AA’s All Over This One

Bookmark IV

“We can laugh at those who think spirituality is the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength,” (Big Book 68).

I was in conversation with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. Her father passed away last week, and though I should have been the one to call her, she called me. She called me, not to receive strength but to give it. She called to offer me hope. My parents are of an age that hospital visits are becoming more frequent. While understandable, and on some level expected, it is none-the-less emotional business when we are faced with our parents’ mortality. My friend reached out to me in the spirit of offering hope to say, that when the worst does happen, it will be okay, “Because AA is all over this one.”

“AA is all over this one.” I thought about that simple sentence for all of yesterday and most of today, because, here is the thing, my friend did not really explain what she meant by that sentence. But here is the other thing, she didn’t have to.

I often think back to a conversation I had with my parents about ten years ago. I had just moved from Boston back to Houston. I was sitting on the couch in tears over my inability to handle life. It wasn’t the big things like death that had be so beaten down. No, forget about the life altering changes. I had no idea how people managed the small, everyday things. I didn’t understand how people had jobs and paid bills and cleaned houses and washed clothes. At the end, I needed a cocktail just to go to the grocery store. Life was one continual tidal wave of chaos. I couldn’t deal with people or responsibility or sunny days. I couldn’t deal with laughter.

I really like the concept that AA is not about the not drinking. I mean it is. First we have to put down the bottle. But it’s the everything else that really messes us up. Causes and conditions.

I’ve thought a lot about whether one can be sober through means other than AA. I mean not me, but someone out there has stayed sober through church, Bikram yoga, horse therapy, or cross addiction. I had a friend once that was sober through good, old-fashioned willpower. She told me, she wasn’t like me. She didn’t need AA to say sober. What I didn’t say, what I should have said, is I don’t need AA to stay sober either. I went to a meeting today, but had I not gone, I’m 99.9% sure I would still be sober. AA doesn’t keep me sober. It keeps me sane. It keeps me happy. My fear is not that I will stop going to AA and drink. My fear is that I will stop going to AA and become unhappy and fearful and crazy, and then I will drink.

What my friend didn’t realize then, still probably doesn’t realize now, is AA doesn’t make us weak. Dependence on the group, the program, has made me everything I am today: it’s given me the courage to write, to be myself, to have faith, to be a daughter and a friend. AA has taught me how to have priorities and do laundry. It’s taught me how to get the stickers renewed on my car.

I think anyone that has given recovery a real shot knows what it is like to have the strength through the program. Alone I am but just one individual plodding along in life. But as a group, I have a wealth of strength and support from which to draw.

Yep, AA’s all over this one.

 

Part Three: Why I Write about my Alcoholism.

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 publically 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?

 

 

 

 

What its like Now: The Miracle Part

If you want a free bookmark, email me at agkroger@gmial.com

If you want a free bookmark, email me at agkroger@gmail.com.

So, here we are again. Sunday night.

Here is the story: Last week, I told three of my very favorite people about my blog. At the time I told them, I had the opportunity to explain my alcoholism and why I was discussing it in such a public forum, but I chickened out. I failed. The timing was awkward. I was a little uncomfortable. Friday’s post, “How I Became an Alcoholic” was meant to rectify some of this error. Today’s blog was supposed to address the second question, “Why do I write so publically about my alcoholism.” After I wrote it though, I realized there was a problem. In AA, we often talk about what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. I did the first two, but never did the third. So, my two part series is now three parts. Tonight, I address “What it is like now.”

 

My early days of sobriety were really tough. I had quit my job. My family was disappointed in me. I was scared and alone.

At first I sat in the back row of the AA club and just listened. I honestly and truly did not think AA would work. How could it? In its base form, AA is a room full of people, some steps on a wall, and a lot of talk about God. I didn’t believe in God, so that, I knew, was going to be a total disconnect. I just remember thinking, “I am so fucked.” And then one day, I remember an older gentleman, Paul, coming up to me and asking, “Where do you go in the afternoons?”

“I go home,” I said.

And he replied, “Stay here. It’s safer.” Somehow in my heart, I knew he was right. I was safer inside the confines of AA.

I was terrified of living alone and I was about to lose my apartment. One afternoon, at the 3:15 meeting, a beautiful fairy princess named Paula told me about a magical place where newly sober people could go to live. It was called a halfway house. I immediately moved in. About a month after that, a guy at the club said he needed someone to work for him at a little bakery. I immediately took the job. And that was more or less my first year of sobriety. Meetings, bakery, halfway house.

AA is comprised up of “Twelve Steps” that one is supposed to do in order to connect to a higher power (or God). Additionally, the steps help one to get to the root causes of why one drinks and help us to clean up the mess we have all made of our lives. We also have a “Sponsor” that guides us through these steps. It took me a very long time to work the steps. I didn’t get a real sponsor. I asked a friend, a girl who I could manipulate, to be my sponsor. She didn’t know what she was doing, and I knew she didn’t know what she was doing. But I thought I knew what I was doing, so I did it. I was wrong. After some really poor behavior and acting out, I decided to get a real sponsor. And I worked through all the steps. I tell other people to not live by my example. Yes, I remained sober by the tippy tops of my fingernails, but it was not an enjoyable way to live. AA has a saying about being “Happy, joyous, and free.” I believe that is attainable for even the most anxiety ridden, fearful, angry, rotten, mischievous, stubborn, and depressed of us. But it takes a little bit of faith and a whole lot of working the steps.

I think the question Normies ask the most is, “When do you get to stop going to meetings?” I love that normal people think nothing could possibly be more painful that sitting in a room of sober drunks while they complain about not being able to drink. Gosh, I agree, what a nightmare. The reality is, AA is a surprisingly funny and ridiculous place. Alcoholics tend to be shockingly intelligent. They have often lived interesting lives filled with amazing stories, both incredible and tragic. But what’s more, what I love about AA, is that at any given time, a roomful of people are saying, “Just for today, I am going to try to be a better person than the person I was yesterday.” Many days, we fail. But someday, well, it is nothing short of awesome.

The city of Houston has roughly 2,000 AA meetings a week. Think about that for a second. It’s an astonishing number. 2,000. If every meeting had 10 people, that’s 20,000 people. 20,000 people who are trying to live a life of purpose. 20,000 people who are trying to help another 20,000 people get sober. 20,000 who believe that there are things and ideas that are of greater importance than any one of us.

Why would I ever want to stop attending that? That’s the best part of my day. That’s the miracle part.

 

Friday: Part Three. Why I speak so publicly.

Part One: How I Became an Alcoholic

My German Big Book:

My German Big Book:

This week, I told three people (three people I did not intend on telling) about my blog. All three are in high school. All three of them are mature enough to understand the significance of my words. With each conversation, there was an opportunity to address my alcoholism. But I did not do so. I just stated that I had a blog and kept on movin’. In other words, I choked. I had a teachable moment but I did not accept the challenge. I regret my decision. So, for my three ladies, tonight I write for you.

I think, fundamentally, there are two separate questions. 1) How or why did I become an alcoholic? 2) Why do I write about my alcoholism in such a public forum? For the sake of brevity, I think I will address the first question in Friday’s blog and the second question in Monday’s blog.

How or why did I become an alcoholic?

Addiction in any form is a baffling and confusing topic. Many facets of society offer different reasons for how and why addiction starts. Some people feel one acquires alcoholism over time. Drink enough alcohol, and one will surely become an alcoholic. Some believe that alcoholism is a response to a traumatic experience or otherwise physiological unraveling. And still some others believe it is genetic, something that one is born with like brown hair or green eyes. I believe all three of these theories have merit. Ultimately though, Doctors and scientists have proven through MRIs (brain scans) that when an addicted person consumes drugs or alcohol, his brain kicks into overdrive, lights up like a Christmas tree. Clearly there is some kind of biological component to alcoholism.

But addiction does not just exist in the brain; the body physically becomes acclimated to this way of living. When an addicted person tries to stop drinking or using certain drugs, an acutely painful experience called “withdraw” can set in. Most alcoholics and addicts must check into the hospital or rehab in order to “detox” off these substances. To not do so is very dangerous. People can die from quitting abruptly; the change is too shocking to the system. This physical component often leads to a person continuing to abuse substances long after he has wanted to stop.  The necessity to continue drinking or using when one no longer wants, is the great paradox of addiction.

Think of it like this: you’re crazy hungry. You skipped lunch. Now, it’s after school and you are starving to death. Someone hands you your very favorite meal. And you eat and eat and eat. Have you ever eaten so much you felt sick to your stomach? Have you ever ate so much you felt guilty and gross and fat? Okay, alcoholism is like that but a billion times worse because it is alcohol and not chocolate.

Okay, so wait, back to the question. How did I, your lovely and talented Ann, become an alcoholic? I really don’t know. Yes, yes to all of it. What I do know is that I have a distinct memory of a conversation. It was a summer day in Boston. I am walking down the street. The conversation was not about me. It was about someone else, but my friend said, “You are not an alcoholic.” And I remember in my head thinking, “I’ve got you snowed.” Because I knew. I knew I was an alcoholic. I was eighteen years old.

It would take me another twelve years before I walked into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have a book. It is called the “Big Book.” My very favorite line is from page 152. It says, “He cannot picture life without alcohol. Someday he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.”

The line says he (the alcoholic) cannot imagine life without alcohol. But in the next sentence there is a subtle shift. Now the man cannot “imagine life either with alcohol or without it.” A change has occurred in the man.

The passage goes on to say, “Then he will know loneliness such as few do.” I love the simple elegance of those lines because I know exactly that feeling. When one cannot continue the way one is living, and yet cannot stop, life feels impossible. Doing something, repeatedly, that one does not want to do is a humiliating and soul crushing experience. This feeling, this loneliness, I do not wish upon anyone. And yet, I know without a doubt, that emotion saved my life. Without that emotion, I might have never reached out and asked how to make it stop.

The end of my active addiction and the beginning of my recovery was both the worst and the best day of my life. That day was February 28, 2007.

 

To be Continued Monday.

Fear does not get to Win

The Fear Problem

Fear… “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it,” (Big Book 67).

There lives, deep within my chest, a small black tarball of fear. I can feel it. It exists, not where my heart is, but where a child thinks her heart is. Smack in the middle of my chest. Right behind my breastbone. If I think on it, it grows. I can feel it blossoming right now, as I type this, winding like a slow vine throughout my body and into my fingertips. It says, “Don’t write about me. Don’t acknowledge me, because then I become real. I become real and they will know… They will know you are years sober and still I live within you. You have not conquered me.”

I remember walking into the rooms, dazed, reeking of vodka (really, they should stop telling burgeoning alcoholics that vodka doesn’t smell). I just wanted to stop drinking. Maybe not even stop entirely forever. Just stop for the moment. Stop blowing up my life. Stop getting into trouble. I sat there lost and disturbed as people spoke of how fear had invaded their daily lives.

And I thought, “Poor people,” cause I knew what it meant to be brave. I was seven feet tall and in total control of my life. I remember my sponsor telling me to list my fears on my first fourth step. I wrote something like 1. Drinking. 2. Cockroaches. And there the list abruptly ended. I had zero conception or understanding that I drank largely out of fear. I mean, I read it in the Big Book and my sponsor told me it was true. The rooms told me it was true. But I had no idea how to internalize that information. I didn’t understand that I drank out of a fear of facing reality. Fear of what others thought of me. And fear of what I thought of myself.

Fear is insidious and cunning. It fights dirty. It comes at once, full force, slamming into my body. Then again, waiting until I am lying in bed late at night, it subtly and mischievously burrows into my soul. Fear will tell me I am not good enough or pretty enough. It will tell me my life a foolish, quixotic endeavor doomed to end in a fiery ball of disappointment and failure. It will tell me I will drink again, so why not drink right now.

But then, I remember that fear is not real. I may feel it. It may exist, oozing out from the pit in my chest to momentarily hijack my thoughts, but it no longer gets to dictate my actions. That’s what recovery has given me: steps and people, a higher power, and the knowledge of second thought. It has given me time and perspective and understanding. Recovery may not have cured the neurosis, but it has given me a fighting chance. No, fear does not get to win, not today.

 

Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Envy. Anger. Work. Emotions. Laughter. Love.

I had originally started this journal post by writing that I love talking to “Normies,” but that is a lie. Normies drive me crazy. Every once and awhile, though, the planets align in such a way that the most irritating of conversations actually allows me to walk away with a renewed sense of appreciation for my alcoholism. Yesterday was one of those days.

I won’t rehash the whole conversation, but here is how it ended. Her- “I always say it’s all about moderation. Moderation is the key”

In my mind, I imagine the response I am confident every alcoholic or extreme person thinks when someone suggests moderation as the answer, “You have zero idea what you are talking about. Clearly you have never struggled with addiction, or you would not have the audacity to speak such a ridiculous and near sighted idea.”

A few minutes later, I was driving home on the freeway (I do my best thinking on I-10), and a new emotion happened upon me. I realized I felt a little pity for my moderate friend. What is moderation? It sounds like no fun at all.

When I got home, I typed “moderate” in my online web browser. This is the definition that appeared:

Definition: Average in amount, intensity, quality, or degree.

Synonyms: Average, modest, medium, ordinary, common.

“Average in intensity” really spoke to me. Nothing about alcoholism is average in intensity. That would negate the entire point. But is it not just with alcohol that I lack moderation. I have zero conception of what it must feel like moderate anything.

                 Alcohol.

                               Drugs.

                                                Sex.

                                                               Envy.

                                                                           Anger.

                                                                                           Work.

                                                                                                          Emotions.

                                                                                                                          Laughter.

                                                                                                                                          Love.

But there is another side to extreme living. There is no doubt in my mind that when I have leave this planet, I will have lived an intensely felt life, a life that was thoroughly fun, undoubtedly interesting, and dramatically depressing.

I think that’s true of all alcoholics. Because we aspire with our whole body, we drink to forget the disappointments. Because we dream with all our imagination, we envy with all out might. Because we love with our whole being, we hurt to the same degree when that love is discounted. Maybe it is just me, but if you asked me to trade all that for an average or ordinary life, well… I think I’ll just decline.

 

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Life is not Something to be Endured

“When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tell him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he has hitherto denied himself. He finds himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which he had thought himself quite incapable” (Twelve and Twelve 106-107).

 

I’ve been thinking about this passage on and off for a couple of weeks. The sentence that keeps reverberating is, “Life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered,” but I felt the whole paragraph is so strong that it deserved to be reproduced.

I have really struggled with the idea that life is something to be endured. Not just recently; I’ve struggled with it my entire life. I remember being a kid and just yearning, begging for independence. I needed power and control over my own existence so badly I could taste it. By the time I became eighteen though, it was too late. I had become too used to self-medication and escapism; I could no longer exist in reality. My daytime life, my working life, my social life, all became something to endure in order to perpetuate the false. When I finally awoke from this nightmare twelve years later, I had to endure the crazy that was early sobriety. I was upset at a lot of people and things. I wanted to blame others, but you told me the fault lay squarely in my own house. I was broke, scared, lost. Over time, things got better. I went back to school, got a job, and did my best to become an adult. I endured my new found responsibility.

But then something happened. It was in October of last year. I was in the midst of a horrible job. Every morning, I woke up with a sense of dread and oppression at the next days, weeks, years. One Friday evening, my boyfriend stopped by to pick me up for an unexpected date. I had been sleeping off another horrendous week and hadn’t received his texts. I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to feel sorry for myself. He had a whole night planned. He convinced me. I relented.

What we did wasn’t important, nor might I add, all that extraordinary. But I do remember the emotions. I remember being happy, really happy, and laughing, really laughing, for the first time in weeks. I remember driving down the freeway, looking up at the night sky and thinking life is short and beautiful to not be appreciated. And I remember thinking I no longer wanted to live a life of dirt and disease, sadness and heartache. I wanted beauty and art and culture and literature. I wanted to live a life of joy and stars and laughter.

I couldn’t have articulated it then, but I had reached a whole new kind of bottom in sobriety.

It took some time for me to sort out the unhappiness that was my life, but over the course of the year I got a new job, a new apartment, and a new roommate. And I began following a new path, not the path of a career, but a path of the creative. I started to write again.

Some days, it is still hard to not get caught up in enduring life. I worry about money and housing and health. But the reality is, right now at this very moment, my life couldn’t be more beautiful. I am looking out the window at the last of the summer storms. I am in full anticipation of October and Halloween. I cannot wait for the first burst of cold weather when I can turn off the air conditioner and open all the windows in the house. It reminds me, though, of where I was, not just physically but emotionally, last October.

What if I never realized I had the power to change my life? What if I never realize that I could be happy? I still don’t know today why I thought the only way to live life was to endure it. I’m not sure if it is a quirk in my psychology or a byproduct of my alcoholism. I do know though, that it doesn’t have to continue that way. I have a friend who says, “I’ve been drunk and I’ve been sober. Sober’s better.” So might I add, is happy.

 

A little Nina Simone to help you smile.