So, I don’t know how many of you are recovering alcoholics (you saucy wenches) and I don’t know how many of you are living or dealing with a recovering alcoholic (seriously, I’m sorry about that), but it kind of seemed that the moment I mentioned to close friends that I was quitting drinking and working on recovery and building coping mechanisms that weren’t tragically hurtful, they all seemed to assume that I was going to join Alcoholics Anonymous.
And, I have to be honest, I wasn’t stoked on the idea. And by “not stoked,” I mean I had created a horror-show image in my mind of what AA stood for and you couldn’t have paid me to go there unless the payment was David Tennant Kisses. (Laminated List, Mr. Bruiseday. Be cool, baby.)
I did know that, as a deeply sensitive type-A child of two parents with varying degrees of OCD, I needed a recovery program of some sort for the structure alone. Ruby without structure is like a Tupperware cabinet in which none of the lids match the bottoms: a confusing jumble of frustration and WTFery. I needed to have other recovering alcoholics as resources – though I didn’t care much if I met in a church basement with them or if I could just send them an email or something when I needed support. And I needed a good success rate with the program; I needed to know that it worked for a statistically significant percentage of its users (both because I am a nerd and because I needed to know that if for some reason it wasn’t working, it was because it was me and my efforts and the way I was doing something, and not because I’d unintentionally joined a cult that would only assist sobriety if you were willing to shave your head and worship Elmo). But looking at AA left me dry.
AA rubbed me the wrong way for a number of reasons: for one, the insistence upon leaning on a higher power. I’m not an atheist, but I don’t know what I am exactly, and the whole God-sphere of my life is too fraught for me to look at and feel like I can rely on the idea of a higher power when I’m struggling with temptation or self-doubt. I’m not sure if I believe that a higher power is benevolent, or reliable, or where I should be looking for strength in sobriety. So that was problematic for me. I didn’t need any more uncertainty in my recovery than I was already dealing with.
Another problem I was having with what I knew of AA was how, for lack of a better word, hardcore they seemed. It’s not the hardcore-ness about drinking itself that bothered me – like I said, I need structure, and I wasn’t about to join some program that preached the good gospel of moderation. Obviously I fail at moderation. I have two drinking speeds: abstinent and shitfaced.
But AA isn’t just hardcore about abstinence; they’re hardcore about participating in every step of their program, the way they dictate, and with no room for improvisation or personal differences, and that made me nervous. What if I got to some step that made me uncomfortable, like the part where they make amends and I didn’t feel like I was ready for that? Or what if I couldn’t find an AA group that worked with my schedule, or couldn’t find a sponsor I liked in a group that worked with my schedule? What I read about the group implied that they would consider you to be not taking your recovery seriously if I didn’t do everything they said when and how they said it, and that worried me. And what about the lower success rates women had with the program than men? And what about the reports – extreme, I know, but still – I read on the Internet of AA meetings in which new members were greeted with platitudes like, “If you still own the watch on your wrist, you’re not a real alcoholic.” They focus a lot on the alcoholic who has hit rock bottom, and I didn’t. I was lucky enough to seek help earlier than that.
Like, here’s the thing. I’m 26 years old. I’m relatively young (statistically speaking) to recognize my problem with alcohol and seek a program to maintain sobriety. A lot of people sink a lot deeper into really bad alcoholic choices and do a lot more damage than I have had time to do. I’m not saying in any way that I’m better than them – they just have more years on me, and had more time to lose the things that were important to them. But I don’t need to show up at some program where my lack of time spend paying my dues to the god of vodka breath and hangovers is somehow held against me, like I wasn’t hardcore enough to need help.
What I saw in AA, when I boiled it down, was a program that often (not always, obviously, but at least if you did it by the book) operated in extremes. Things seemed very black-and-white with the adherents of AA, and unfortunately, I felt like much of my black-and-white thinking in the past had contributed to my problem drinking. There are places in my life where I think extremes are fine: I think Mindy Kaling is extremely funny, like a comedy extremist, and I admire that. I am extreme in my love for chocolate. I am extreme in my beliefs about women’s rights and fighting against rape culture. But I also know that human beings are organic and require flexibility in order to grow, learn, or mature. I knew that as much as I needed structure, I also needed to be able to feel my way through a program, sometimes learning from mistakes, in order to find something that worked for me. I knew that cookie-cutter prescriptions for living a better life had never worked for me before, and from those experiences I had developed a willful and sometimes spiteful disregard for supposed-authority. I needed partners in sobriety, not dictators.
I feel like I’ve found that in Women For Sobriety. It’s a program that teaches self-reliance and empowerment, not the value of the group and how powerless you are. It’s a program that says, Look, you have to close the door on drinking, because you are magnificent, but you on two bottles of Malbec is not. It says, wake up every morning and meditate on these truths. It says, embrace the happy and positive life you and all people deserve, which you can only do while sober.
I’m glad I’ve found it. I resent the implication that because I didn’t take the road most popularly taken that I’m somehow not taking my sobriety seriously. I haven’t been this serious about anything since – well, since ever.
Normally, I’ll try to focus on the humor inherent in trying to get sober, but this was a post I had to take to heart. Sometimes, sobriety is a sober discussion.