This is part of an ongoing series explaining how I did the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This will anger some people in recovery, as it requires me to break my anonymity. Click here to read why I am doing this. 

Step 1

Admitted we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
When I finally got to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous 18 years ago, I knew I was powerless over alcohol. I had tried everything to control my drinking:

No drinking on school nights. (But seriously, who didn’t learn in college that the weekend begins on Thursday and ends Monday morning? Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are school nights. Everything else is the weekend.)

  • Taking aspirin before going out drinking. Didn’t work.
  • Drink at least a half-gallon of water before you start drinking. Didn’t work.
  • Drink as much orange juice as you can the morning after. Don’t try this at home.
  • Drink one drink, then a glass of water, then another drink, then another glass of water and on and on. Didn’t work. Just made me go to the bathroom a lot.
  • Don’t drink hard liquor. Didn’t work.
  • Just drink beer. Didn’t work.
  • Just drink wine. Didn’t work.
  • Just drink white wine. Didn’t work.
  • Just stop drinking! Didn’t work.

After years of this, I knew my drinking was out of control. It was the “unmanageable” part of Step 1 that I could not accept.

I still had my job and was damn good at it. I paid my bills on time. I didn’t have a DUI. I still had my house, car, child, 401k and dog. How could my life possibly be unmanageable?

Deep down, I knew I was totally out of control. But in order to convince myself that my drinking was not out of control, I over-compensated and controlled everything and everyone around me. I cleaned. I cut the grass. I planted flowers. I cleaned the pool. I made sit-down dinners for my daughter every night. I exercised…a lot. I knew exactly what YOU needed to do and I was not afraid to tell you. Everyone was entitled to my opinion.

I had always been a runner but to prove my life was not unmanageable, I ran like Forrest Gump. Tuesday mornings at 6 am I drove to steep, a 1/2-mile long bridge and ran back and forth across it 8 times. I ran three marathons. Then I took up triathlon. I left the house at 5:30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so I could swim a couple miles before going to work. I did a half-ironman.

I was a blackout drinker. I couldn’t remember hours of phone calls, concerts and television shows. One night I blacked out while giving my baby girl a bath after I polished off a bottle of wine. Her father worked nights, so we were home alone. I got up the next morning, foggy until I realized that I could not remember taking her out of the bathtub. 

I ran to her room, panicked She was sound asleep. But she could have drown in the tub. You would think that would have been enough to make me quit.

Nope. It took a few more years.

When your kids are little, you figure they won’t remember the stupid stuff you do. Then, they hit an age where they start remembering things you did when you were drunk. They look at you funny. You realize that your drinking is no longer YOUR drinking. Your hangovers are not just YOUR hangovers. 

Your drinking is effecting everyone who crosses your path. I hated myself. I was morally and spiritually bankrupt. I desperately wanted to quit drinking. I just wanted to be a good mom. I didn’t want my daughter to have memories of me drunk – like the memories I have of my father drunk.

But I could not stop. I went out on one last bender. I was so ashamed when it was over. I had seen Alcoholics Anonymous on the inside cover of the phone book along with other emergency numbers. I dragged my pathetic, hungover butt to a meeting.

I sat in the back. Said nothing. My life had become unmanageable. I surrendered. 

To make sure I would never forget, my sponsor told me to make a list of my ten worst binges and the consequences. Now, for a blackout drinker this isn’t easy. I am sure there are a lot of really bad binges that  I just don’t remember. But the ones I could remember were bad enough. 

She made me read each one aloud and then go over, in detail, what happened.  When we were done she told me to envision ten little boxes. She told me to put each one in its own box, tie it up with a bow and put them high on a shelf in the back of my mind. Don’t dwell on them because all that shame, guilt and embarrassment could make me pick up a drink.

She told me that when I wanted to drink, I should go to that shelf, pull down one of those boxes, untie the ribbon, look inside and touch, hear, smell and see that event again. Let all of that nastiness wash over you. Then wrap it back up and put it back on this shelf. 

This exercise has worked for 18 years. There is one particularly bad binge that never fails to stop me in my tracks. I haven’t wanted to drink in many years but this disease can strike without warning.  

So, I keep those boxes on the shelf. Always will.