Last week, I reopened the conversation about anonymity. For years now, I have written this blog, but then I took a few months off. When I came back, I received several inquiries and comments regarding my breaking of my anonymity. One AA informed me that behind my back there is a wave of AA disapproval. Another woman, in the nicest possible way, sent me a bunch of Internet links in case I was just ignorant.
So for the record, I would like to say I am neither belligerent, nor am I ignorant. Years and years ago, I read once in a book that people of faith often think atheists and agnostics do not really understand God, so if God were simply explained to them, the atheists and agnostics would come to believe. This book said nothing could be further from the truth- that because of the consequences of denying God is so heavy, atheists and agnostics actually think a lot about God.
That is how I feel about anonymity. To think that I have not thought about the lasting repercussions of breaking my anonymity is ridiculous. I understand on a visceral level the choice I have made and the consequences it has. I know some AAs disapprove. I know some members of my family disapprove. I know I am one Google search away from my employer, my professors, and even my students knowing I am an alcoholic. To think I do it because of my ego is literally one of the shallowest thoughts I have ever heard voiced. No one would put oneself on blast, under scrutiny from friends, family, normies, and AA alike for the sake of ego.
So, why, then, do I break my anonymity? I have chosen to break my anonymity not because anonymity as a tradition isn’t important; there is just something more important on the line. And it is the reason I think everyone should break his/her anonymity. I think it is the reason why you, the reader of this post, should break your anonymity.
Alcoholism and addiction is not well understood. One of the most honest lines in the Big Book is, “If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all things worthwhile in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment…” (18).
This line is true. But it’s true because we let it be true. We allow the misunderstanding because we do not correct it. We are co-conspirators in the narrative because we do not change the dialogue.
With no other disease do those affected by it stand in the shadows. No one would ever attack the character of one who suffers from ALS or Parkinson’s. If someone has cancer and talks about his or her disease, remedy, and course of treatment, no one would call them prideful. Do those with Alzheimer’s accuse each other of selfish motives when advocating for reform and research? And yet, we alcoholics do that all the time. Why? I do not understand why we are so combative with each other.
Eighty years ago, one hundred people got together. They didn’t know how the book would be received. They didn’t know if the their idea would work. And they chose to leave their names off it. Fifteen years later, the group, for entirely different reasons and reflecting their culture of the 1950s, voted on the eleventh tradition.
Now it is 2016. Society and culture has once again changed. If in this information age, we choose not to inform, I believe we are doing a massive disservice the next generations of alcoholics and addicts. Instead of people being able to reach out and ask for help the way that anyone who is sick can and should ask for help, we are going to continue to perpetuate the current societal misunderstandings Bill wrote about in 1939. In meetings I often hear, “We are not bad people getting good. We are sick people getting well.” Then why do we act as if we are bad in public?
“17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems…More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol…
I am an alcoholic, yes, but I am a sober alcoholic. That only happened because one day I was so beaten down that the stigma didn’t matter anymore. But I wonder how many people never get past the stigma and die as a consequence. I wonder what would happened if we if we lowered the threshold of shame. I wondered if people stopped whispering and instead talked openly, like we do about tobacco addiction, if we encouraged health rather than shaming weakness, if the entire discourse would not be changed.
I had a friend tell me that she thought about coming out to her church. Her stepfather inquired as to her motive, was it not to be the one token alcoholic in the bunch? Was she not motivated by pride? It pained me when she relayed this story. I love my friend, and I like and respect her stepfather. It makes me uncomfortable to disagree with him. But yes, exactly! Just because she is 1, doesn’t mean she is the only 1. I bet there another 5 or 10 or 200 others who also haven’t come out at that church. She isn’t “the 1.” She just might be the first 1.
And I hope she is. I hope we all are.
I believe in AA. I owe it my life. But I also owe it to the future to not walk in shame.
We can regain anonymity when we are just one in 17.6 million people openly engaging in the conversation about alcoholism. It is just when we are the 1 that people notice us.
In the past month, 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?
By: Jeff J.
It’s an early Sunday evening, and I am required to attend an AA meeting at the local Alano Club. I have a choice between the speaker meeting downstairs, or the book study upstairs. Both start at 7pm, but there’s a problem. Both meetings are full, and there’s not a seat to be had at either. I am outside the downstairs meeting, finishing up my cigarette, when the community director comes by and tells me to get inside. I have been at my new rehab for less than two days. I haven’t found a sponsor yet. My head is spinning. I’m pissed, and my attitude sucks. Old behavior is begging to get out. That’s it. I say to myself. I don’t need this crap. I am a survivor who has spent his share of nights on the streets. I ask God one last time for help. “Did you bring me 1200 miles from my home in Texas for this??” Another minute passes as I hear the speaker meeting getting underway. Nope, this isn’t for me. I’m out of here. I start walking. Out of the blue, I hear a girl’s voice from behind asking, “Hey Jeff, where are you going?” I am 37 years old at the time, fresh out of detox, after years of alcohol and substance abuse.
First, a little background. My story isn’t unique. I started drinking at age 12, got drunk on the weekends at 13, and started smoking weed at 15. I loved the combination of weed and alcohol because it put me right where I wanted to be— under the table. Somehow I graduated from high school, and earned a golf scholarship to a private university in my hometown of Austin, Texas. There were way too many distractions for a burgeoning alcoholic in Austin in the early ’80s. I flunked out after one semester and lost the scholarship. I started experimenting with harder drugs and fell in love with cocaine soon after.
I tried school again two years later. I joined a fraternity. My drinking grew exponentially, as did my substance intake. I was elected president of my fraternity, because I led by example. I was a hard partying 20-year-old leading a group of hard partying 20 somethings. It was the best of times.
It was during this stint of college that I was first introduced to crack cocaine. I dabbled with crack my first few years out of college. You know, a weekend thing, and I was in total control. After all, my drinking had decreased since college, and I was a successful weekend warrior able to hold down a job. This scenario continued into my 30s, but with some differences. I started losing jobs at a more frequent rate. My relationships with people started deteriorating. I tried to finish college in my early 30s, but I quit school, once again, because my drinking and drugging was my first priority. I lost my best friend at age 33 to a heart attack, and my life started spinning out of control proportionally to my drinking and using. At 36, I had lost pretty much everything, and I found myself homeless on the streets of Austin. I turned 37 on the streets in May of 1999. If I ever write a book about my life, an entire chapter could be devoted to the day of July 29, 1999: that was the day I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t what you bargained for.” Long story short, I picked up a pay phone and made a call that would change my life. I spoke at length with a gentleman named Bill S. Within 48 hours, I was on a plane heading to California for detox and a long-term rehab. I was done.
The person belonging to that girl’s voice was Lisa, someone I had met when I checked into rehab. She was at my first Friday night AA meeting as a resident. I chose AA over CA and NA because my alcoholism was the alpha and the omega when it came to everything that happened in my life the past 20 years. For me, I also found more solution in the meetings of AA.
I turned to Lisa as I was walking away and said, “I am out of here.” She could see my head was spinning, and she knew of a local coffee shop nearby where we could talk. She convinced me to come have a cup of coffee with her. I begrudgingly agreed, assuring her that it wouldn’t help, and my mind was made up. We spent the next 2-3 hours exchanging stories, getting to know each other, and her gaining my trust. Like the phone call I had made a week earlier, this conversation would change my life.
Lisa convinced me to sleep on it and make a decision about what to do in the morning. We also spoke at length that night about my Higher Power. I told Lisa that I was struggling with the concept of having and maintaining a conscious contact with my Higher Power, who I knew to be God. I had this grand notion that God would appear before me and say “GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!” How grandiose of me. I knew deep down inside that wouldn’t cut it regarding a conscious contact. I knew I could do the steps and vigorously participate in AA, but I was genuinely concerned about not having that connection with God that people in the program told me was essential to my sobriety. Lisa also convinced me that, in time, I would make that connection with God that I desperately wanted to make. I went home that night to my sober house unsure what the next day would bring. I remember humming the classic Clash tune “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” on the way home.
I woke the next morning to my community director informing me that because I missed the required meeting from the night before, I would be under “house arrest” for the day and would not be able to participate in any daily activities. I was also informed that any more missed meetings after that day would result in more punitive actions. Great. I had been here less than three days and I was already in the doghouse. Little did I know that missing that meeting with Lisa was the start of many life-changing epiphanies that would affect my recovery in a positive way.
I had a good breakfast, and headed for the showers. While in the shower, I reflected on what had happened the night before. I realized that the thought of leaving had not entered my mind until that moment. Then, BOOM, it happened. A feeling of calm was taking hold in my body from my head to my toes. It was a feeling I had never experienced before that moment. I knew at that moment that everything was going to be OK. It was at that moment that I saw clear as day that God had answered my short prayer from the night before and sent Lisa to talk to me, and that He spoke to me that night, through Lisa. “SO THAT’S HOW IT WORKS!” I exclaimed. The angst I felt about not connecting to God was gone. He speaks to us through each other. Amazing. My life would never be the same, and I embraced it. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I haven’t forgotten it to this day. That was 16 years ago. My life continues to amaze.
Thank God the elevator was broken.
**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!
I recently lead a meeting on the following topic, and was asked to turn the prompt into a short piece for a recovery blog. The following observations and inquiries are based on my first-hand experience and work with my own recovery through AA. While this is grounded in the 12 Steps and the approved literature, I am not attempting to amend any AA text or practices.
Insights into Step Five
By: Bailey Bunge
Step 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous charges us to, “Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” So what exactly is Step 5 asking us to do? In order to better understand this instruction, I referred to the definition of the word “nature.” According to www.merriam-webster.com, “nature” is defined in part, as it relates to this context as:
1a: the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: essence
b: disposition, temperament
4: the physical constitution or drives of an organism
Step 5 is asking us to understand the exact nature, the inherent character, the basic constitution, of our wrongs in order to accept, own, and eventually, correct them. There is a powerful difference between making a laundry list of transgressions or character defects and understanding what drives them.
Starting on page 55 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we receive instruction that it is only through full disclosure, complete honesty, and absolute thoroughness that we will successfully attempt Step 5. We are being asked for much more than a mere tally sheet. When we truly search for the exact nature of our wrongs, we are gifted so much more than a checklist. We begin to understand our “destructive obsessions,” (Twelve and Twelve 57) which is the first step to repairing them. In this we begin to tear down the wall of isolation and set about becoming who God would have us be. “To those who have made progress in AA, it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore, our first practical move towards humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies. No defect can be corrected unless we clearly see what it is.” (Twelve and Twelve 58) The inventory list we make in Step 4 is the recognition of our deficiencies. Understanding their exact nature helps us correct them. Here is an example:
|Step 4 Inventory|
|My husband||We fight all the time||Personal relationship||Trying to control him|
When we go back to look for our part and add column 4, we identify the character defect “controlling.” Now that we are armed with this bit of self-truth, the cause can move from “We fight all the time. He never does what I want him to,” to an understanding of the exact nature of this character defect. It might look more accurately like, “My trouble lies in trying to control him using manipulation, bribery, punishment, to coerce him into acting as I desire.” Understanding the function of our defects gives us the freedom to grow past them. Being aware of this behavior, we can work to amend it, as we move into a beautiful life, full of progress, not perfection.