Call it what you want to call it/I’m a f*ckin...bird. That’s right, a bird.
Tip of the hat to Xzibit
I’ve been booze free for sixteen months and just went to my first AA meeting last week. I have so many thoughts about the experience which I am still distilling, digesting, but ever since I went what’s been on my mind is the whole anonymity business. I get it, I do. I get why people aren’t running around declaring their trouble with substances publicly. I know how judgmental people can be toward those of us who struggle, how being out and honest about it could affect career, friendships, responsibilities, opportunities, etc. I know that when it comes to alcohol, it’s somehow a failing on the part of the person, rather than, you know, the poison being ingested (I am not the first or even the hundredth person to point out that alcohol is the one drug that it’s only when you quit that people think you have a problem). And though new models are emerging, and more and more people are out and proud with their recovery, it’s by no means mainstream. I know every time I post anything related to my sobriety, I spend the entire next day feeling like I’m going to die. It’s like I’m scraping out my insides with an ice cream scooper and then holding them up for display. Every single time I post it’s all I can do to not immediately delete it, dig a hole in the ground, cover myself up, stay safe in the dirt.
Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.
I also know it’s true that every time I post I get comments and emails and messages from other people just like me. People who are searching, and reaching, and reconsidering. People who are curious. People who sense that something might not be quite right, and want to change. People who are fed up. People who wonder what it might be like to unhook, to be free.
I am grateful I had over a year without drinking behind me when I went. Because if I’d gone those first few weeks/months, those early days where I had only an inkling that it might be a forever choice, when I still more or less expected that I’d return to drinking, as I had hundreds of times before, I honestly don’t think I would have stayed sober. Of course it’s hard to know for sure. But the feeling in that room was the exact opposite of what I’ve experienced recovery to be. Instead of making the choice to stop, and in doing so, shift my focus to unraveling all the shit that had kept me stuck for so long, I would have gone to AA and stayed close to my last drink, as they say. I would have been freaked out that if I wasn’t constantly vigilant, I would drink. I would have stayed obsessed with the problem, rather than any kind of solution. Obviously I have sobriety on the brain all the time. That is true. But you know what I don’t think about anymore? Drinking. You don’t have to stay close to your last drink. You don’t have to white knuckle, one-day-at-a-time it. You can choose to be done, and do it (also: ever since I was part of what turned out to be a borderline yoga cult back in the late-aughts, anytime someone tells me they know what’s best for me better than I do myself, the red flags start waving so hard I can’t see straight).
I know there are so many of us, just like me, who are seeking support, and some help, and others like us, but don’t want to claim themselves as alcoholics. What I think I’m trying to say: you don’t ever have to. I’m claiming it here: I think anonymity is keeping us sick.
If I’ve learned anything from going public, sharing this process out in the open, it’s that holy shit, there are so many of us. Maybe we’ve never had a DUI, or lost a job, or been “belly up”, or any of those other caricatures that come to mind when we think of an “alcoholic.” Maybe to the outside observer, we seem perfectly average. But there is that private shame I know so damn well, that inner gnawing that is in direct opposition to all the sunshiny memes and advertisements we are constantly bombarded with that tell us that alcohol is the key to happiness, to fun. I know how confusing it is. I know how pervasive, inescapable it is. I know more than anything how awful it is to want more for your life, to know there is something more for you, and continuing to ingest this substance that you *know* isn’t helping but that everyone around you is acting like it’s some magic bullet.
Ultimately, this is why even though it feels like dying I am compelled to speak about it. This choice to stop? Life is still life, I still have all the same problems (and more, in some instances) but I’ve also found my people, and with them a sense of belonging that I’d been searching for my entire life, that I felt fleetingly when buzzed up but that was always superficial. I hate myself so much less (I maybe actually even love myself a surprising amount). Also: the fact that there are so many of us? Why the hell should we be ashamed? There is nothing wrong with the fact that we can no longer ingest a substance that is not unlike what we use to fuel our cars. We are not the problem, alcohol is. And it’s possible to simply be done.
You don’t have to call yourself anything. You don’t have to let anyone else tell you what is best for you. You can look critically at your life, your habits, and decide to change. On your terms. You can trust your inner compass, and if yours is in need of calibration, I promise it’s possible to reconnect, deeply, to what matters most to you. To that thing inside, the thing my yoga teacher Katchie calls, “the one who knows,” that deep inner knowing you feel when you slow down enough to listen.
I can’t imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t found some sober friends. It’s amazing to me that basically anytime of day or night, I could show up to one of the rooms and be around other sober people. I know many swear by AA. I would never in a million zillion years say that AA is bad, or should be done away with. It’s *obviously* helped millions of zillions of people. I’m still curious. I will probably go to another meeting. I know my sobriety is still in its infancy. I’m fumbling my way through, just like anyone else.
And, I will never ever tell someone they’re “doing it wrong.” Work the steps, or make your own steps. Do yoga, or lift heavy weights. Meditate, or, I don’t know, kick box. I’ve said this before: just as there are many paths to god/spirit/higher power, there are just as many paths to recovery.
You can be whatever you want. You can label yourself, or not. You can tell people to fuck off if they start to pry. You can shout from the rafters. You can lay in the dirt. You can be ugly, selfish, pissed off. You don’t owe anyone anything, you don’t have to apologize for having trouble with booze. You can forgive yourself. You can be different.
There are so many ways to reach. And nothing is more beautiful than the way only you can reach.