Many of us who have embarked on a 12-step program of recovery are quite familiar with Bill’s Story, which Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson wrote.
When I first read his story, my first thought was, how could I relate to a man who got sober in the 1930s? Who was this Bill Wilson?
After being at several Big Book studies, the power of Wilson’s words came to life after participants at the AA meeting, and I took turns reading the chapter out loud and then discussing what we had read.
Sometimes words are so powerful when they are expressed aloud.
Yes, Bill Wilson lived in a different time, but I came to understand how much his personal struggle with alcoholism reflected my own battle and that of other addicts.
Bill’s Story reflects the progression of alcoholism, as well as the evolution of drug addiction.
His story is timeless.
One line that I highlighted in my Big Book was from the first chapter when Bill says, “I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol.” I also used alcohol to combat loneliness, as well as other feelings like depression and anxiety.
Alcohol numbed my feelings, but the next day I felt worse and even more alone. After some time, I became addicted to alcohol. As Bill said, “Liquor ceased to be a luxury. It turned into a necessity.”
Why does alcohol become a necessity to an alcoholic, even when it stops working?
Well, alcoholics develop a tolerance to booze, and over time, need more alcohol to create the same effect that they once had gotten with just a smaller quantity.
In my case, I started with a glass of wine, followed by two. I was very paranoid about gaining weight, so that was why I stuck to one or two glasses of wine. I had this crazy idea that white wine had fewer calories than red wine.
Later on, in the throes of alcoholism, I realized that I was actually losing weight. Plus, I was smoking like a fiend. So what did I do?
I drank a bottle or two of wine. At the end of my drinking, I was guzzling about a gallon of very cheap Chablis daily.
Chapter 3 of the Big Book, More About Alcoholism, discusses how alcoholics try to take matters into their own hands. One time, I tried changing the type of alcohol I drank. I switched from wine to tequila, then to brandy mixed with diet coke inside one of those diet coke bottles. I will never forget when I was drinking that awful brew, as I was driving on a long and curvy road somewhere in the Los Angeles Forest.
I almost drove off the road.
So after that experience, I tried red wine, figuring that if a glass of wine was good for my heart, why not a whole bottle?
That didn’t last long.
I went back to white wine, and sometimes I would smoke pot, which wasn’t really pot; it was hashish, but I had gotten it from a very shady acquaintance, so I didn’t know that.
And I began to hallucinate and blackout.
I developed the shakes, and I was so hungover when I got up the next day, which usually was around 3 pm because by then, I had lost my job as a writer at a local newspaper.
I drank for over a decade.
During that time, my dogs and I have moved from Los Angeles to Burbank to Tujunga to Lake Los Angeles and Palmdale.
I felt like a traveling circus, especially when I had my horses and a goat.
One day, I ended up at the 99 cents store on Palmdale Boulevard. I left the windows rolled up inside my cheap Ford T-bird, which incidentally did not have air conditioning. It was August 15, 2011. And I began to cry because I could not move. I was shaking so horribly, even though it was about 100 degrees.
I knew that the Palmdale AA fellowship was about a block or two away in the back of my mind.
I had gone to one meeting several years back, in the dead of winter, dressed in crazy legwarmers, shorts, cowboy boots, and a t-shirt, and walked out.
I had such an attitude!
After I left the meeting, I went to the store and bought wine.
But this time, I told myself, it was different.
I went to the Palmdale group and walked into the middle of a meeting.
Then about a day or so later, I went into withdrawals.
I suffered from delirium tremens.
If I could do it all over again, I would not have put myself through that hell.
I would have gone to a drug rehab that offered clinical, evidence-based therapy.
Cycles of Change would have been a godsend for me.
Not only did I need to get sober, but also I had to address my depression. At that time, I was so naïve I did not realize that there were drug rehabs that also had therapy designed to treat co-occurring disorders. And honestly, I had a hard time understanding AA and the steps. I really needed the help of experts because I was very suspicious of the people at the meeting.
That’s just how I was.
After two months, I relapsed.
Relapse is dangerous. After being sober for some time and then going back to alcohol, the body freaks out. That’s when people die from alcohol poisoning.
Well, when I relapsed, wine began to taste horrible. I felt that with every sip, I was poisoning myself.
But I kept at it because I hated myself for relapsing, for my horrible life, you name it, I was my worst enemy.
After Bill Wilson’s friend, Ebby, a recovering alcoholic, visited Bill while drinking in his house, Bill began to experience the stirrings of an awakening. He saw that Ebby “was on a different footing. His roots grasped a new soil.”
Towards the end of my drinking, I felt that I was standing in a deserted field and that there were weeds wrapped around my body, using me as a trellis, as if I was a scarecrow.
As many of us know, Bill finally had a spiritual awakening when he went for treatment at Town’s Hospital. He saw a flash of white light and felt a feeling of peace and joy within his soul.
On November 27, 2011, I was so intoxicated that I fell on my knees and yelled at God. At that point, my dogs and I lived alone inside a foreclosed house that did not even belong to me. Suddenly, I saw a statue of Buddha on my desk that the homeowner had left behind after he moved out.
So I asked Buddha for help.
Then, I felt a sense of euphoria.
And just then, I saw my cell phone flashing. While Bill W. experienced a white light, I heard an odd ringtone, which I had recorded one day, courtesy of my pooches.
My ringtone barked.
It was a sober member from the Palmdale group, a woman who called me every day, even though I was drunk.
(And sometimes, when she called me, I drank on purpose while I was on the phone with her. One time I made sure that she heard the cork from the wine bottle pop off.)
I told her over and over,
“I am done. I am done.”
“I will be at the 8 pm meeting at the Palmdale Group. Why don’t we meet there?”
“I am ashamed. I have to identify as a newcomer, all over again. Maybe I don’t belong there!” I said.
“I think you’ve earned your seat at the Palmdale group.”
Bill’s Story is my story.
And I believe it is the story of every alcoholic and addict who realizes that they can’t need help.
I was not afraid of death.
But I was terrified of life.
And whatever happened to the Buddha?
Well, every time I move (yeah, that still happens), I make sure that he is packed carefully. At one point, I wondered if the original owner had purchased the Buddha from a Zen monastery.
I honestly thought the statue was holy!
One day, this past winter, I was inside Wal-Mart and happened to walk down the clearance aisle.
There were garden accessories for sale.
And suddenly, behind a bird feeder, I saw the Buddha.
It was the same Buddha that I had!
He was marked down to $15.00.
I couldn’t stop laughing.
God has a sense of humor.