Am I a Dry Drunk?

In addiction recovery, complacency breeds old behavior, which can quickly lead to unnecessary problems, including relapse.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains complacency on page 85. It says, “It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

In my early days in recovery, I heard old-timers sharing that our addictions were right outside the door, waiting for us, and they were doing pushups to get even stronger. They told those of us who were new in recovery, floating on that pink cloud of contentedness, that we needed to stay vigilant because alcoholism is tricky. It loves an alcoholic who is no longer paying attention.

I would be willing to bet that many alcoholics who relapse after having a period of sobriety do so because they become complacent. It happened to me. I had nearly seven years of sobriety and didn’t think I would drink again. But I got complacent with my recovery, and guess what happened? Yep. I relapsed. I had stopped going to meetings, didn’t have a sponsor, and certainly wasn’t living according to the principles of the program. That was almost three years ago. Thank God I haven’t taken a drink since then, but that doesn’t mean I have remained vigilant. In fact, I haven’t. I let my guard down, and my spiritual condition suffered. I fell into old, unhealthy behaviors and got resentful. And that all happened without my noticing.

Fortunately, my husband, Austin, noticed. He saw the signs and said, in the most loving way he could, that he thought I might be headed toward being a dry drunk. I think he was right. I knew that I was sometimes hard to be around. I was restless, irritable, and discontented. But I hadn’t put it together that what I had was untreated alcoholism. I had all the symptoms; I just hadn’t taken a drink yet. I had begun to take my recovery for granted. I think that subconsciously I believed that going to recovery meetings, church, Bible studies, and the like were enough to keep me spiritually fit. I got complacent with my recovery program.

When my husband called my attention to it, I was shocked. Really! I was so surprised to hear him say the words that I didn’t know how to respond. That didn’t last long, though. We talked about it, and I could definitely see the points he was making. I wasn’t doing anything at all to proactively maintain my recovery. I went to meetings sporadically, hadn’t opened my Big Book for a long time, didn’t have a sponsor, and was not practicing AA principles in all my affairs. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same scenario that I was living in 2019 when I relapsed. But this time, I had the opportunity to do something about it before I made things worse.

I knew I had to get a sponsor and get back to actively working a program. So, I asked a friend in the program I trust if he knew any women with healthy programs who sponsor people. He did. He introduced me to my new sponsor, and we’ve been working together for a couple of months. It feels great to get back into the literature and the steps. I need that. I need a program. I need a sponsor.

Where would I be if Austin hadn’t dared to say those difficult words to me? I don’t know. Probably still sober, but maybe not. But whether I relapsed or not, I would still be living with untreated alcoholism.

Thank God I don’t have to live like that anymore.

Finding My Serenity

I just saw that it has been four months since I have posted here! I can’t believe it. I don’t have any excuses, nor have I decided to stop blogging. I guess life just gets in the way sometimes. It was a busy, but good, holiday season — one of the best that I have had in a long time. It wasn’t until a few weeks after Christmas that I suffered a setback. I had a miscarriage. It was sad and awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

The good news is that I learned a lot from it, and throughout the whole ordeal (and it was an ordeal) I didn’t want to pick up a drink at all. Not once. What a blessing. When I think back to four years ago, I know that the situation would’ve sent me right back to the bottle, and quickly. I would have maSerenityde an emotionally messy time even messier, and who know where I would’ve ended up. Not this time though. I had lots of support from family and friends, and I am thankful for that. But I think that what helped me most were some of the things I have learned in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Here are some of the things that helped me get through a tough time:

  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Believing that God (my Higher Power) could restore me to sanity during and after my miscarriage was comforting to me. It meant that I didn’t have to try to do it all by myself. The beauty of Step 2 is that we have someone — someone with far more power than we have — in our corner, to support us, and to take care of things that we can’t.
  • Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him. This step is a go-to step for me every single day. It is not always easy to turn my will over to God, I am prone to take it back…repeatedly. When I do actually turn something over to God though, and I let go of it for good, it is like a weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I had to practice this with my miscarriage. I knew that God’s will isn’t always going to match mine, and that the sooner I let go of the pain, handing it over to God, I would have some peace about the situation.
  • Acceptance – “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”  This quote from Dr. Paul’s story, Acceptance is the Answer, in the Big Book of AA, is a lifesaver for me. What it says to me is that when I’m upset about something that I cannot change, I have to change my perspective about that thing. When my perspective changes, I am able to move into acceptance…and that brings serenity. I had to accept that my expectation of having a healthy pregnancy that resulted in a healthy baby wasn’t going to happen. Changing my perspective from, “Why is this happening to me?” to “I guess this pregnancy wasn’t meant to happen right now” helped me to deal with the sadness and disappointment.
  • The Serenity Prayer – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. These three lines that we recite during every AA meeting really kind of say it all. We need to change what we can, accept what we can’t and be able to recognize the difference. If we do that, there is no situation that we can’t make it through — including losing a baby.
  • Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him. I love this step because it is always my goal to strengthen my relationship with God. I pray often, whether things are going well or I am circling the drain, and when I do, I immediately feel closer to God, no matter what outcomes come to pass. When something difficult arises, like my miscarriage, prayer and conscious contact with God comforting to me.

The AA program is so much more than just a way to quit drinking. I have been sober for over 3 years now, and the meaning and the application of the steps and suggestions of AA continue to evolve as I do. It’s a program that not only saved my life, but taught me how to live it — and how to find my serenity.





Mostly whiny, moderately bossy



Before my husband and I got married, I described myself to him as “mostly whiny, moderately bossy”.   I was trying something new, putting it all out there from the beginning, giving him every chance to get away while he still could.  Thank God he doesn’t scare easily!  Growing up, those words, whiny and bossy, are the words that I remember hearing most about myself when being described by my family.  It’s no wonder they stuck, and admittedly, sometimes they’re accurate.  Just ask my husband!

control-freakAs I have become more honest about my feelings, and more self-aware, I’ve realized that in those moments when I fall into whining or being bossy, what I’m really trying to do is control the situation, to make things go my way.   I am very aware that I am not unique when it comes to alcoholics…we want things our way and we want it now, and quite honestly, sometimes whining works.  More often though, it doesn’t, and that’s when things get rough.  Trying to control things that I have no control over never works!  Never!  I know this from past experience, yet I still fall into the whole “self-will run riot” that the Big Book of AA talks about.

The past couple of weeks have been difficult because I have been trying to run things that weren’t mine to run.  None of the things were really anything serious, no one’s life was hanging in the balance, and there wasn’t any danger of me wanting to pick up a bottle, but when I get started with the whole control thing, there is often a snowball effect; small things get big, and big things get ginormous.  We had problems with the office of our apartment complex regarding some maintenance that needed to be done that caused our place to have to be turned upside-down.  Then we had a rough weekend with my stepson who was having a rough time himself.  Then one of my best friends went to the hospital with a mystery illness that caused her to forget everyone and everything around her (she’s fine now, thank God).  Then my husband and I were on puppy duty, waiting for our dog to give birth.  Then coworkers kept getting fired – four in less than a month!  How’s that for workplace morale?  I could go on, but you get the point.  It’s been an eventful, and somewhat disturbing, couple of weeks.  And it took until today for me to remember what the real problem is:  ME.  And my desire to control things that I can’t.

I have often wondered why teachers and preachers repeat themselves so often when addressing their audiences.  Or why it is that I am drawn to AA meetings where you hear some of the same things over and over.  Here’s why:  We need reminding!  I need to hear the serenity prayer again and again, and I need to be reminded that my will mostly gets me nowhere, and I need to hear other perspectives that might improve mine, and I have to be reminded that having expectations lead to resentments.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to see the truth about things; that eventually my apartment will be fixed, that my friend will be okay, that my dog cannot house puppies in her belly forever, that there is workplace turnover everywhere, and that me whining or bossing others around isn’t going to fix anything.

So after being whiny and bossy today for the last couple of weeks, that’s what I am trying to do with this post, I’m telling myself the truth, and I’m relinquishing control to the One who actually has it.  I know that’s what works, I just have to remember it.



A long period of reconstruction

step 8

Step 8 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

As I have completed steps six and seven, the time has come for me to begin work on step eight.  After working on step seven for the last little while, praying daily for God to remove my defects of character, one of which is procrastination, I don’t feel like I can put off step eight (maybe my prayers are working!).   I’ve done my reading about step eight in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  I also read from a couple of other books about the 12 steps and I talked to my sponsor about what it means to be willing.  So it’s time to put pen to paper and make my list.

I have several (probably more) people who I feel I need to make amends to for my past behavior.  The list is safely tucked away in my mind where no one can see it, but I think about it everyday.  I’ve talked about a few of the people on my list with my sponsor, and most she agrees with, but she’s iffy about a couple of them.  You see, I think there are two different types of  attitudes that we alcoholics have when it comes to the amends steps.  It seems to me, from what I have seen in the rooms, there is one group of alcoholics who tend to blame everyone else for their problems and has a difficult time coming up with a list of people for their amends.  Another group of people blames themselves for everything and puts everyone and their brother on their list of amends.  Neither is better or worse than the other, both have issues that need addressing and both have the opportunity to make things better for themselves by working steps eight and nine.  For for whatever reason, I fall into the latter category and could easily make a list of a hundred people who I think I have hurt.  The truth though, according to my sponsor, is that I tend to over-accept accountability, even for things that are not my fault.  So my assignment is to work on my list, with explanations, and show it to her before I move on to actually making amends to anyone.  Thank God for sponsors!  They can often see our truths when we can’t.

Step eight is about willingness, and I have to admit there are some amends that I am much more willing to make than others.  This time around, I have some people on my list that have been there from day one but that I just haven’t had the willingness or strength to make amends too.  I also have some financial amends that have been there, but I haven’t had the resources to tackle yet.  Some of them are easier and I am willing and ready to reach out because I suspect the results will be positive, or at least nuetral.  There are some though who I know will not be accepting, or even nice, about my attempt to right things.  When it comes to those, my willingness, while still pretty solid, is accompanied by some fear.  I have to remember that in the Big Book it says (I’m paraphrasing) that we have to clean up our side of the street, that the outcome of doing so may or may not be positive, and that the outcome is out of our control.  It also says that, “Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead.”  By becoming willing to make amends, I am moving toward that reconstruction.

No matter how willing I am to make my list, going through the past in my mind, looking at how my past behavior has affected others, it’s easy to slip into old ways of thinking.  Guilt, shame and self-loathing are hanging out right around the corner, just waiting for a moment of weakness when they can sneak back in and take away my peace and serenity.  To combat this, one of my “assignments” from my sponsor is to make a different list each evening – a list of all of the things I did well that day.  I’ve done it a few times, and it helps.  I recommend it to anyone who is working steps eight and nine, or even those who are just feeling low.  Tonight, when I make my list, I can include writing this post.  🙂



Turning over my will



Step Three of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.”

This week I am working on step three as I go through the steps with my sponsor.  I think that of all of the steps, this one is the hardest.  At least it is the one that requires the most effort on my part.  That’s because it’s really about giving up living in self-will, and instead, learning to live in God’s will.  For those of us that have struggled to always remain in control of everything, this is no easy task.

I lived a long time (40 years) before I ever heard about step three, and I spent most of that time trying really hard to be in control of things.  I spent a lot of energy trying to keep everything (including myself) together.  I thought at the time, that if I didn’t do that, then everything was going to fall apart.  So I worked, and struggled, and held on by my fingertips, trying to keep everything balanced and everyone happy.  The funny thing is, the harder I tried, the less I succeeded.  The more I tried to manipulate situations, relationships, and reality into what I wanted, the less control I had.  And all of that was when I was sober.  Once I started drinking alcoholically, I tried to control that too.  And we all know how that turned out!

The thing about living like that, in self-will, is that you can never make it work the way you want it to.  There is just way too much stuff that is out of our control.  There is a story in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous about the third step that talks about an actor who is trying to run the whole show.  If only everyone would do as he wants, then the show would be perfect.  He tries to control every aspect of the show – the lighting, the scenery, the other actors, the direction; and he does so with the best of intentions, he just wants the show to be perfect.  Well, the show doesn’t come off perfect as he wants it to, no matter how good his intentions are.  He is not in control…he’s just an actor in the show.  At the top of the page, in my own Big Book, I have written, “It is not the Jami show.”  I wrote that there to remind myself that I don’t get to run the show.  My show has a Director, one who has a perfect plan….even if it doesn’t match mine.  That’s where the rub is; when I know that there is a perfect plan, but it’s not the same thing that I had in mind.  That’s when it gets hard, and I have to remind myself repeatedly to let go, and trust God’s will.

So, as I think about the third step, as I have to do every single day, it’s not the fear of turning things over to God that gets me, it’s remembering to do it, because I pick up the same things that I have turned over time and time again.  I wrote a post last year about laying down my rock, giving up trying to control those things that are completely out of my control.  I wrote in that post that sometimes it helps me to go through the physical act of getting rid of something heavy and uncomfortable to tote around, in order to really understand the act of letting go.  I have to remember to lay down my rock, to let go, every single day.  I think that it’s human nature (or maybe it’s just my nature, I don’t know), to want to control situations.  When I remember to turn them over it really does make life easier.

These days, I am accepting of the fact that it’s not the Jami show.  I am accepting of the fact that God’s plan is better for me than my own.  I am accepting of the fact that I have to turn my will and my life over to the care of God.  And I am accepting of the fact that I will probably have to keep letting go of the same things over and over because I keep picking them up again.  I am okay with all of that because I know that I’m making progress.  And the name of the game is progress, not perfection.



Boy, these past few weeks have really kicked my butt.  I have been working a lot of hours (thank God I’m an hourly employee and the paychecks almost make it worth it), and have been feeling a lot of stress at my job.  I haven’t had the motivation to do anything but eat and sleep when I get home.   I actually started this post several days ago, but I’m just now getting around to finishing it.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationships.  Not the horrible ones from the past, but the ones that I choose to have now.  I’m talking about my friends.  Being in recovery, it’s important that I always remember the things about which I’m grateful.  You’ll find my friends near the top of every one of my gratitude lists.  But it hasn’t always been that way.

When I was drinking I didn’t have real friends.  I had acquaintances, drinking buddies, people I hung out with.  Often, I tried to surround myself with people who drank more than I did, so that I didn’t have to accept that I was an alcoholic myself.  It allowed me to say to myself, “they drink much more than me, so I can’t be that bad.”  Right.  Then there were my non-drinking buddies.  They didn’t see the drunken mess that I was.  I hid it from them as much as I could, and when I couldn’t anymore, I cut them out of my life.  In both cases, there was no respect, no intimacy, no connection.  I had take-it-or-leave-it friendships.  If someone wanted to hang around, that was ok.  If they didn’t, that was ok too.  I never let anyone see the real me, whether they were drunks or not.  If I showed them the real me, then they had the chance to reject me.  And I had had my fill of rejection.

Thinking that if people knew the real me (the one that has screwed everything up), they would run for the hills, kept me from being open and honest for a long time.  Even after I was sober.  Sobriety gave me the clarity to see that there were friends I cared for, and who cared for me.  But I still held back the things that I thought might drive them away.  I didn’t let them see me when I was sad or depressed, I didn’t ask for help or accept it when it was offered, I didn’t discuss problems that I was having.  How could I?  If they knew all of those things, they would stop caring about me.  So, I would put a smile on my face and tell everyone I was fine, and hold on to my secrets like a security blanket.

As I started to work through the steps, I realized that there is a reason that the Big Book says that those who recover are the ones that are able to be “rigorously honest” with themselves and others.  I knew what I had to do, but I was afraid of the outcome.  Would I suffer more rejection?  Humiliation?  Would the people who I thought were my friends laugh at me?  Or worse, be horrified?  I didn’t know, and not knowing was scary.  But I started to open up anyway.  I shared things with friends that I never thought I would tell anyone (except my husband and my sponsor).  And you know what?  It didn’t cause them to run for the hills.  There were some looks of shock and concern, but they didn’t bolt.  You see, they were able to look past my ugly alcoholic behavior and see the real me.  They were able to love me despite the negative things, because I let them in.  And you know what else?  As a result of my sharing, many of my friends have felt comfortable sharing their ‘stuff’ with me!  I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty awesome.

It’s a real gift of sobriety to be able to experience these connections with people.  Nothing ever came close to the feeling of connecting when I was drinking and trying to hide everything from everyone.  It’s something that I think I always wanted, but didn’t know it was even something that actually existed.  I know now that it does.  It’s those moments when a friend says they have something exciting to tell me, or they come into my office at work and quietly close the door behind them to talk about something.  It’s when someone asks me for advice (imagine that!!), or gives me advice when I need it.  It’s when they ask me how I’m doing and follow it up with, “really, how are you?”  It’s when a friend shares something with me that they haven’t shared with anyone before, and I can give them the same acceptance and love that they have given me.  It’s in the hugs that are given for no particular reason, the laughter shared over inside jokes, the encouragement given to press on even on the worst of days.  I love those moments.  I look for those moments. I am grateful that I get to feel those moments.

I am so thankful for the people in my life.  I am blessed.

PS-I just read this to my husband and he said the before I didn’t let the people get to know the real me and so I had shallow, acquaintance friendships.  Now people know the real Jami and they don’t just put up with me or say “she’s ok”, they like me.  But more than that when people get to know the real me, they love me. 🙂

Keeping the Faith


Today’s AA meeting was much better than the one last week.  I wrote about the drama last week when an old-timer told a newcomer to shut the fuck up during his emotional share.  (Update:  I haven’t seen that newcomer all week.  I hope that only means that he has chosen to go to different meetings after what happened, and not the alternative.)   Thank God there was no drama today.  It was an enlightening meeting with a lot of insightful shares and it was filled with hope.  The topic was faith.  The person that brought up the topic (the same old-timer that was so rude last week!) expressed that, as the Bible says in Matthew 13:31, all we need to change for the better, to live a life filled with joy, to stay sober, to have a relationship with God, is faith as small as a mustard seed.  That resonated with me because when it came to both my faith in God and the gospel, and my faith in AA, that’s all I had.

My faith in God came first.  I grew up in a family that didn’t go to church, didn’t talk about God or the Bible, and didn’t behave in a Christian way.  Yet, if you had asked any of them if they were Christians, they would have enthusiastically said yes.  But, whenever I questioned them about faith in God, no one could explain it to me in a way that I understood or believed.  A typical response was “it’s just something you have.”  I didn’t get it, so at an early age, I declared myself agnostic.  I couldn’t see God, couldn’t touch God, couldn’t feel His presence, so how could I have faith in Him?  I didn’t even know if He was real.  I saw though, in people outside of my family, that the ones that had faith had something I wanted.  They had a serenity and peace about them.  They were able to face things that seemed impossible to me, and make it to the other side of trials and tribulations.  I always knew that I was missing out on something big, I just couldn’t figure out how to get it.

I think that is one of the reasons that I became an alcoholic (of course that is a long list!).  I was missing something that the human soul needs.  And I drank to try to fill it up.  When I finally made it to rehab, I ended up at a Christian treatment center in Phoenix because they accepted my insurance.  That was really my only reason for choosing that facility, other than the fact that they returned my desperate call first.  When I got there, I chose the traditional track (Big Book studies, meditation and lots of lectures and 12-step meetings), as opposed to the Christian track (devotionals, Bible studies, the same lectures and 12-step meetings).   That only lasted about a week, because I started to pay attention to the staff working with all of us addicts:  the therapists, the behavioral health techs, the nurses, even the doctors.  I learned that all but one of them were in recovery themselves.  I struck up conversations with them and I learned that spirituality and faith in a Higher Power were helping them stay sober.  Amazing.  I went to Bible study and morning devotional the second week.  When I listened to the believers share, what I heard was what I had been missing.  They spoke of their horrible experiences and of how God brought them through them.  They spoke of knowing that they were powerless and that they had to rely on God to save them.  They threw up their hands and turned their will over to God.  They relinquished control.  And, here’s the kicker, they believed without proof that God would take care of them.  That was faith!  That was what I had been looking for my whole life!  The people at rehab, a bunch of addicts and alcoholics, finally showed me what faith was.  I was overjoyed.

Having faith in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous took a while longer.  I loved AA almost from the beginning, and again, I found people who had what I wanted – sobriety.  I wanted to be able to live without getting loaded, and these people were doing it.  But, when it came to really believing that the program could work for me, I wavered.  It all sounds good on paper, but how could one alcoholic helping another really work?  How could these AA members that had lost their families, their homes, their freedom, their jobs, really be happy, joyous, and free?  I was probably a year into the program before I really started to have faith that it works.  I started to see that the promises that the old timers talked about and that we read at the end of every meeting, really could (and would) come true.  I saw it in their lives and it gave me hope – and faith – that it would happen in mine.  And you know what?  It is happening in mine.  I have made it nearly nine months free from alcohol, I have not had an inclination to drink, and I have had many times when I have been happy, joyous and free.  These things don’t happen all the time, but they happen often enough for me and for others that I see in the program, that I am able to have faith that it works.  And I’m gonna keep the faith!

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water


On Sunday mornings I chair my home group’s AA meeting.  I just started doing so at the beginning of this month, and it’s a three month commitment.  Other than showing up for meetings, occasionally sharing, and talking program with other alcoholics, this is my way of doing service.  It is outside my comfort zone though, because I don’t usually like to call attention to myself, and I am generally pretty quiet in big groups.  Just sitting up at the front and reading the AA preamble is a fairly big deal for me, so each Sunday morning I am a little bit anxious that there will be some issue that I have to handle  as the ‘host’ for the hour.  Up until today my worries had been unwarranted.  Aside from having to cut-off one particular old-timer a couple of times, my job had been easy.  This morning was another story, and I left the meeting with some resentments.

We have a fairly large home group, there are usually about 50 or 60 people there.  The back corner seems to be reserved for the old-school members who have 30+ years of sobriety.  They tend to be kind of a harsh, tell-it-like-it-is, sit-down-and-shut up sort of bunch.  They quote the Big Book in every share, tell newcomers exactly what they need to do, and pass judgement on those that don’t do sobriety their way.  They are Big Book bullies.  I am not saying that they don’t have good things to say.  As I mentioned, they have decades of sobriety, so they are obviously doing something right.  But I do think that their approach, especially when it comes to newcomers, is sometimes way too far into the tough love category.

This morning when I asked if anyone had a topic for the discussion, a young man with around a month of sobriety spoke up.  He has been really struggling with getting sober and he was full of emotion and confusion.  Yesterday he went to an old girlfriend’s house and ended up drinking an O’Doul’s beer.  He didn’t know if that meant he had a slip or not (in my book, it does, near beer is still beer).  He told his story, and began to talk about his regret and confusion, obviously upset, when one the old-timers in the corner yelled out “shut the fuck up.”  Several seconds of cross-talk, cross-yelling really, ensued as people in the group told the old-timer that everyone has a right to share, and that he needed to be quiet, and he told everyone that the newcomer needs to shut up at meetings and talk to his sponsor.  I invited the newcomer to continue sharing and, thankfully, he did.  The rest of the meeting revolved around the slippery slope of drinking the low-alcohol beer substitutes and the like.  Most of the people that shared were in agreement that the newcomer had a slip and should change his sobriety date.  The other old-timers echoed their loud, confrontational buddy’s sentiment and spoke with raised voices, rather angrily, as they thumped their Big Books and barked out orders.

As I sat there and listened, I became more and more resentful.  I thought about my first months in the program, and what I needed at the time.  Having someone yell at me to shut the fuck up was not what I needed.  I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, that there were people that were just like me that had made it to a sober way of living.  I needed to know that I had a place where I could fit in and not be judged.  I needed to know that there was a solution, and there were people that could help me learn what it was.  That old-timer gave none of that to the newcomer, and that really made me mad.  Had I not been chairing the meeting, I probably would have walked out.

I know that each newly sober person has different needs, and that some do need a stronger push to get going in the right direction.  I know that when you go to treatment the main focus is on loading you up with information and changing your behaviors through routine and structure.  Lord knows I needed that when I went to rehab.  There had to be rules, and I needed the keep-’em-busy-every-second structure.  But even that was administered with a gentle hand.  What I don’t agree with is trying to bully someone into sobriety.  I don’t think that someone can get you sober anymore than they can get you drunk, but I do think that it’s the old-timers’ responsibility to help the newcomers, to offer encouragement, to show them the way, to lead by example.  To share their experience, strength and hope.  Isn’t that the mission of AA?

By the end of the meeting, things had settled down.  Both the old-timer and the newcomer apologized to the group and to each other as we gathered for the closing prayer.  Even though I’ve only been around the rooms for a couple of years, I know that once in a while, things happen at meetings that leave a bad taste in my mouth.  I think that what happened this morning sucked, and I hope that the newcomer won’t go out and drink, and that he’ll be back tomorrow morning.  I will definitely talk to my sponsor about the whole thing, to get her perspective on what happened.  But you know what?  By the time 6:15 a.m. rolls around tomorrow morning, I will happily head to my home group for a meeting, because I know, without a doubt, that AA has saved my life.  The steps and the traditions have taught me a new way to live my life, and the fellowship has given me people who understand me to live it with.   I won’t (can’t) let what a select few do or say keep me away from something that I know works.  There’s no throwing the baby out with the bath water here.  I’ll keep coming back.

Follow the rules, or change your thinking?

This morning, on our way home from a meeting, my husband and I were talking about a woman that we know in the program.  She has been sober for a long time, over 30 years, I think, so she is obviously doing something right.  But to hear her in meetings, you would think she was a newcomer.  A very angry, contrary, newcomer.  Whenever she shares, her words are full of anger, and she almost always points out just how different she is from all of the rest of us.  If someone shares about things they used to lie about in the past, she has to comment that she’s always been honest.  If someone mentions that they have found peace and serenity in sobriety, she has to comment that she finds sobriety as shitty as any other way of life.  But she stays sober.  I have been told, over and over again, to look for the similarities, not the differences when I am in the rooms.  And that has really served me well.  I feel at home with other alcoholics, because I think that, even though our stories may be different, deep down we are all the same.  We’re addicts.  We are all reaching for the same things:  sobriety, happiness, a new way to live.

As our conversation went on, my husband said something that really made me think.  He said that some people in the program need to be told what to do to stay sober, and some people need to be told how to think to stay sober.  When I really thought about that, I found it to be true.  When I have heard AA members tell their stories, there are some that say that their sponsor gave them very specific instructions on what to do and when to do it.  As long as they followed those instructions, they stayed sober.  It was essentially a behavioral thing.  They needed someone to make their decisions for them and when they did, they had a favorable outcome.  I think that the angry woman we were talking about fits into this category.  She did what she was told and she has stayed sober….for a really long time.


On the other hand, I have heard other members say that even when they “thoroughly followed” the path that their sponsors and other oldtimers laid down for them, they still couldn’t get sober until they learned to think differently.  They had to have a heart change in the way that they thought about themselves, their lives, and the world around them.  Until that happened, even following all of the instructions, they couldn’t stay sober.  I definitely think that I am a part of this group.  Being told what to do really didn’t do much for me.  My first sponsor (who, incidentally, was a lot like my mother. Ugh.) gave me a lot of instruction – call everyday, go to a meeting everyday, avoid triggers, read the big book, talk to other women in the program, be honest, work the steps, the list goes on.  Those are all really good things to do, and when I get to the point where I have sponsees myself, I will ask them to do the same.  But just doing all of those things didn’t keep me sober.  I had to be trained to think differently.  I had to learn to shut down the thoughts in my head that I was so used to listening to.  The ones that told me I was a horrible person, that I would never be well, that I was destined to die drunk.  Then I had to learn to replace them with the truth – I am not a horrible person, I can be well, and I don’t have to keep drinking.  Really telling myself the truth, thinking differently, is what is keeping me sober today.  And both my current sponsor and my husband played significant parts in helping me change the way I thought.


So, which way is right?  Neither, and both, I guess.  I can’t imagine maintaining sobriety without having a real heart change (maybe that’s my sprirtual awakening?).  But I have seen sobriety work for people that have just followed the rules too.  Whatever works for us is the right thing to seek out, and when we find it, we can have sobriety, happiness and a new way to live.