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The Third Time Is the Charm

A young mother hits bottom and finds AA but learns through relapse that she still had to concede powerlessness

"I was driving home drunk and smashed my new car into a light post."

How can I, a tough girl raised on the south side of Chicago, survivor of an active alcoholic upbringing, single mother of two, bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, be powerless? It did not make sense and it kept me out there long after alcohol stopped working and was the cause of two painful relapses after entering Alcoholics Anonymous.

My alcoholism had progressed to the point that at 31 years old, I did not want to live anymore even though I had everything to live for: two beautiful, healthy children, good physical health, plenty of family, I owned my home and had lots of stuff. Growing up poor, I thought money was the answer, but I was absolutely miserable and could not figure it out. I found myself crying out some nights, while completely sober, "What is wrong with me?"

My bottom began with another night of just going out for a "few." Driving home drunk around 4 a.m., I smashed my new car into a light post after exiting an off-ramp from the expressway. By chance I did not hurt anyone or myself, but the car took a beating. I was in a fairly desolate area about three miles from my home. I managed to get my car over to the side of the road after trying to drive it with the front end jacked up like an accordion, and began to walk home. There I was, walking down a dimly-lit road surrounded by forest preserves and thought to myself, "And you are the mother of two kids."

I had had numerous drunken episodes and nightmarish things happen during my 15 years of drinking, particularly the last half, but this time I was given grace. The next morning as my eyes opened, and last night's memories came rushing in, I knew I couldn't live that way anymore and needed to ask for help. This was solidified moments later when I hazily stumbled out of my bedroom, and my 11-year-old daughter looked up at me with her big brown eyes and in all her innocence asked, "Mommy, where's our car?"

I went to my brother, who had already started recovery, and told him I thought I had a drinking problem and would like a list of meetings. He wanted me to go with him, but in my usual fashion I thought I could handle it all by myself. Surprisingly, it didn't take long for me to realize I was getting nowhere that way and I took him up on his offer.

He took me to his meetings and introduced me to some women. Thanks to an awesome home group and sponsor, I started to learn about the disease of alcoholism. I was so fortunate to be around solid AA and strong teachers. I did not know during my drinking career that I was in the grips of a disease that I was powerless over. I could look back and see my drinking was never normal, but that was all I could understand. I also knew that even though I made several promises to myself to stop, I could never stay stopped. I had no idea, in other words, what I was dealing with.

I was taking a lot of actions in the group but I was still picking and choosing what I would and would not do. I know now that I had not completely surrendered. The time came when my disease started talking to me and told me "You weren't that bad, you can handle it now. Things would be different this time. You have learned so much."

I listened to that insane thinking and started to believe that self-knowledge and will power was the key to managing and controlling my drinking. At 11 months sober, I went back out determined to beat this thing. Within 2 months, I was right back were I left off. Doing the things I swore I wouldn't do again even with all my newfound knowledge. I had lost control over my drinking once again and began withdrawing from my family, and driving drunk, and that hole in my soul was back in full force.

I decided that "maybe those AAs were right."

Thank God I had built a support group during the 11 months that I was in AA. I called my friend to complain about my dilemma and she simply told me to meet her at the meeting. It was divine intervention that I said yes as I had no intention of coming back just yet; after all it still wasn't "that bad." Coming back was a bit of a struggle, but after a while, I felt triumphant. "I will never drink again. I get it now," I told friends. "I love AA!"

Turns out your can hit a bottom and then keep on digging. Four months later, I drank again.

I was finally beginning to understand that this disease had me and I was powerless with no defense against it. No matter how strong I was, no matter how much I knew, no matter how much I loved AA, it didn't matter. This time coming back into AA, was extremely difficult. There was no honeymoon and I thought I was losing my mind. Two and a half months into this sobriety, I contemplated killing myself. I started to believe that maybe AA wouldn't work for me. I knew it worked in others because I saw it, but maybe I was one of those people who were "incapable of being honest with themselves."

I felt like I was hanging by a thread through my early sobriety but with the help of my sponsor who kept reminding me to pray and stay in some kind of service, other newcomers and and people sharing at meetings, I kept coming back. Today I believe my entire journey was necessary for me to accept in my heart and soul that I was truly powerless over alcohol. I now have respect for the disease of alcoholism. It beat me up and brought me to my knees. Turns out it is OK to be powerless, because if I don't have the power or the answers then I have to seek out one who does and that one is my god, whom I found in Alcoholics Anonymous. My god almost always uses my fellow "trudgers" in the rooms to pass along the message he wants me to receive.

I have also learned that I am also powerless over people, places and things. I still wander into the god zone from time to time trying to take over. When I do, I become frustrated, emotional, and obsessive. There is still a fighter in me, although she does tire much sooner than before.

I don't know why I was chosen but I show my gratitude by putting my hand out to the suffering alcoholic the best I can. Today, I take care of my family and I am there for them. I continue to go to meetings to hear the message and to remember that alone, I am powerless. I still believe that the insanity of that first drink will return if I'm not giving this gift away and staying plugged into Alcoholics Anonymous and a god of my understanding. My sponsor assures me this is a healthy fear and I agree.

I often say to the newbie, "Watch that First Step, it's a doozy!" Most of the time they look at me like I am off my rocker, but that's OK because I know exactly what it means. Step One is the only step I have to do completely and because of that I have not had to pick up a drink since July 6, 1997.

—Cheryl B., North Riverside, Ill.

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