My Recovery Journey
By Steve K.
My early life wasn’t ideal. My biological father was in and out of prison during the first few years of my life and was most likely an alcoholic or addict of some type.
According to my mother, he would go missing for days at a time with the house keeping money and spend it all in the pub and on gambling, leaving no money for food for my mum, me, and my younger brother.
My biological father was also a habitual thief and was in HMP Manchester (aka Strangeways Prison) while my mother was pregnant with me. I’m pretty sure my parents got married at this point, although I don’t quite know how or where the wedding ceremony took place. I’m assuming he was escorted out from prison for the day. They were divorced by the time I was 3 or 4 years old, and I’ve never seen my father again since.
My mother remarried a few years later to another alcoholic, unfortunately he was also a man unable to love the children he’d taken into his care. I had the common experience of growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent. My stepfather was a daily drinker and he seemed to resent me and my brother and was emotionally abusive.
Things became worse as I grew older. My family moved into a ‘public house’ (bar) when I was almost 13 years old. My parents often argued, and at times there was physical violence. My growing unhappiness and insecurity at home, a deep sense of rejection and the easy availability of alcohol, set the scene for my own alcoholism and drug misuse.
I began drinking regularly around age 15 and would get drunk at every opportunity. I left school at 16 with no educational qualifications and began working as a builder’s labourer. I spent the next 10 years in and out of employment, hospitals, courts, police cells and prison. I would spend virtually every penny I earned from work on alcohol and other drugs.
I first made efforts to stop drinking in my early 20’s following a serious suicide attempt, by renewing my interest in keeping fit and sporting activities. I’d stay sober for short periods and used exercise to fend off depression. Whenever I stayed sober my mind would come alive and begin to function and I became interested in learning and developing myself educationally and vocationally. I started by doing basic lessons in English and maths. At the time, I didn’t realise just how deeply psychologically addicted I’d become to alcohol and other drugs and would relapse into binge drinking every so often.
I ended up in trouble with the police yet again for fighting with a doorman while out drinking with a friend and was sent to prison for 12 months. This was the second time I’d been sent to prison within a 2-year period, both offenses were committed while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.
I had been receiving fines and community service punishments from the courts since the age of 15. I was 25 years old when I was released from prison in September 1990 for the last time. After another 6 months of increasingly excessive drinking, I reached out to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and was introduced to the depth of my alcohol dependency.
At my first AA meeting, I understood the goal was complete abstinence.
Although I knew this was the only option for me, I did not fully believe I was an alcoholic. The room was full of people much older than I who’d been drinking for a lot longer and were clearly “proper” alcoholics. Nevertheless, I wanted abstinence, so I kept attending meetings.
I also started reading the AA Big Book, which strongly suggested that belief in God was a vital part of the solution. I was open to this, although it felt awkward to me as I wasn’t brought up in a religious home. I don’t remember religious or spiritual issues ever being mentioned by my parents; and I mainly came across Christianity in morning assembly at primary school. Despite this, I had clearly been conditioned with basic Christian ideas about God.
After several months of attending AA and while still occasionally drinking, I began to pray regularly. Since I didn’t feel any spiritual connection, this felt embarrassing and not completely genuine. I continued praying in the hope that it would free me of the desire to drink, which was becoming a very conscious struggle the harder I attempted to remain abstinent. I was beginning to think I was “constitutionally incapable of being honest with myself” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p.58, 3rd ed) and even more sure I suffered “from grave emotional and mental disorders.” (Ibid, p.58) This was, in fact, true.
The torture of my obsession with alcohol continued into my early 30’s.
By then, I had formally been through the AA Twelve Steps more than once with different sponsors, but still hadn’t connected with God or the spirituality of the Steps. Despite this, I managed to attend regular meetings and stay abstinent for five years. However, I was suffering with ongoing depression and other physical health problems, and was far from being a content, emotionally sober man. In retrospect, I can now see that the relationship I was in at the time was enabling me to remain physically sober; but when it ended, so did my period of sobriety. Although I mostly remained abstinent, I struggled with the mental obsession to drink for another two or three years. My last drink was on July 2, 2005.
During the twelve months that followed, the obsession with alcohol left me. I started feeling secure in my sobriety. As my confidence grew, so did my questioning of the Twelve Steps and what I perceived as religious dogma. I became increasingly disillusioned and hostile toward the literal meaning and language of the program, and I began pushing AA friends away with my negativity.
I then had to undergo a course of significant medical treatment for Hepatitis C, which I had contracted in my early 20s through intravenous drug use.
This treatment affected my energy level, motivation, and emotional well-being. My attendance at meetings was reduced to the odd occasion. My belief in the Twelve Steps continued to deteriorate; and I became very isolated and depressed. I considered no longer attending meetings, as I felt disingenuous at them. When I did attend, I would attempt to undermine others’ beliefs. I realised that unless I could find a genuine relationship with the Twelve Steps, I would need to leave the Fellowship.
Suddenly one day, I had an inspiration to look online for some literature that might help me. I came across Ernest Kurtz’s Not-God, A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. This book is a detailed history and study of AA. While confirming the Christian influence upon the Twelve Steps, it also provides a good understanding of the liberal principles of AA philosophy. I started to develop a new appreciation of the Steps and the Fellowship.
So began a twelve-month study of the program through the eyes of various authors.
I attended many meetings during this period and revised some of my Step Four inventory. I began to relate to the Steps in a spiritual, but non-theistic way, and to clearly see the underlying moral and spiritual principles inherent within the Steps. I came to genuinely believe in them, and saw both their importance and their transformative power.
My new relationship with the Twelve Steps slowly brought a more positive commitment to the Fellowship and to helping others. I started to sponsor others and became the secretary of a new meeting. My service to others, despite still suffering from a chronic illness, continued to develop my commitment and appreciation of the Steps. It also helped to improve my mental and emotional well-being.
As the years have gone by, I’ve become increasingly secure in my sobriety – thoughts of drink rarely enter my mind. One of the Step Ten Promises has truly come about for me:
“For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in alcohol. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition, p.84-85
I now comfortably relate to the Twelve Steps from a primarily humanistic, though spiritual, point of view.
I don’t believe in the traditional supernatural concept of God and apply my own non-dualistic understanding to the idea. This legitimate approach to recovery is based upon the program’s liberal and pragmatic, as well as spiritual, principles.
“When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.”
The Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions ( p.26) further illustrates:
“First, Alcoholics Anonymous does not demand that you believe anything. All of its Twelve Steps are but suggestions.”
If you don’t believe in God, use your imagination to relate to the AA program in a way that is meaningful to you. I relate to spirituality largely in terms of moral virtues such as honesty, compassion, kindness and love. My emphasis is on a “way of being” or “way of life” and developing a right attitude towards my recovery. I practice self-reflection, prayer and meditation in order grow in virtue and to develop my consciousness in relation to the mystery of life. The mystery of our existence is awe inspiring to me and worthy of reverence and contemplation. I like the saying “God is Love”, because it expresses the idea that spirituality works in and through ordinary people. Spiritual principles are practiced as we help one another.
Upon reflection, I can now see that a turning point came for me in my efforts to recover when I eventually realized I had to stay sober regardless of any difficulties with my health, depression, relationships or any other of life’s problems. In relation to my ongoing recovery, I’ve continued to take part in therapy when available, engaged with AA on a regular basis, and went back into education to obtain a professional qualification in counselling. I’ve continued to have difficulties with my physical health, and with depression and anxiety. Yet my commitment towards sobriety, emotional and spiritual health, healing, and growth, and being helpful to others, has increased year on year.
I have made long-term efforts to be a productive and helpful person during my time in recovery. I’ve worked for various charities and non-profit organisations in a voluntary capacity, to better myself and to be of benefit to others, particularly the disadvantaged and disempowered within society. I’ve also continued to work at self-development educationally, psychologically, morally, and spiritually. In doing so, I’m now able to give back to others from a place of relative maturity and wisdom (eldership). Looking towards my future, I wish to continue working therapeutically with others and to humbly assist them as a wounded healer offering authenticity, empathy, kindness, and hope for their future.
I’ve also discovered a certain creative capacity for writing now that I’m in my 50’s. It’s a pastime that’s helped me to grow and learn and is something that I can offer in a helpful and educational way to others.
In relation to my spiritual life, I’ve found that it has evolved naturally, and I now regularly attend a Taoist meditation and discussion group held in a 16th century Unitarian chapel. Through this group, I have become a member of my local Unitarian community which provides a space for collective exploration of genuinely liberal and open spirituality. I’ve at last found a spiritual home.
Recovery, for me, is a much greater holistic endeavour that just not drinking or abusing other drugs. It’s a process that started in my 20’s and has involved waking up and growing up mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Therapy in its various forms, 12 step meetings, education, voluntary work, community involvement, regular physical exercise, and the help and support of others, have been the key ingredients of my ongoing process of healing, change and growth. Long may this process continue.