Poor, black, totally ruled by alcohol, she felt shut away from any life worth living. But when she began a prison sentence, a door opened.
I am an african-american alcoholic. I don’t know when I became an alcoholic, but I do believe I became one because I drank too much too often.
I always blamed my drinking on being poor, or on anything other than the truth—that I liked what booze did for me, that when I had a drink I was as big and had as much as the next person. I would never admit that I was drinking too much or spending money that I should have used to buy food for my two little boys.
As time went on, I drank more. I was not able to hold a job—no one wants a drunk around. I was always able to get a boyfriend who had a drinking joint or sold whiskey, but it didn’t last long. I would embarrass everyone by coming in drunk or passing out. Then it got to the place where I couldn’t drink without getting in jail. On one of these trips, the judge must have thought I was worth saving, for instead of sending me to jail, he sent me to A.A. for one month.
I went to A.A. At least, my body went. I hated every minute of it. I couldn’t wait until the meeting was over to get a drink. I was afraid to drink before the meeting. I thought if they smelled whiskey on my breath, they would lock me up, and I couldn’t live without my bottle. I hated that judge for sending me to a place with all those drunks. I wasn’t an alcoholic!
Oh, I might drink too much at times—everyone I knew drank. But I don’t remember that any of them ever went to sleep in joints and woke up with no shoes on in the winter or fell out of chairs. But I did. I don’t remember any of them getting put out in the winter because they didn’t pay their rent. But to me, whiskey meant more than a home for my sons.
Things got so bad, I was afraid to go on the street, so I turned to Mothers’ Aid. That was one of the worst things that could have happened to an alcoholic woman. I would wait for the mailman each month, like any good mother, but as soon as he handed me my check, I put on my best dress and went looking for my alcoholic friend. Once I started drinking, I didn’t care that the rent wasn’t paid or that there was no food in the house or that my boys needed shoes. I would stay out until my money was gone. Then I would go home full of remorse, and wonder what I was going to do until I got my next check.
In time, I began to go out and forget the way back home. I would wake to find myself in some beat-up rooming house, where roaches were crawling over everything. Then the time came when I couldn’t afford whiskey, so I turned to wine. Finally I got so low - down, I was ashamed of my friends’ seeing me, so I went to the worst joints I could find. If it was daylight, I would go down alleys to make sure no one saw me.
I felt that I didn’t have anything to live for, so I tried suicide many times. But I would always wake up in the psychiatric ward to begin another long treatment. After a while I found that the psycho ward was a good place to hide when I had taken something stolen to the pawnshop. I thought if the cops did come to the hospital, the doctors would tell them I was crazy and didn’t know what I was doing. But then one good doctor told me there was nothing wrong with me except drinking too much. He said if I came back again, they would send me to the state hospital. I didn’t want that, so I stopped going to the psycho ward.
Now I had gotten to the place where I would wake up with black eyes and not know where I got them, or wake up with a lot of money and not know where I got it. Later I found out that I went into stores and stole clothes, then sold them. One morning I woke up with a thousand dollars. I was trying to remember where it came from, when two of the biggest cops I ever saw walked in and took me to jail. It came out that I had sold a woman a fur coat. The cops had picked her up, and she told them she had bought it from me. I got out on bail right away, but when I went to trial, the judge gave me thirty days. When my thirty days were up, I started back on my rounds. I didn’t last long. They tell me that I killed a man during that period, but I can’t remember anything. It was a total blackout for me. Because I had been drunk, the judge gave me only a twelve-year sentence in prison.
By the grace of God, I only served three years. It was there that I really found out what A.A. was. I had rejected A.A. on the outside, but now it came to me in prison. Today I thank my Higher Power for giving me another chance at life and A.A. and being able to try and help some other alcoholic. I have been home for a year and have not taken a drink in four years.
Since I have been in A.A., I have more friends than I ever had in my life—friends who care about me and my welfare, friends who don’t care that I am black and that I have been in prison. All they care about is that I am a human being and that I want to stay sober. Since I’ve been home, I have been able to gain the respect of my two sons again.
The only thing that bothers me is that there are only about five African-Americans in A.A. in my city. Even those don’t take part in A.A. functions as I would like to see them do. I don’t know if it’s force of habit or something else that keeps them in one place, but I do know that in A.A. there is much work to do, and none of us can do it standing still.
I do think that some of the African-Americans here—and other places too—are afraid to go to other meetings. I just want to say that you don’t have to be afraid, because no one at any A.A. meeting will bite you. There are no color bars in A.A. If you give us a try, you will see that we are really human beings, and we will welcome you with open arms and hearts.
I’m writing this during an A.A. convention, where I have spent the weekend with nothing but white people. They haven’t eaten me yet! I have not seen a black face but mine since I’ve been here, and if I didn’t look in the mirror, I wouldn’t know that I was black, because these people treat me as one of them, which I am. We all have the same sickness, and in helping one another, we are able to stay sober.