Is AA a Cult?

Radio Cartoon

I had a casual conversation last week with a guy who had five days. The new man was questioning whether or not AA was a cult. This fear felt familiar and comforting and sad all at the same time. I have to admit, before I got sober, I too voiced this concern. I even went so far as to look up definitions of the word cult and apply them to areas of AA as evidence.

I think this fear from newly sober people is a legitimate one on some level. Looking back, I’ve come to the decision that the this problem stemmed from my self-awareness that I was not like everyone else. Even though I tried to act and look like everyone else, I felt like an outcast. I desperately wanted to fit in. I changed my personality and hobbies to reflect whoever I happened to be around at the time. But the harder I worked at being normal, the more different I felt. Normal people didn’t have to work so hard at being normal, they were just normal naturally.

As my behavior grew more self-destructive, the more isolated I became. Friends and family wanted me to change again, but this time I knew change was a euphemism for “Stop drinking.” I ended up in a place where I simultaneously wanted to desperately fit in and be wildly anti-social.

Hence, when I found AA, and when I heard the casual “Keep coming back” and “Welcome, glad you’re here,” I was immediately distrustful. I wanted to stop drinking, but I wasn’t sold on AA. Maybe I just wanted to taper off or cut back. And even though I no longer had any conception of who I was, I knew one thing; I wasn’t going to be who you thought I should be. And I surely wasn’t going to become some goody-goody religious fanatic, so you can forget that.

The Twelve and Twelve addresses this logic when it states, “Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity, If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me?” (36). I think this was my great fear. I didn’t want to become sober only to become a robot. The Twelve and Twelve continues on to say that a paradox exists in the idea that the more we depend on AA or God, the more independent we actually become.

I have found this to be true. It is only through my recovery and the taking of inventory that I have been able to assess who I am as an individual. I remember having about nine months and driving down the freeway. I was listening to country music on the radio. I knew all the words to whatever song to was, and yet I remember thinking, “Wow! This is a terrible song.” And then I remember immediately thinking, “Wait, do I like country music? Of all the music out there, this is what I am choosing to listen to? Do I like this?” I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I really liked country music.

The truth of the matter is AA could care less what kind of music I listen to. AA is not interested in what church I go to or even if I go to church. AA doesn’t care what I look like, what color I am, or what I choose to wear. I can choose to put a dollar in the basket or not. I can choose to talk or not. Work the steps or not. And only I decide of I am going to stay or not.

With that said, I think I’ll keep coming back.

 

Six Months Later

Dogs blog

There is an odd feeling of anticipation as I type this, an awkward mix of pride and embarrassment that has caused me to simultaneously have a smile and a stomachache. Yesterday, was the six month anniversary of this blog. I know; it’s insane. If this blog were in sobriety, it would be walking up for its blue chip. It would have successfully transitioned from rehab to IOP to a halfway house. The blog could chair a meeting, have a job, and if it were doing a step a month, be smack dab in the middle of its character defects.

On April 6, I was headed up to the annual women’s retreat I attend. (Yes, the same retreat, I wrote of in Monday’s blog.) I had just come off a terribly difficult and arduous year. I was depressed and floundering. I really did not want to go. I remember trying to figure out some way to back out, but my recovery simply wouldn’t let me. I knew I had to go, no matter what.

Towards the end of the weekend, a dear friend came up to me and very casually said, “I think you should start a blog.” Without a blink of an eye, I said no. I did not want to start a blog. Blogging is not real writing. I want to be Hemingway or Faulkner, not a blogger. (This is one of those times where I can see my alcoholism for the delusion that it is. Leave it to a girl who cannot even bear to show her writing to others to look down on a totally legitimate form of expression because it doesn’t jive with how she thinks Hemingway would have gone about it. Jeez Louise.)

That night, as I laid in bed, a singular thought kept eating away at the base of my skull. I got out of bed and began to write in the same fashion that I always write: alone in a quiet room, in a diary no one would ever see. A forth step, a written tenth, another attempt to put pen to paper in order to quiet the crazy. A piece of paper that would be thrown away in some not too distant future.

But this time, as I looked down on that paper, I realized the only reason I had for not showing my writing was fear. For as long as I kept my dream close to my chest, as long as I did not breathe a word of it, or show it to anybody, then that dream was safe. My dream would be safe from the cynics and the naysayers, from the realists and the defeatists. I realized something else too though. As long as I never pursued my dream, it would only ever remain a dream. My dream would never become my reality.

The Ninth Step Promises tell us, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly know that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves,” (Big Book 84). And at that moment, I was filled with peace. It is hard to articulate, but it felt like an enormous release of air from my chest. I just knew my friend was right, and I intuitively knew how to handle it. I had to show my writing, not in the distant future, not somewhere down the line, but now, immediately. That night I came home and started this blog.

These last six months have not been easy. I am still plagued by an incredible amount of fear and self-doubt. At any given time, I can convince myself that any number of my friends are encouraging me like a naïve cousin. “Pretty girl, she’ll realize soon enough.” Sigh.

But there are good days too. There are the days when I realize it does not matter if anyone actually reads or not because it is not the about a number or a reward, but the active practicing of courage and perseverance, and accountability. It’s about suiting up.

It is easy to reflect back on my sobriety and say: Without AA, I would not be alive. I would not have dependable friends or a remarkable man. But I also know that without AA, I never would have had the courage to write or the fortitude to post. I would not have been able to withstand the criticism or abandoned myself to a process that has no definitive ending. It’s saccharine to say, but I know it is true. AA put the right person in my path, with exactly the suggestion I needed to hear, at a time when I could hear it. And then gave me strength and courage to actually follow through.

The Big Book says, “Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead.” (152). Yep, that’s about right.

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Thank you to everyone who has read, subscribed to, commented, re-posted, shared, or otherwise supported this endeavor over the past six months.  You’re continued support means an enormous amount to me. Thank you, Lisa.

The Unauthorized Principles of AA

Cartoon for BlogSo, maybe you know. Maybe you don’t. There are unofficial principles for each one of the steps. I call them unauthorized because AA has not adopted a specific set of principles as part of the “Practicing these principles in all our affairs.” AA has left it ambiguous. I am not a big fan of ambiguity, though. I don’t think many writers or thinkers or alcoholics are.

Here are the principles:

  1. Honesty
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Brotherly Love
  9. Discipline
  10. Perseverance
  11. God Consciousness
  12. Service

I first time I encountered these principles was at a women’s retreat. I remember walking in and somebody saying, “We are focusing on the principles this year. Every meeting will be about three of the principles. The principles for steps 1-3, 4-6, etc.” Sometimes, I wish I could see my face because I am told it is very expressive. While some days I think I am pretty good at hiding my feelings, I’m frequently told I’m not. So, while I’d like to think my face said, “Oh excellent, the principles. I meditate on them quite frequently,” I am sure my face read, “What the hell is she talking about? Damn these woods and their no internet!”

Once the meetings started, though, I became transfixed. The first steps seemed obvious: honesty, hope, faith. But by the time we reached integrity, I was sold. I had never thought of integrity as a principle. In fact, I’m not sure I had thought much about integrity at all. The same with brotherly love. While I knew patience and tolerance had to be my code, seeing it as a principle of my life, one of the twelve dominating themes of my existence, put love for humankind on a much more significant playing field. What was equally startling to me was there was not a single principle that I thought needed editing or revision. Oh, humility is not that important; let’s cross that out and put financial gain.

Since that retreat, the principles have become an integral part of my sobriety. Whenever I am acting out, I think of the corollary principle and know immediately what step I should be working on. When I am being dishonest, then I know I have a Step One issue. If I am in fear, I need to look at my Fourth Step. When I returned to college, perseverance and discipline became my constant companions. Don’t give up. Do what you are supposed to do. Don’t give up. Do what you are supposed to do.

I think this way of looking for answers through the principles may be a bit unorthodox. I am not sure AA traditionalists would approve. But the unofficial principles have revolutionize my recovery. In a world where my brain makes everything so confusing and arduous, the principles have had a way of keeping me focus with just a single word or two.

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I would love to hear your comments regarding the principles. Are they a part of your program? If so, how do you use them?

 

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.

 

Free Bookmarks

BookmarkII

Hey everyone,

First of all, thank you, as always, for reading. So, I made these bookmarks. I thought a good idea and fun to make (it was), but now I do not know what to do with them. If you want one or ten (there are a few different styles), shoot me an email with your name and address. I will mail them to you. Free of charge. You do not have to do anything. You don’t even have to sign up to receive my blog via email or comment, even though that’s what I really want, because I just cannot really bring myself to ask anyone to sincerely do that. I wouldn’t do it. But I might be inclined to send an email if I got a nifty bookmark out of the deal.

Best Regards,

AGK

Agkroger@gmail.com

 

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.