Recovery from Alcoholism: Way More than Not Drinking

I recently read an article in The Guardian, a British publication, that broke my heart.  It was written by an alcoholic woman who quit drinking 15 years ago but who has completely misunderstood AA as an ineffectual “self help” group.

She rightly explains,

Alcoholism is a strange condition. If you survive the drinking stage, and many don’t, it has relatively little to do with alcohol, which is merely the drug with which the alcoholic treats herself. It is, rather, a way of thinking, and continues long after you have stopped drinking. It is a voice in the head: a malevolent voice that wants you to die. 

Much of the article describes with startling honesty the havoc this voice has wreaked in Tanya’s life — causing her to hide for years in workaholism and lie her way to extra morphine in the maternity ward to up her high (which I would call a relapse).  Life, for Tanya, is miserable.

Almost none of the article offers a solution.  She maintains,

[F]or the alcoholic there is nothing as prosaic as “better”. There is only a daily remission, based on how you deal with the voice in your head. (“Hello, monster. Where have you been?”)

…If I am unwary, she can plunge me into the deepest despair, and I have learned to construct an obstacle course to thwart her. It is made only of ordinary human love. Nothing else works.

What a tragedy that this woman has suffered for 15 fricking years with virtually no solution!

I wish I could tell Tanya: The path to freedom is encrypted in those 12 prosaic steps posted in your erroneously termed “self-help” group. Clearly you did not grasp the meaning of the first one: We cannot help ourselves.

You’re living proof of that.  If you were to let quality people from AA into your life, you would learn from them that this “voice” your article discusses at length is a commonplace phenomenon we (not “they”) refer to as self-loathing, less-than, not enoughness, or simply the shadow side of a big, fat ego.  Recovery defeats it.

If you could truly listen with an open mind in meetings and work the 12 steps diligently with a sponsor, you could heal more in a year than you could in decades of therapy or a lifetime of introspection — literally.  Pride is all that blocks you.

I was much like Tanya when I first came to AA 22 years ago.  I abhorred groupthink and its cousin oversimplification, and to me the 12 Steps, with their repeated references to “God” as a “He,” smacked of both.  Their God, I assumed, had to be the same God as in the Bible, Torah, Quran or whatever.  The words “as we understood Him” did little to mitigate that.

I was lucky, though.  In early sobriety, I became so miserable without alcohol that living sober became utter torture: I hated being Louisa.

In those days, when I wasn’t working my meaningless data entry job, I found it impossible to get out of bed, at worst, or out of my sweatpants, at best.  So annoyed was I by my happy alcoholic housemate’s assertion that my heart was suffering from a “god-shaped hole” that I went back to AA meetings and got a kick-butt sponsor just to spite him.

That sponsor impressed on me the crucial importance of seeking god, and seeking god changed everything.  In my case (which, as my addiction memoir attests, was a weird one), god kept popping into my life via a series of paranormal experiences until I finally surrendered to the truth I live by today: god is real, everywhere, always.

My god is the god of nature and biology; the god of life energy; the god of love.  It’s a goodness beyond our wildest imaginings, one that can upstage our ego’s grandiosity as well as self-hate.  God can empower us to love others and life itself so intensely that just being is an overwhelming privilege. As my sponsor Nora says, “I feel more joy today just walking half a block to drop a letter in the mailbox than I did before in all my fanciest vacations put together.”

For me, this love of life’s poignant richness that drowns out my inner demon’s insults can be accessed only through god-aware eyes.  To maintain that vision, I have be up front with god constantly: I need to live by the highest ethics I can muster, eschew lying, and follow the Golden Rule.

In good times, I must offer goodwill as if I had an infinite basket of it (cause I do).  In hard times, I must never succumb to the illusion that my struggles are unique.  AA meetings make both possible.

Mount Adams & wildflowers – last week

I’m just back from hiking 115 stunningly gorgeous miles along the Pacific Crest Trail with my sober friend, Sally.  A little YouTube video I made of our trip is linked below.

God made this experience possible.  First of all, without god buoying my heart, I’d never have found the gumption to take off into Washington’s very wild backcountry with my friend.  Twice, on the trail, I had to draw on courage to accomplish more than I believed I could — once to cross a raging creek on a bunch of flimsy logs and once to get out of my tent during a midnight lightning storm at 6,5oo’ amid ruthless wind and sleet because my tent’s rainfly was getting torn off and all my stuff soaked.

In both cases, I witnessed my fright being eclipsed by a “you can do this” beam of certainty that is the antithesis of alcoholic self-loathing.  It’s not ego, either.  It doesn’t come from me.  It’s about stepping out of the way to become a channel — letting faith power my steps and efforts.

Tanya, I wish I could gift that to you — what god, through my fellow alcoholics, has gifted me.  There’s incremental suicide; then survival; then relief; and finally rejoicing — meaning you figure out what you love doing, and you freaking do it.

But the journey from one to the next is an inside job — and only for those who actively seek.


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August 22, 2017 · 6:00 am

23 responses to “Recovery from Alcoholism: Way More than Not Drinking

  1. Robert Crisp

    Wonderful post, and something I needed to hear today. I’m working on three years of sobriety (January 5, 2018) and feel much like Tanya. I also deal with (and am in treatment for) social anxiety, depression, and bi-polar II disorder, but I’ve let AA slip. When I went into rehab, AA was a requirement, and I worked the steps with a sponsor and attended AA meetings well after being released…but then my old ways of thinking crept up and I stopped going. Like many others, I have to fight to keep an open mind and open heart toward AA and toward life in general. I’m afraid I’ve become a sober drunk, all of which cues the pity party to start up, but there’s no point in that. The fact that I resist going to a meeting usually means I need to go to a meeting.

    Anyway, thanks for your post and for listening.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Keep seeking! We each have to take what stirs us in AA meetings / stepwork and incubate it in our hearts to develop a private spiritual life that serves just us. Your mind knows exactly what’s wrong and what’s missing. Now it’s just about the dedication to nurture what works. I send you good wishes!

      Liked by 4 people

      • Robert Crisp

        Thanks for the encouragement. It’s one of those days that there are, as my rehab counselor so brilliantly put it, snakes in my brain. I know these negative thoughts arent truth…I just have to keep reminding myself that (a lot).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Louisa for this post. It is a good reminder of what I should not become and a beautiful invitation to what can be. 🙂 Wonderful trip, wonderful surroundings! Did you carry food for 8/9 days or did you have stops in between?
    I am happy for you and thank you for showing the way. 🙂
    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’d mailed ourselves a resupply box 40 miles in, but the town post office was 12 miles from the trail via a small road. We reached the road right when a dad happened to be dropping off his daughter for her trek, and he gave us a ride to town, where we happened to run into friends we’d made on the trail, who gave us a ride back to the trail. All by chance, all went perfectly.
      I love your blog name, because it says what we all need to do every day. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aah, that’s how its done! Resupply box. Nice. Lovely how you were helped along by people, by chance – which I actually think is not chance but are beautiful big and tiny presents of sobriety. ❤ 🙂
        Yep, feeling my way back into life. Lately I have been losing myself in the feeling but I guess holidays are exactly the time to make some changes. What better day for a change of course than today? 🙂
        xx, Feeling

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous

    Oh PLEASE don’t do this to me at work!!! *TEARS* LOVE you Louisa!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Donna L

    Well said! I always say it’s not about the drink. It’s about finding a higher power that can relieve us from the physical obsession to use so we can learn to become who we were made to become. Though the twelve steps of AA

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love your description of God. Is there a way to get this to Tanya? Can you email it to her somehow? This seems vitally important!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad it clicks for you, Shawna! Thank you. As for Tanya, I’m sure she’s heard similar shares already and dismissed them. She says, I went to self-help groups in gloomy church annexes, which seemed as despairing – though less vivid – as what I had left behind, and heard people talk about “spiritual growth”. My words would seem just as hokey, but this time offensively critical.

      I’ve learned from Al-Anon that other people’s recoveries are god’s business, not mine. If she’s “supposed to” see this, god’ll make that happen. Think of all the crazy coincidences of your sobriety! Or there may be something else that makes her turn to face her god, or she may just dance with her demon through all her days.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Neverlookingback

    Hi there, thank you all for your comments. I believe myself to be one of the lucky ones who found God early on and had a phenomenal spiritual experience. However, I pulled out of going to meetings due to the “politics”, judgements and so on …. But I feel strong as I work my quiet time without fail twice a day and am strong in my relationship with God, who has blessed me in so very many ways.

    I like the idea of this blog where I can connect with like-minded people.

    Thank you and God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yup. I think there are 3 criteria for recovering: stop. Stay stopped. Be content/happy. If you do not meet those criteria, then you haven’t recovered.

    Perhaps that woman has outside issues. But some (I’d say) most people) just want to stay miserable. It Is sad. But. As a mentor used to say: Who am I to take away another persons misery?

    I have recovered from alcoholism. But if you listen to most people at meetings, they are still recovering; no wonder we have the exremity of that with people that say stuff like, I am an arms length from a drink even after 20 years of not drinking? Whatever floats their boat I suppose.

    Thanks for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, landzek! And I agree with your comment about people who want to stay miserable. The cool thing about being miserable is, if I’m miserable, I can still be extremely important – a huge deal, everything in my life!! Humility brings joy and freedom – but to visit it we have to at least TRY to let go of self-importance, specialness, terminal uniqueness, perfectionism, etc. It’s interesting terrain. So interesting, I’m thinking of writing about this for next time…

      Liked by 2 people

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  9. Bravo! I couldn’t agree more. I heard a woman on a call-in show recently say that she’d been going to AA but didn’t believe for a minute that she would always have a disease. The host (who is a prominent Dr.) agreed with her… I wanted to scream into the airwaves!
    I wrote a blog article about it, but my pals with 30+ yrs recovery reminded me that the Dr. and her show were “outside issues” and it wasn’t up to me to take them on. Sigh! Traditions…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, it’s frustrating how FEW people understand alcoholism, considering how MANY lives are affected by it. I often wonder if many of us are mistaking anonymity for secrecy – never talking outside the rooms about alcoholism or how to arrest it. I am “out” as an alcoholic pretty much everywhere, though some sticklers in my homegroup believe that violates Tradition 12. I disagree. I think Tradition 12 means I never tell anyone YOU’RE an alcoholic, and Tradition 11 means I don’t try to be a SPOKESMAN for AA. But if we never say anything to anyone about our experience, we’re hoarding what we know – don’t you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Louisa,

    Your writing here, and your honesty is helping a lot of people. As Robert Crisp above intimated, carrying the message to still suffering alcoholic isn’t just reaching out to drinking alcoholics. We all need each other.

    love alwaz

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. The tragedy, at least here in Germany, is that most meetings are not about step work, sponsoring etc…. I myself chaired a meeting like that for years. Until my dry alcoholism became so powerful it kicked my a**. Luckily I decided I need more help. Ditched my group and moved on to meetings and people where the real solution is practiced. I’m better now!


    • There are plenty of bad meetings here in the US, too. We call them “check-in’ meetings where people just bitch. Seattle underwent a “solution-based” revolution of sorts in the 80s, so we have lots of meetings grounded in the Big Book. I’m so glad you figured out you were dry! People die from that, too — from the emptiness and despair it brings: same problems, no solution.

      Liked by 1 person

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