“One Step at a Time” is a series of original essays we will be running monthly. We are excited to have writer and mom Patty N. share her fresh perspective as she embarks on the road to sobriety.
by Patty N.
Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That pretty much sums up my relationship with alcohol, especially in the past 5 years. I’d drink moderately, then get drunk, then beat myself up, then quit drinking, then decide I could control it because I’d been able to stop, then start drinking again, then get drunk, then quit, then start all over. It was insane. I was insane.
But there was something about A.A.’s Second Step – the idea that I had to buy into this “Higher Power” thing in order to get sober — that made me a bit uncomfortable. Not because I didn’t believe – I was raised Catholic, I converted to Judaism in 1996, I certainly believe in God. It just sounded a little too much like “Jesus Saves” which totally freaked me out. Because I had been “saved” once before — and it was scary.
When I was 12, my friend Roberta invited me to Wolf Mountain, a weeklong sleep away camp located near the small Northern California town where we lived. She told me it was co-ed so we could meet boys (not like the all-girls Catholic camp from which I had recently returned). She told me it was “Indian Camp” so we would sleep in giant tee-pees. She did not tell me, however (maybe she didn’t know) that the camp was run by fundamentalist Christians. Every night at the campfire, Running Bear or Spotted Wolf (all the staffers had Indian names) would announce the campers who had accepted Jesus Christ as their “personal savior” that day. I had no intention of adding my name to the list. I’d had my First Communion, I went to confession regularly, I was going to be Confirmed in the coming year. I assumed I was on the fast track to Heaven. Then on the last night, all the campers were herded into a barn-like auditorium to watch a film about the Rapture. The film depicted, in terrifying detail, the moment when all of the “true Christians” would be gathered together to meet Christ upon His return, leaving all of us fakers behind to die a lonely, miserable death on Earth. It scared the crap out of me. Afterward, I sprinted back to my tee-pee, dropped to my knees and begged my counselor, Little Duckfeet, to save me, too.
Rationally, I knew that A.A.’s traditions were nothing like Wolf Mountain’s salvation-by-intimidation approach. Still, around my 40th day of sobriety when my sponsor wanted to meet to review the Second Step, visions of Little Duckfeet danced in my head. I told her I needed more time.
That same week, I was invited to an event at the very trendy Standard Hotel in New York City’s Meatpacking district. Some of my former Conde Nast colleagues had rented the terrace overlooking the High Line with panoramic views of downtown Manhattan. As we got off the elevator, a young, good-looking waiter greeted us with a tray full of champagne. I watched enviously as my friends lifted the gold-filled flutes, clinking, toasting, and drinking. Then my insanity came knocking.
I can have one drink.
I have been so good, I deserve it!
How can I not have a glass of champagne?
Everybody else is drinking, why shouldn’t I?
I walked toward the bar.
“Champagne?” the bartender said as he popped the cork on another bottle.
I imagined the bubbles in my mouth, tickling my palate at first and then becoming sweet and smooth as my troubles melted away with each sip. I wanted to say “Yes” so badly, and had I been trying to get sober on my own, I probably would have. But I thought of all those people I had met in my A.A. meetings — unfailingly honest, day after day, sharing their experience, strength and hope with me. They’d given me their phone numbers, invited me for coffee, clapped and cheered when I announced my sober day counts: 12 days…23 days…36 days…41 days. As the waiter filled up the glass, I imagined calling my sponsor to tell her that I’d have to forfeit those hard-earned days of sobriety and start over. I pictured myself telling all those people who had been rooting so hard for me that I “went out” over a glass of champagne. I couldn’t do it.
“Just a Perrier with lime,” I finally said. The waiter handed me the unfamiliar drink and I winced as the bubbles stung the inside of my mouth. It was a lot to swallow – this unsatisfying champagne substitute, this strange state of sobriety, this saying no when I wanted to say yes, this Second Step. But I did it. While physically I was at a glamorous Conde Nast event, mentally I was in a church basement with these strangers I’d come to know, trust and rely on for help. Together, they formed a power that was greater than myself. Together, they helped rescue me from my own insanity.
In the book, Twelve Jewish Steps of Recovery, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky writes, “It doesn’t matter if God has a long white beard, what matters is there’s someone beyond you and beside you. You just have to connect with it.” I realized that day that it’s irrelevant whether I am Catholic or Jewish; Born Again or Atheist. What’s most important is that I’m not alone.
Read Patty’s first post of this series here.