In an effort to learn more about how people overcome addictions, Regina and I have added a new dimension to our occasional travels lately. We go online beforehand to make a list of open 12-step meetings on our travel route, and if we happen to be near one during our trip, we might stop in to observe and learn.
During our recent vacation we visited an open AA meeting in a small town. The next day, over lunch, we discussed the experiences shared by the men and women and jotted down some notes. Here’s a gist of what they had to say:
- Every morning I’d leave the apartment cautiously, not sure what I’d done the night before, where I’d been, how much of a spectacle I’d made of myself while finding my way through the neighborhood, across the yard, and into the front door. If I had to take out the trash I always looked around to see if my neighbors were looking at me suspiciously or shaking their heads. I was totally self-conscious. I had to look over at my parking spot to see if I’d driven home (heaven forbid) or if I would have to hunt down my car later that day… figure out where I’d left it. I ended up going out at night a lot to avoid being seen. I couldn’t face the light of day.
- I was always thinking I was the best or the worst at something—golf, surfing. Being “average” was never okay. It was part of my black-and-white thinking during my years of drinking. Everything was either wonderful or horrible… no in-between.
- Anything enjoyable (hobbies, profession, etc.) became “gray” and washed out next to alcohol.
- Looking back, I realize that I was born an alcoholic. I always had the personality and many of the traits—shyness, fear, anxiety—even before I took my first drink.
- I was terrified to go to the grocery store. (This was a common theme of several attendees.)
- When I was drunk I was usually overbearing and cynical—swearing, and judging everyone—swearing in front of families and kids. I was a totally different person.
- I was fun and the life of the party at first. I did outrageous things… taking off my blouse at a bar and dancing on a table. I wanted everyone to like me. I didn’t care about anyone else. I remember a time when my aunt was planning a trip near here and wanted to visit me, then she got sick and had to cancel her trip. I felt bad… not because my aunt was sick, but because she wasn’t going to be visiting me.
- After a while I lost all of my friends. I’d black out and do stupid things and say mean things that I wouldn’t remember. But my friends all told me similar accounts of how I’d behaved the night before. They understood my situation for a while and tried to help, but eventually they all had to leave. They couldn’t handle being around me anymore.
- When people tried to help me stop drinking or using, I’d get angry and defensive. I loved my alcohol and drugs.
- Alcohol quickly became my best friend, and before long it was my only friend. I figured if I gave up drinking I’d have no one and nothing. Then, in the program, I got to know and feel more comfortable around more people.
- I used alcohol to numb my feelings. I was supersensitive. For any problem, drinking was the solution. I still deal with life’s ups and downs, but after being in the program for a while and working with a sponsor, I don’t have to “drink about anything.”
- My day would start and I’d accumulate troubling thoughts and feelings, and by the end of the day I was drinking. Drinking took away the pain. Now I work the program to find serenity and peace.
- I’m from out of state. I left my support system back there for a very good job here. I’m freaking out with roommates who party. I’m glad I’m at a meeting and will be attending more. I definitely need the support here, where I’m working and living now.
- Before I ended up in AA I was totally isolated and afraid of people. This still comes up, but now I have tools to handle it.
- My biggest problem was, I was never honest with myself. I wasn’t even aware of it until I read that chapter in the big book about “how it works.” Basically it says that most people who follow the path and find a sponsor succeed in staying sober. The few who don’t recover usually have some deep-down reason why they can’t be honest with themselves. When I read that, my whole outlook started to change.
There seems to be a line between indulging and addiction, and, in the spirit of country singer Johnny Cash, we all “walk the line” in our own way. Like most people, Regina and I have both had to contend with compulsions over the years, and like most people we don’t have too much trouble getting to the line and stepping back. Our current aim is to understand and support that minority of people who cross the line and have great difficulties finding their way back.
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