Throughout my life, including growing up with a slew of dysfunction and alcoholism, I never knew anyone who went to AA. Considering that no one I knew ever got sober or went into recovery, I guess that really isn’t surprising. So, as far as AA goes, I didn’t really know much about it aside from assuming that it was the only way to get out of addiction – and that I sure as hell wished the nuts in my family would go.
Years later, when I started drinking to excess and considered seeking support, the only option, or so I thought, was AA. I wasn’t opposed to it, by the way. It just seemed that it was AA or NO way.
About 6 years ago, on a girls’ trip where the drinks were flowing constantly, the first and only person in my life confronted me and asked if I thought I was drinking too much. I downplayed it, of course, laughed it off and even gaslit her about “overreacting” even though I knew she was right. The day we got back I did the unthinkable: I slunk my hungover, humiliated ass into a women’s meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous determined to get some of that sober juju they promised in the brochures. Just kidding – I’d never even read a brochure.
The women at AA were wonderful; warm and sincere. Several of them broke into a small group to welcome me, share their stories, and give me the love and attention a scared newbie deserves. I bawled like a baby sharing some of my stories, admitting habits and fears I hadn’t even admitted to myself at that point. And even though I really liked these women and they even seemed somewhat relatable to me, I just didn’t feel that spark. Looking back, I think I just flat out wasn’t ready to quit drinking. After all, what pushed me to the meeting was the sheer embarrassment with myself that my friend had noticed – not the true resolution of my soul wanting to heal. So I didn’t go back.
Now, the crappy part about AA, at least for me, is that I felt so guilty for not being 100% committed and letting those women down that it kept me from going back at all. That, in part, was my own ego wanting to appear a certain way and being concerned about how it would look if I only went sometimes or if I kept falling off the wagon, so I just didn’t go at all.
At the end of the day, I guess I wasn’t ready and I don’t blame AA for that one bit. But if you haven’t hit the prophetic “rock bottom”, it can be really hard to just willingly hand over the reins to recovery. I mean, admitting you might have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol is one thing. Proclaiming to the world that you’re an “alcoholic” and will never drink again is quite another. I respect the hell out of AA, but I remember wishing that there was some sort of “waiting room” where you could go if you were just thinking about quitting, but not ready to loosen the death grip on your glass just yet. Like purgatory – with coffee.
Somewhere you could learn and talk and consider your options without jumping full-speed ahead into something you’re not sure you’re ready for. In other words, I didn’t want to feel like I had to be at DEFCON 5 level drinking to really “belong” at AA – misconception or not. I remember thinking: they’re missing an opportunity to cater to those of us still enough in denial to shy away, but far enough along in addiction to know they could use a brochure…for a friend of course.
That’s when the first thought of Girl, Put a Cork in It was born, by the way.
Now, I know some people would argue that if you’re just going to pussy-foot around sobriety, then don’t waste anyone’s time, but for me, getting sober was a process that started years before I ever put my glass down. Maybe I would have quit a lot sooner if I could have talked openly about my struggles without the pressure to stop now and jump into meetings 24/7. I knew that I wasn’t ready for that, so instead I kept quiet and did nothing.
Did I know deep down that I’d have to surrender and put the bottle down eventually? Sure. But even an experienced swimmer started in the shallow end at one point. I wanted to dip my toes in at my own pace, get more information without feeling like someone was going to push me from behind – or like a loser if I sank and didn’t swim. A free trial. A test run. Maybe I’m just nuts. But I think it would have helped.
In any case, I’ve been on this active sober journey for almost 3 years now (way more if you count the years I spent contemplating it) and I achieved this, in large part, without AA. Let me just say that I have such admiration for AA. I love the people I’ve met in AA. I love the program and principles of AA. I just personally do not work the AA program. Will I ever? I’m open to the idea. It just hasn’t been part of my story thus far.
I don’t believe that there is any one way to achieve and maintain sobriety, although I do think there are some keys that probably help. We’ll cover those in a moment.
If you are a hardcore AA person, I know this whole non-AA thing may strike a chord with you. You may think I’m headed down the path to another relapse. That I’m not really in recovery. That I’m just a “dry drunk”. That life with AA is the only way. You’re entitled to that opinion and I’m humble enough to admit that you may be right. But I would say that for those who are considering sobriety, but are turned off by AA for whatever reason, my journey may give someone hope. So, while in the end, I may learn that it is, in fact, the best way, right now I do not believe that it’s the only way.
For the record, I did try AA on for size. In fact, for the first 2 weeks without any alcohol, I went to as many meetings as I could. Why? To get my mind off the cravings. To give myself something to do. And mostly because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. But never because deep down I was drawn to it.
So aside from those first few weeks, I did not continue to pursue AA as a lifestyle.
WHY? A FEW REASONS
1. I never found that “perfect” meeting.
I learned quickly that I preferred women-only meetings, but my “home” group only had 2 women’s meetings and they conflicted with my work schedule.
Second, the meetings were often huge. They were never a waste of time, but I didn’t find them as valuable if they were larger than 15-20 people. It was also intimidating to speak in front of so many sets of eyes.
Lastly, I witnessed a few long-time AA members treat some younger, newly sober people in a way that rubbed me wrong. Please understand, I’m fully aware that those people do represent all of AA, but it truly bothered me. While it wasn’t directed at me and was only a few “bad apples” so to speak, it did turn me off enough to completely stop going to that particular meeting. I, fortunately, did not go home and drink, but I don’t know if the other newbies at that meeting can say the same. So shame on those folks. They did AA a huge disservice and they seemed to forget that “the most important person in any AA room is the newcomer.” I’m pretty sure Bill W., God rest his soul, would have my back on this.
2. I wasn’t 100% sold.
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t sure what AA was all about or if I truly “believed” in it, so I didn’t feel right continuing to go if I wasn’t totally committed. Kind of like going to church and trying to sing the Lord’s praises when you think you might be an Athiest. Just felt kind of poser-y, you know?
3. “I’m Jacqueline and I’m an alcoholic.”
This is what I mean by you’re either in or you’re out. In order to speak at any AA meeting, you have to start every sentence with “I’m ____ and I’m an alcoholic.” My word is the most important thing I have, so I try not to speak anything but what I believe wholeheartedly whenever I can possibly help it. That being said, I’m not 100% convinced that I’m an alcoholic.
WHAT?! You heard me.
Do I have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol? Oh, you bet your bottom dollar. But my biggest issue is not a drinking problem. My biggest issue is a thinking problem. A deep-rooted fear of abandonment, lack of love, trauma, self-esteem. These are the issues that I work on every single day. I got in plenty of trouble before booze and could continue in droves without it.
Here’s why: there are a LOT of ways to mistreat yourself. Trust me, if there’s some toxic form of self-harm out there, I’ll find it. Whether it’s negative self-talk, food, wine, careless sex, limiting beliefs, selling myself short, failing to have boundaries, staying in toxic relationships – I’ve done them all. So, it’s not really alcohol that’s the problem. At least not in my case. My problem isn’t just the abuse of alcohol. It’s the abuse of myself. So, am I an alcoholic? Maybe. Who knows? It’s just not what I focus on. I focus on healing in the larger sense. And calling myself an alcoholic every other sentence…I don’t know. I just didn’t seem like I was calling out the real problem. Sobriety feels bigger than booze to me.
4. My life started naturally progressing in a different way.
Once I stopped drinking, my true self started appearing pretty rapidly. Within a week, I was on a weight-loss and healthy eating plan. Within 2 weeks, I was talking about going back to school. Within a month, I started dancing again and going to the gym and writing and hiking and meeting up with people I’d lost touch with. Life just started taking shape and I just started showing up for it. Eventually, I began replacing old thoughts and habits with new. It wasn’t overnight, but the good just started taking over and I found it more appealing to do other things that fed my soul. As it turns out, there’s more than one road to recovery.
SO WHAT DO I DO?
1. See my therapist every week.
I’ve learned that the type of mental health issues I deal with (anxiety and PTSD) are things that I need to devote serious time to and I prefer to do that in a one-on-one setting. I (finally) found a therapist who is experienced enough to really dig deep with me in these areas and I do the work. I only speak for myself, but when I realized that the “why” behind my drinking was much bigger, seeing my therapist and taking care of my mental health took priority over focusing on alcohol and attending AA meetings. At least for now.
Exercise?? I thought you said extra fries! This time 3 years ago, I did not run unless I was being chased. I was 50 pounds overweight and had a slew of ailments including acne, acid reflux, and host of other GI issues. The fact that I truly love to exercise now is almost hilarious to me, but it’s true! In particular, I rediscovered my love of dance and started taking Zumba regularly. I even got certified to teach Zumba, became a Personal Trainer and am working on my Nutrition Certification. A huge side bonus of group exercise, besides the endorphins and weight loss, is that there’s a whole community I had no idea about!
Let me be clear: I did NOT intend to make friends at the gym. Hell, I don’t even LIKE people that go to the gym. But here I am, with this whole new tribe of fitness-friendly, positive people that are like a family to me now. I didn’t sign up for this crap! I just wanted was to wear pants with a button again! But in yet another twist of the sobriety plot, I now get to wear pants with buttons. And I get to wear them out dancing with my new, happy, health-nutty friends. Hot damn.
I write every day. For 30 minutes (or 3 pages). First thing in the morning. Lately, I use a tool called 750 Words, but I’ve also done this on paper for years. It’s a technique called Morning Pages from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
Bottom line: you just write. Stream of consciousness writing. No thought in advance, no planning out what you will say. The only rule is that you don’t pick up your pen from the paper. If 30 minutes is too long, just do 5 and work your way up. The things that will come out: fears, hopes, ideas, dreams, nightmares, jokes, storylines, memories, goals…just try it. It’s the best form of meditation I’ve found yet!
I talk about addiction ALL the time. I write a blog about it (you don’t say!). I think in terms of addiction. I never let it out of my sight because I am not naïve to its cunning nature. It’s serious and it would have killed me given time. But the darkness of addiction cannot survive in the light of the truth and that is why I will always talk about it. Whatever your situation is, I do recommend having at least one person with whom you can discuss your sobriety journey. Trust me. It’s a great journey; you’ll want someone to share in your successes. Following the Girl, Put a Cork in It Facebook page is a good way to stay connected.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR FOR A SOBER LIFE – WITH OR WITHOUT AA
1. A Plan.
Something to follow. Whether it’s what your therapist says, what the Big Book says, or what we say in our Girl, Put a Cork in It programs, you need something to guide your mind. After all, your thinking is what got you drinking in the first place. Maybe it’s time you let something else take the wheel for a bit.
2. One-on-one Support.
Your counselor, your best friend, your sponsor, an accountability partner. I don’t care who it is, but you need someone. If it’s easier to go anonymous, find someone from AA or reach out to us here and we can connect you. If you feel more comfortable with your existing tribe, that’s fine, but try to find someone who is either trained in recovery or who has been in recovery themselves.
You need another soul who wants you to keep kicking toward the surface of freedom. That person needs to be your biggest cheerleader and your toughest lover. Choose wisely.
3. A Community.
Blech. Community. As friendly of a person as I am, I’ve always been uncomfortable with anything unfamiliar and crowds give me anxiety. I’m also a recovering control freak, so I don’t really subscribe to the idea that I need anyone else. The idea of having to reach out and create a (gag) community with other people made me want to yak.
And guess what? I’ve learned in sobriety that I was right (YAY!): I CAN do everything on my own!
But in more humbling, news: Why on earth would I want to?
Life is more fun and spontaneous when I’m not trying to control every GD thing. Not to mention, accountability is important. Feeling loved is important. You don’t have to join a gym or AA per se, but I do believe that you have to join some form of community – even (especially) if it’s out of your comfort zone. Start by following Girl, Put a Cork in It on Facebook and we’ll keep you connected!
4. A Belief.
I think you have to believe in something. Even if it’s just one, tiny thing.
Over the past few years of my drinking, my relationship with God became strained and eventually severed. I turned away and am still working on repairing that relationship. So, at the time that I stopped drinking, I wasn’t sure what I believed anymore. In the beginning, I just believed that drinking was killing my body and spirit. That’s all I knew.
Over time, I believed that there was, maybe, a little bit of hope.
I believed, a little at a time, that I had a future and a lot to be grateful for.
Eventually, I started believing in MYSELF and a universe even bigger than me (Wait, there’s something bigger than ME?? Wink.)
So, you don’t have to believe in God or even believe you’ll ever stop drinking at first. Just believe in one thing you know to be true. For me, it was that I couldn’t keep going the way I was going. I had no other belief, but that. Just find your one thing to believe and take the next step.
Much longer post than intended, but important stuff.
If you’re still in the “waiting room”, I feel you. I spent many years there.
You’re not alone. Hang on.
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