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Batya: Portrait of a Recovering Alcoholic

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[Please note: Although we're going to be talking about her very personal story, because of the guidelines of Alcoholics Anonymous, our guest's last name and other identifying information will be excluded.]

My guest today is Batya. Welcome to OpEdNews! Why don't you get us started?

I'm Batya, a grateful, recovering alcoholic.  I was raised in the lilly-white suburbs, lived in a house with my parents and older brother.  To the outside world, everything was normal.  I used to blame my problems on my family. Today, I know I was the problem and I carried that with me for many years.  I had the mind of an alcoholic long before I ever took a drink.  I grew up overweight and depressed.  

"Depressed" wasn't used in those days: sad and a slow reader.  I was a very sociable person but didn't have many friends.  This all changed the first time I took a drink at 13. I went to the local dance hall on Friday nights with my friends.  I decided to take some of the Sabbath wine with me to see what would happen.  I snuck under the kitchen sink and filled up one of the travel bottles I had.  I went to the gas station close to the dance hall closed the door and took a sip from the plastic bottle.   I will never forget the feeling of the burning sensation as the alcohol went down and the glow that followed as the wonderful feeling came up.  I was suddenly beautiful and popular.

Did that one Friday night make you an alcoholic? Did you suddenly start drinking every chance you got?

One night didn't make me an alcoholic.  It took many nights.  I started to drink on the weekends when I was at parties or with friends.  I continued to drink all through high school.  Also, during that time, the doctor had given me diet pills to lose weight.  I found out they could help with studying.  Most of my high school years are a fog to me.  I remember that I heard of marijuana but didn't use it in high school because it was illegal.  When I was in high school, I used to go up to Highwood and drink in the bars.  I also went up to Wisconsin when I turned 18 because it was legal to drink up there.   I don't think I had a drinking or drug problem in high school.  College started a whole new chapter.

What happened when you went to college? Did living on campus make getting booze a whole lot easier?

I went as far away as I could my freshman year of college.  I remember that all the kids were smoking pot except me.  They had to buy beer for me.  At some point, that changed. I started to smoke and actually started to sell small bags of pot to the girls at my school.  I was still keeping my partying to weekends even though it was 1969-'70 and  I failed two classes.  I went out sometimes during the week but we had a curfew, so I couldn't stay out too late.  Towards the end of my freshman year, I got very involved in anti-Viet Nam war and Cambodia rallies.  I was instrumental in getting my schoolmates to go on strike.  I stayed at an apartment near school to take a three-week course to make up for one of my failed grades.  I remember hitchhiking every day, smoking pot on the way to school.    I came back home and went to summer school in Chicago to make up the other course I had failed.  I went to Roosevelt University.  

This was a big turning point in my life.  I realized I had been at a school in Boston with all white, middle-class college students.  Going to school downtown opened my eyes to the real world. Instead of the stereotyped Jewish girl becoming a school teacher, I wanted to major in sociology.  This was a diverse group of people all different ages and nationalities.  And the best part was there was a bar right next door to the dorm that would serve me day or night.  This is when I started to drink daily.  I probably was still not an alcoholic although my boyfriend once asked me why I was down there every day. I said I needed it.  He stood up on his bed and yelled, "My dad was an alcoholic and he needed to drink."  That was my first inkling that something might be wrong.  I felt the size of my thumb.  I had been drinking every day and coming back to the dorm at night and smoking pot.  I was happy for the first time in my life.

So, the good news is that you were finally happy. The bad news was you were also realizing that what was making you happy was not good for you. You must have been so conflicted. So, how did you handle it?

Funny, I don't know why I said I was happy.  I was happier with my life than I had ever been.  I was doing fairly well at school.  I had no responsibilities.  I was basically supported by my parents and could party as much as I wanted.  I felt accepted at school, intelligent. I felt like I was living the high life.  I guess literally I was living high.  My drinking and drug use was at a point where I didn't have much of a clue of reality.   I don't know if I realized it was not good for me.  That boyfriend dropped out of school.  We stayed in touch for years. He became gay;  that was a blow to my ego.  

I wasn't conflicted for a long time.  I finished college, did lots of fun and interesting things with my life, worked, belonged to groups. My drinking was part of my life, part of who I was. Its problems were only hidden from me.  I don't think anyone knew I had a problem. I was in my early 20s. Everyone drank and smoked pot.  I was very social.

What changed?

I think probably [it was] the change of crossing the invisible line to alcoholism.  At some point, it wasn't fun anymore.  I was doing things nice Jewish girls from Highland Park don't do.  I was holding onto my friends, my life, by a string.  Everything centered around the next drink or drug. I traveled. I spent my time talking about who I was, my past. I had no present and no future.  My social life was getting very difficult.  I insulted people and did inappropriate things to my so-called friends and co-workers.

How did you start finding your way back? It can't have been easy.

Finding my way back took years.  I don't know if I would say I went back.  I just go forward.  Part of recovery in AA is not going back but accepting the past as part of who you are.  Correcting your wrongs and asking for forgiveness and forgiving others.  There are 12 step in AA.   By working these steps, you begin to discover yourself: who you are, why you did things. And it gives you the opportunity to right wrong decisions you have made.   I began to have a better understanding of myself and my character defects.  By better understanding me , I was better able to deal with others and live in the world.  I was able to forgive myself and [deal with] those around me whose lives I had damaged while I was damaging my own life.

Once you make the decision to stop using drugs and alcohol, your life starts to turn around.  AA gives you a process to work through that change.  It also gave me a wonderful support system.  I went to lots of meetings and coffee after.  I was young - in my mid twenties - when I first got clean and sober. We had fun. I learned to laugh at myself and enjoy life without covering my emotions with a substance.

I didn't really turn around my life;  I started a new one.  I don't deny my past or forget it it is a part of me.  It makes me who I am, a combination of the old and new life.  I've now been clean and sober over half my life. My past is a vague memory.  I go to meetings to remember so I never forget.  I will always be an addict and will end up back where I started if I pick it up again.

What else would you like to tell our readers before we wrap this up?

AA is one of the most important parts of my life.  32 plus years later, I still attend three  meeting a week.  When asked to do service work, I say yes.  I sponsor/mentor people in AA.  I  have a sponsor and we talk.  In the beginning, it was often; today, it's once every couple weeks.  The people I spent my early years of sobriety with are still my closest friends.  We literally grew up together.  I have a life outside of AA today which is beyond what I ever thought  possible.  I've had several careers and  am now a wife and a mother, with my own business.  My life is full and I still know I have an addiction and that I have to remember it every day.  That is why I keep active in AA. I also want to share my recovery with those who don't have an understanding of addiction.  In the Jewish community, there is a lack of knowledge and belief that the problem exist.  My goal is to  education the community about drug and alcohol  abuse,  show Jews that AA is not a Christian program, and help those in need.

You've really come a really long way, Batya.  Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

***
Alcoholics Anonymous website


 

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 
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While I no longer go to meetings, I found them to ... by bogi666 on Monday, Nov 28, 2011 at 1:12:58 PM
self-awareness is the key. whatever you're doing s... by Joan Brunwasser on Monday, Nov 28, 2011 at 10:25:10 PM
aa to be a fringe religious cult, bound to make me... by Kevin Cody on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011 at 10:12:49 AM