My Authentic Self – Grapevine Article February 2020 by K.J.

Filled with rage and punk rock, her teen years were rough. But since coming to AA, she has reinvented her life

I always wanted to be seen as an adult. I had a half-brother who was 14 years older than me. We lived right outside New York City, in an upper middle-class town with my mom and an alcoholic aunt. My mom let me raise myself, in part because she had to work two jobs to support everybody.

I fell in love with punk rock at age 12. I would take the bus alone into New York City to hang out on the Lower East Side with all the other punks. A group of older girls took me under their wing, which is a nice way of saying they showed me how to flirt with boys and drink like a real no-nonsense broad. I had arrived, as the Big Book says, and was off to the races.

The quick version of my story is that the whole punk rock thing was a blessing because it left me with cool pictures from my teen years and no misconceptions about my alcoholism by the time I entered my 20s.

The longer version is a little  different. I was drunk and sleeping on the subway or sometimes in the park. I stabbed a few guys, and got arrested for DUI while attempting to run my then-boyfriend over with a car. I had a case of scabies and made a few trips to the psych ward before I eventually dropped out of high school to sell drugs.

A few months into my 18th year, I moved to Ireland. I had convinced myself that New York City was my problem and there was nothing to do there but get in trouble. 

I chose a country where the drinking age was 18. Once I was there, I quickly got a boyfriend who doubled as a drinking buddy and sparring partner. OK, he was more of a punching bag. It didn’t last long, and by the time I was 20, I had an expired visa, an uninspired design portfolio and a weight problem.

I returned to the U.S. and moved back in with my mom. That was awful. My mom is great and we had a good relationship even then, but I felt like such a loser. I learned that all my former cool friends were off at college or had cool jobs with loads of potential. 

I found myself looking around at the people my age who were still there and thought, Nobody good is here. My spiritual awakening really started at that point. I had this realization: If nobody good is here, and I’m here… I just wanted to die. I remember sobbing uncontrollably.

I truly believed I had ruined my life. But this was the first time that I ever really cared about my life. The punk rock ethos of “live fast and die young” was all well and good when I was a minor. I felt like I had lived a million lives. And age 20 is certainly still young—but I was tired. And my lifelong dream of being a grown-up was still strong.

I knew my drinking and drug use was a problem, so I decided to quit cold-turkey. To keep myself busy and out of trouble, I got a second job. I was working seven days a week, but I still had this restless mind. 

Around that time, I subscribed to a popular business periodical, for reasons I still don’t understand. I found that I could actually read and retain information for the first time since middle school. I could read an article and then go to my mom and tell her about it. Or I could make small talk with coworkers in the break room about what seemed to be the start of the housing-market collapse back in 2007.

All that intellectual excitement led me to the library, where I blew through books for the next two weeks. Three weeks into my abstinence from alcohol, I was starting to get a little wacky. The only people I interacted with were coworkers, my family members, that boyfriend I had overseas and two women who worked at the library.

At this point, I should mention that everyone in my family is an alcoholic, with the exception of my grandparents. Every person is either actively drinking or doing drugs, in jail, dead from this disease or in AA.

When I had around three weeks without a drink, I attended a relative’s 30-year AA anniversary. Another relative had flown in to speak. One woman at the celebration said she had gotten sober when she was 18 and that she was now getting her master’s degree. Another person mentioned being sober a couple years and getting ready to buy a house. 

I couldn’t believe these people! I couldn’t find happiness anywhere inside my own head, and here these sober people were laughing and supporting each other.

I asked a sober relative if I could I tag along to another AA meeting the next night, and she agreed. This pattern continued every day until she said, “Why don’t you just go to a meeting by yourself? You know some people there now.” 

So that’s what I did. And I kept going. I hung around so long and enjoyed it so much that I eventually got a sponsor and started working the Steps.

My first 90 days were rough. At day 45, I had to go back to Ireland to settle some bank issues and tie up some loose ends. I stayed with the boyfriend I had left there and we found out that now that I was sober, the whole dynamic of our relationship was thrown off.

When my plane landed back in the U.S., I turned my phone on and found out that the last person I got drunk with had left a disturbing voicemail on my phone right before she committed suicide. That long-distance relationship I was in also ended days later. Then I quickly got involved with another newcomer I had met in the rooms, and on my 90th day sober, he called to say he was going to rehab for the cocaine habit he had secretly been maintaining.

Sobriety did get better though. On day 91, I worked the Second Step with my sponsor. That same evening I was asked to speak on the Step when I showed up at my home group. I sat there in the meeting for 10 minutes, face flushed, palms sweaty, awkwardly mumbling, “It’s like…um, you know…I don’t know how to explain it…God is…like…you know, I don’t have to tell you…but, umm…” 

It was the most humbling experience I had ever had. I verbally flailed and rambled, struggling to form a coherent thought about something that still felt so intangible to me—without anyone interrupting!

Shortly after that meeting, I was back in New York City, on the subway heading to an interview for a BFA program. I was sitting on the train projecting all my fears onto the situation. What if they think I’m too old? What if I blow the interview? Everyone is going to be way more talented than I am. Everyone will show up with way more amazing art.

It was in that moment on the train that the Third Step really hit me: Turn it over to God. I have no control over the outcome. All I am responsible for is taking this action. I had applied to that art program and they invited me to interview. All I could do was my best and be my honest, authentic self. I told myself that if I didn’t get in, then it wasn’t God’s will.

But I did get into that college and I graduated summa cum laude. I’ve been sober long enough that I am currently pursuing a dream that has nothing to do with that degree. I recently turned 30 and I’m in my 10th year of sobriety. I can honestly say I am grateful for everything that has happened in my sobriety, good and bad. I can’t boast of cash and prizes, especially cash, but I have gotten more from AA than I ever can repay.

The friends I made in college have never seen me drunk. They only know the version of me who is thoughtful, caring, honest and doesn’t stab her boyfriend. 

I recently moved to a new city for the third time in sobriety. I immediately hit as many different meetings as I could to find my people. I have traveled the world in AA. I am no longer afraid to approach a person and say to them, “Hey, I did this thing to you that I really shouldn’t have. I was wrong.”

After I did the Fourth and Fifth Steps, I finally understood that I’m a human and so is everyone else. I understood that we all have fears and insecurities—even “hot-looking” people do. I can now look someone in the face and know that they may be suffering too. And that compassion has opened me in ways I didn’t think were possible. I can go to teachers and ask for help. I can see a newcomer and say hello. I fearlessly applied for the jobs I wanted, not just the jobs I thought I could get.

Life isn’t perfect. But today I can look back on my day and say that I don’t regret a single thing. The things I’ve done that I’m not proud of, I can learn and grow from. AA has made my life livable.

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