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A Newcomer's First Take on AA

After a long string of drunken disasters, I finally summoned up the nerve to go to A.A. But staying there was a lot harder.

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The struggle to put the drink down

By Annabelle Kathryn

05/27/11

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“I don’t drink.” It’s a phrase I’ve imagined myself saying for the past two years, especially the morning after a particularly bad night, when I wonder if giving up drinking would ever be something I could actually do. Sometimes, I’d even practice it out loud, trying to get just the right inflection so it conveys just the right combination of aloof nonchalance and hard-earned knowledge. With those few words, I wanted anyone I’d met to know I wasn’t someone who’d never touched alcohol, or had gotten scared straight from just one night spent puking in the communal dorms at college. With that phrase, I wanted people to hear all the inherent subtext: that I wasn’t naïve. I’d had experiences.

But I always just sounded young and dumb, or self-conscious, so I’d shrug and head off to the bar and drink, where I’d usually black out, wonder if I had a problem, practice saying I don’t drink a few times, then start the whole cycle all over again.

It wasn’t until this year that I realized my drinking had moved past “kind of out of control” and towards “seriously fucked up.” I was drinking every night, blacking out at least once a week, and, on a few occasions, sneaking vodka into Sprite at work. And while I tried to justify it by all the mitigating factors that had recently occurred up in my life—in the past six months, I broke up with my boyfriend, had an abortion, sat by my mom’s hospital bed as she died of cancer, and, just two months after that, had to do the same for my grandmother—the fact was, I had a problem.

So I knew that I needed to eventually give up drinking for real, but didn’t feel any impetus from within to stop, which terrified me. If losing my wallet and my shoes and my jewelry and my iPhone all in one night hadn’t stopped me, if spraining my wrist hadn’t stopped me, if having unprotected sex that resulted in an unplanned pregnancy hadn’t stopped me—what would? Every time I’d go out, I’d feel an anticipatory sense of dread. Sometimes I went out almost hoping I’d wake up in a hospital, because then, at least the answer would be obvious.

But I didn’t. And as it was, the night I realized I needed to go to AA was pretty tame. I went to a friend’s house and drank a bottle of wine before meeting a guy who I desperately wanted to be my boyfriend for a third date at a bar.

I concentrated on acting sober. But from tripping on the step into the bar to talking too loudly to drinking two and a half vodka sodas before he even finished his first drink, I knew it wasn’t working. I realized he knew I was hammered, but I thought I had a shot with him, especially when he suggested we leave. I assumed that meant he wanted me to come home with him and when he didn’t, saying he had to get up early the next morning, I started sobbing. I felt rejected, alone. Drunk. I cried my way to the subway, took the wrong train and ended up in Queens instead of Brooklyn, where I lived and finally got home at 4am.

The next morning, I woke up, disappointed and exhausted and embarrassed and just done. It wasn’t the specifics so much as the utter, been there done that blaseness I felt from the core of my being. For the first time, I truly realized that this would keep happening and happening and happening unless I did something.

So I decided to go to a meeting, spending more time figuring out what to wear than I usually do when I’m going on a date. I decided I wanted to look very Mary Louise Parker in Weeds—a tough and sexy woman who always ends up in situations just beyond her control. I wore skinny jeans, an oversized white T-shirt with a nautical-striped scarf. Lots of leather bracelets. Leather jacket. Pink sunglasses. Marc Jacobs bag. Extra-large iced latte as a prop. I knew my posturing was both ridiculous and the only thing that would get me out the door.

I chose one that was far away from my neighborhood, arrived 15 minutes early, and froze at the door. I was terrified. I’ve interviewed A-list celebrities, traveled abroad on my own with just a plane ticket and a backpack, and have shown up on strangers doorsteps to exchange sex for coke, but a meeting in a church basement terrified me.

So I left, frantically searching for another meeting on my iPhone. I found one a few blocks down, and the same thing happened. I just couldn’t make myself go in. Which is why finally, on my third try, I ended up at a lesbian, transgender, and bisexual focus meeting. I’m none of those things, but, frustrated with my fear and the fact I’d wasted almost two hours, I forced myself to walk in and sit the fuck down.

And it was fine. It wasn’t earth shattering and it was mostly like how I’d imagined. Some hand-holding. A lot of gratitude. Coffee. I sat in the back and didn’t speak, but did listen.

And then I went to another meeting, and another. And it’s just the first week, only five meetings in—so I know I don’t know anything yet, not really. But the only thing I know is that I’m going to try to keep going—even if at first it takes a few outfit changes to actually get out the door.

Annabelle Kathryn is the pseudonym for a writer living in New York City.

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