In October 2012, first starting out on my path to sobriety, I found a book that would change the course of my life forever. Allen Carr's EasyWay to Control Alcohol. I've mentioned this book before…it got me thinking about alcohol in an ENTIRELY different way, and flipped sobriety from perceived consequence to something I didn't expect to think of it as: freedom. Freedom to live without something that most people can't.
It's important to understand that before I read this book, I had no concept of AA or the 12-Steps outside of what I'd seen on TV (seriously). This book changed that for me because it juxtaposed it's own approach and modality against AA's. In EasyWay, Carr brings the reader through the argument that all those who drink alcohol are on the spectrum of addiction, that alcohol is an "ingenious trap" that all drinkers are stuck in, and that we need not use willpower to quit or go through a spiritual enlightenment but rather, see alcohol for what it is and decide against it. Throughout his book he compares his own method to AA and he refers to AA as a "willpower method". He argues that AA sets people up for either a life of longing to drink or a life of relapse because it focuses on the person as the problem rather than the drug itself and replaces addiction to alcohol with addiction to AA. His firm belief is we need to step outside the current model that says some of us can handle it and some of us can't and rather wake up as a whole and reject it as a social norm. His message is give it up and enjoy life like we're 13 again - before alcohol.
Carr's message resonated. Deeply. My first attempt at sobriety was entirely painless. I literally read this one book, wrote out a list of reasons that I no longer wanted to drink, had my last drink on an Amtrak train on the way back from my cousin's wedding, and THAT NIGHT showed up at a bar happily proclaiming I had quit drinking. For the next two months, I lived both free from alcohol and also free from missing alcohol. It was as he said it would be. I woke up happy, I could do anything I wanted to without drinking, my confidence shot through the roof, and I didn't miss it for a second.
I adhered to his one simple rule: NEVER QUESTION THE DECISION. And I didn't. That is, I didn't until the night of my company's holiday party when I wanted to go home with my ex-boyfriend, and I questioned whether or not a whiskey would help this happen. The decision was questioned, and the next thing I knew I was sucking vodka out of an ice sculpture in a cocktail dress. By Christmas, I was drinking wine with dinner, and by New Years Eve I was putting back a bottle by myself in a night. Again.
During this time off the wagon (or is it on the wagon? I never know), I realized that while Carr may have had some of it right, what he missed was this one key fact: drinking isn't the primary problem, it's secondary. It's the reasons we drink that are the primary problem. And if I were to EVER enjoy a life free of needing to escape through alcohol (or pot or bulimia or cigarettes) - REGARDLESS OF WHAT METHOD I USED - I'd need to figure out what was driving me to escape, and fix that.
In early 2013, desperate for freedom from these addictions, I made a *conscious decision* to keep drinking for the time being, and instead of trying to eliminate anything from my life before I was ready, to try and fill up the parts of me that were empty first. I read as many spiritual books as I could and found things like A Course In Miracles and Gabby Bernstein's May Cause Miracles. I adopted a daily meditation practice and a consistent yoga practice (Kundalini and Vinyasa), I fear-cleansed. I acupunctured. I researched ad nauseam how alcohol works on the body and the mind. I implemented extreme self-care, started seeing a therapist, learned myriad coping mechanisms, joined a Self-Love boot camp, got a massage therapist to come to my home and massage my stomach. I went to church. I went on jogs. I WENT FOR JOY in everything I did and started to push the limits of what it meant to BE ME. I posted quotes around my home and danced to Players Holiday every morning and I taught myself how to shake my ass. I bought a trampoline for my desk at work.
It became a mission for happiness in any way I could find it. A mission for a better life. Not a mission for sobriety.
90 days of this made me new. 90 days of this made me an entirely different person. 90 days of this made me a person that was ready to ditch the booze. I read Allen Carr's book once again, this time over a weekend, and on April 13th 2013, I took my last drink. That was close to 700 days ago.
AA meetings were never part of the plan.
Because of my exposure to AA through Carr's perspective, I viewed it as more of a support group to keep people from drinking, and I didn't need anything to keep me from drinking - I didn't want to drink. But I did need. I needed the human support. I needed to go somewhere and say I didn't drink to a room full of people. I needed to be hugged and loved by these people. I needed my efforts of sobriety to be validated. I needed my sobriety validated. I had been doing it alone for so long at that point and with so few people to really talk to about it or understand the importance of what I was doing. I just needed.
So on that Monday in April, that first day of my second attempt at sobriety, I found myself in an AA meeting on my lunch break. And I found myself terribly happy about it. Girls came up to me and gave me their numbers and little meeting directory books with the meetings they went to circled and starred. I went to coffee with one of them afterward and we exchanged our horror stories like old best friends. I found myself the next day, Tuesday, in another meeting. And then again on Wednesday, and then again on Thursday, and by Friday I had found myself in five meetings in one week.
There was something juicy and liberating and clean about this whole experience. The insisting to my colleagues that I leave for lunch on time. The stop at Peet's to grab the coffee that I'd sip through the meeting in the annex of whichever church I was heading to. The ritual of each meeting and the stories of the other members. It was a demarcation. It was a line in the sand. This is me now. This is my life. And it's responsible, and community focused, and honest, and subversive, and also gritty. I began identifying as an addict/alcoholic while explaining to people why I didn't drink in and out of the meetings.
But I was an auditor, a spectator, and as I continued to go to meetings, I felt more and more like an imposter. I had a lot of deep secrets I was terrified of sharing with this community because I was certain if I did, I'd hear things like "that's my ego talking" or "that's my disease talking". I was terrified of saying things like, "I don't struggle with not wanting to drink" or like, "I don't plan on working the steps." I couldn't even imagine what would have happened if I had saidI didn't think I was powerless over alcohol and that by not drinking that proved that I was indeed rather powerful. I was incredibly mindful that most anything I said that didn't align with the truth of the Big Book and group mentality would be blamed on my outsized ego.
One month in, they began to smell this on me. In chats after meetings, I was approached and asked if I was ready to take it seriously. Did I have a sponsor? Did I know that Elizabeth sponsored individuals and she was amazing at it!?! Had I read the steps yet? Had I began working the steps? What step was I on?! I skirted these questions and took phone numbers with me, promising to call.
The strength I had found early on in this affiliation started to wane. Going to the meetings began to make me question the tools that had worked for me in the first place. I found myself leaving with a sense of dread, a pit in my stomach. It had been nearly 6 months since I began the sobriety adventure, and to the point of walking in the doors of AA, I had felt incredibly empowered by this decision and was never really scared of myself or of alcohol. The experiences at AA changed this…eroded the power, and brought about a deep sense of fear.
Two months in, having stopped going to meetings two weeks earlier and feeling extremely guilty about this (was I running from the truth?), I got a call from a girl I had met through the fellowship. I was in New York for work, on my yoga mat. I had been avoiding her calls because I knew what was coming. The questions. The fear. But I felt like I was running so I answered the damn call. I came clean and told her everything. I told her I didn't like how it made me feel. I told her that I didn't buy into it and that it was countering the clarity I had around my relationship with alcohol. I told her that it was making me doubt myself. And then she said all the things. She knew this was going to happen to me. She should have said something earlier. My disease had me. It was lying to me and telling me I was okay. I was not okay. I should return to the meetings ASAP. Then. There. In New York. I needed a sponsor. I needed the steps. She asked me, did I want to drink again? Because taking this path I was taking was ensuring I would.
I hung up, removed her name from my phone, and returned to my yoga mat.
And that was it for me and AA, at least as far as my participation went. Fear of drinking again didn't motivate me in the least. Desire for happiness and freedom motivated me. And my association with this group did not support that desire. It confused it.
This is where my decision to go to meetings ends, but this isn't where the self doubt and shame about not working the program ends. Part 2 of my story posts on February 20.
This is the second installment of a 9 part series. You can use this link to find the entire series if you want to follow along.
Outside The Rooms. Hip Sobriety & Alcoholics Anonymous: A 9 Part Series.
1. Hip Sobriety & Alcoholics Anonymous: A 9 Part Series, Introduction. // February 18 //
2. My AA Story, Part 1. // February 19 //
3. My AA Story, Part 2. // February 20 //
4. 10 Ways To Evolve Alcoholics Anonymous. // March 26 //
5. Guest Post by Laura McKowen, Why AA Works For Me. // March 30 //
6. Outside The Rooms. Through AA Colored Glasses: How We As A Society See Addiction. // July 10 //
7. The Real Cause of Addiction + Why The AA Debate Is Useless. // November 18 //
8. How To Navigate Recovery In an AA Dominated Culture. // TBD //
9. Dear America: Here Is How We Fix Addiction. // TBD //