That phone call in NYC and decision to stop using AA entirely happened almost two years ago. And for a significantly long time, this haunted me and haunted me severely. Most everyone I knew that didn't drink had worked the program and the steps and furthermore, they didn't seem to have these thoughts or grudges or this experience. Whenever I found myself in conversations with sober folk, the inevitable question was always did I go meetings or had I worked the steps. It didn't matter who it was or why they were asking, I always found myself shrinking at this question. Like I was less than for not. Like there was something wrong with me because it didn't work for me.
Like I was doing something dangerous and I was deluding myself.
If I said no, I hadn't, I got the look. If the conversations went further and I explained I read a book called "The EasyWay to Control Alcohol" and "did a lot of yoga", I got an even different look. If I went into defense mode about how much I didn't need it, it got even worse. Because isn't that what all people in denial say? Isn't that I sign I'm stuck in my disease? Wasn't that just proof my ego was leading me down the path back to hell?
I'll be the first to admit that for the most part, me not owning my own path fully, and my fear of what other people thought, fueled this insecurity. The truth is that I knew in my bones I would never drink again, the truth is I knew in my gut I had found some formula that indeed worked for me and might even help other people, the truth is I knew that I had in some form or another done those 12 fucking steps, though maybe not linearly and maybe not *exactly*. I knew all of this on a cellular level, on a soul level, on a God level. But no matter how much I knew, whenever it came to being in conversation with someone about it and owning it out loud, my voice trailed off and I lost connection with that KNOWING. Each and every damn time. So I continued to evade it, to run from it, to bury it.
In January of 2014, I organized a small group of women at my home through a Meet-up group, Sobriety Club For Girls. That first night, a handful of us sat around in my apartment, drank a lot of coffee, ate a lot of sugar, and laughed about the experiences that had brought us through to today. Two of them were still actively involved in AA, the third was not, she herself just a few weeks sober, and the conversation turned to whether or not we should all hit a meeting together.
I cringed. I told them that the folk at AA can smell that I'm a dissenter and that I had trauma over my experience and just couldn't. But they promised me that this one meeting they went to was different and might give me a different perspective, might remove the trauma, and so a week later I found myself carpooling to my first meeting in over 7 months.
There was at some point an intermission in the meeting, and one of my new friends and I ran to the bathroom. As I stood in line to wash my hands, I made nice with the woman in front of me and said hello, introduced myself. She said, hello, introduced herself, and asked if I worked with a sponsor. Literally, in one breath she said this.
It was happening.
I looked at my friend - the one who had told me this place was different - and telepathically screamed I TOLD YOU! THEY SMELL ME! I wanted to run. I wanted to scream. I wanted to puke. But I also wanted to stay and talk. Because I was tired of running scared from this conversation. So I channeled Sheryl Sandberg and I leaned fucking in.
I said no. I didn't work with a sponsor. Didn't plan to. Smiled. Did I work the steps? Nope. Didn't do that either. Smiled again. So what did I do? Sigh, big sigh. A lot of things. But you know, I don't want to really sit here and defend how I stopped drinking. She interjected, laughed, and said she wasn't curious to argue, she was curious for her own personal development. This sounded reasonable. I relaxed, began to enumerate the ways which I got clean. The EasyWay. Kundalini. Meditation. A Course In Miracles. Yoga. She interrupted. Big smile. She was a yoga instructor in Hollywood for 12 years. She taught class drunk at times. Yoga was ego. Yoga would not save me. I looked at her, dumbfounded. Weren't we playing nice here? Weren't you just curious about my fucking other way?
She paused. She smiled. She asked if she could ask me one more question. I looked at her, my jaw set, a thousand thoughts swirling in the blink of an eye. I remember debating whether it was braver to stay or braver to run. I stayed. I said why not. She smiled again, softened.
"Do you realize you are going to drink again?"
I stopped breathing. I hated her and her ridiculous trucker hat. I hated her Russian accent and her assumptions and I hated her for picking me out and for saying the things. I wanted to punch her and scream at her and puke on her. But all I could do was laugh. Laugh and shake my head. I thanked her for her time, smiled with a smirk, about faced. I walked away and up the stairs. She walked after me.
"Why are you walking away? Are you scared?? Are you scared because you know I'm right?"
I sat back down next to my friends. Shaking. Yes, dammit. Yes I was scared. I was scared that everyone else knew something I didn't. I was scared that my ego was in fact running the show and I was kidding myself. I was scared that I was the only person in the world who didn't think they needed the 12-steps and was indeed setting myself up for failure. I was scared that maybe she was right. For the first time in my 9 months of sobriety, I was scared that I might drink again without the 12-steps.
At the end of the meeting, my friends headed out for coffee, and I instead stepped into the chapel. As I had done so many times in that past year, I went straight to the front, dropped to my knees, pulled out my rosary (PS, NOT catholic, or any kind of religious, just obsessed with Roman tradition), and pressed it between my palms, bowed my head, and I prayed.
I told God I was really sorry for having a big ego recently about quitting my job and that I knew that I had been cocky with my boss. I apologized for being mean to my friend who wrote me that email about my blog. I told God I knew I hadn't been so humble these past few weeks and I promised that I remembered our pact…that I would do the work, that I would take whatever he threw at me in grace, that I knew my life was in service and to please just let me be good. Then I told God that I was confused. I told Him that I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn't need these 12 steps or these meetings, that this was not my path. I pleaded that it felt wrong, that I felt I had been following my heart, and that I really believed that I was doing right by me.
I begged Him to just give me a sign that everything that had led me to that point wasn't total bullshit crap. Just give me a sign that I'm okay and I'm not fucking this up. Just show me I'm okay doing it this other way. Anything. Please.
I cried, I shook, I prayed with everything in me. And then I opened my eyes, and found myself staring directly at a wooden eagle. I had looked up at Jesus when I first started to pray, but had failed to look right in front of me. There she was, my spirit animal, the sign.
The entire time since I stopped drinking - actually since I first started thinking about not drinking - I had asked for little bits of assurance along the way from the Universe. As I began to ask for these signs, eagles started showing up, literally on cue. I'd say "am I doing this okay" and I'd walk by a store and there'd be a glass blown eagle. One time, in an airport, running away from an Ashram and about to purchase a 6 week ticket to Italy, I said "are we sure about Rome God?" and that moment looked up only to realize I'd been sitting underneath a 20 foot eagle strung from the ceiling. Eagles had been in church domes when I prayed for clues, on doors, on mailboxes, on mugs - on EVERYTHING - and always when I asked for reassurance. I'd ask, and a significant percentage of the time, the Universe would send me an eagle. "Roger that, Holly."
I know it sounds unbelievable and heady but it is what it is. Eagles show up when I need answers. And there it was, less than a foot from my face. Literally an answer to my prayer. LITERALLY. And then voice in my head that boomed.
Keep going, my love. There is not one way and there is nothing to fear, sweet girl. Please hold on to your truth, Holly.
I laughed out loud. I thanked God and Jesus and Buddha and the Divine Order that is our lives. I tucked the rosary back into my wallet. I walked out of the chapel, and then began to skip through the courtyard. I skipped out through the gates, skipped past the crowd of folk congregating outside, skipped past the Russian trucker-hatted yogi. I skipped down the street, happy tears streaming down my face, heart beating, overcome by a relief and a freedom and self assuredness that somewhere along the way had been so deeply compromised by the idea that I was wrong. My trust in me restored. My shame and fear about this particular issue completely obliterated, just like that.
Here's the thing. My gut screamed no. Loud and clear, no. It screamed it in those first few weeks of meetings, it screamed it that day in NYC on the phone with that AA friend, it screamed it through each and every encounter thereafter, and it screamed it in the bathroom in conversation with trucker hat. My gut said nuh-uh. The same gut that told me to stop drinking in the first place. The same gut that had put me on this path and led me to the books, coaches, healers, foods, teachers, meditations, therapists and so on that had helped pulled me out of the mess and quite successfully so.
This gut had done me right time and time and time and time and time again in my recovery. I trusted this gut. When I began to not trust it, when I began to question it and all the intelligence that it had proven it had, was when I began to suffer. When I rationalized that it could be wrong because so many said something different and experienced something different, was when I began to fear and question. Was when I began to shrink and scatter and doubt.
When I began to listen to myself again, and trust myself again, and most importantly realize that it was completely okay if my path didn't look like his or hers or yours, was when things began to open up for me at an even greater level. Was when it became completely clear that I had something important to say and something important to do with this. Was when I finally didn't give a FUCK what anyone thought anymore. Less than a week later after this meeting, I secured the domain for this website. And the rest is history.
This is the third 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 //