Drinking the Kool-Aid
In the very beginning, I was sure I would be doing the full duration of my recovery without AA. I recoiled from the dogma and fundamentalism surrounding the program, and it was super tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I know the God stuff is really hard for a lot of people. As long as there is inclusivity for all religions and spiritual belief systems, that part is not an issue for me. What I have a hard time with is the insistence that frequent meetings and the 12 steps are the one and only legitimate way to go about this recovery business. I don’t believe there’s only one way to do ANYTHING. And I know from the amazing stories I read on sober blogs that it’s not the only way to get and stay sober. So the fear-based stuff doesn’t work for me at all. I now know quite a few people who go to AA meetings most days and in some cases every single day. I would never presume to say they don’t need to or shouldn’t, any more than I want anyone else presuming they know what my path should be (and besides, the proof is in the pudding—they are amazing people). But I call bullshit on the idea that I and every other person in this situation had better go to meetings often and forever–or even at all–or be guaranteed screwed with a capital S. On the other hand, some of the vehement anti-AA stuff I’ve read online strikes me as the flip side of the same dogmatic coin.
Largely because two people I admire and trust asked me to, I kept an open mind about AA and didn’t rule it out. Meanwhile, I went to a Buddhist recovery meeting a couple of times. I thought that had to be the ticket for me since I had been practicing meditation and yoga for years and loved the idea of a recovery program based on Buddhist principles and mindfulness practices. To my surprise, that meeting didn’t do it for me and I can’t even say why. Maybe it would have grown on me, but I couldn’t stick with it anyway due to my work schedule. I did find a book there that has been a wonderful resource for me, One Breath At a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps by Kevin Griffin. That book pointed to the possibility of finding compatibility between AA and my beliefs about spiritual growth.
I decided despite my reservations, it would be stupid to not at least explore this program that was tried and true for millions. So I went to my first AA meeting and found it thoroughly depressing. The talk was all doom and gloom and war stories—I did not find it helpful at all. Here was me: “I cannot believe I am away from my family at dinnertime to sit in this dark church basement right now. Is this really my life now? Seriously?”
My sponsor/friend encouraged me to try a couple more meetings before making up my mind, and I agreed. I started reading the Big Book given to me at the first meeting. I found that I actually like the AA literature a lot. You do have to get past some of the dated language and gender bias. I have had to develop my own interpretations of words like “powerless” and “disease”—interpretations that feel empowering instead of demoralizing. Other than that, most of what I read in the literature resonates as truth for me.
On my birthday, I tried another meeting. It was in the morning in a sunlit room, and it could not have felt more different. It was not depressing at all–quite the opposite. I heard inspiring stories and insights about how people are learning to live better lives. People talked about how they are taking responsibility for their own thoughts and behavior, releasing control of others, and learning to be better spouses, parents, sons, daughters and friends through their recovery. There was sadness and struggle, and there was also laughter. I thought, “Now here is a meeting I can do.” And the location was poignant for me—it’s right around the corner from the house where I lived in high school—the house I used to sneak out of at night to go “partying” with my friends. The meeting is on the very street where I took walks many times a day to get away and be alone, smoking and listening to my Walkman, looking at the same view. My recovery could begin in the very place where the problem took hold and grew roots. At the end of the meeting, a woman gave me a small pewter angel.
I started going about once a week. I didn’t have to speak at all until I was good and ready, and that was important for me. You could go to that meeting forever and never say a word. There is another one I go to occasionally—a women’s meeting that I also really like. But it’s a good thing I didn’t try it until I had several months’ sobriety under my belt. Because at the end of that meeting, they go around the room and everyone who didn’t share introduces themselves one by one, by saying, “I’m ______ and I’m an alcoholic.” There is no explicit requirement that you MUST introduce yourself in exactly that way, but that’s what every single person does, so clearly that’s the expectation. By the time I tried that meeting, I was fine with saying that out loud in a room full of strangers. In my first weeks of sobriety, I wouldn’t have been. I would never have gone back to that meeting, and it could have scared me away from the program entirely. I think it’s important that people feel free to sit in meetings and just listen, and not speak at all unless they choose to, and not feel pressured to make declarations about themselves.
There are a couple of mavericks at my regular meeting who introduce themselves by saying ‘I’m ______ and I’m in recovery.” I really like that. Even if you’re fine with the alcoholic label, identifying yourself as being in recovery puts the focus on the solution instead of the problem. I’ve considered making that my practice as well. I still may do it. For now, when I choose to speak, I am fine with saying “I’m ______ and I’m an alcoholic.” I just feel like, you know what? It’s true, I now believe, at least by most definitions. It may not be the most positive way to repeatedly self-identify. But whatever, it’s fine. It’s what 99% of people do in meetings, and when in Rome, you know?
I go to meetings now because I like going. I find it inspiring and positive, and I learn something each time. Occasionally, I share something myself and in doing so, I have the privilege of participating in others’ recovery. My meetings help me remember that sobriety is something I must nurture and not take for granted. The stories people tell show me all the ways that sobriety is about a lot more than just not drinking. I like that men and women from all walks of life welcome each other and connect through this common journey. I’ve met a couple of people that I’m getting to know better, but in most cases I only know the other members by what they share with the group. Still, I love these men and women. Many of them I would never have given a second glance if I walked past them on the street. Now I get all excited when they start talking, because I know I’m about to hear something awesome and real, and that is a gift. What a surprise–the Kool-aid actually tastes pretty damn good!
Once a week feels just right. Meetings are important to my recovery, AND they are just one part of my recovery landscape. Some days, a Zumba class does more for my sobriety than a meeting! I create time and space for nurturing my sobriety in lots of other ways—with meditation, jogging, yoga, writing, reading about sobriety and spiritual growth, and psychotherapy. And doing my best to remember to practice mindfulness in all the ordinary activities of the day, and release my attempts to control everything (with highly variable degrees of success!). These are the ways I tend my fire.
How do you tend yours?
© soberfire, 2015