Today I have been sober for 17 days.
Now, the continuation of my “catch-up” that I started yesterday.
So I started attending regular meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in Pattaya from June 25th, a date that transpired to be the penultimate occasion that I stopped drinking. (As of the time of writing this blog)
For the first few days of my sobriety, I attended the evening meetings, which commenced at either 5 p.m. or 7.30 p.m. After a couple of days, a fellow attendee suggested that I try the morning meetings. I don’t know why he said that, but as time goes on, I find more and more that random events seem to happen, with no apparent reason, which in retrospect, seem to have been nudging me along a particular path.
I was a little unsure of this advice as one of my original AA friends, who had first accompanied me to meetings back in January, had told me at that time that the morning meetings would never suit me. Firstly, he pointed out, I rarely arose before 11 in the morning, and secondly, in his opinion, the AA morning group were not the kind of people I would identify with, or be comfortable with.
But being the perverse alcoholic that I am, when I am told that I can never do something, I go out of my way to prove that person wrong. Anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to switch to the mornings, as it would encourage me to rise at an earlier hour, and also, I reasoned that by changing my meeting schedule, I would suffer the minimum disruptions to my daily life – whatever that ‘daily life’ happened to be.
After six or so years of rarely getting up before noon, and for most of that time sporting morning hangovers, it was a bit of a shock to the system to wake up before 7.30 a.m., shower and shave and then take the 25 minute drive into Pattaya.
But I stuck at it, and I started to enjoy these “early morning” gatherings – they started at 9.a.m. I did indeed prove my friend wrong as the morning group is a grand bunch of people, mainly Americans, with many years of sobriety between them and also with a liberal sprinkling of other nationalities, principally Irish, British and Australian.
Most of the core members, who consider Pattaya their “home group”, have been in Thailand for many years and far from me not being able to identify with them, the opposite has proved to be the case, as our recent histories have so much in common, and we all can share similar experiences, good and bad, of our lives in Thailand.
During the next few weeks, I started to chalk up ever more days of sobriety; sober days that were a volatile and emotional combination of “highs” and ‘lows”.
The meetings, which involved listening to people “sharing” their experiences, “sharing” myself, and trying to absorb the wisdom of the members with many years of sobriety under their belts, was helping me a lot. And I was learning more about AA; reading their excellent literature, starting to understand the “twelve Step” programme and how it was essentially based on moral, ethical and selfless principals. Some of the major facets of the AA programme involved trying to remove our character defects, recognising and dealing with our burgeoning egos and trying to understand and put into practice genuine humility in our daily lives.
But clearly I had a very long way to go in the programme. The first thing all new members have to do is to find a “sponsor” – someone with maturity and experience, who would act as an adviser and counselor and guide the new person through the twelve step programme. Well even as of today I have yet to find a sponsor, although I did have one for a few days, which I shall write about more in a few moments.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, my wife was sliding into a familiar pattern of disappearing every weekend to Bangkok, on one pretext or another, usually leaving on Friday morning, and sometimes not returning until Monday or Tuesday of the following week. Most of her drinking was being done away from home, in Bangkok, and on the few occasions that I spoke to her in the afternoon, I could hear very clearly that she was still drunk from the previous night’s excesses. Although on the one hand, I was happy that she was away and not causing me any trouble, but on the other it bothered me that she was continuing to behave like this, as it made the prospects of a viable future together so uncertain.
I finally resolved that sometime soon, when I managed to gather up sufficient courage, I would sit down and talk with her about a divorce and how we could divide our assets between us, as there seemed little chance that the marriage could hold together for much longer
The penny had finally dropped that she was a hopeless alcoholic, and the likelihood of her making a recovery were next to none. This was especially so as most Thais have difficulty even in accepting the concept of alcoholism as a disease. Furthermore, she was never going to change her social habits which revolved around “Bai Tio” (going out and having a good time), which inevitably meant getting drunk with friends and family, all of whom had a like mind.
So although the meetings were helping me, I also had some very “dark” and depressive days when the temptation to “pick up” again was very strong; but I managed to resist. I also realised that the AA meetings were the only thing keeping me from the demon booze, and after a week or so of switching to the morning meetings, I decided to also attend the evening meetings . Two daily meetings took a huge chunk of time out of my “daily life”, probably in the region of 6 hours, including travel time, twice a day, there and back. But it now suited my purpose admirably, because it kept me away from the bars, and used up my spare time during which I might have given in to temptation.
Towards the end of August, I decided to make a trip to Chiang Mai to visit with two friends who were also members of AA and attended daily AA meetings there. I thought it would be a good break for me, and would help me get away from my daily routine and mentally prepare myself for the task of confronting my wife with a divorce proposal.
I drove to Bangkok for some business, stayed overnight, and the next day drove on to Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, going to Chiang Mai wasn’t one of my more successful ventures. I arrived in one piece, and one of my friends met me on the outskirts of the city and led me downtown to my hotel.
Since returning from Chiang Mai, I have been rebuked for publicly relating the incident that occurred at the Chiang Mai AA meeting that eventually caused me to pick up a drink. For AA is what its name implies: anonymous, and everything that transpires in an AA meeting should stay there, and not be broadcast to the outside world.
So by way of explanation of what actually happened, let me start by saying that for most alcoholics, one of the features of their early days of sobriety is the development an increasingly volatile temper. Just the slightest thing will set us off into almost uncontrollable rage. I am told it is because we had previously used alcohol to assuage our anger, bitterness and resentment, and when this “medicine” is voluntarily removed from our reach, our egos take over and our anger becomes ever more difficult to control.
I was certainly no exception, and in the weeks prior to my trip to Chiang Mai I had become all too keenly aware of my anger getting the better of me. I had never lost my temper in a public place prior to this recent period in my life, and it was with alarm that on several occasions I “saw myself” yelling and screaming at some poor victim in a public place, for virtually no reason at all.
So at my very first meeting in Chiang Mai, I had only been there for a few minutes when I suddenly exploded over some inconsequential matter and stormed out. I embarrassed my friend, who was chairing the meeting, and probably burnt my bridges forever as far as the Chiang Mai morning fellowship was concerned. I have since apologized to my friend, but I am sorry to say that he no longer considers me as a friend.
After I returned to my hotel, I continued to fume about what had happened. I knew I was in the wrong, but I was in denial. In Bangkok, a couple of days earlier, I had finally taken on a sponsor – the friend from Bangkok who had met me in Pattaya and persuaded me to go to regular meetings. In my anger, I sent an email to him, effectively sacking him, then an email to my Chiang Mai friend telling him what I thought of his f’ing meetings, and I even copied the email to a number of my other AA friends for good measure.
Having now “cleared the decks”, as my ex-sponsor was to tell me later, I went out and proceeded to get uproariously drunk.
They say that alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful. My friends also tell me that I picked up a drink because I wanted to, and everything that preceded that first drink in Chiang Mai was a manipulation of events on my part to create a justification for drinking. I have no doubt that is absolutely correct.
(I have an alcoholic friend in Bangkok, who I will write more about later, who would only drink beer in the mistaken belief that he would never harm himself if he didn’t drink the hard stuff. Then, not long ago, he started drinking gin, and it wasn’t long before he was on a bottle a day. He claimed that the only reason he switched to gin was because he had a ‘bladder problem” and that if he drank beer, he could not go out and do his shopping before needing to go to the toilet, and the shops he patronized had no loo! In his twisted logic, if he drank gin, there was less liquid in his bladder and he could make it home in time before needing to relieve himself. Today he is in ICU, his liver shot to pieces, fighting for his life, and he still believes that crazy piece of fiction.)
I drank for 3 days, more or less non-stop, in Chiang Mai and then had to make the supreme effort to remain sober long enough to make the journey home.
My wife had called me while I was still drinking in Chiang Mai, and said that she missed me and was waiting for me to come home. This precipitated my departure, and when I was half way home, I called her and was taken aback when she told me that she was no longer at home and had gone to visit her mother!!. If I had known, I would have stayed in Chiang Mai and continued my drinking spree.
Anyway I returned home and waited for her. The next day she still hadn’t returned, so I sent her message suggesting that she come back so that we could talk about things. I continued drinking for the first two days I was back in Pattaya, and also went to AA meetings, sometimes drunk, but on August 30th I drank, what is currently, my final drink. I consumed it at around midnight in Pattaya after a night of carousing, following the evening AA meeting.
My wife returned the next day. I was out at the time, and she called me to come home and talk to her. When I arrived, I could see that like me, she was very hung over, and it certainly wasn’t the best moment to discuss divorces.
I declined to talk, but she insisted, so I related my plans to get divorced and what I considered a fair division of assets, which would involve the sale of the house.
At first she seemed to behave in a reasonable manner and asked me a few questions about the details. Then suddenly she erupted, and told me in no uncertain terms that she would never agree to a divorce, would never leave the house, and if I couldn’t stand it any more, then I had better leave. Of course I also became very angry, and once more the shouting, insults and vile accusations started to fly back and forth. Her son fled, the maid fled, and even my 3 dogs cowered in the corner of the garden.
But it was soon over and after a while, when our anger was spent, we sat down and talked almost normally. We agreed that we would stay together, but that in future she would live her life, and I, mine. We agreed that we wouldn’t fight each other, wouldn’t ask each other where were going, or where we had been.
I told her that from now on the first priority in my life was my sobriety, and that came before anything else. She didn’t like this much but I think she took it on board.
For my part, I agreed to this ‘accommodation’ because I had no choice. I needed “piece of mind” and a quiet life if I was to consolidate my sobriety. In AA they tell you that whenever possible, you should not make any major, life changing decisions in your first year of sobriety unless you have absolutely no choice. Well I probably have no choice, but I can wait a while – a month or two – and see how events unfold before I try yet again to part permanently from my wife.
One thing I know – with absolute certainty – is that we will never be happy together, and sooner or later we will have to go our separate ways.