79 – March 20
“If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.”—Mary Pickford
My name is Chellie C., and I’m an alcoholic. This is my story of what it was like, what happened and what it is like now. For many years, I drowned my problems in alcohol. Drinking was a habit, my coping mechanism of choice, which increased over time until it got out of control. It started with having a glass of wine when I got home from work. Then two. In classic alcoholic denial, I bought bigger glasses so I could still say I only had two glasses of wine.
One day, with my liquor cabinet practically bare, I went to the grocery store to stock up. I went up to the checkout counter with a bottle of cabernet, a bottle of Merlot, some Chardonnay, Chablis, vodka, gin, bourbon, tequila, Marguerita mix, Bloody Mary mix, some assorted liqueurs—altogether I think I had about twelve bottles in my shopping cart—and some chips.
The woman at the checkout stand started ringing up each bottle, smiled and said knowingly, “Having a party?” Not getting it, I said, “No.” I will never forget the look on that woman’s face. I remember with stark clarity the utter humiliation I felt as I realized that if I was buying twelve bottles of booze, I should be having a party!
That night, I had to face the fact that I was incapable of going a single day without drinking. I had a good friend who always went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Wednesday nights. She sounded pretty excited when I called and asked if I could go to the meeting with her. Apparently, she’d been “saving a seat” for me. There I met a wonderful community of people who had faced their demons and were helping others along with themselves to live life clean and sober. I made a commitment to sobriety that night and I threw away every bottle of alcohol in my house.
Old habits die hard, but if you are determined, die they do. In the next months, I had to face every defect of my character and feel all the feelings that I had used alcohol to avoid. Sometimes after meetings, I would go to my car and collapse in sobs over the steering wheel. Kindly souls knocked on the window and asked if I was all right. But breakdowns will lead eventually to breakthrough, if you are committed. As they say in AA, “It works if you work it.” I grew into a new life and a new self. I deepened and matured. New awareness came to consciousness, and a deeper empathy for people. I cleared away the wreckage of the past and built a better life and a bigger bank account at the same time.
Is there a battle you are fighting? You don’t have to fight it alone. Help is available. You just have to reach out and find it.
“I have a wonderful community of friends who help me grow and prosper!”
Ah, I relive that time when I read this page. Here are a few anecdotes about it I couldn’t include because I was limited by the one-page format of the book:
After leaving the grocery store feeling humiliated, I drove home thinking, “I can never shop at that grocery store again.” When I got home, I lined up all the bottles on the kitchen counter and sat and stared at what I knew without doubt was the biggest problem in my life. I couldn’t deny it anymore, and I couldn’t not do something about it either.
That was a Sunday night. On Monday, I resolved to call my friend, Barbara F., who I knew attended an AA meeting on Wednesday nights. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it yet, and watched myself run avoidance techniques all day. Same thing Tuesday. By Wednesday, my tension was high, and I struggled to make the call, finally ringing Barbara at 5:00 pm thinking she was probably gone already.
Nope. She answered the phone on the first ring, and she was delighted to say she’d take me with her to the meeting. We arranged to meet for dinner, and I said, “You sounded pretty excited that I wanted to come to this meeting.”
“Oh, yeah, she replied, “I’ve been saving a seat for you.”
“Really?” I asked. “What tipped you off that I needed help?”
“Remember when we went to that organizational retreat at the health spa?” she said. “You brought a six-pack of wine with you.”
“So?” I didn’t make the connection. “It was a health spa, so I figured they might not have any wine there.”
Barbara nodded. “Chellie, it was in a city. Grocery stores, bars, restaurants, everywhere. Only an alcoholic would be worried you might be without a bottle of wine for a weekend. And you brought six!”
The AA meeting we went to is the Pacific Group, at the University Synagogue on Sunset Boulevard in West Los Angeles. It’s the largest AA meeting in the world and there were some 900 people in attendance. Barbara introduced me to all these lovely people who gave me their phone numbers and permission to call in the middle of the night. I was completely in shock – standing beside myself watching myself go through this.
Barbara introduced me to a woman who would be my sponsor and help me learn the 12 steps of the program. She handed me a little booklet with the locations, dates and times of the 2,000 AA meetings in the LA area. She told me to go to 90 meetings in 90 days.
Well, I wasn’t having any of that. One meeting a week ought to do it, I felt. Didn’t she know who I was? I was the owner of a business management company, a public speaker with popular workshops, and president of the LA Chapter of NAWBO. I was busy 24/7 – I couldn’t possibly go to another meeting every single day. I huffily explained this to her.
She didn’t give a rat’s ass about who I thought I was. I was just another newcomer alcoholic to her. She shook her head and said, “You drank every day, so you need to go to a meeting every day.”
“How do you know?” I grumbled.
“We’re sober, and you’re not. If you want what we have, you have to do what we do. Ninety meetings in ninety days or you’re probably going to die.”
That got my attention. I didn’t like it very much, but I took her damn booklet and went home and plugged in an AA meeting every day for ninety days. Sometimes it was the 7:00 am meeting in Pacific Palisdades, sometimes it was the noon meeting in Brentwood, and sometimes the midnight meeting on Hollywood Boulevard.
I didn’t miss a day, and with God’s help and the members of the AA community, I got sober. And I stayed alive and my life improved. It remains to this day the hardest thing I ever did. Through this experience on a daily basis, I learned the value of commitment, determination, and doing the right thing no matter what. Suit up and show up.
“I don’t have time” doesn’t work on me. We all have the same 24 hours. What’s your number one priority? What do you schedule in first No Matter What? By that commitment, you run your life. For riches or for ruin.
Don’t ever tell me you don’t have time to do whatever it is needs doing. You’re just telling me your priorities.
If you’d like more information, please go to www.aa.org.