If these people have been able to stay off drugs and alcohol maybe I could too. I was less keen on staying off drugs, they were not really that big a deal I thought. Uncertain about what would happen, unsure if I could actually do it, my daughter Lisa came in with a coffee and I told her I was going to give it a try. She didn't seem overly delighted or anything. Maybe she doesn't think I can do it. She gave me a book to read, it was the NA Big Book, and I tried reading a few pages but it didn't make sense. She suggested I read some of the personal stories, so I started there.
I felt hope for the first time in a very long time. I really related to one or two of the stories - the ones that mentioned alcohol being their 'drug of choice'. It was a strange way of describing booze, I thought.
I rang home. Playing in the back of my mind was the awful drama that would unfold when I told Ken of my decision. I was dreading it. I knew he would leave me for sure, but if that was what it cost me... I found a scrap of courage and legs like water I blurted out
"I'm stopping drinking".
"Ha ha," sarcastically, "giving up cigarettes too?"
I had met Ken in Sydney maybe a couple of years previously, and although I didn't really want such a violent and insane person in my life I was strangely attracted to him and had allowed him to move in with me. His drinking was a lot worse than mine, I had thought. But where I drank every day, his pattern was to not drink for 3 days and then get blind drunk. I quickly learned that it was not OK for me to drink on his none drinking days - he was a very forceful person with his rages and threats of violence. I adopted his patterns. I became dependent on him, drawn into the vortex of his craziness. It made it easier to not take responsibility for myself, as I divested all accountability to him.
My children were not with me in these years, and it was only coming back to New Zealand that I got my youngest daughter, Cathy, back. She was 14 when I stopped drinking. Even though she had pleaded with me not to get drunk any more, I did not stop for her. I should have, of course. Or stop to set my son, Dylan, an example as he started down his road of drug taking. At that crossroads there was nothing on earth that gave me the impetus I needed to stop. Nothing was important enough to me, nothing meant more to me than getting wasted.
The fear of Ken leaving me could have been reason enough for me to give up giving up before I even started, but something strange had me in it's grip. I thought "If he leaves me so be it," and got ready to fly back to Motueka. "At least Cathy might be happy with my decision," I thought. She wasn't.
I arrived back at Nelson airport to a scary reminder of what my life had become. There were a couple of leather jacketed characters wearing dark wrap around sunglasses. These two sinister gentlemen had knocked on my door just the week before.
"Are you the one they call The Accountant?" they asked. I tried to hide my terror - they were either cops or dangerous criminals. I let them in the house as I wanted to seem normal - but was high as a kite at the time and had no idea how to act. They spun a yarn about starting up a pen factory in Tapawera, it was so obviously a made up story. I was shaking when they eventually left - the stoned paranoia making a sinister situation that much worse. And there they were at Nelson airport when I landed. Nothing ever came of it. A peculiar punctuation mark at the end of one life and the beginning of another.
On the drive home Cathy was sulking and pouting, she had changed her mind about wanted a sober mum, and Ken was nervous and jokey. When I got in I went round the bedroom getting all my dope out of hidey holes, taped up in the wardrobe, behind the head of the bed, etc, and gave it all to Ken. I thought I would have one last smoke. The experience was most unpleasant. My thoughts were full of fear. I could not imagine being able to live a happy life without alcohol. I imagined it grey and boring and stretching out like an endless Sunday afternoon. Not having had a pleasant Sunday afternoon I could only think of dullness and monotony.
I count my first clean and sober day from the next day - 21st April 1989. I called AA and a short chubby old man bustled round almost immediately with booklets and pamphlets. He burbled on about the 12 Steps and demonstrated an amusing point. Opening and shutting my fridge door quickly he sat down and told me all the alcoholic contents of the fridge. He said " Only and alcoholic can do that, it's what we see and all we see."
He cheerfully told me I would never not be an alcoholic and the only cure was total abstinence. After he had gone I lay on the floor in the living room - we had no chairs at this point - and read through the booklet and cried and cried as if I would never stop. "The idea that somehow someday he would control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker." (AA Big Book, p30.) The words cut through all my defenses and I knew I would never be able to drink again. The grief felt inconsolable. Booze had been everything to me. More important than my children, my mother, money or job and certainly myself - who I had lost years ago.
I started the AA meetings straight away and studied the 12 Steps as they were the plank of wood in the roiling ocean that I clung to. There were hardly any people at the meetings and no other women, but I read all I could to try and understand how it worked. Strangely enough as soon as I admitted the truth to myself, that I had a problem with alcohol and I couldn't control it and that I needed help - the craving for drink left me.
I had no idea about withdrawals or just how sick I was. My main worry, once I found AA and the craving was relieved, was that they would kick me out for not being alcoholic enough. Denial ran like a trench through my psyche.
I lay in my bed, waking from a nightmare not knowing whether it was morning afternoon or evening. The sensation of insects crawled over my skin and I was drenched with sweat. There was no point in calling out. Cathy was so angry with me, she would snap at anything I said and Ken was still busy smoking his way through the bonanza I had bestowed upon him.
I thought about the first three Steps - surrendering my life and will to the care of God, as I understood Him. For me, God has always been the creator of Heaven and earth, the Christian Trinity was only vaguely understood, but in any case the God of the Bible was the God of my understanding. So it was to Him that I cried out from my sweat soaked sheets, my skin crawling and bones aching. In total desperation "God, if you are real, if you are there, come into my heart!"
There was an immediate response. So unexpected and powerful, beautiful beyond words. If there had been a visual effect happening it would have been a beam of light coming down from the ceiling, but there were no visuals. It was a beam of pure love pouring into my heart from outside of me. The ecstasy of it was too much for me to bear and I cried out for it to stop. As a person who has sampled a number of drugs, the goal of drug taking being to experience that ecstatic state, I had never had anything that came close to this. All I could think was "Wow!"
I got up and made myself a coffee. Everything had changed. I was filled with peacefulness. The hope I had felt on my first morning returned and the grieving for the loss of my one and only comfort was over.
I wanted to share the amazing experience with the AA people - but they looked at me askance, almost with pity. "It's OK, just don't go overboard with the Christian stuff'" was one members advice.
Then Ken decided he would get sober too, he had finished all my dope.