - to be totally invisible. And, you know, for a long time I was able to do that. However, things all changed when I took my first drink at 15. By God did they change. I remember getting this sudden rush of confidence. I was funny, loud and bold. People noticed me. People remembered me. That’s what alcohol did for me; it allowed me to take on a persona, to become a... to become a clown, in fact. And for the next 12 years that’s just what I was: a clown. But being a clown isn’t so much fun when it leads to trips to A&E, brushes with the law and broken relationships - that I can vouch for.
My drinking really took flight at 18 when I moved away to university. There, out of the sight of my mum and dad I was able to drink with impunity. Also, it’s totally acceptable to drink at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon when you’re a student, right? Well, that’s what I told myself anyway. However, my partying led to two year failures and eventually my withdrawal from university. I returned home incredibly ashamed with my tail firmly between my legs and proceeded to work dead-end jobs and drink myself into absolute oblivion for the next four years. This is also when the solitary, night-time drinking began, but not every day, so I wasn’t an alcoholic, you see? That’s what I continued to tell myself.
Eventually things got so bad, to the point where I was anxious all of the time. I could barely leave my dark room (the shutters were always closed), I didn’t socialise, I couldn’t even get on a bus. That’s when I decided to seek outside help. I visited a counsellor and whilst the work we did was wonderful and really healing I was unable to talk about my drinking, too afraid that she would highlight that I had a problem and that something would have to be done about it. Eventually we agreed that I would face some fears and go abroad. That’s when I headed to Poland - or did a ‘geographical’ as they say in AA.
Poland is where my drinking became really dangerous. Miles away from home and treated like a mini-celebrity (oh gosh the amount of parties I was invited to - the perks of being a foreigner) and got myself into all kinds of risky situations. Eventually, the family that had kindly allowed me to stay with them told me I had to leave their home. Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country alone, homeless and without any true friends. I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. With nowhere to turn I found the address for an English-speaking AA group in Warsaw and from that day forward I haven’t looked back. That was six months ago.
I’ll never forget the warm welcome that I received when I entered my first meeting and the warm welcome which I continue to receive at every subsequent meeting that I’ve ever been to. AA is the only place that I’ve ever felt that I have been totally understood: people had been there, were going through it, were struggling, were succeeding and all the while sharing all this openly and honestly. People from all walks of life too - that was a big revelation for me. At first I must admit everything was rather overwhelming but it was the people and the power in the rooms which kept me coming back. After a month I found a sponsor and embarked on the Programme. Some may say that this is a little fast but I needed to go with it. I needed to learn and grow because my way hadn’t got me very far. I needed to change.
When I arrived at AA six months ago at 27 I truly thought that my life was over. That was it. I’d never laugh again. I’d have to spend the rest of my life watching DVD boxsets. I’d need to take up gardening (although I do quite fancy the idea of a vegetable patch now) or whatever else it is that boring people do. However, my experience has been the polar opposite. I actually don’t know where the hours in the day go. I’m constantly busy with catching up with old and new friends, reaching out to others and trying new activities - it’s just wonderful. Alcohol took almost everything from me but the love and support I’ve found in AA has given me everything back and more and that’s only after six months - how great is that?
I used to wake up every day wishing that I would die. Now I wake up every day wanting to live. I don’t know about you, but I think this kind of Club 27 is a far better alternative.
Glasgow via Warsaw