It’s my third AA birthday today so I feel it is my duty to share with you a picture of Johnny Cash, sitting in a bush eating cake. You are most welcome.
Uncredited – circa 1971
FYI – an AA birthday is the number of years you have of continuous sobriety from grog, as distinct from your belly button birthday. Also, I’ve heard bearded, heavily tattood 150kg leather-clad bikers refer to their ‘belly button birthday’, which is rather hilarious until you point it out to them. Also, it’s a good thing said bikers have a cumilative age of 55 years of sobriety up, and a saintly degree of patience with newly sober smart asses (I know this to be true after going to a punk gig with them last year. Their patience in the mosh pit – with beer soaked shoes being pushed into their faces by crowd surfers – was a thing of beauty.)
On my AA birthday, I just want to reflect on how far I’ve come in three years. For starters, remember how I said I wanted to punch a sanctimonius catholic? Well, he’s my sponsor. We drink coffee once a week at Maccas and he gives me good advice on home repairs.
Also, I don’t recoil when I see the word GOD on the AA banners or in the big book any more. I realised that I have a niggling resentment against organised religion, although despite some work on my part it still persists.
You’re such an inspiration for the ways
That I’ll never ever choose to be
Oh so many ways for me to show you
How the savior has abandoned you
Fuck your God
Your Lord and your Christ
He did this
Took all you had and
Left you this way
Still you pray, you never stray
Never taste of the fruit
You never thought to question why
A Perfect Circle, ‘Judith’, Mer De Noms, 2000.
AA only says that you need a higher power. It doesn’t specify what that has to be, excepting yourself. I suspect this is why AA also believes an alcoholic’s ego is all powerful when they drink. As soon as I have a drink, the only thing that matters is my own selfish needs and wants.
So, if we have to be able to hand our power (or personal agency) over to something of a higher order, it just has to be something external. It could be your dog, for example (god spelled backwards – see what I did there!), The Force, or Odin the Norse god.* You can break up G.O.D. into an acronym if you’re feeling particularly clever and wordsmithy. I quite like Group of Drunks. I don’t particularly like Good Orderly Direction, but that might have something to do with my problem with authority.
For a while I was just happy to let the fellowship of AA be my higher power, and my trust in my fellow human beings was well placed. These days it’s more of a holistic, literal not-me, best accessed by being in nature or with other people.
The AA third step dawned on me one day when I was surfing, scratching around on a freshly-minted Firewire frantically like a chicken chasing worms after rain.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The surf was excellent, but entirely random and shifty. I was getting frustrated because everywhere I looked there were gold nuggets, except for where I was sitting at the time. But what if I just sat there and let the opportunities present themselves, rather than attempting to control an uncontrollable situation?
I’m not sure if Huey acknowledged my newfound hippy spiritualism, but he sent the wave of the day.
I mentioned previously that my epistemological change (change in perspective) has been more of a slow burn than the thunderbolts and lightning of a profound spiritual experience. A good example of this is found in my notes following my first ever AoD consultation – the one where they ask you a series of questions to figure out how sick you are.
For context: I was trying to obtain a doctor’s letter to cover my ass with work. I was not trying to give up alcohol – just hoping to:
a. ameliorate my immediate problems of unexplained absences and pesky bosses
b. give my partner some confidence I was actively doing something about my problem drinking, and
c. find a magic pill to let me drink like normal people.
I was ushered into a consultation room with an exhausted-looking but very kind, patient and capable AoD specialist.
These days, to be diagnosed with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), we need to meet criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version 5 (2013). Under DSM–5, anyone who scores two or better out of the following 11 criteria during the same year receives an elephant stamp and a pat on the head (just kidding, a diagnosis of AUD.)
The severity of your AUD—mild, moderate, or severe—is based on the number of criteria met. I like to imagine I walked into my local AoD in 2013 and walked out with POOR IMPULSE CONTROL freshly branded and steaming across my forehead. Alas, it was not meant to be.
AoD workers will ask something like …’in the last 12 months, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended? Yep
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t? Aha, every day.
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects? Errryday.
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink? Your head turned into a beer ten minutes ago.
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems? *tears*
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends? Even the dog avoids me like the plague when I’m drunk.
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink? I’ve forgotten what interests me and gives me pleasure, apart from alcohol. Everything else can get fucked.
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)? All of the above.
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout? I can’t remember a thing after I have my first beer.
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before? I used to drink other people under the table. Now my only drinking buddy is the table.
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there? I give up.
The funny thing is, after mentally checking off each of the DSM-5 criteria, I answered ‘nope’ to all bar the first two. I also wrote that the ‘guy had no idea’. I was chatting to my friendly AoD specialist after I had a year’s sobriety up. He laughed and said ‘of course I knew you were bullshitting’!
I mentioned previously that this is an AA related blog with an athiest/humanist bent and a bit of a punk attitude. I will be sharing some resources I find helpful on here soon: including a selection of AA related literature and other online content that is written and created by, and for, we heathens. In addition, there are a range of athiest, agnostic, humanist and/or freethinker meetings in Australia, and internationally, as well as online support groups.
An example of this genre of writing is ‘Get Up’ (2008) by US spoken word artist, author and recovering alcoholic Bucky Sinister. Sinister draws on his time spent drinking and later recovering within the US West Coast punk scene. This book opened a crack in my mind that let recovery in. It is a brilliant book, at turns funny, thought provoking and genuinely inspirational.
I’m going to celebrate three years by throwing a 10kg ball up a wall a bunch of times listening to Puya – a Puerto Rican progressive metal band a dear friend got me hooked on. Good times!
* Bucky Sinister, Get Up: A 12-step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos, Conari Press, San Francisco, 2008, p. 57.