An excerpt from All Roads
“Hi, my name is Danny B. and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi, Danny,” everyone answered and settled in to hear him speak.
“As some of you might have guessed from my accent, I was born in Ireland, where we like to have a drink now and then.” The whole meeting laughed so he waited for a moment. He was still shy when it came to talking honestly about himself, but it was getting easier.
“Anyway, right after I was born, my mother was put in an asylum, my father went to England, and I was left with my granny. She was, I suppose, a good woman who tried to bring me up to believe all the stuff that she believed in. Only I never felt right about God and all, because I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t let me have my mother with me.”
He paused for a drink of water and to get a better grip on his composure. He was trying to speak from his heart and it was causing a lump in his throat. “My granny was always telling me what a great man my grandfather was—how he was a hero and all—and that my father wasn’t. She used to say that how I behaved would decide which one I’d end up being like.
“Then, when she got sick, my mother and father moved back in with us and we tried being one big happy family— except family isn’t always a very pleasant experience. It is for some people, but not as many as we’d like to think.” Some people laughed at that.
“My granny died when I was a teenager and I found out that she was the one who had sent my parents away. I was so pissed at her and all the stuff she had tried to teach me. That’s when my life started to go really wrong and I ended up getting involved with things I shouldn’t have.”
He paused to see if Anto had anything to add. He usually did, but lately he seemed happy to let things go. It seemed as though the longer Danny was sober the less Anto had to say.
“But I managed to get away from all that and came to Canada where I was going to have a fresh start. Only problem was that I brought myself with me, and before long I was drinking heavily. You hear people say that they never intended to become alcoholic and I totally get what they mean. When I was younger, I hated my father for his drinking. Back then I thought he had given up on life and I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. But I had all this stuff going on inside me and drinking was the only way I could feel good about myself. That, and smoking drugs. I was in a band back then and I was able to tell myself that it was all just part of the scene.
“At first, I was just doing what everyone else was doing; only when they went off and started to make lives for themselves, I was still drinking and acting the fool. Even after I got married and had kids.”
He thought about mentioning his uncle but he wasn’t ready to talk about all that yet. Martin’s death was still like an ulcer. And he was a bit pissed that it was Anto’s ghost that got to haunt him. At least Martin once cared about him.
“I now know”—he smiled wistfully at the crowd—“that normal people just smarten up and get on with things. Not me, and after a while I began to resent my wife and kids for intruding on my drinking, and that didn’t make for a very happy family life. I used to try to tell myself that drinking wasn’t the problem, that it was my job, or the way I was brought up, or that Mike Harris was in power. Anything rather than face the truth.”
Nobody laughed at that, but a few nodded sympathetically.
“Anyway, after a few years they all got fed up with me and made me go to meetings. My wife had been sneaking over to the dark side on me—to Al-Anon meetings.” Everyone laughed at that.
“So I came, but I didn’t want any part of what you people tried to tell me. I just came to get the heat off for a while. I managed to dry out a bit but I didn’t find much contented sobriety. I did learn all the slogans, though, so I could use them at home when anybody bugged me; but deep down I knew I was just bullshitting everyone again, and after a while I picked up another drink.
“I’d managed to convince myself that I wasn’t really an alcoholic and, because I’d learnt about my other problems, I’d be able to drink like a normal person.”
He paused for another drink of water as everyone smiled back at him. “But all those meetings I’d gone to had screwed up my drinking. I couldn’t pretend anymore because, deep down, I knew what I really was and I knew what my real problem was. And no matter how much I drank I could never get back to the happy places drinking used to take me. I felt like a piece of crap and I had to drink because I couldn’t stand myself. I despised myself when I was drunk, and I was full of guilt and remorse when I wasn’t. I was trapped and hopeless.”
He paused again and briefly looked around. Frank was sitting near the back, and Billie was sitting in the second row, smiling and encouraging him. It was a struggle but they were all making it, one day at a time.
“My wife had tried to kick me out when I started again but she had to take me back for the kids’ sake. I knew that and took full advantage and behaved like a total arsehole.
“That was another thing I hated about myself. But now that I have come to accept this program, I understand what was happening. In the first step, where it talks about being alcoholic and not being able to manage our lives—I was living proof of that. I didn’t care that my wife and kids were scared of me, never knowing when I was going to go nuclear again. I didn’t care because the only thing I ever thought about was where my next drink was coming from, even when I had one in my hand. “After a while I couldn’t stand being around my own wife and kids so I moved into our basement. I had a bar down there and a couch, and as long as I had a good supply in, I didn’t care about anything else. My family all tried to get on with their lives while I lived like a troll in a cave, only coming out to go to work—and the liquor store.” His voice wavered and his eyes welled up, but he was determined to be honest. “I was living in my family’s house like a wild animal.”
He checked around the room for disapproval but there was none.
“Only my daughter would come down to see me, and that just made things worse. At least with my son it was obvious— he hated me. My daughter still wanted to believe in me, and I couldn’t stand the look in her eyes. I suppose it reminded me too much of how I must’ve looked when I was a kid.
“Anyway, I blew that too. I got drunk and lost it on my son one day and my wife kicked me out again. To try and make up for it, I stopped drinking and went on anti-booze. But, to be honest, I only went on them so everybody would think I was trying.
“Then I got drunk while I was taking them and ended up in the hospital. When I got out, I’d nowhere else to go and went to see a friend from the band. I didn’t know that he was in the program. If I did, I’d have gone somewhere else—only I didn’t have too many other places to go.
“Anyway, he said I could stay with him if I started going to meetings again. I wanted to tell him what to do with his meetings—and his steps—but by this time I was totally beaten. I’d reached the bottom and kept thinking about what the steps said about insanity. At first, I didn’t think of myself as mad, but someone once said that it was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I could totally relate to that. I knew when I picked up a drink that I was playing Russian roulette, but each time I told myself that it would be different. It was. Each time things got worse.
“You see, I didn’t want to believe in all the stuff you people go on about, but I’d nowhere else to turn. I had a lot of issues with gods and higher-powers and all that, but people just kept telling me to keep coming back. My sponsor used to say that I never let what people say drive me out of a bar so . . .
“He was right, and bit by bit one thing started to make more sense to me. I was an alcoholic and I couldn’t manage my own life—even when I wasn’t drinking. And then, after another few months I started to think about what you people told me, that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.
“As I said, I used to object to the word sanity, but my sponsor and I drank together, and he was more than happy to remind me how insane I was. He also said that my higher power could be whatever I was able to believe in and, if I didn’t have anything else, I could believe in the power of the program. I went along with that and after a few more months, when the fog began to clear, I began to start every day by making a conscious decision to turn my will and my life over to the idea of trying to be a better person.
“Keep an open mind on what I say, because I’m still not sure what my higher power might be, and the great thing is that I don’t have to worry about it. They told me that if I keep bringing the body to meetings, and if I try to live by the steps, the rest will fall into place.
“I still struggle with the urge to drink but I’m learning to deal with that. I call somebody, usually my sponsor, or I go to a meeting, and it works. I come in gasping for a drink and I leave thinking about something else. It works, and one day at a time I’ve managed to avoid picking up that first drink. And if I can keep it together for another few weeks, I’ll be celebrating one year.”
Everyone clapped at that and a few called out, “Keep coming back.”
“If you’re new, then take it from me that it does work. If someone like me can do it then so can you. And I’m not going to lie and say everything is rosy or anything like that. My wife filed for a divorce and we’re just dealing with all that right now. It bothers me a lot, but with meetings and all the support I get from you people, I can avoid picking up that first drink.
“I’ve been told that we have to clear away all the debris of the past and that’s what I’m trying to do. My wife has started to let me see my little girl again and I’m learning to be grateful for that. My son still doesn’t want anything to do with me and there’s nothing I can do about that right now.
“All I can do is go to meetings and stay sober one day at a time and let the future look after itself. So if you’re new, or you’re like me and coming back, keep at it. It does get better. Every day you don’t pick up that first drink is a better day.
“Looking back, I’ve always let the things other people do get to me. For years I resented them all: my mother and father, my granny, even my own wife and kids. But since I started practicing the steps, I’m starting to see things differently.
“I once heard a guy at a meeting talk about how hurt people hurt people. He said it was like a sickness that kept getting passed on and that instead of giving in to it we should try to break the cycle. That’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m trying to change the way I react to things that used to bother me. I’m trying to learn about the principles of Love and Tolerance. And I’m not doing it to become a saint or anything like that. I’m doing it because it is the only way I can survive. Sometimes, I think it’s the only way any of us will survive.”
As he returned to his seat everyone clapped, and some reached out to shake his hand. Danny Boyle, who had come through all that life had thrown at him so far, was as happy and hopeful as he had ever been in his life because, deep down inside where it really mattered, he felt he was no longer alone.