When I walked into my first AA meeting — sadly, defeatedly, with all kinds of caveats and conditions — I certainly never imagined that in 25 years I’d be writing a blog like this! My plan was to “get my drinking under control.” The idea that alcohol would no longer be a part of my life, any more than eating Gerber baby food or riding a tricycle, seemed impossible. Life had only few bright spots, and alcohol, back on January 29, 1995, was one of them.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with baby food or tricycles. I enjoyed both immensely at one time. But I have outgrown them.
There was a time, too, when I had little idea who I was or how to live. Alcohol relaxed the grip of my frightened brain and let me function as if I had ease and comfort, as if I’d attained self-confidence, and as if I loved life with a daring spirit.
But just as baby food is pureed for those who cannot chew, and tricycles stable for those who cannot balance, so alcohol was the ticket for a Louisa who could not calm down, could not go inward, could not know god and relinquish fear to simply be herself. In fact, I didn’t believe anyone could do that unmedicated, so I figured sober people must just be uptight and cautious as hell all the fucking time.
I was wrong.
What changed my life?
Alcoholics Anonymous is where I encountered the conditions I needed to cultivate health, wholeness and — gosh! — maybe even enough wisdom to outgrow drinking.
- The first thing I noticed in the rooms was love — an atmosphere different from anyplace in the outside world. I came in a shaking, smoking, posturing young woman, and others saw through my facade with compassion rather than judgment.
- The 12 Steps I virtually ignored for 3 years, until the depression that followed my sister’s death drove my life into the ground and I asked a young woman with AA chutzpah to sponsor me. From her I learned the foundations of honesty. She pressed me in every step to scrutinize my implicit assumptions about myself, my fellows, and god.
- Sponsoring AA newcomers let me see my character defects worn by other women. To recognize self-defeating thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors is SO much easier when they’re wrecking someone else’s life! I’ve sponsored somewhere between 35 and 40 women in my 25 years, learning from each about the pains ego inflicts.
- My sponsor, AA homegroup, and circle of sober friends continue to provide me with a community of love, honesty, and humility. When I decided against throwing my usual big January sober party for my 25th birthday, my sponsor and a sober friend of 20 years planned and paid for a bowling party instead. I can’t describe the rush of love I felt when, scanning the bustling, noisy lanes of bowlers, I spotted the familiar faces of my homegroup family.
- Branching out into a second spiritual community aligned with AA principles — my Near Death Experience community — has added a dimension to my faith and daily relationship with god.
The 12 Steps of AA are only a framework, a scaffolding for the discipline of total honesty with self and god — which is, of course, an ideal we strive for all our lives. At a recent hipster meeting, I urged the god-phobic newcomers to substitute “total fucking honesty” wherever the steps say “God.” I couldn’t help adding, “If you’re in active addiction, you know about as much about total fucking honesty as you do about god.”
Sober time doesn’t vanquish ego. It’s easy to rest on laurels or become a bleeding deacon (AA phrases meaning one claims to know stuff). People phone me for advice, call me an inspiration, a role model, an anchor for their sobriety. That’s all well and good, but the fact is I’m just spiritually healthy — and only for today. I get to face life’s challenges with the same insight any thoughtful, loving, fully conscious woman would have accrued after 59 years of living. Here are some of the challenges I face today:
Loneliness/nostalgia: My son left for college 500 miles away. I miss him, and I miss his childhood. How can all those years of cardboard books, small shoes, and super-heroes be over? I have no romantic partner, either. He drank and cheated and that’s that — though I miss our fabulous adventures. I’m learning to enjoy my own company.
Getting Old: What the fuck is up with my turning 60 in six months? Isn’t there some mistake? I’m the young one, the girl with the huge eyes and acres of time ahead of her to fill with dreams and ambitions! Oh, no — just kidding. I guess my face is sagging, muscles want to atrophy, and I can expect nothing but gradual decline over the next couple decades — decades that will fly by even faster than the two since my son was born. WTF?
Too Many Hats: I wear too many damn hats. I won’t even bore you with a list. Too much going on; huge to-do lists. I last watched TV/YouTube about a month and a half ago.
Grief and Loss: My friend of 20 years died last week. The same age as me and sober a few years longer, he had just slayed the expert slopes on a ski trip with his wife of 10 years and posted jealousy-inspiring selfies on Sunday. Monday, he died at work from a heart attack. I can still hear his voice, the wit and playful humor behind so much of what he said. And just like that — he’s gone.
At 25 years sober, I get to feel all these feelings. I surrender to WHAT IS and how I feel about it. Then I ask myself what good can be done — and I DO it. I text with my son, exercise like a maniac, chip away at my to-do list, reach out to my friend’s devastated widow — and I actively love all of it.
My sweet old dog — Cosmo, the messy life monk — is lame and often poops in the house overnight. When I am kind to him, helping him up the steps, touching him often because he’s deaf, and cleaning up accidents first thing in the morning with brisk cheer, I know what it means to live sober and in the light. As my friend’s death underscores, every little thing is a gift.