Story and photo by Carolyn Ten Broeck, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike holds three graduate degrees and today operates a successful farm.
Anna comes from a loving family, has traveled extensively and is self-employed.
Margo led a privileged life as the daughter of an Air Force colonel. Articulate and charismatic, she is currently disabled.
The three are different personalities, all with different life experiences and stories to share.
Truth be told because of their varied interests and lives, the odds of the trio forging friendships might be rare, but today they are.
The bond that ties them together is the fellowship of the bottle.
Mike, Anna and Margo are recovering alcoholics.
Last week, the three of them gathered on a warm December day on Anna’s porch to talk about their lives and embody the 12th step of Alcoholics Anonymous–to share their message of recovery and offer hope to others who may seek it.
A native Floridian, Mike makes no qualms about who he is.
“I used to be a drunk,” he said.
The drinking started, as many do, in high school and by the time he had graduated and gone into the Army, had become a favorite pastime–especially after being stationed in Germany.
A beer diet boosted his weight up 30 pounds and then came Vietnam.
Afterward, often angry and anxious and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mike self-medicated with alcohol–particularly beer and Jack Daniels.
But then something changed.
“I didn’t drink that much after service,” he said.
But after a divorce and three advanced degrees, Mike was working and thriving on the stress associated with life. And drinking. A lot.
It got to the point that he couldn’t hold down a job, and then came the breaking point.
“I woke up in the middle of the kitchen floor,” he said.
Mike sought help through the Veterans Administration, which works closely with AA.
“It’s alcoholics dealing with other alcoholics,” he said.
“Slowly the fog lifts and it’s not as bad as you think,” said the Army veteran, now 21 years sober.
Mike said people are not grown ups when alcoholic is involved, and once it’s removed, “Life makes more sense.”
“I had a nice childhood,” Anna, a lithe woman with an infectious smile said. “ I didn’t fit in. I was too smart. I was left handed. I just didn’t fit in.”
Reared in the mountains, she remembers borrowing an ID when she was 18 and traipsing off to a bar where she drank three pitchers of beer and considered it “normal.”
Married multiple times with no children, she too, self assesses, perhaps even sometimes brutally.
“I was arrogant,” she said. “I was superior to everyone, but I had an inferiority complex.”
Anna, a self-described people pleaser became a master of deception.
“I could make it look good on the outside while everything was falling apart on the inside,” she said.
Before long, she continued, “what was fun became a necessity” and soon she couldn’t live without drinking.
She moved around a bit in those days, she said, trying to evade her problems, her disappointments, but everywhere she went, the problems were still there.
She survived by enlisting the assistance of her family.
Without knowing, thanks to her manipulations, her family became her strongest enablers.
All she had to do was say money was tight, and she needed a little extra to get through, and it came.
But rather than pay rent or buy food, Anna was using the money for her favorite pastime–alcohol.
By 1994, the turning point arrived.
Finally onto her cunning ways of deception, Anna’s family stepped in and did a formal intervention and sent her to a 28-day rehabilitation facility.
There, almost miraculously, Anna had a spiritual awakening.
“I was powerless,” she said, as she realized what had started as fun had become a mental obsession and a physical craving.
That was 17 years ago and today, Anna says, “I’ve never relapsed.”
Margo can trace alcoholism in her family back to the 1600s. It’s not something she’s proud of, but it nonetheless gives credence to the belief that people are predisposed genetically to alcoholism.
Her father was an Air Force officer, and she remembers being with her parents at the Officers’ Club while they got drunk, and she had a Shirley Temple.
But the Shirley Temples didn’t last.
“I had my first drink when I was 6 or 7,” Margo said.
And it only progressed from there, she said.
“Alcohol was cheap,” Margo said. “It made me feel like superwoman.”
As an adult, Margo became a bar manager. It was like the cliche’ of turning a child loose in a candy store.
Except this time the child was Margo and the candy store was a vast selection of alcoholic beverages,
“I liked good beer,” she said last week. “And German wine. And straight Scotch.
“When I was drinking I would do things I would never consider while I was sober,” she said, using traveling alone in bad sections of town where she made up stories about who she was and what she did for a living in order to get free drinks.
Margo’s ah-ha moment came when she flipped her Cadillac end over end after leaving a bar.
Rescue workers using the Jaws of Life spent two hours extricating Margo from the carnage that was once her vehicle.
“I knew in my soul if I didn’t quit drinking, I was going to die,” Margo said.
After her second DUI and court-ordered AA meetings, Margo stopped drinking.
“It was a miracle,” she said, “but I didn’t do AA. I was sober for 11 years on my own. I was superior and my ego wouldn’t let me admit I needed help.”
But after her parents’ deaths, bankruptcy and her own medical issues, Margo fell into the cycle again.
“I started self-medicating,” she said. One mini bottle of wine to take the edge off her daily stresses progressed to more drinks, more binges.
In 2010, Margo had a heart attack–at home–alone. Before she would call 911, she bathed and brushed her teeth because she didn’t want the paramedics to know she had been drinking–and in fact, was drunk.
Upon the ambulance’s arrival and the questions that followed, Margo refused to admit she had been drinking–even when her life was on the line.
Now with a heart condition and her partner’s threat to leave after many years together, Margo knew something had to be done.
“I finally accepted I am an alcoholic,” she said. “I am powerless.”
She has been sober about 15 months.
For Mike, Anna and Margo, the sustaining force in the midst of their recovery is AA.
Living by the organization’s 12 Steps (below) the first key is “one day at a time,” according to Anna.
But Mike may disagree a bit. “It’s one hour at a time, one minute a time,” he added.
“Alcohol is like a tornado raging through the lives of others,” Margo said.
Part of AA is being in a fellowship of people just like you, the three agreed. There are no condescending looks, no judgments, because everyone has been down that rocky path and everyone has suffered along the way.
AA members come together to stay strong together and to remind one another where they have been, and where they are going.
“So many people think AA is about the people living under the bridge,” Mike said. “It’s not. It’s about people from all walks of life. All classes. All educations. All races.”
Mike, Anna and Margo are faithful to AA meetings. Mike attends four or five each week, and the women make at least three-maybe more.
None are troubled by being around alcohol in social settings, but if they are, they remove themselves from it.
Some days are worse than ever, but all agree that these worse days are minor compared to the dark days of their addiction.
“I’m not putting myself in jeopardy,” Anna said.
“And if you do relapse,” Mike warned, “then you start where you left off.”
The 12 Steps, the trio said, is a good design for living that really works–no matter who you are or what your story is.
Mike, Anna and Margo are committed to sharing the message of hope they have received through AA. By sharing, Anna said, they are able to stay on the path themselves.
For more information, visit aa.org or call 372-8091.
“If you think you have a problem,” Anna said, “you probably do.”