AA how I loathe you

A text message exchange between me and my friend Ken …

Me: I just left the AA alkathon, too many guys in the meeting reminding me of my father. Oy. So triggered. There’s an over abundance of older men telling drinking “war tales.” I hate that.

Ken: Sucks when meetings go that way.

Me: Yeah, makes me pine for the Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meetings with all their meeting rules. Alas, I get triggered there for different reasons. I have the air conditioning jacked up in the car to try to shake myself out of it. Strangely funny …

Ken: Funny cause it’s 20 degrees out 🙂

Me: Yeah …

You know how I have a blog … Well, I found out the day before yesterday that another fellow blogger I used to correspond with took her own life. I didn’t mention it at dinner, didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to sully the evening. She actually lived less than 3 hours from me, but I was too scared to try to meet her. Not because of her, just because I am generally afraid of people.

We used to trade stories about the different psych hospitals for PTSD and DID. We had the same ideas and theories about how these places are run.

Then I just got out of the habit of emailing her, and now she’s gone. And I feel like somewhat of a disappointment. Like maybe if I hadn’t been so scared of the world I would have visited her …

Bizarre to pull up her last email to me with the knowledge that the person that wrote it is now gone.

Ken: You have no power over other people. She had her own stuff you could not control or change.

Me: The wise brain part of me knows that, and the other part of my brain feels incredible disappointment in myself. Then on days like today I feel ridiculous with all the effort I expend.

Ken: Are you making it into a meeting? If not the alkathon, is there another?

Me: I was on my way to one that starts in a few minutes. But I don’t know …

Ken: I think it would be a good idea to try.

***

And with that I arrive with trepidation to a meeting at the infamous “A-frame” as people like to call it, so named because of the architectural style of the church. A common question is, “Going to the A-frame for a meeting tonight?” The A-frame has meetings several times a week, sometimes several times a day, depending on the day.

I take a breath right outside the doors, and I can hear the twelve steps being read. I open the door, take notice of the familiar wood floors and strangely comfortable plastic folding chairs, then I take a seat near the side wall. There’s a fiftyish salt and pepper haired guy with an Old Navy hoodie chairing the meeting, and I close my eyes and take in the odd, but comfortable feeling from being present in that room. I’m consciously relaxing into the chair when I hear salt and pepper haired guy say (to the best of my memory), “This is a simple program, and I find that when you keep it simple it works. When people get into this therapeutic PTSD stuff, I don’t know … you know … I don’t know about that, just keep it simple.”

Well, shit, that got my attention. When salt and pepper haired dude finally noticed me with my hand up this is what I said, “I’m going to go out on a limb here, but with respect to the PTSD I want to say something about that. As someone who’s an alcoholic with PTSD I can say that the combination, for me, makes it difficult for me to be in these rooms as much as I would like to be. I wish that weren’t so, but it is. I wish that it was not the case that too often I get triggered by simply hearing about drinking or consequences from drinking. I am glad I did not know how almost unbearable my PTSD would get for me when I quit drinking. I want to be here, but sometimes I have to make the choice to leave when I’m getting triggered. Even so, I’m grateful that the program is here for me when I’m able to be here.”

As predicted there was the typical reaction to my share that one has to keep it simple, stick to the program, and that if you don’t veer from the program you’ll be fine. Such a belief is overly simplistic in that it conveys a presumption that the believer knows everything there is to know about what works for every possible person with this addiction. Let me take the opportunity to say that such a belief is beyond foolish, beyond embarrassing and devoid of taking in the bigger picture of the varied individuals that present as addicts.

And that is why too often I find myself driving past the damn A-frame when I’m not in the mood for the self-rightous words that I will inevitably hear over and over again in any meeting I find in that church in the shape of a summer camp.

What they don’t tell you in AA

You make fast friends in AA the moment you walk in the door for the first time. What they don’t tell you is that not all of those friends will maintain their sobriety. However, there is no way to communicate that to you. It wouldn’t be fair, and there’s no real way to figure out who will “go back out” as they say.

They don’t tell you that “coming back” means you are “coming back” from “going back out” and drinking. No one will tell you this. You have to figure it out on your own. They often ask at meetings, “Who’s coming back, and wants to acknowledge it?” You raise your hand for quite a few meetings there in the beginning as you take the question literally. You think to yourself, “Well, sure I’m back. Aren’t we all coming back?” No wonder you had all sorts of attention from the old timers. They must have thought you were picking up a drink very regularly after meetings. One day you realize your mistake when another man raises his hand when you do, and starts talking about drinking the night before.

They don’t tell you that not every meeting will be inspiring or even useful, but you still keep coming back because you’ll miss out when it is useful or inspiring if you are not there.

They don’t tell you that some sponsors are megalomaniacs, and see themselves as bigger and more important than your doctor or clinician. No one tells that that there may be a time when you have to reach down into your judgement circle deep down inside of you to see if your sponsor is right, or if they are, indeed, a megalomaniac. You are afraid because you know that you are not known for your best judgement. After all, you don’t even have 90 days sober. But, after deeply considering the situation you decide that your sponsor is fucked in her thinking. You land here … taking Trazodone is not equivalent to picking up a drink. You do not have to change your sobriety date. No one will tell you that you will have this crisis.

No one will tell you that mentioning taking psychotropic drugs during an AA meeting will divide the room in half, and render the meeting a Girl Interrupted version of The McLaughlin Group. Without even realizing it, you unveiled one of the biggest controversies within AA, the role of psychotropic drugs in sobriety.

No one will tell you that when you tell your sponsor that she is fired that you will want a drink, and you will only have yourself to rely on during that crisis. You will have that moment when you envision yourself picking up the drink, and you will desperately want the taste of that Crown Royal. There will be no one there to talk you out of it, or help you. You will see the clarity in the midst of it with the realization that taking that drink could get you back to that very bad place you were in when you put down the drink. All you know in that moment is that you want a better life, and you are not going to pick up a drink because of a sponsor with flawed and mistaken ideas. In the end, it will only be your fault if you take a drink.

No one will tell you that people who occasionally come to AA are considered to be “around the program”  and not “in the program.” Sponsorless people and people without a step meeting in their repertoire are also considered to be “around the program.” There’s countless criteria for being “around” instead of “in.” No one will outline the rules for you. You have to observe and watch in order to figure it out. In fact, if you ask what the rules are someone is likely to say it’s a program of “suggestion.” Perhaps that’s the case to some people, to others it is a program of rules.

No one will tell you that there will be a day when you will miss the camaraderie, the terrible basement rooms, and the hope in the air. You will go back to the program in those times of wanting to return, but you will always return to that same place in your heart where you realize that AA is not for you. Sobriety is for you though. Sobriety is a heavenly gift, but the program of AA was not meant for you. You wish it was. You will spend the rest of your life explaining to people that you are indeed sober without AA. You cherish your sobriety, and “people in the program” will look at you suspiciously.

No one will tell you that years later you will run into that sponsor with the wrong-headed ideas about psychotropic drugs. All the statements that you had swirling around in your head for a long time after your parting will come to you in that moment when you see her. Instead, you will smile and hug her because you realize that she was only doing what she thought was right. She will walk away after a brief conversation with you, and in that moment, you will realize that this is sobriety.

This day is not going to break me … I hope …

For some mysterious reason the week of the Fourth of July has historically been hard for me, and I have no idea why. I know in the past that I drank heavily on this day, but I don’t think that’s why the day is hard. I drank to get through it because it was hard. The difficulty of it is still a mystery to me.

In the wake of a stressful two weeks at work I knew that the dreaded Fourth of July was in my sights, but I had to focus on getting through the work stuff. Then it hit me yesterday that the stupid holiday was upon me. And what makes it particularly hard is that my usual supports are gone. Friends have come and gone. I do have some friends, but I don’t push the closeness. These days I am largely on my own, truly starting over. Plus, this week both Doc and my therapist are on vacation.

I’ve written here about my struggles in AA, and being a consistent presence in The Rooms, as we call them. I knew that I needed to get to some meetings today if I was going to get through this day.

Meeting 1 occurred at noon, and it was a very large meeting. I amazed myself by raising my hand to share, but I was never called on, likely due to the very large group. I actually felt okay at the meeting, even in spite of the fact that it was a bit hot in there without air conditioning.

Meeting 2 occurred at 4:30, and it was a very small group of us, no more than 8 of us. I was grateful for the meeting as this really is one of the worst days for me. I shared in the meeting, and embarrassed myself by crying. There was one woman who recognized me from a meeting I used to attend, and she talked to me afterwards. The meeting was a source of comfort, so much so that I did not want to leave. Just an hour earlier I could barely get out of my car to go inside, and now I could hardly open my car door to leave.

Then there was a third meeting. Yes, this is a record for me in most meetings in a day. This meeting occurred in a place with some weird security. It was not easy to get into this meeting. I’ll leave it at that. I walked in, and I only saw men. I immediately looked at the group listing on my phone to make sure I was not at a men’s only meeting, but no, it was a general meeting. It was not necessarily a remarkable meeting, but I didn’t mind as I’m just glad it was there.

And that was my Fourth of July, meeting after meeting after meeting in order to stay kind of sane. I just heard a newscaster say, “It’s a bummer that the holiday is over.” I beg to differ. I want real life with all it’s monotony and routine to come back posthaste.