“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.
After years of trying (and failing) to stop drinking on my own, I decided to go to A.A. last November.
I had tried (and failed) to go to A.A. once before: I was 29 and heading up the launch of a weekly magazine, in the process of converting to Judaism, and about to move in with my soon-to-be fiancé. And I was drinking heavily. On the recommendation of my therapist, I agreed to go to an A.A. meeting. But as I walked toward the cluster of people talking and smoking outside that upper west side church door where the meeting was being held, I chickened out. I was too embarrassed to go in, and I convinced myself I could cut back on my own. So I kept walking.
I managed to keep my drinking mostly under control (minus a few crazy nights here and there) for the next fifteen years. But as I got older, I started to feel like I was playing Russian Roulette every time I drank. Sometimes the gun didn’t fire; I could have one or two drinks and be fine. Other times when I pulled the trigger, the gun would explode and I would find myself bingeing, blacking out and then beating myself up for days afterward. After one such explosion – a booze-filled Saturday night last November that left me so hung over I missed my kids’ soccer games on Sunday – I felt I’d hit bottom (again). And on Monday, I bumped into Sam*.
Sam and I worked on the same floor at the Conde Nast Building; I was on staff at a fashion magazine and he was in Office Services. We had formed a casual, water-cooler friendship, and I would often plop down on his welcoming couch when I felt like procrastinating. At one point, he had shared with me that he was a recovering alcoholic.
“How was your weekend?” he asked me on that November morning.
Normally I would have said “fine” even when it hadn’t been. But not that day.
“I drank too much, I don’t remember most of Saturday night, I’m still hung over, I think I have a problem,” I blurted out, all in one breath.
“Okay,” he said calmly. “Let’s go to your office so we can talk.” He then shared with me his story: how he’d worked for a fashion designer, how he was hospitalized for an alcoholic seizure in his 30s and how had been sober for 18 years.
“There’s an A.A. meeting a few blocks away today at 12:30,” he said as he wrote down the address. “You really should go.”
I looked at the Post-It note after he left: St. Mary the Virgin on West 46th Street.
Great, I thought. An A.A. meeting at some church basement in Times Square. This felt way too seedy for me, too Taxi Driver, too Midnight Cowboy. I imagined myself in my skinny jeans, sky-high boots and designer sunglasses, walking into a windowless room full of smelly, unshaven men and strung-out, toothless women drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Or even worse, I imagined seeing someone I knew.
Forget it. I am too busy. I just need to be more disciplined. I don’t need A.A.
And yet, just as I’d surprised myself by opening up to Sam about my drinking problem, I found myself walking up Broadway at 12:15 toward St. Mary’s.
When I arrived at the side entrance to the church, I poked my head in tentatively with my feet still outside the door, ready to bolt.
“Hi. You’re in the right place,” said a nice looking lady with short blonde hair. “It’s so great you’re here.”
She looked normal, I thought, as my 4″ heels click-clacked up the stairs toward the Beginner’s Meeting. I left my sunglasses on and sat down on a seat next to the door–in case I had to make a quick getaway.
But I didn’t leave. I looked around and felt like a jerk for my crazy thoughts about who would be in this room. The crowd looked like a typical cross-section of New Yorkers, an eclectic group you might see on the subway during a morning commute. One by one, they shared their powerful stories. Unguarded and unafraid to be completely honest in that space, they talked about feeling unloved and abandoned by parents who also had problems with alcohol; about their harsh self-judgments and constant self-criticism; about trying to control everything all the time; and about not knowing how to feel or express anger and not knowing how to ask for help.
As the tears rained down beneath my dark glasses, I knew I was in the right place. Their stories were my story, and I did see someone that I knew in that room – I saw myself.
*Sam’s name and work details have been changed to protect his anonymity