Monday, July 11

Calling my own shots instead of taking them.

Now I'm not one to judge but of course I am.

The more I become involved in AA, the more my jimmies are rustled. In the beginning (a forever pompous way to begin untrusted and controversial texts), I was under the impression there was only one path to staying sober: go to meetings, get a sponsor, and work the steps. My 21 days in inpatient rehab was essentially conditioning me to rely on the system of Alcoholics Anonymous for the duration of my sobriety. With the success rate of the program resting between 5-8%, AA convinces you that it's your problem you can't become sober instead of the institution in which we were threatened to trust. I know people who have gotten sober over ten times, been to rehab over 15 times, people who did a stint of sobriety after each of their eight DUIs. So I don't feel as if it's the person who is failing, but merely the system we are thrust into when we are confused, tired, angry, and barely sober. We needed something to trust, an ongoing sense of support, and unfortunately the only option was Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA has a ton of sayings by which we need to live our lives now that we've embraced the notion we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. Here's a list that should be shorter:

One day a time
Easy does it
This too shall pass
To thine own self be true
You can't get drunk if you don't take the first drink
Live life on life's terms
Fake it til you make it
Let go and let god
Keep it simple, stupid
Gratitude is an attitude
Keep coming back

If you stray away from the herd of seemingly innocent and sheepish credos, your guilt begins to set in. The "am I in the right place?" kinds of questions emerge slowly but you can never seem to shake them, sort of like alcoholism. The positive reenforcement, which can be easily mistaken as guilt, is thick at a lot of meetings. You're doing what you were told to do: you're at a meeting, but you're uncomfortable, you're newly sober, you're constantly wondering if this is the only option, and the other members of the community often corroborate all of the instructions for aftercare you heard during your 21 day stretch. Keep coming back! You're in the right place! Am I, though?

I spent the first eight months of my sobriety without a sponsor. During those eight months, my life wasn't the best. I was unknowingly going through a horrendous break up for two months, I moved my entire life back to Seattle as a result (a decision which I regret on occasion), I experienced a deluge of medical issues for the first six weeks I was home, and my readjustment into a supportive setting ultimately made me feel like I had failed as an adult. I was working the steps as I saw fit; I made amends with those who I knew I had harmed, I reminded myself every day that I'm an alcoholic, and I tried to reflect at the day's end about what I could do better. Going to meetings and working the steps as I interpreted them seemed like a good plan, but I never wanted a sponsor. The list of people I had to report to about my mental, emotional, and physical health was long enough. Why add one more person who is going to take me through the steps, a creaky staircase I don't even agree with?

The first step of AA is "we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable." Sure, easy enough. Throwing up in order to continue drinking and living a life of liquid hibernation was not normal drinking behavior. But that's it. That's the first step. At the beginning of most meetings, the secretary will ask the group to pause in a moment of silence to remember why we are there, most often followed by the serenity prayer. If I'm not completely distracted by bags of chips rustling or one of my chair's legs not making total contact with the floor, I usually think of those extreme instances of my alcoholism. I was never in denial I had a drinking problem, I just didn't really accept it. I believe the first step of the 12 is the most important (or 14 if you include the douchebag who 13th steps vulnerable women and Netflix).

The next 11 steps are an attempt at getting you to be a better person, but it's these 11 steps commence the rustling of said jimmies. Five of these steps mention god and none of them mention alcohol; only the first step in the staircase mentions alcohol. The rest are a feeble attempt at getting you to become a drone of the program. I took the attitude of "just don't drink." And if I feel lonely, there are places I can go to be among other former drunks like myself, which is good for AA as a whole. Unfortunately, there's this spiritual status quo alive and pulsing at most meetings. One of the common experiences within AA is having a "spiritual awakening." I don't place any spirituality behind coming to the realization I needed to quit drinking. Others may see it differently, but I had all the information in front of me: the proverbial trigger needed to be pulled.

Bill W put all these ramblings into a stack of 164 pages that became the lifeblood to the program. This text has not been seriously edited since the last World War and it fails to mention important cultures and demographics who aren't white men. Any sort of deviation from these ramblings are seen as "half measures," which I imagine conjures most of the guilt we experience when we aren't 100% committed to the program setting us up to fail. The sponsor we work with are supposed to take us through these steps and the assigned literature which desperately needs to be changed. Rewritten. Something. But my first experience with a sponsor ended poorly. I was loosely taken through the steps and I was left feeling extremely inexperienced in the idea of doing the same for someone else. It was during this time I sunk into a deeper depression as a result of trying to commit myself to the program and completing steps 2-7. I had to list all of my flaws, my harms to others, my entire sexual history, and all of my fears. These lists stared back at me as if to confirm I was a failure and I was still in the process of failing. How is this helping me stay sober?

When I switched to my second sponsor, I was less than thrilled to know I was to start my progress over with step work after assuming my credits would transfer. I was hovering around steps 10 and 11 only to realize the painful realizations brought forth by the exact staircase I was trying to ascend were not to transfer sponsors alongside me. As a defeated square peg being forced into a round hole, my aggression and resentment towards the program became top tier. Some of the steps are to relieve us of our resentments, not to liven them towards the exact establishment attempting to guide us.

AA cannot solve all of my problems, but I frequently come across others who think differently. And that's great! Whatever keeps you from drinking. Part of the program in AA is removing your ego and your obsession with self. I believe it was my own decision to stop drinking and my motivation and consequences in the past that keep me sober. I don't believe there is a greater power working for me, or a cognizant force aware of the decisions I make or don't make. Again, whatever works for you. Your sobriety is not my sobriety. Part of relapse prevention is not isolating, but being among many others who are also alcoholics make me feel emotionally isolated because of their progress through the program, and my choice not to take part in the ideals which I do not believe in, or those which have a history of upsetting me.

I also do not believe every part of my life needs some sort of sobriety related connection. I'm trying not to be a dick, but certain aspects of the program and the people who also participate in it is turning me into a dick. Alleviating myself of a sponsor has allowed me to rid myself of the anger the AA program, literature, and attitude has fogged me with for the last few months.

Whenever I listed my hesitations to those around me, I always had to preface it with, "Okay, hear me out. This isn't the relapse talk or the leaving the program talk." People freeze up whenever I mention the program with a piss poor success is doing me more harm than good. After all, I was lead to believe it's my only option because otherwise I'll fail.

I am not going to drink today, and that isn't my ego speaking or my powerlessness. Alcohol makes me an asshole, an undependable person, a shitty family member, a frustrating girlfriend, a horrible human being. If I can avoid that by choosing to not drink, I'm going to do it. That's my choice, and it's not one created by powerlessness. I have seen how alcohol affects my life, and it forces me to make poor decisions. I am happy to remain on the ground level of my sobriety without the social and guilted stress luring me up a set of stairs with a less than stable foundation. I'm happy right here.


Alyssa said...

Thank you for this. I struggle with exactly all of this. A lot.

Alyssa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Action Jackson said...

Thanks for this. Your words continue to provide a truth and humor that is essential. Thanks for the inspiration!