Like many other alcoholics and addicts, I grew up in an alcoholic home. My father was a daily drinker, and an angry one at that. Although he never abused me in any way, that was not the case for my mother. I witnessed abuse and was a victim of it from my grandmother who lived with us. I sought escape from an early age. At first, it was a healthy way. I was born and grew up in Ottawa before the neighbourhood was developed so I would play with my friends in the woods until dark to avoid going home. But then my solution stopped working as I grew older and no longer had that option. So, I sought a new solution. I was eleven years old and discovered my new solution…. alcohol. I would wait for everyone to be asleep and sneak downstairs to steal alcohol from my father who never noticed since he drank to black out and figured he drank it. I did this every night and it was amazing to me at the time. It took away all my fears, insecurities, anxiety, and pain. I thought at that time that I understood why people drank and had no plans on stopping. I had found my new solution.

But soon it wasn’t enough and I started bringing alcohol to school. I would mix vodka in orange juice so it went undetected. At this point I was about 13 or 12 years old. I would hide my bottle in my locker and drink in between classes. It was around this time that I also discovered drugs, but since this is about my drinking I will keep sharing my drug experience to a minimum. I started getting in trouble at school, my grades dropped and I became extremely depressed and often thought of suicide. I felt like I didn’t belong in this world. So I dropped out of high school and eventually ended up in psych wards and hospitals. But even then I didn’t see that my addiction was a problem, it was still a solution to me, my medication. So the vicious cycle continued for years. I did eventually attend alternative high school and received my high school diploma due to a compassionate and amazing teacher who helped me bring my grades up and graduate, but unfortunately the alternative high school consisted of teens much older than I, and they were a negative influence on me since they were alcoholics and addicts themselves, which only caused me to drink and use more. This went on until my early twenties. I drank, used, stole, lied, manipulated my way through life and only surrounded myself with those who were like me, or those I could use. Around this time I started working at a bank through family connections. This meant only one thing to me… cha-ching!! I now had funds to fuel my addictions.

I manipulated my co-workers for more and more credit and would call in sick or show up to work drunk, hungover, or high. My reputation started to go down the drain and I almost lost my job a few times, but it’s very difficult to get fired from the bank so I was transferred between departments a lot. It was around this time that I entered into a toxic and abusive relationship with another addict. We were co-dependent and lived in chaos, but that seemed normal to me. Living in extremes was my “normal”. Daily drinking, blackouts, abuse, and using became the norm. I was drinking from the moment I woke to when I passed out at night. This was the point where daily functions started to become an issue. My life was becoming more and more unmanageable. All I cared about was the next drink and drug. My debt started to pile up and wasn’t able to take care of myself. At this point I still thought that no-one had noticed, but I was in deep denial because EVERYONE, especially at work noticed. I remember a particular situation where my supervisor, who was also a friend, pulled me into her office and offered to give me money to buy new clothes. Mine were ripped and dirty and I didn’t think anyone would notice. I was humiliated. My depression worsened and I took a leave from work and my drinking/using increased even more. I was alone in an abusive, co-dependent relationship and numbed myself every minute of every day. I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. One afternoon, my partner came home intoxicated and began yelling, calling me names and throwing things like knives etc from the kitchen at me. I was terrified so I ran into my room and locked the door forgetting that the window was broken. I was trapped and he started to kick the door in. I thought I was going to die. So I braced myself by the door so that when it burst open I could run and shove him down and run for the door. I knew that my purse was on the table so the plan was to grab it and head outside. My plan worked, since he was drunk his balance was off so he fell over and I was able to escape with just a few scratches and bruises. I hailed a cab and headed for my friend’s house. This was the first time I thought that I was going to die and so I called my parents and they showed up the next day with a UHaul and took me to Toronto.

I thought what many addicts think, that a new environment meant that I could stop drinking. I lasted one day and was 11 years old again, stealing alcohol from my father at night. Now I was alone in a new city and fell into a deeper depression. My drinking remained daily and so did my using. My mind was so powerless over my disease that I actually went back to my home town to visit my abusive ex just to binge drink and use. My drinking took me to dangerous communities surrounded by dangerous people. Soon, I started ending up in psych wards due to my addiction and mental health issues. I was suicidal. I just couldn’t see a way out of my addiction. I had built a prison around myself and couldn’t or didn’t know how to escape. Fast forward a couple years later, I was completely broken and lay on my floor in the dark fighting the urge to drink and hurt myself. It was then that I heard a quiet voice say, “no!” this voice got louder and what I now know was my higher power, prompted me to pick up the phone and call the AA Intergroup helpline. I can’t explain what prompted me to do this since all I knew of AA was what I had seen on TV, but I knew I needed help. Now looking back I believe my higher power gave me the strength and voice I so desperately needed. I had suffered many bottoms, but this one was different, it was a spiritual bottom.

So the next day I used all the courage and strength I could and headed to a meeting. But when I arrived, there was a notice on the door stating that the meeting was cancelled. I started to panic. It was noon in downtown Toronto and crowds of people all around me. I leaned against the wall with my cell phone and frantically tried to not freak out and go drinking. Then something amazing happened. A shadow appeared in front of me and a man asked “are you looking for a meeting since this one was cancelled?” I started to cry and everything poured out of me to this total stranger. He saw the distress I was in and suggested that we go sit in the park and have our own meeting. He explained the program to me and lent me his pocket big book and it was there that I felt the hands of my higher power. Not in a church basement or community centre, but on a bench on a nice summer day with a kind stranger. We sat there until 8pm and went to a meeting he heard was a good one.

I went to my first meeting with a kind stranger and was blown away at how happy sober people were, and how welcoming and kind they were. They were living examples of what I wanted. The stories told mimicked my own. I was home. I had found my tribe. I got my 24hr chip, bought a big book and some phone numbers from women. For the next few months I called many women to have coffee with and attend meetings. I was amazed at their generosity and always willing to talk when I needed support. There is something about sitting down with another AA member and carrying on a tradition which started so long ago that is comforting and encouraging. I went to two meetings everyday and found a sponsor. It wasn’t long before I was working the steps. I was surprised to see how much what was written in the big book that I had in common with which happened so long ago. I continued to do things my sponsor suggested, such as, joining a home group, meditating and committing to a service position, calling her everyday, and continuing the step work. Before I knew it I had reached one year of sobriety, finished the steps for he first time, and had sponsees. I went back to school to get my BA and was doing well, then two years came, then three. I wish I could tell you that four, and five years of sobriety followed, but unfortunately I relapsed at 3 years. I wasn’t putting my sobriety first and stopped attending meetings. I was also romantically involved with another alcoholic with little sobriety. This recent relapse left me even more broken than I had ever been. I was drinking from morning to night and my life started to disintegrate. I no longer was in control. I was once again powerless over my addiction and gave in. But that small voice never left and once again I heard “no!” so I ended the toxic relationship and began my relationship with AA again.

This time getting sober feels different. I feel closer to my higher power than ever, and found an online AA community which gave me access to support 24/7. Now I have close to 9 months of sobriety and plan to keep on swimming. The program of AA doesn’t just teach you how to stop drinking, it teaches you how to build a solid foundation so that you have your feet on sturdy ground when life gets, well, ‘lifey’ for the lack of another term. They say if you want to destroy something, you attack the foundation first and the rest will fall. I never had a solid foundation. I never knew how to have healthy relationships with others or live life according to life’s terms and not my own. I never knew what compassion was or empathy. AA taught me how to have compassion for myself and others and that I am not a bad person. When I tell people that AA saved my life and continues to do so, I truly mean that. The connections and love in the rooms of AA keeps my head above water so that I may assist others as I was. I don’t know what the future holds , but God willing, I will continue to learn how to live and let live, and pursue my life’s goals and strengthen all my relationships while forging new ones. I used to think that I knew everything, well here’s to knowing nothing and learning about life from another perspective and growing every minute. AA teaches you that it’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about progress not perfection. The solution isn’t the prize, the journey is the solution however that may look. Each path is unique. So if you’re new and reading this, just know this: with an open mind and willingness, you will live a life you thought could only belong to others. A content life with all the wonderful ups and difficult downs, but that just means you’re living life and not just escaping from it. Just keep swimming.

Thank you for reading my story. If you can relate that’s wonderful, but if not, know that there are countless stories and experiences out there so keep searching, listening and keep learning. Take what you need and leave the rest. The only person who can decide which voice to listen to is you. So listen to that sober voice no matter how loud the addict voice is and you’ll see that it gets easier. Living a content life in sobriety is possible and the hard work is worth it. You are worth it. And knowing that is FREEDOM.