Facing the facts

Tonight’s home group was very interesting. It is my only home group now, as I am no longer in charge of the Saturday meeting at Notting Hill and I feel like a break from that one will be good for me. So tonight at my new ‘primary’ meeting there was a lot of talk about childhood, and it got me thinking. When talking about the pain and horror that can be experienced in childhood a couple of tonight’s sharers burst into tears. When talking about my own experience of youthful trauma, I still cannot cry if it is in front of people. Even people who know me. I was talking the other day about this problem; my therapist brought it up last week when I hadn’t thought about it before. Tonight I really wished that I could share in that emotional experience with the room, but as usual I was automatically mechanical and matter-of-fact in my sharing. I don’t even know that I’m doing it unless I happen to look closer at what I am saying, like I am now, and I realise that these things should be producing some kind of emotion in me, but they just don’t.

I can get in touch with my feelings perfectly well when I am alone, but with others in the room it happens very rarely. I wouldn’t know how to begin making myself open up in that way. Somehow the link between the words I’m saying and the emotions behind them has been blocked off. It’s no wonder I can get so down when I am alone with my pain. The emotion that I should be expressing in the rooms automatically gets saved up for those times when I’m lying in bed and I feel safe to let some of it out. I have no choice in the fact that this happens. If I could break that block and cry openly in front of friends I would, but I don’t know where the block is. Avoiding emotion in my sharing has become so unconscious that I wouldn’t know how to share any other way.

What people were saying about their childhoods tonight gave me further food for thought. The old cliché that “my traumatic childhood didn’t make me an alcoholic” came out a few times. I have inevitably asked myself over the years whether the fact of my faulty upbringing, the shame around my sexuality made me more susceptible to alcohol dependency or not. I know why people in the rooms are so vehemently inclined to deny that the past had anything to do with their liking for booze: if you admit that the past played a part then you have to admit that overcoming the past might allow for ‘normal’ drinking (if there is such a thing). My own personal take on it at the moment (and this might well change) is that coming to terms with the past doesn’t necessarily mean that I will ever be able to drink like a normal person. After two years of not drinking I’m not sure I would ever want to go back to it, even if at some point I manage to achieve my dream of living at peace with the past. My ideal vision of the future would include living peacefully with the past whilst remaining sober forever. That may or may not mean that I accept my past played a part in my addiction issues.

I can’t think of a single person I’ve met in AA who had a peaceful, undisturbed childhood. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that any human being who says they had no issues whatsoever in childhood and adolescence can’t be a real human being. Surely it’s the experience of pain in our early years that makes us truly empathetic and wise? Anyway, it’s taken me many years to get the point where I can admit without reservation that I experienced trauma in my childhood, and with nothing much else going on in my life I am faced with all these feelings that I never dealt with properly whilst drinking. The drinking was a way of escaping from the pain, a band-aid over the wound; it was not the cause of that pain. The pain I am talking about started when I was very young, before I could even talk. Alcoholic drinking caused its own pain of course, which is why I had to stop drinking. Did the pain and problems stop as soon as I had put the pint glass down to get sober? Of course not. Occasionally you’ll hear in meetings the idea that getting sober is all one needs to do to have a wonderful life, usually from relative newcomers who haven’t experienced true sobriety yet. My experience has shown me that this idea is a fallacy. Sobriety can be truly wonderful (at times); it can be tough as shit (at times), as I have expressed here very honestly.

No matter how much I would like to run and hide from the pain, with all my sophisticated and unconscious ways of avoiding it, I can’t run from it by saying that my childhood didn’t make me an alcoholic. Perhaps it would be fair to say that it didn’t give me a preference for certain liquors over others, alcohol over drugs. Those specific preferences weren’t decided by any experience that I could pinpoint, not that I would want to waste time looking for such experiences anyway. What my childhood did make me is over-sensitive, neurotic, needy and prone to depression. These are mental states that I have to deal with on a daily basis now; it’s unfortunate that some in AA would dismiss them by saying that they have nothing to do with alcoholism. I’ve heard it said on a couple of occasions that if one wants to talk about depression one should go to another fellowship. AA meetings should be reserved for alcohol talk, according to these ‘fundamentalists’.

It’s not that I wish to take over every AA meeting I go to with talk about depression and other mental states that don’t directly relate to drinking, but I certainly don’t believe that depression is an ‘outside’ issue. I think it has everything to do with my propensity towards drinking heavily. I actually think it can go some way to explaining why I crave alcohol so badly from time to time. I don’t want to hurt or upset people in the fellowship, and I certainly don’t want to come across as someone who takes life far too seriously (as if!) but I want the truth about sobriety to be known. To thine own self be true, they say – and this is what I am doing.

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