“I would not be where I am today had it not been for who I was before.” How Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life and inspired my debut novel
Just over 20 years ago, I walked into the Chairman’s office, told him I was an alcoholic, and resigned as CEO of the Nasdaq-listed company I’d been running for ten years. I never drank during or before work, but I was a drunk. I’d been obsessed with mind-altering substances for as long as I could remember. The first of anything always led to the insatiable consumption of more. Although alcohol had never been my first choice, I always knew I’d have it. One by one, drug after drug took its inevitable toll on me, yet I always somehow was able to summon the willpower to end the deadly affair. Maybe that was because I was only trading one addiction for another, or maybe it was because I’d convinced myself that worst case, I’d always have alcohol. No matter the reason, alcohol became the exception to this rule. With all the power I could muster, I could not stop. There I stood, as surprised to hear my admission out loud as my boss, in a state of utter helplessness and hopelessness.
Within a matter of hours, I was sitting in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Again, I made my admission out loud when I identified myself to the other members. No problem there, or admitting that I was powerless over alcohol. I quickly identified with the speaker who spoke about the despair that comes from not being able to live with it, or without it. “A horrid place to be,” he said. But then came the God-speak, and within minutes of sitting in that stuffy, overcrowded church basement, my mind had convinced me that I was actually not that bad; certainly not as bad as these people. You didn’t need their help. Help was for losers, it reminded me. You, my friend, could do it on your own. Rescued, I was. And relieved.
These are the lies the addicted mind tells, weaving its web of denial and delusion. The reality is that my mind . . . that mind . . . didn’t care about me. It would rather me dead than know the truth about myself. Sheer, unadulterated arrogance. Protector, indeed: protector of my addiction. Ensuring that I would obsess about the drink and then guaranteeing that I would not stop once I started. A cycle of compulsion and craving that ruled my life, all in the name of escape.
My life after that day in the Chairman’s office was driven by a precarious sobriety and geographic “cure” that eventually led to a relapse. The progression of my return to active addiction was so swift and suicidal, it startled even me. I was trapped once again, a prisoner of the cycle, returned to that same level of despair. Another rock bottom. A deeper one. Fully aware that I could not beat this thing on my own, I was left with two options: drink myself to death or seek help, this time in earnest. Since I would not do the former out of love for my wife and children, that anonymous help could be my only alternative.
I can’t tell you how exactly I was able to walk myself back into an AA meeting, except to say that it was not of my own power. I remember sitting in that chair, filled with disgust and bitterness, but leaving with a shred of hope. That morsel was enough to bring me to another meeting, and then another. Within days, the obsession to drink had lifted and I was left with a mild feeling of euphoria that swelled over the following months, only to slowly dissipate over the following two years. No, I wasn’t drinking. Yes, I was still going to daily meetings. But neither was enough to assuage the rage, intolerance, and antipathy I’d felt for certain people— feelings I’d contended with for most of my life. I was stark raving sober and wreaking more havoc in sobriety, with untreated alcoholism, than I’d ever done in active addiction. I had hit an emotional rock bottom.
Once again at a turning point, and through no power of my own, the courage was summoned to ask a fellow member to take me through the Twelve Steps as outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. With a wry smile, he replied: “I thought you’d never ask,” and off I went, eager to relieve the despair of my emotional state, but terrified of what lay ahead. As part of the Twelve Step process, I began to explore in greater detail and depth the moments of my life—the memories and experiences—that I’d carried with me since childhood that seemed to govern my existence . . . emotions, character, personality: how I dealt with life. This process enabled me to see those things that had been holding me back from spiritual growth and peace of mind. Resentment and fear were the two main offenders. These were at the root of my dis-ease. The drinking and the drugs had been only a symptom.
Alcoholics Anonymous changed my life. From the fellowship and meetings to the literature and Twelve Step, I’ve been afforded a spiritual experience in the form of a personality change over time. AA has shown me the truth about who I was and why I was. It has provided me with the tools to live life on life’s terms, not my own. It has shown me the way to sanity and serenity. Most importantly, it’s taught me how to “pack into the stream life,” rather than suck out of life for personal gain. Today, I am a useful human being with a desire to help others, particularly those suffering in active addiction or miserable in sobriety. This is why I wrote a novel. The writing I’d done in Step Four of the Twelve Step process served as a starting point. Each entry was fleshed out into a detailed, semi-autobiographical “memory-story” riddled with trauma and conflict. The process was extremely cathartic and as a result I was able to construct a narrative that I hope is not only believable to the reader, but identifiable and instructive. The novel’s focus on trauma and recovery from trauma are applicable to all readers, not just addicts, because dealing with life on life’s terms is not just an addict’s problem—it is a human problem.
Despite all I’ve been through, I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, I’m grateful for it all, because I would not be where I am today had it not been for who I was before.
MICHAEL EON earned a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan and an MA in international affairs from Columbia University. A former board member of the Audio Publishers Association and a former producer of major motion pictures and television productions, Michael worked in the publishing and entertainment industries for more than twenty years. Michael discovered the core of this story through the cathartic processing of autobiographical memories, following its evolution into this novel of redemption and recovery. Originally from the New York area, he currently lives in New Hampshire with his family. “These Things Happen” is his first novel.