Breaking my Anonymity

In the past moAnonymity Accidentnth, I have had a couple of people email me asking me about my decision to break my anonymity. I want to address this issue. My thoughts have evolved over the past couple of years since I started this blog, but I felt like I needed to re-post the original blog as a point of reference. This original post was published on September 24, 2014. I would also like to add that if someone would like to write the post about why anonymity should be kept, I would greatly appreciate it. I had made this offer originally to the people who emailed me, but I never heard back from them. I hope someone will volunteer to do it. And without further ado…

I have been writing today’s post on and off again for the last week. It has been very difficult. I think the reason is that I am walking a fine line of between explanation and justification. I keep slipping into a defensive tone, like I am on guard against possible recriminations. So, with a deep breath, I am going to start over.

Today’s writing is the third in a series of posts. If you are just joining the conversation, you might want to look to the right hand side of the screen. It should show Post One, “How I became an Alcoholic” and Post Two, “What it’s like Now.” They will explain my backstory and my motivation for writing this little series.

So, this third part addresses the final question: Why I write so publicly about my alcoholism.

Let me start off by saying that I truly enjoy writing. I have always enjoyed voicing my thoughts on paper. In fact, I think I write more coherently than I speak. In my mind, my words are clean and precise, but when I speak, they come out in a jumble. When I get the chance to write, edit, rephrase, and yes, start over when I begin to sound defensive, I feel a lot calmer.

AA teaches me to be honest today. And I honestly do not care about if anyone knows I am a recovering alcoholic. Additionally, I am not supposed to live in fear. The only reason I could come up with for not proclaiming my alcoholism is fear of what other alcoholics would say. “What? Oh no!” you say. “Other alcoholics? You meant Normies.” No, no I did not. I’ve run that one over and over again in my own head. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I have never had anyone condemned my recovery to my face. Usually, people are quite nice and supportive. Maybe a little shocked, but encouraging none-the-less. Alcoholics, though, man, we can be ruthless. Alcoholics, by and large, are generally really intelligent people and we are not afraid to pass judgment and speak our minds. We are kinda a scary organization, to be quite honest. Thank gosh our main objective is staying sober and not world domination.

Okay, here are the main reasons I get for not proclaiming myself an alcoholic. 1) The second A of AA. Anonymity. I think it is a sticky widget. According to the preface of the Big Book, the reason for anonymity is simple. “It is important to stay anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication.” The amount of personal appeals I have received is zero. And I have plenty of time. 2) The Eleventh and Twelfth Traditions. Okay, you may have me here. I’ve read them a few times, and yet, I am still not clear on the ideas. But I know I am not promoting. I’ve said time and again, I speak for no one other than myself. 3) The idea that if an alcoholic is public and then relapses, the public will assume AA as an organization, and not the individual, is somehow to blame. I’ve never really gotten this argument either. Alcoholism and drug addiction are so life consuming that for a person to stop for even a week or a month is a huge accomplishment. To disregard this clean time as a blanket failure of AA is near sighted at best. Besides, I have never actually heard this said by a single Normie ever. It is always said to me by an AA speaking on behalf of society. Has anyone ever actually heard the news condemn AA when a celebrity has failed to maintain sobriety? I should YouTube it.

So, why I write about my alcoholism… (I cringe a little as I write this because I fear that some might find me morally grandstanding. That is not the case at all. I am a flawed individual. I own every part of that.) I think that publicly proclaiming my alcoholism is the morally right thing to do. That’s it. I write about my alcoholism because I think I should. Pure and simple.

“Alcoholic” is a very heavy label. Because alcoholism and drug addiction is so stigmatized in modern society (especially for women), most people keep their anonymity for fear of societal backlash. In fact, just today I had lunch with a friend who told me she is worried that if her boss knew she was an alcoholic, the boss would use that information against my friend. I absolutely get that. Not for a second do I judge my friend for her decision to maintain anonymity.

My personal feeling, though, regarding just me, is that if I truly believe that my alcoholism is genetically predisposed, which I do, then I should be no more ashamed or embarrassed by my disease than I am of my hair color or my skin tone. I am not responsible for my disease. With that said, I am 100% responsible for my recovery, what I do with my disease once I am diagnosed. If I choose to disregard my alcoholism and indulge in my obsession, I will no doubt commit ludicrous and outrageous acts, cut myself off from those who love me, lie, cheat, and steal. Then, I should absolutely be ashamed of my actions. But stopping, asking for help, living by a moral code and a set of principles, and proclaiming a belief in something holier and deeper than the material is not, nor should it be, shameful. The reality is, I do not think it is embarrassing that I am a recovered alcoholic. The embarrassing part is if I had never stopped.

I belong to a small minority that feels that by clinging to anonymity, we alcoholics help perpetuate the stigma of an alcoholic rather than the creating a new discourse about recovery. I remember a person saying in a meeting once, “I didn’t care about my anonymity when I was out there drinking.” That’s the language I understand. I have the luxury to be in a situation where I can proclaim my alcoholism, but even if I couldn’t, I probably still would. I think it is important. I write because I think I should. If I treat my disease as a source of embarrassment and shame, why in the world would I be surprised when others do the same?

A New Freedom and a New Happiness

The Promises

**This week’s post is written by my pen-pal Nichole Barry-Kroger. Although we share a last name, and though I now think of her as a sister, we are not actually related. Nichole is currently serving an eighteen month prison sentence in a South Dakota women’s facility for driving while intoxicated.**

For a long time, I thought the promises in the Big Book were something that didn’t apply to a person like me. I just didn’t ever look forward to them happening to me because I, of course, must be unique. My past has been full of people who had regularly told me I was useless, stupid, fat, ugly, and the list goes on. My self-esteem was drug down so low that I thought it could happen for everyone else, but not for someone as stupid as myself.

Now, I sit here in prison at the age of 39, not even feeling sorry for myself anymore. While I was awaiting sentencing, I was in an outpatient treatment, aftercare, got a sponsor, had a recovery coach, went to three meetings a week, and got involved in church again.

These were all great things for me because I can cope a lot better with my situation now. I would be lost and possibly using if I hadn’t done all of these things. I have twenty-eight months clean and sober as of right now. I sometimes look back and wish I could have done all of these things before it came to all of this, but this is what it took, I suppose. Of course, I get down and sad, and sometimes really lonely for my family, but it passes.

I know I have a great and bright future, and my family is anxious for me to come home. In the Big Book, on page 83, it says, “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.” I used to wonder what that would even feel like, but now, even in prison, I can feel that. I actually feel happiness and hopeful for once in my life.

Sure, I still have the promises coming true because it doesn’t just happen all at once. I still regret the past sometimes and feel guilt over it, but I don’t want to get drunk over it. I still fear people sometimes and economic insecurity, but time will get me over these things with God and AA. I look forward to helping others with these same problems and being useful again in our AA and church communities. Even from prison, I can see that the AA promises are coming true for me, and they can for anyone if you put the work in.

God is definitely doing for me what I could not do for myself!

 

The Impact of Grammar on Recovery

The Gift of DesperationSometimes, my mind wanders during a meeting into a whole other area of thought. This happened recently in a meeting about resting on one’s laurels. I have been hearing this topic a lot lately, and inevitably someone always says, “I got the gift of desperation.” I think I ponder individual words on a level most people do not. I presume it is what makes me a great English teacher, if at times a somewhat irritating friend and wife. (What do you mean I am mostly kind-hearted!??) I digress.

In the past, when confronted with the “gift of desperation,” I have been caught up with the word “gift” and all that connotes. But today a new thought occurred to me as I lost track of the meeting, and that was the word “got,” more specifically, about the simple past tense of the word “got.”

English is an odd language. It stands out form other languages because its root is the Germanic language. When German warriors invaded England in the 7th century, they brought with them their language. Four hundred years later, Britain was attacked and held by a section of France called Normandy. Consequently, the English language went through a radicalization process changing largely into what might be considered a French/German hybrid or a Latin/German hybrid since French was originally an offshoot of Latin. The grammar system by which English is based reflects this Latin influence.

English has a variety of tenses that all define or denote a different place in time in which an action, the verb, takes place. Did something happen in the past? Did something happen in the past and finished before another thing in the past happened? Or did it happen in the past and is still happening today? It is very precise. And maybe exactly because of this precision, in conjunction with the lack of grammar taught in schools today, these tenses have fallen out of favor. People do not know how to use them, or if they do use them in academic or business environments, they do not use them in common speaking. Instead, people tend to fall back on the so-called “simple” tenses, favoring context to convey time.

This is not unheard of in other languages. In fact, many non-Latin influenced languages have much simpler forms of verb tenses. Some languages, Mandarin being the most widely spoken, have no tenses at all.

And then all this thought reminded me of a Ted Talk I heard about the philosophical, economic, and medical consequences of tenses on cultures.

Keith Chen speaks that cultures with future tenses allow people to distance themselves from the future, unlike the cultures who do not differentiate the present from the future. Subconsciously, languages that differentiate the future have cultures that save less money and have less impulse control because they seem unaffected by the actions of today, but rather set off into the distant future.

I cannot help but wonder how language we use in recovery affects our recovery. We speak of a daily reprieve and a “spiritual bank” from which to draw, but Chen might argue we do not fully and consciously understand how the repercussions of our past acts, and the acts we perform today, have on our future.

“I got the gift of desperation.” Grammatically, it would mean that I got it, but no longer have it. Maybe, a better way by which to speak of it would be the present perfect progressive tense indicating an action continuing from the past into the present and possible into the future. “I have been receiving the gift of desperation.” Not an over and done task, but a continuing act.

Or maybe better yet, no tenses at all. Yesterday, I have the gift of desperation. Today, I have the gift of desperation. Tomorrow, I have the gift of desperation.

Yesterday, I recover. Today, I recover. Tomorrow, I recover.

Differentiate the True from the False

People Pleaser

It is pretty rare whenever I am in a meeting and the topic is not one I have already heard a hundred times. I am not disparaging the tried and true meeting topics; they’re classic for a reason, but whenever I hear a new one, my ears perk up just a little bit. I listen closer and think a little harder. Recently, I was in one of these meetings. The topic was, “Things people told you about yourself, things that were not true, that you believed.”

Many moons ago, when I lived in Boston, I had a friend who was studying criminal justice. This required her to take a variety of psychology and sociology classes, the kind of classes that makes one feel like they are experts in topics in which they really have zero understanding. One night we were talking, and in one of those moments of clarity, I said to her, “I think I am an alcoholic.”

My friend looked at me quizzically, paused, and in all earnestness said, “No, you are just a problem drinker.”

“Aha!” I thought, “I am a problem drinker!” And although deep down I knew it was not true, I clung to that idea for the next several years of my life.

Problem drinker… I don’t even know what that means.

The absurdity of the thing is, I always believed other people’s interpretations of me, good and bad. When I was told I didn’t have standards, when I was told that a degree in English was a waste of money, when I was told I wasn’t pretty because I weighed too much… all that. I believed all that. And a part of me still does.

“… [Alcoholics] cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false,” (Big Book xxviii).

I do not know why we are so bound to believe other people’s interpretations of ourselves, even over our own instinctual understanding of our own natures.

I have another memory, and that is the memory of when I first started this blog. I did not know what I was going to write about or how the blog would manifest. I just knew I needed to do it. I began to trust my own instinct rather than the words of others. For the first time in my life, I felt I was walking down the right path. I felt aligned and good. I felt like I was doing exactly what I was always meant to be doing.

The steps and recovery, the honesty I have with the women in my life, the ability to process, to meditate, to think, and to slow down have given me the ability to begin the process of knowing my true self- not the self that other people would like to believe I am, nor the person I wish I was, but my actual self.

And as awkward as it may be to admit… it’s been a real pleasure getting to know her.

Resting on One’s Laurels

Resting on One's LaurelsA few months ago, I was walking on the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, with my husband. We had had a long day playing and decided to take a leisurely stroll as the sun began to set. All around us, giggling children ran around with buckets trying to catch hermit crabs. It was an idealistic moment, one of those times each year that fortifies one until one can get back to the sound and the feel of the ocean or the mountains or the plains.

As we walked, Bob occasionally stopped and looked out towards the ocean. He is a person prone to quiet contemplation, so I choose not to disturb him. But each time he paused, it forced me to pause. Amid our romantic and serene surroundings, I found myself torn between stopping for him and walking on for me. I started to become agitated. So, walk on I did. After a few minutes, I looked back. The sun had set and night had closed in on the beach. I had lost my love.

It occurred to me that night that relationships in recovery are often like that fateful walk on the beach. Two people may meet at the same place. They might start walking in the same direction at the same pace, but eventually, one of them is going to take a pause. Maybe life has become too busy or meetings no longer hold the same appeal. Maybe one of the partners has disengaged from their sponsor.

When that happens, when one lags behind spiritually, the other partner is then forced into making a decision. Either the partner also lags, or else they move forward, going out to meetings, staying accountable to their recovery, and risking outgrowing their partner.

I don’t really have an answer. What I do know is “We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough” (Big Book 82), and “More sobriety brought about by the admission of alcoholism and by the attendance at a few meetings is a very good indeed, but it is bound to be a far cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life… Nothing short of continuous action upon these as a way of life can bring the much-desired results” (Twelve and Twelve 39-40).

So, I ask of you, the readers. How do you traverse this minefield of relationshipal disasterness? How do you keep accountable to each other without being enmeshed in each other’s program? If water finds its own level, how do you keep in homeostasis?

If you have any thoughts on what works ( or what doesn’t work), we would love to hear your comments. You can post anonymously on WordPress, or you can email and I will copy and paste your comment onto the blog without your name. We look forward to hearing from you.