I don’t love AA, but I don’t hate it either. The reason I started The Sobriety Collective, an online community where people are encouraged to share their sober stories, was to make a place where people who found sobriety and recovery in any way, shape or form, could connect. With eight years of continuous sobriety, I have the long-term recovery I once never imagined possible — most of which I achieved outside of “the rooms” of AA. But I did learn from the program, even if I wasn’t all in when I started.
I Was Forced into AA
I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous not by choice but because the intensive outpatient rehab I checked myself into stipulated 15 hours of AA within five weeks’ time; it was non-negotiable. At my first meeting, I felt like I’d crawled out of my skin and landed on a foreign planet (that “newly sober and not sure what the hell is happening” feeling). I didn’t want to be at these meetings – at all.
But my group counselor asked me to keep going after I graduated from my five-week rehab program. I went back to AA for all my sober-month anniversaries and tried to find a sponsor. But it just wasn’t clicking for me. Even though these people intimately understood what I had been through, I still felt so alien and so “less than.” The feeling in rehab was that 12-step programs were the only way to get and stay sober; I now believe that inpatient/outpatient programs need to incorporate a variety of treatment options to give patients exposure to more than just the 12 steps. So I stopped going to AA.
Before I knew it, I was coming up on three years sober. I was already well into therapy for the underlying issues that I had been self-medicating with alcohol (anxiety, OCD, panic attacks), and I had cut ties with toxic people from my drinking days. I exercised more and had better relationships with my family. But according to many of the people I had met in “the rooms” of AA, I wasn’t sober. I was a “dry drunk,” white-knuckling my way through life — one of those unfortunates who just didn’t “get” the program (these words I heard verbatim from people in meetings). “Maybe you should just pray on it,” I remembered them saying back in my AA days. “Call your sponsor.”
No Longer an Imposter
As proud as I felt of my sobriety, I felt a chasm in my life. I didn’t have a sober network, and to say I was spiritual was an overstatement. So I went back to AA, this time by choice. I was no longer an imposter AA-er now. I had decided to change, and I opened my mind. I found a sponsor with whom I worked all 12 steps. I called at least one woman a day from AA to stay connected, and I became a “meeting maker,” an AA term for those who regularly show up at meetings and are most likely to “make it” in recovery. In doing all this, I formed what would become my home group for the next 18 months. And they helped me learn a lot, including these top three lessons that I still apply to my life today:
- Be of service. Be of service to my fellow human — alcoholics, addicts, alcohol abusers, heavy drinkers, anyone who seeks help, family, friends, the homeless, coworkers — hell, everyone. I went from someone just going through the motions of being an AA-er to someone who was living the steps. I volunteered for service positions and really immersed myself in the heart of the program. For a while, it really was wonderful. I finally had a sober network, and I fed myself spiritual nuggets in the form of Eastern philosophies and books from the likes of Don Miguel Ruiz, and I went on retreats with other women in AA. (And now being involved with The Sobriety Collective, I feel like I’m continuing that strong belief in serving others.) Having a community helps me. And in helping myself, I help others.
- Do my part. Let go of the outcome and check my ego at the door. When I think back on my time in AA, the key takeaway I always return to is letting go of the outcome. Learning to let go brought me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements. Ruiz advocates not taking things personally (that means losing your over-inflated ego). This is about realizing that people do things because of themselves, not because of you. We all have our own interpretations of the world, but we should be careful not to impose our view on someone else’s. Easier said than done. It takes constant practice. I have to remind myself that I can’t expect someone to experience life the way I do. Yes, we may have shared experiences, but there is only one you. As clichéd as it sounds, you’re a special, one-of-a-kind snowflake, and so your worldview is uniquely your own.
- Recovery is a process. One day at a time. Progress, not perfection. It works if you work it. Let go and let God. These clichés are cheesy, but their roots are deep. Recovery is an ongoing journey, which means we’ll all have roadblocks, detours, and traffic cones to maneuver around. I feel immense gratitude that I’ve been continuously sober for eight years; to me, sobriety means no relapses and a constant quest for self-betterment. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had hiccups and done things that I wouldn’t categorize as “sober” behavior (old habits die hard; though I’m talking about selfish behavior, not boozing). But I keep reminding myself that I’m human, I make mistakes, I own up to my mistakes and I keep moving. As long as we’re making progress in recovery, that’s all we can ask for, right?
Life After AA
These three lessons still help me today. After my return to AA for 18 solid months and becoming a real AA-er, I decided to quietly say my goodbyes to AA for the last time. It just wasn’t for me anymore. It played its role in my recovery — a vital one. I always heard I could take what I wanted from AA and leave the rest, so I did. And doing so brought me to where I am today: eight years sober, connected to a sober community and healthier than I’ve ever been.