Hey guys, this is Erik Johnson, I want to talk about my story, my first day in AA and what happened, that was 24 years ago today, and I am going to start with my backstory, just so you can get a sense of what happened and why I went to AA in the first place, and does AA really work?
We’re gonna dive into this so stay till the very end of this article because I’m gonna have some good pointers for you – and we will see if I am still sober.
My First Day in AA 24 Years Ago
So when I was 17, I started drinking but I was very naive about it because I was sheltered growing up.
My parents didn’t want me to discover anything bad because not only did we move up from Southern California, away from violence, but both my parents had alcoholic parents and they didn’t want to be like their parents so they sheltered my sister and I in a small town in Washington State.
So when I discovered alcohol, I was very hesitant to drink, because I didn’t know the power of it. I didn’t even know if a beer would make me drunk or what.
So my jock friends gave me a beer one time, and I drank half of it and then I got nervous and went around the corner and poured it out in the sink so I could pretend that I finished it. That’s how scared I was of alcohol. I didn’t really understand it.
When I was five years old, I saw a drunk man and I was so scared of that man I asked my dad what was wrong with him. And my dad just said oh he was just drunk, so that stuck in my mind when I started drinking.
I really didn’t understand it. I watched a lot of TV, which, you know, dramatized everything, so I just thought you could die if you drank anyways.
Fast forward to about age 20, I was drinking a lot now, and I loved it. I loved alcohol. I loved how it affected me. It affected me differently than other people, it made me manic, I could stay up all night I was just so talkative and excited about life, and it felt like it was my last day on earth every time I drank.
So I really loved it, it gave me liquid courage because I was very shy and introverted, and my dad was very strict, so I really didn’t think I could be myself growing up. Alcohol was like my ticket to freedom.
I loved it so much that by the time I was 20 I was getting drunk three to five nights a week.
I met an older woman, and this is pretty much my first girlfriend and she’s 20 years older than me, and she asked me to move in after I showed her my poetry.
She really liked my writing, she was an artist and she did these crazy crosses made out of driftwood and she put skulls on them – very gothic lady, and you know I have Asperger’s so I just didn’t really jive with girls my age.
But, I was intelligent enough to hold a conversation, and so I just leaned towards dating older women for quite some time.
But this older woman taught me about wine, and art, and the Beat Generation writers and I just really liked what she was showing me in life, it was kind of like taking the bite of the apple of Adam and Eve type scenario where she turned me on to not only art and literature but also making love because before that I didn’t really go all the way with a girl.
So it was kind of a big deal, and plus this woman had children that were the same age as me. She had her first child when she was only 14, so I’m hanging out with a woman living with her, and there’s a guy walking around the house who’s the same age as me, and that was her son.
We actually went to school together so that was kind of weird, and it gave me a little weird inferiority complex. You know because they’re like intellectuals, her and her son and they just thought they were – they’re a little snooty but they were very nice to me and they kind of brought me in under their wings, so to speak.
So I lived with her and she was a cook and she would come home at night and bring me awesome dinners from where she cooked, and we would get drunk every night and listen to music.
She liked the same crazy music that I did – some really alternative bands that not a lot of people knew about, local Seattle bands. The grunge scene was going on, sub pop was going on. This is even before like Pearl Jam and Nirvana and stuff.
This is stuff coming out of the underground scene, this is weird music, you know like the Jesus Lizard and Nick Cave and Nomeansno and bands like that.
So anyways, everything was fine for like two or three years and then I started to get drunk more and more and I was starting to resent her because at that point I wanted to be with younger girls, and I felt like I was kind of with a surrogate mother.
At the same time I was giving my parents the silent treatment so I had a lot of pent up rage and I wasn’t getting along with my parents and they didn’t know where I lived, even though I only lived like a couple blocks away.
I disappeared from their life for two years, and was just living with this older woman. So by the time I was 23 to 24 I had so much rage that I started to take it out on my girlfriend, the older woman.
So, she kicked me out when I was 24, and that was the very first huge reality check. I was homeless instantly, like, one day I’m eating pasta and living good and drinking wine, the next day I’m literally looking for a shelter in the small town and I didn’t want people to know I was homeless, so I kind of hid out.
I slept in this bunker that the military used to use and I squatted in an old wood shack, and I just had a little backpack, or actually I had a big backpack and I had a couple of candles – and that was my life.
I finally gave in, I broke down, I was crying and I just went to AA. So when I went into AA, I had brought in my bag – my life on my shoulders. I brought it into the meeting because I was homeless and I didn’t want people to rip my stuff off so I brought it with me to the meeting.
I told my story, and I was so nervous telling my story I was shaking. I was almost crying. Then, when I was done talking, you know, this guy, it was his turn, and he started talking, and he had like 20 years sobriety and he just kind of laughed at me and he was just like whoa, tough times kid.
Then he just started talking about himself, but you know when he was talking down to me I was like you don’t frickin know me, you know, how dare you make fun of me, you have no idea who I am or what I’ve been through, and the whole room got quiet and the guy was just, you know, inconsiderate, and thought he was high and mighty.
So that was my first day in AA, and then eventually I went to Job Corps, when I was 24 in Oregon and there was a Merchant Marine program on the Columbia River and I got to learn how to work on tugboats and stuff and I was sober the whole time.
Job Corps is like military style training, not as strict but you know we still had a curfew and, you know chow time and all this stuff and I got along with the guy is great, and, you know, I got to work on tugboats which I always loved growing up being living on the water, and then I discovered the Job Corps.
So I started going to meetings. We would shuttle into town into Astoria, Oregon and go to meetings and I met this schizophrenic guy who would talk during meetings to himself, just moving his lips, you know the whole time.
He was very skinny and had long gray hair that almost looked like Jesus. But, you know, his brain was fried from lots of drugs or he was just schizophrenic I don’t know but I really liked him and I wanted to help him so I went over to his house and I cleaned his whole house.
I remember just having a great time. We actually, the Job Corps group actually did a native sweat lodge where we would sweat it out in a teepee and there were actually Native Americans and their grandfathers and we prayed over grandfather rocks and sprinkled sage on the hot rocks.
So it was actually a really cool time. But then I quit Job Corps, I came back to the small town, and finally made amends with my parents so things were cool.
They didn’t want me to be homeless so they set me up in a small little trailer on their commercial property, and I was good for a little while and then I finally relapsed.
I started drinking with the neighbors that I discovered lived right next door in this little commune and they were all on Social Security, and they were crazy and I really liked that because I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to write the next One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
So I was researching them and spying on them and finally I was just like, why not just drink with them, you know. So from 2006 on, I was drinking more than ever, and partying with these crazy guys, I got turned on to meth and I didn’t do a lot of it but once in a while, and things were just dark.
Those guys were a little perverted, and they would do weird things on meth at night and you know I didn’t really like that part but I was getting blacked out drunk and actually scaring them more than they were being scary, you know, they would tell me the next morning things I did, and they’re like Erik you were yelling up at the sky and pounding on our floor we didn’t know what you’re doing and so scaring them.
But from 26 to 30 I had bouts of my own sobriety. I just stayed sober, and I just stayed away from everyone and did my own thing. I just went to work and came home and read and watched TV.
During that period, I did nine months sober, 11 months sober, I did a 22 month sober period. I got my one year coin somewhere in there so the day I got my one year coin from AA I cried.
I was so proud of myself, because I always had low self esteem and self worth issues and that was like one of the greatest accomplishments.
But I was like, I don’t need AA and somehow I drifted away from AA. So I started to get really drunk. We’re talking every day now, and when I was 32 I had a heart attack from alcohol.
I was hung over. I was training at a new job and just turned white, chest pain, and fell on the floor, got airlifted to Seattle, got a stent placed to my left anterior artery, aka the Widowmaker and it was scary, but I thought it was a fluke.
So I was like I’m gonna keep drinking, which is crazy because most people would be like I’m gonna, that’s life changing I’m going to stop, but I drank heavier than ever and now I’m on heart meds while I’m getting drunk. I’m turning red and white randomly from these pills and drinking, non stop.
Then when I was 34, I decided to stop eating because I didn’t have a lot of money for beer and I didn’t want the food to ruin my buzz, and that’s when I really started going downhill fast.
My brain was shutting down. I was starving to death but I was gaining weight from all the beer. I was scared of people and I was paranoid. I could barely hold on to a job. I’m hanging out with this hobo guy, I’m pissing my bed every single night, I’m getting blackout drunk, and beer cans were everywhere all over my house, all over my car.
I’m drinking and driving and getting in these crazy fights with this other new girlfriend, you know, that’s basically enabling me, bringing home beer twice a day. I’m drinking around the clock now. I can’t sleep unless I slam a beer,
When I was 36, I finally, I wasn’t doing AA but I knew in my heart I was done drinking. I was like I can’t live this way. A guy came over to my house, he was a skateboarder, and he made fun of me and I was defenseless.
I was shaking in bed naked and couldn’t kick him out of my girlfriend’s house. Strangely enough, that was my rock bottom, and I just stopped, and I took the last two beers back home to my place and slowly nursed on those and slept for like three days, started eating food again and got two jobs.
For a little treat at night, I would have a candy bar, just to try to keep my mind off of drinking, but I knew in my heart I was done, and from 39 to 41 I had a couple two day relapses but I was like I’m not revisiting this, sobriety is too good. Life is too good. Now, this stuff makes me feel gross, and I’ve been sober ever since, and that was 2008.
So you guys can use AA, or you guys can do it on your own, but I needed AA in the beginning. I needed the principles. I needed the steps. I needed to study what it takes to change your life and transform it.
I really liked the spiritual aspects of the 12 steps, and they do work, but when I hit bottom, when I was 36 I knew I was done. And I’m still done today, there’s no, I don’t romanticize it, I don’t want to taste beer. I don’t try to hang out in bars, I don’t have any friends that drink.
You don’t play around with that stuff if you, if you really want to get sober, you have to get rid of people, places, and things that even remotely remind you of drinking or trigger you with alcohol, you can’t play around with it you have to treat it like it’s life or death, and you have to change everything.
Two years into sobriety, I moved away from that small town because there was just all my friends drinking, there was every place that reminded me of alcohol. I had to uproot and leave, I got a new girlfriend that didn’t drink. I started doing spiritual work, and I went to Peru and did Ayahuasca.
So it was a real spiritual transformation but I wanted to do it, because I knew it was life or death. The heart attack didn’t scare me. I wasn’t tired, it wasn’t time yet for me to stop. I did not hit bottom, I thought the heart attack was a fluke. I drank for four more years and it kept getting worse.
Alcohol is progressive. It is a disease that grows whether you drink or not. So I know if I went back, drinking, even though I have been sober for, you know, 13 years. I know I would be right back where I started in a couple of weeks.
I would be homeless, I’d be hanging out with hobos and bums, I would be drinking malt liquor, because once you learn those tricks of addiction, you will go right back to them. You don’t heal. So, that’s my advice.
AA does work but you can also do it on your own but either way, you have to change everything about your life. I love you guys hit the subscribe button. Share your story in the comments, and we’ll talk to you soon.