My newest sponsee and I were reading the Big Book together the other night, with me passing on to her all the margin notes my sponsor passed on to me so many years ago. When we got to this passage in The Doctor’s Opinion, I had her change the pronouns as my sponsor had had me do:
Men and women I drink essentially because they I like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they I admit it is injurious, they I cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them me, their my alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are I am restless, irritable and discontented, unless they I can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they I see others taking with impunity. After they I have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they I pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person I can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his my recovery.
Next I asked her (as I’d been asked) to read it aloud and tell me if she identified. Over the years, the response has varied, but for newcomers seeing this passage for the first time, it’s often tears. One tough, independent woman of Inuit descent, single mom to a disabled boy, could not finish reading the passage for weeping. She murmured, “This is me. This is my life.”
(But her life changed. She’s been sober nine years.)
My current sponsee has a few years sober, but she, too, was moved. In the silence following her simple “Yes,” I could see her travel back in time. She said, “I remember… I came home after my first AA meeting, and I sat on the couch, and I just cried and cried and cried. Life seemed over. I couldn’t see the future – anything – without alcohol.”
Though it’s been almost 21 years, when I’m sitting with an alcoholic who remembers, I, too, remember my first meetings. I knew I was an alcoholic. I still couldn’t speak those words, but inside I’d rounded that corner. Yet the vacuous terror of living without booze, of identifying with AA crap, and going to meetings for the rest of my life, felt like such a horrific, endless nightmare that I almost preferred to slop my drunken way toward death – privately.
Here are some of the things I feared:
- My life would be boring
- I’d have to pretend to like stupid AA people
- AA would feel cultish like an Amway scam
- I’d never feel deeply relaxed and happy again
- I’d never feel wildly excited and happy again
- “Psychic change” was mumbo-jumbo – I’d feel this bad forever
- Steps 4 and 9 would be degrading, so I wouldn’t do them
- Step 12 would mean consorting with weirdos, so I’d never do that one, either
Now, AA works by attraction, and I don’t mean to promote anything. I can only report what I’ve experienced and how I’ve changed, and maybe offer tidbits of advice. I’m just one sober drunk.
- Meetings vary tremendously, but if they’re based in the Big Book, they’re about the solution. I got sober at folksy meetings in Olympia, then switched to lesbian meetings in Seattle. For a few years I preferred hipster meetings where everybody had tats and pierces and spoke in strings of profanity. I’ve also felt at home at meetings in Boston, LA, Hawaii, and Greece. Yet any meeting is only as good as the stepwork of people attending. I avoid informercial (“everything’s wonderful since I worked the steps!”) meetings, and bitch sessions (“but at least I didn’t drink!”). Look for meetings with fun people who exude the energy you want, who speak honestly of their struggles but apply the solution.
- Friendships formed when I started going to gatherings outside meetings. Old friendships deepen, but I keep making new ones; today I have more friends than time to see them all. This Sunday I went snowshoeing with five kick-ass sober women who say ‘fuck’ a lot. We laughed and shared frankly and the young ones dropped their pants for bare-ass-in-the snow pics – which I can’t show you ;). But each of them has a quiet side, as well; each has known devastating misery.
- Boring is how I’d describe my life of drinking and faking coolness in contrast to the wide-awake, life-savoring ride of sober spiritual growth. Even the most painful experiences, walked through sober, are valuable teachers.
- Conformity is an anathema to every alcoholic. It’s the disease that’s the same for all of us, and the “way out” – i.e. living by spiritual principles. Through trial and error, we each find our unique spiritual path. “And how’s that workin’ out for ya?” is all a wise sponsor need ask.
- The psychic change grew in me oh so gradually as I worked the steps. Taking Step 3 made me ready for 4-7. Doing 8 -11 finally opened the door for 12. Each time I repeat all 12 steps, I see a little deeper.
Have I changed much? Hell, yeah. For instance, these past few months I’ve gotten up early every first Saturday and driven downtown to help cook breakfast for about 150 homeless people. In the past, it was all about me. But last Saturday, on a freezing cold morning, I was dishing out cheesy scrambled eggs, first server on the line. I greeted each person directly, recalling a few names, with my heart overflowing. “Nice hat! Cheesier or less cheesy? It’s nice and warm in here, and so are these eggs!” Faces lit up – they thanked us, wished us Happy New Year. Some laughed with me. The sausage guy next to me remarked, “Boy, you sure are Miss Sunshine, aren’t ya?”
And I am. Except it’s not me, not my light. It’s Light that shines through me because of all I’m connected to. Today, I have something to give. And, as that new sponsee texted me the other day, “I’ve never felt so happy in my life!”
Hey, guys! We are everywhere! Thanks for 290,000 views in 2015 – and that ain’t even counting RSS, email, or most Facebook tags. WordPress says you visited from 166 nations. I never dreamed my little free blog would attract so many readers.
If I’ve helped any of you anywhere to stay sober another day, I’m super grateful. I mean, sure, I’m glad if people like my writing and stuff, but even gladder that we all share this thing, this gift, and this connection – and “get” each other. Love to all of you!
One response to “AA Newcomer Fears”
enjoyed your post.