Only A Symptom – Online Exclusive Grapevine Article by Gregory S.

I am home, I am safe”—emotional sobriety frees him from fear

Before my mind could comprehend fear as an intellectual concept, I believe that my emotions were already experiencing it. My childhood years through my mid-teens were filled with physical abuse and verbal rage. My father beat my brother and my brother beat me. Escaping their sickness was not possible for me as a child.

Their rage was instantaneous; at the drop of a pin they were insane. The certainty that these explosions would happen again, and the uncertainty about when, meant that I walked on eggshells, in daily fear. My unconscious escape from this insanity was to enclose my emotions deep within my being; only years later did I discover that this didn’t work. Fear controlled everything I did and every thought I had. Day after day I lived in emotional pain.

In my mid-teens I developed a serious physical illness which lasted three years. My life consisted of being hospitalized for two to six weeks at a time. At one point my weight dropped from 140 lbs. to 80 lbs. Twice, as I lay at death’s door, a power greater than myself kept me alive. Apparently, there was work to do and I wasn’t allowed to escape so easily. I didn’t know then and I do not know now what that work is, but my Higher Power knows and is guiding me on my life path.

The uncertainty of not knowing when I was going to be hospitalized again, or how sick I would be, created overwhelming emotional distress. The illness made it impossible to make any plans. The lack of physical and emotional energy made it impossible to accomplish anything. I missed so much high school that I was held back a year. During the periods in which I was unable to attend school only one friend ever stopped by to visit. I was isolated from life and loneliness was the norm. Looking onto the street, waiting for anyone to stop by to say hello, was my only participation in life. I was physically weak, emotionally distraught and very lonely. The Big Book mentions alcoholism as being a disease of loneliness. This loneliness lasted until I walked into the rooms of AA.

Eventually the physical disease was cured. The positive results were that my health returned and the debilitating uncertainty of the attacks was gone. The negative results were self-loathing, shame and guilt. Depression and anxiety became additional members in my family of defects.

After starting college I experimented with alcohol and drugs. I wasn’t consciously seeking relief from my emotional turmoil and I didn’t receive any. After I relocated to Minnesota, alcohol became my drug of choice. I was 24 years old and didn’t enter the rooms of AA until I was 52.

For eight years my drinking increased and my life continued downhill until one night I had a blackout and came to on some railroad tracks. This experience was so terrifying that I started attending an outpatient program for alcohol abuse. The program was temporarily successful. Unfortunately neither AA nor the 12 Steps were ever discussed and there was no follow up support. Nonetheless, the first two years of this ten-year period of not drinking were good.

Then, without the needed support, my life slowly reverted to one ruled by character defects. I had become a dry drunk and didn’t know what was happening to my life or how to deal with it. After 10 years of abstinence I picked up in order to ease the excruciating pain of living at the mercy of my defects. I was defenseless against that first drink. This one drink lead to a decade of falling deeper into the bottomless abyss of alcoholism. During the last year of this alcoholic horror I lived everyday knowing that I had to quit and that I could not. Every moment was a living hell; I did not know how to live without alcohol, my master.

On the night of January 2, 1999, as I crawled into bed for the nightly ritual of passing out and hopefully sleeping in oblivion for a few hours, I had a spiritual experience. I knew that my life was about to change. Then I fell peacefully asleep and awoke without a hangover for the first time in the past ten years.

The next day, I attended an AA meeting. As I walked into the room, I knew that I had come home to a place where I could rest my weary heart. As difficult as this journey has been I never looked back despite the many times when it was a very long dark road. The old timers made clear that drinking would only make my life worse, never better, and I believed this. When I found a sponsor, I worked the 12 Steps to the best of my ability. Through this growing experience I came to see clearly how fear was the controlling factor of my life and was the bedrock on which all my other shortcomings grew. But I now learned that these shortcomings were not me. Many years ago I remember reading the line in Chapter Five of the Big Book which states “Our liquor was but a symptom.” This sentence struck me like lightening. Working on my emotional defects helped finally lead me on the path to emotional sobriety.

As I looked at this ever-present fear, I began to see the chaos I had created throughout my life. I did not have relationships, I took hostages. Upon taking Step 6 and Step 7, the release from fear was immediate. Fear, the bedrock of my shortcomings was gone. Since then I have been learning how to better live in the freedom from bondage of self. Life continues with all its ups and downs; life doesn’t change but my reactions to life have. I know that as long as I don’t drink, attend meetings regularly, live the 12 Steps (however imperfectly), be of service within and outside of AA, sponsor men and continue seeking a spiritual life I remain in the center of our program and I am home, I am safe.

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