I was Born in 1952, Richmond, Va. We lived in an idyllic, middle class, Southern neighborhood, where children played and rode bikes till dark.
I’m sure I was born with a depression anxiety disorder– probably from my father’s side. His mother had committed suicide, and later his father, and still later, he did, too. Beside beating my older brother and sister and Mom, I watched Dad try to kill my mother twice. At age seven, at Richmond’s courthouse, packed full of family and neighbors, I was physically forced to choose between my parents during their divorce proceedings and ensuing custody battle. I choose Mom.... and, to myself, quietly choose to never to make a decision again. In my divided mind, our broken family was my fault, and I cursed God for this trouble.
During Mom’s second disastrous marriage, my eighteen year old sister , in order to escape home, married an older man in his mid twenties who secretly, was a pedophile. No one knew what he did to me at age eleven to sixteen, until I finally told my family at age thirty. Prior to that, I acted out my confusion and pain in textbook style.
After highschool I went to Boston University in 1972, dropped out after two years, became an artist (painter), and house painter who renovated old buildings for a living in downtown Boston. My life and lifestyle there, well, I returned to Richmond in 1979 after an untreated nervous breakdown. I lived with my Mom and her third husband, a medical doctor. Among other things, I told them about being sexually abused. He immediately found a psychiatrist who put me on anti-depressants. I accidently discovered and read AA’s Big Book. I went to meetings, picked up a thirty day chip amongst applause. I felt like I belonged.
As was [strongly] suggested, I got a sponsor and went to meetings 24/7. I didn’t know this sponsor had several suicides around him. He told me that in order to get sober, I had to get off anti-depressants: they were dope. Against my doctor, I tapered off. I wound up psychotic and catatonic in a psych ward where they put me back on meds. When I got out, I went back to meetings and picked up my nine month chip. My stepfather, a good man, tried to tell me AA was not a good place for me. But I believed AA was right and he was wrong.
To make art and continue the kind of work I knew, I moved into a dilapidated building in Richmond’s Fan district. I became a Big Book thumping recovering alcoholic. I sponsored people and repeated the litany. Two years later and sober, the same sponsor approached me again about anti-depressants being dope. He and the like minded agreed I should go to treatment in Hampton, Va to get off of them. I had health insurance and the AA facility was happy to comply– and kept me there an extra month. To this day, my health insurance cost soar because of this tragedy.
Tragic as well because I developed agoraphobia within two years. I was four years sober and, on top of clinical depression, I had anxiety attacks that felt like being plugged into a wall socket. I went to two or three meetings a day to relieve this. Fearing anxiety attacks, I moved from one safe meeting to another in hopes of not having another, but, looking back, all those meetings made if far worse.
There is a story in the Big Book about a man who I’m sure had agoraphobia. To me, it read that his was a symptom of a greater disorder– alcoholism. I thought I was brain damaged and/or spiritually unfit and had to suffer through recovery the same way.
After several years thinking I was recovering from my “alcoholic” years, my AA girlfriend at the time read an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch that described the symptoms of agoraphobia. It also named a local doctor who treated it. She had to drive me to his office because it was over a bridge and way out my safety zone.
As I was terrified of anything non-AA and anti-depressants, the doctor was very patient with me. He prescribed small doses of an anti-depressant capsule that I dissolved in a four ounce medicine bottle filled with grape juice. For several months, I drank one ounce a day, then two, then three, then the whole pill. One morning, I woke up just like he said. It was a miracle and I knew I didn’t have to live that way anymore. I joined his group and re-learned how to drive a car, go to the grocery store and movies, cross bridges, etc. This took a year or two because of the lingering after effects: the fear of fear.
I still believed AA was my life blood. Even so, my AA girlfriend convinced me to see a specialist in incest recovery who used psychodrama or experiential therapy in private sessions and groups. Looking back, this, like agoraphobia treatment, did more for me than anything AA supplied. Still, I could not reject AA dogma.
Two months before I was to pick up my ten year chip, I had two beers one night. It just happened. Ashamed, the Big Book thumping me picked up a white chip and lost all those “sober” years. I kept going to meetings, didn’t drink for over a year, but it dawned on me that AA meetings were depressing me— and had been all along. I’d been absorbing something.... what?.... negative all these years and began to think, I needed recovery from my recovery. I mentioned this to [some] AA friends and therapists, but was told I was wrong to think that way. AA was right and I was wrong. As well, AA was my whole social life.
Thus began many years of going out, picking up white chips and going out again. At night, I drank moderately, sometimes heavily. I believed alcohol had complete control over me. I battled with this crazy-making idea for years until I gave up. I believed I was going to die of alcoholism and that was that. I moved from Richmond and live where I do now, in a backwater on the Northern Neck in Virginia. I decided I would make art, fish, work.... and die of alcoholism. I tried to go back to meetings down here, but it didn’t work anymore. I figured it was me. After all, nobody put a beer in my mouth. It wasn’t that big a problem anyway.
I met a wonderful woman and we are happy, but my belief underneath everything: I will die a miserable alcoholic. I told her this, my history, that I was doomed. For years, she watched me struggle– and questioned AA’s authority to predict the outcome of my life. I was just too brainwashed even after the fact. It wasn’t until recently that I began to think about what she was saying. I went on the internet and searched for “non AA recovery”. I was surprised by the amount of information stating it was a cult and how much damage it had done to others. It dawned on me, after thirty three years, that, and I quote, “AA is insane, not me”.
When I came to AA, I had a broken heart. I was grieving the loss of the first third of my life due to an insane childhood, clinical depression, sexual abuse, trauma and long term self medication. I needed help, not a cult. Alcohol abuse was a symptom and not the whole problem. I feel betrayed and have lost many years living something I over learned and couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of. Now I think AA broke my mind, spirit and my heart.
I have been drinking five to eight beers a night for years now. Even though I quit smoking cigarettes for fifteen years, I started back ten years ago. The load of chronic cult information in my head caused a “what the hell.... you’re dying, so find what peace you can while you can.” Perhaps that’s just an excuse, but that’s how I thought– and still do.
Now, as I read non-AA recovery stories and those who were damaged by it, I am considering that I mite be able to make better decisions than what I have been. Sometimes I wonder.... because I believe in a Loving God.... that status quo mankind is just one big cult bent on controlling others by doing the near opposite of Love. That opposite is fear or fear based. I find that very daunting at this point.