I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous in 1997, following a 20-year drinking run that began with fun, games, ease, debauchery and adventure . . . and ended up with me as a 33-year-old housewife with a quart-a-day vodka habit.
I was bankrupt in soul, damaged of liver, sluggish, guilty, lying and dodging. A mom to a darling toddler and wife to a kind, wry, hard-working man. I had become a bit of a shut-in, drinking while my son napped, watched cartoons and played (often, to my horror, with my ever-present bottles, like sinister toys). I was in the privileged, fortunate position of being able to quit my job in publishing and become a full-time mom while my husband worked long hours as a computer expert at a bank yet still came home to be a fine, attentive, loving dad. But I took this great opportunity and brought it to the precipice of ruin. I was at a desperate impasse and had the fleeting notion that it would take an act outside my own stubborn self to get me the help I needed.
It was the kid who ratted me out, blew my cover and saved my life. My bottles (quarts of Smirnoff 100-proof) were always in my purse, and they went everywhere with me. (I called it my portable bar, a sad “joke” known only to me.) One day, I got careless with the placement of my bag and – unbeknownst to me – my son dragged my husband over to my bottle-laden bag. This happened a second time and a third. Then, my intuitive baby led my husband to a vodka-soaked shirt I had hastily tossed into the hamper. After that, my husband (quick study that he was) checked quietly for the evidence on his own . . . always, but always, finding it.
He was baffled and horrified by the amount of alcohol I was consuming, but he was devastated by my lying about it. It all came to a heartbreaking showdown that got me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1997, where I gratefully remain to this day. It saved my life, restored my sanity, slowly rebuilt trust in what today is a happy marriage to the same man, and allowed me to be a gleeful, quirky, loving, responsible mom to my kid, who is now thriving on his own blazing path as a college sophomore.
But it was a broken, contrite, slightly jaundiced, wounded broad who walked into her first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was in a location known to me; a nearby storefront that was always the site of a cluster of people laughing, chatting and congregating. I had long figured it to be a 12-Step group of some sort and often thought, “I’ll probably have to be there one day, but they haven’t gotten me yet!” I called AA for a local meeting place and a sweet, woolly-voiced gentleman provided me with that precise address.
It got me.
It’s a tiny room, a cold-water flat that was once a milliner’s shop in the 1950s, an authentic Greenwich Village structure if ever there was one. The people inside are like me – struggling with a disease that we cannot combat alone. This particular group is loose, whacky, supportive, profound, silly and life-saving. I attend many meetings all over Manhattan, but this one locale has become my spiritual home, my support group, my place to give back and my connection to the outside world. It has also returned me to my family, in better condition than before. And it has allowed me to take my own experience to help others and ensure my ongoing redemption.
My life is, in short, beyond my wildest dreams.
Having shared all that, it’s my profound, bemused pleasure to report that a life beyond my wildest dreams turns out to be a mellow, scandal-free, uninteresting-on-the-page existence. It’s a safe bet that no one would want to read my sober autobiography. When people share their problems, heartbreaks and concerns with me and then ask me how I am, I often don’t have a whole lot to report.
A true career never materialized. I do some volunteer work, lots of service within the 12-step rooms, design jewelry on the whim and take the occasional clerical or freelance job. My husband is a fairly young retiree, very immersed in the community, and we’re gratifyingly comfortable in the pricey city of my dreams.
My life is filled with small joys, each set off with the daily (perhaps not hourly, but still!) conscious awareness that I am upright, healthy, sane and happy…entirely as a result of my day-at-a-time sobriety.
I have reams of books, love crime TV and old movies, live in Greenwich Village (not the Bohemian Nirvana I fell in love with, alas, but a trove of delights nonetheless) in a pretty tight 10-block radius for the most part. I’m endlessly immersed in music. I hoof it everywhere, greet my doormen (and the next building’s doormen) like the old friends they are, love the deli guys, shoot the breeze with familiar faces on the street, hide out when I see fit. I have a bunch of go-to tea stores, hippie shops, diners and pizzerias that become homes away from home.
When I was younger, I’m sure I expected a little more glitz, bang for my buck, funky talking points in my existence, but that’s not quite what happened. I don’t come with a series of exciting anecdotes, but I’m treated with kindness and respect, looked to for advice and comfort. Astoundingly, I connect with people in ways I would have found impossible when I was busily hiding out in the bottle.
Life’s not perfect, nor need it be. I’ve had my share of disappointments, losses of loved ones, broken bones, health scares, friendship weirdness and agita in the past 17 years, make no mistake. It’s just life, on life’s terms. But the endless upside is that I am present and accountable to all of it, get to amend the wrongs, make fewer of them, not destroy myself on a daily basis an even give back to my world a little bit.
It’s a modest, delicious, fulfilling existence. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I work hard to maintain it, but the benefits are peace, ease, a certain comfort in my skin, and bursts of quiet, profound gratitude. I’m not only aboveground, I’m (metaphorically, mind you) dancing in the aisles.
“Alcoholic Anonymous” is a wife, mom, citizen, happy left-wing broad, voracious reader, lover of all things vintage & long-time resident of Greenwich Village.