I’m an alcoholic, my name’s Frank.
I believe I was born an alcoholic. I came from a good family and they did the best with me they could but probably from the age of 5 I lived in fear and didn’t really know what the world was about. I got very confused because because during World War 2 we had to go to the nearest school. I was a Protestant and I was sent to the Catholic Convent for 5 yrs to get a Catholic education. Of course, on the weekends I’d go to the Sunday school at the Protestant school so I got very confused. When I was young. Religion frightened me. I first got drunk when I was 6 yrs old. My grandfather put all the sherry out for Christmas and I went round the table and drank the lot and all the family laughed not knowing what the future was going to be.
I really started drinking in earnest at the age of thirteen. It’s a funny thing about alcohol – but it made me feel like other people looked. It turned me from an introvert into an extrovert. At the age of fourteen I ran away from home and joined the Danish Merchant Navy… just to get away. Be a man! I stayed with the Danish Merchant Navy for twelve months and then I joined the Army as an army apprentice. I was drinking alcoholically by the age of fifteen. There’s no doubt about it. Every weekend was a drunken weekend. I suffered blackouts back in those days. I didn’t know what they were… it was just where you woke up the next morning and couldn’t remember what had happened the night before. I’d say “It must have been a bloody good time, I can’t remember a damned thing.”
As the years went on the blackouts got worse and every time I drank I suffered a personality change. That was one of the worst things about it, it didn’t matter what I drank or where I drank or how I drank this personality change changed me and I was a different person. I had fifteen years in the Army and during that time I met my wife and we had three boys.
It was the first drink and I couldn’t stop. That’s exactly how it was but I didn’t realise it at the time. I thought that that’s how people lived. I gravitated to those people who lived the same. I just couldn’t handle family life and actually I was a married a man trying to live as a single man. That’s how it was for many years.
When I wanted to leave the Army they were pleased because I wasn’t a very good operator… although I achieved the rank of Warrant Officer. I was never a stable person and always in fear of other people and I got very angry as time went on. Of course when I left the Army someone asked me what I was going to do and I said “If I had the money I’d buy a pub” and he said “Why don’t we?” So we did and I stayed in the hotel game for 15 years. That’s like giving a bank robber the key to the bank.
The drinking just got worse as it went along and I lost a lot of opportunities. I trained my wife to be my caretaker. She took all responsibility for the kids and everything. I never really saw them grow up, I never enjoyed any of their sports or anything like that. Sadly I missed their childhood. I didn’t realise. I didn’t know I was an alcoholic. I thought that was the way people lived. I became a Kitchen Cowboy… there was domestic violence. There was no physical violence with my children but there was the mental abuse and I did a lot of damage to that family over the years and I didn’t realise how bad it was until I got to A.A. and I was able to look at my life. The Twelve Steps of AA enabled me to look back on my life, get honest about it and find out something about myself.
I first came to AA in 1984. I’d just been let out of the Fremantle lock up. I’d been put in there the night before. I had a big blackout, I smashed up my mother’s furniture and I woke up in the morning in the lock-up wondering what the hell had happened the night before. Of course, with a blackout, you operate ‘full on’ even though you don’t realise what you are doing. I am only a little man but, by God!, the strength I showed when I was full of booze was really bad. I can do a lot of damage, not only to furniture but to people too. I believe it took two policemen to put me in the Paddy wagon the night before so that’s an indication.
I woke up next morning in the lock-up and I wondered what the hell had happened. I was wearing a tailor made white business shirt, which was covered in blood. Not my blood! I didn’t know where it came from. If I had asked the sargeant what I’d done and he said I had committed murder I would have had to believe him. He also told me to find a new address because I had been kicked out of home. I was devastated because I needed my caretaker. I couldn’t take responsibility for living my life and I didn’t know what to do.
Even though I had been in hotels for years I’d heard of AA but I thought they were this crowd that went around the backstreets of Fremantle and Perth and picked up the drunks and took them off to hospital. That’s what I thought AA was. I had no idea of anything about the principles of AA. So I rang up the Samaritans and they asked me if I had been drinking and I said, tongue in cheek, “yeah one or two” which was an absolute lie. They sent somebody out to see me and it turned out to be an AA member. He asked me “do you want to stop drinking?” and I told the lie straight away, I said “yes”. I didn’t want to stop drinking. I wanted someone to sort my life out … sort out all the women in my life. That was the worst part of it. My mother, mother-in-law, my wife… it was all pretty disastrous. I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do but, anyway, this little fellow talked me into going to an AA meeting. So I sat in there and I thought “My God… these people really need this AA meeting… I don’t.” I couldn’t see that I had a drink problem. I thought I was mad actually, I really did.
Years ago one of my aunties had been in the Claremont Asylum, back in the ‘40’s, and I didn’t find out until a couple of years ago that she was an alcoholic. Back in those days thats what they did with alcoholics, particularly the women, they put them in the asylum. So, I hung around AA, hoping that they would fix my family life and get me back into the family home and, of course, it didn’t happen. I was going up before the judge on the following Wednesday for aggravated assault because I had hit my wife over the head with a broom handle and that was where the blood had come from.
I hung around AA for a little while, for about four years actually and I got back into the family home after a couple of months. That wasn’t anything to do with AA … my wife let me back in. But the reason I hung around AA was because it gave me somewhere to go to get away from the family actually, but I couldn’t believe that I was an alcoholic. No way in the world! And the denial was so strong. So for four years I didn’t drink because I thought I’d get kicked out of home, but I didn’t have a drink problem! I couldn’t see it, you know, and I was a very angry person. Full of fear and anger and to overcome the fear I became very arrogant… very, very arrogant. When we look back on our lives, my wife and I, that was the worst four years of our married life together.
I used to go to AA meetings and I’d ‘talk the talk’. I’d tell them things that I thought they wanted to hear and that’s exactly how it was. God! I was a sick person, I didn’t realise how sick I was. After about four years I turned around to my wife and I said “Well, I’m cured now. I’ve been to AA and I can now drink socially.” I’d never drunk socially in my life! I was one of these people that when I drank I drank to get drunk. One was too many and a hundred wasn’t enough. I heard them say things at the AA meetings like “If you don’t pick up the first drink you won’t get drunk”. When I tried the first drink I said “I’m not drunk! … I’ll have another one!” That’s the craziness of it, absolute craziness!
Anyway, I picked up a drink and it took me eight years to put it down again and it came back worse. They say the disease is progressive and there is no doubt about it in my mind. From my own experience, before coming to AA I was what they call a binge drinker and I’d get drunk for two or three days and go off the rails somewhere and come back home again. But when I picked up a drink again I became a daily drunk. It wasn’t that I needed to have a drink every day, I needed to get drunk every day, and that’s exactly how it was. I held down a job for that period purely because I knew that if I got the sack I wouldn’t have the money to drink. That’s all it was. Every morning I was off to work with a hangover. I was one of those lucky people, I’d only have a hangover in the head, a headache, and the stomach would sort itself out pretty quickly so I was a pretty good worker. My life was a bloody mess but I didn’t realise it.
Eventually my wife left me. On 30th May 1997 we went out to dinner and I drank until I was so drunk you wouldn’t believe and I had a blackout. I don’t remember a damn thing about it… only what I’ve been told. The next morning I woke up and there was all this broken furniture around the house and it was just devastating. My son came around and he said “Mum has left you, she’s going to Sydney and you’re on your own.” So there I was on 1st June 1997 in this empty house with all the broken furniture and nobody to talk to. My children didn’t want to know me, my wife had left me and I’d driven all my friends away too. That was another thing about me, I drove people away like you wouldn’t believe, through my actions.
Its strange, I do believe that during that first period in AA that the seed must have been sown without me knowing it. I stood in that empty house and I said to myself “Frank, you need AA.” And that was the first time that I actually admitted – not only admitted but accepted – that I was an alcoholic and that was probably the greatest thing I have ever done in my life, without a doubt. I rang up the AA number and I found out where the nearest meeting was and they said it was up at Armadale. So I went straight up to a meeting at Armadale that night and I haven’t had the need to pick up a drink since and that’s incredible. That’s over nine and a half years ago now.
I threw myself into AA, boots and all and I realised that I had to change my life. My wife did come back eventually – after about three months. I sat her and my daughter down and I said to them “I’m going to AA for me this time” and they were beside themselves. My daughter said “You bastard! What about us?” I said “well, I’ve got to do it for me”. I realised that the first time I didn’t do it for me, I did it for the family, to get back in the family home and all that. It was me that needed sorting out and it was funny how the realisation came to me. I’d say that that moment was, for me, a spiritual awakening, there’s no doubt about it. My wife turned around and said to me “I don’t believe that you’re an alcoholic” and I thought “Oh God!” So there was the denial in the family which was so strong. They say that the alcoholic has the disease and the family gets the sickness. I do believe that. It wasn’t until recently that I saw an AA sign in Melbourne and it said “If drinking is costing you more than money AA might help” and that’s true. It was costing me more than money.
So, I went to AA and the first meeting, about 40 people, was devastating for me, I’d reached my rock bottom, as they call it. Since then I’ve been to meetings on a regular basis and I still do seven or eight meetings a week. I find that if I do a meeting today there is a fair chance that I will have a good day tomorrow.
The principles of the program are really something I’ve worked on and with the aid of the Twelve Steps I have been able to change my life totally and turn it around 180 degrees. Its quite incredible, when I came to AA nine and a half years ago I was neither needed, wanted nor loved and today its quite the reverse. I am needed, wanted and loved and that is incredible, you know. My children talk to me today. They ring me up on a regular basis and say “Love you heaps, Dad”. Nine and half years ago if my name was mentioned they’d say “Isn’t the bastard dead yet?” So, the change is so dramatic. I’ll never forget one of the oldtimers – they are the great people in AA, the oldtimers, the wise people who have been there and done that – one of them said to me “you’ll have a life beyond your wildest dreams” and I didn’t understand what he meant. I do understand today and I have a life beyond my wildest dreams. Its quite extraordinary, actually.