Why My Story To Sobriety Doesn’t Involve AA (and what it does involve)….
Everyone’s story to sobriety is different. Some people got there because of severe, life threatening consequences. Some people got there after watching a family member suffer. Some people got there because of a medical diagnosis or a change in lifestyle. And some people (me) got there by accident.
For the months leading up to my last drink I knew things weren’t going well. My anxiety was at an all time high and I felt pretty awful. My hangovers were lasting longer and the symptoms were getting worse but I wasn’t exactly sure that I was going to stop drinking. I knew something needed to change, but what?
I was like most people and believed that something needed to “happen” in order for me to stop drinking. I didn’t really know anyone who just stopped drinking because it was no longer serving them. My false beliefs were firm so my mind was set that in order to stop drinking I must be an alcoholic. I googled daily in search for something, anything that would set me on the right path.
What is an alcoholic? How many drinks per week do you have to be an alcoholic? What is the criteria for AA? AA meetings nearby? Treatment for anxiety and alcohol? AA for women? Women who are alcoholics? Alcoholics who are high functioning? Alcoholics who don’t think they are alcoholics? People who drink too much but who aren’t alcoholics? People who would like to stop drinking? Celebrities that don’t drink? How to become a mormon? Other religions that don’t drink?
I mean the list was insane, long, and led me nowhere. When I read the criteria for alcoholics I just didn’t fit in. No, I hadn’t lost my job. No, no one has told me I have a drinking problem. No, I have never stolen anything. No, I haven’t put myself or my children in danger. No, I don’t have a history of DUI or any kind of crime. No, I don’t secretly hide my drinking. None of the criteria described me.
It was maddening. I actually wanted the diagnosis. I prayed that one of those searches would list of the problems I was having. Alcoholism is a medical diagnosis. It is fixable. There are programs. There is help. Please, just someone tell me that yes, I am an alcoholic.
Or was I lying to myself? Was I telling myself that since I wasn’t an “alcoholic” I didn’t have to stop doing the thing that I loved? Was I hoping that a quick fix would come up? Was I using the label as protection?
The magic eight ball says, decidedly so.
So I didn’t go to AA. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I didn’t feel “alcoholic enough” and I definitely bought into the stereotype of who I thought would be there. I believed that I couldn’t just show up with my skinny jeans, fresh highlights, and my anxiety amongst people with “real problems.” What would they think of me?
I was in denial. I had real problems and drinking was definitely one of them. AA could have given me the support that I needed. I was wrong about the people there and I already know (from years as a therapist) that there is nothing is more powerful at making and sustaining change than accountability, ongoing support, and encouragement from those who have gone before you.
We are a society that is great at treating your problems but not so great at helping you before your problems become problems. In other words, if you have an obvious mental breakdown or get close to an overdose you can easily find people who are telling their story or offering up suggestions for help. But if you are somewhere between someone who is “doing great” and someone who “drinks a little too much and has a lot of anxiety afterward” good luck. Wellness services are just harder to come by, more difficult to find, and complicated to pay for.
But here’s the thing-we make things complicated. We get hyper focused on a diagnosis, label, a name. Then we filter through our memories to find descriptions that fit those labels. And when they don’t match or add up we feel stuck. Those images, memories, and stereotypes aren’t always true. They are the blockbuster version of problems and they hold us back. We have to let go of what we think an alcoholic looks like, or what depression looks like, or what anxiety looks like so we can stop hiding behind the label.
I finally decided to give up on the stereotype and learn more. I held my own “meetings” in my room with my books and with my online people that I didn’t have to talk to or interact with. I read and read and read and I learned about the effects of alcohol. I learned that alcohol is a poisonous chemical that is meant to be addictive.
I learned that alcohol has a significant impact on mental wellness and makes depression and anxiety worse. I learned that I couldn’t put a bunch of healthy practices in place to manage my anxiety and still drink and expect for things to get better. The chemicals would undo everything.
And, finally, I learned the most important thing of all. Drinking somehow became the main focus on my life. I woke up with a mild hangover and by noon I was looking forward to “happy hour.” And with all of that going on there just wasn’t much time for anything else. No time for reading, growing, writing, dreaming, meeting goals, no time for anything. It’s impossible to fully experience life if you’re just buying time until the next time you can escape.
“You Can’t Selectively Numb Emotions. When you Numb the Dark You Numb the Light.”-Breńe Brown
If you’re searching for the “criteria” or the answer to what’s “wrong with you” and you’re not finding it just don’t give up. Ditch the ideas that you have around how you should be responding to your life and instead focus on how you are actually responding to your life. Then open your mind and show up wherever you think you don’t belong. You might be surprised at who will open the door to help you.
And when you’re feeling better don’t forget to turn around and tell your story. We need to hear the stories of people who ended up in darkness without some big plot or twist to the story. We need those stories of people who had it pretty good but ended up depressed or anxious or addicted or struggling anyway. Your story matters and someone out there needs to hear it.
Originally published at https://www.spaliveaf.com on August 20, 2019.