There was a time in my life where I thought my drinking might be problematic. People who aren’t alcoholics don’t wonder whether they are. That’s what they say.
But, that’s not true. We are an introspective bunch, those of us who rely more on our creative and connective sides, and we think a lot about a lot of things. Often far far too much.
When I turned 30, I decided that I wanted to be more than just curious about information and data, trends and things that could be touched or held. I wanted to be curious about life. My life. Up until that point, I had been a supporting actor, if that.
And, so I approached the question of whether I was an alcoholic the way I had trained myself to approach life — to just say yes.
The first time in my adult life that I felt truly safe — when I finally felt that no matter what happened, I would not be alone, that there would always be someone who was willing to pick up the phone, come sit with me while I cried and encouraged me, every day, to become a better version of myself— was in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Ironically, I was in a new city, living in-between places, but mostly out of my car, as I had been for the year prior, and I didn’t know a single person there for more than a few weeks.
For me, AA felt like a modern day church. The meetings are held at the same time and on the same day every week. There are rituals and processes for seeking absolution, membership and health. And, the fellowship is just as important, if not more, than the meetings; alcoholics need other alcoholics to get well. That’s what they say.
Don’t they know, I still think to myself, that all people need people to get well?
That it is through healthy connections with others that we are able to confront the core of who we are. That we face the things we do and why we do them. On the daily. When the chips are down or someone is sick. When we would rather be alone but know that we can’t and shouldn’t, not if we want to truly belong and connect.
The fundamental elements of 12-step recovery programs have been proven time and again to be effective.
They are rooted in theory, supported by research and take the whole person into account. And, AA draws in people who would never step foot in a therapist’s office. It leverages the most important things we have at our disposal — relationships and a sense of community — to encourage continual reflection and growth.
It was like a dream for me to walk into a room full of people who were also willing to say that they didn’t have a clue what the hell they were doing. Not only did I feel safe, but I felt like I had found my tribe. Except that I never really had a compulsion to drink. And, I wasn’t an alcoholic.
When we think of an alcoholic, we think of someone who is still drinking, who drinks even when they don’t want to, when they say they won’t.
At least I do. I think of my beloved. The one for whom I learned to drink, after many arguments about wanting to go home and maybe not drink tonight. I’ll never forget his rage when he discovered that I had been throwing the shots he demanded I take with him over my shoulder or into a plant. When I think of an alcoholic, I think of him — the anxiety and terror on Monday mornings, the loneliness that could only be filled if you were destroying yourself with him.
But, these are not the folks you find in AA.
The minute an alcoholic enters those rooms, often broken and battered, down on their luck and sick to boot, their relationship with alcohol is forever changed. They might not put down the drink for long or for good, but there is an awareness, an insight and a recognition that there might be another way.
That doesn’t mean that they are all healthy. Or that they are even truly “sober”. The problem does not end when an alcoholic puts down the drink. That’s what they say.
Alcohol simply provides a solution, a lubricant, a way of distancing or distracting from the existential angst of life. The real work comes when you have to figure out how to deal with life — both in good times and bad, excitement and boredom — without the crutch.
And, that’s why I fell in love with AA. The community, the people with 20 or 30 years of sobriety who still come to meetings and still work the steps, are bound by a mutual and shared commitment to not take the easy way out, to continually try to do better, be willing and learn.
Being a part of AA and of that community helped me to find myself again. I learned how to let others care for me, express concern and love me, no matter how dark I had become. I found the courage to pick up the phone, reach out, ask for help. Slowly but surely, I began to care again about who I was, what I said, about authenticity and true, real connection.
And then, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t sit in those rooms and say I was an alcoholic. Because I’m not. But, that doesn’t mean that booze serves me well. It doesn’t. It doesn’t need me and I don’t need it.
What I need are people. Connection. Community.
And, that’s way more important than booze. So what if I’m not an alcoholic. The only requirement for membership is a desire to not drink. That’s it. Nothing more. There’s always a seat for you. Honestly, I wish more people would check it out. It’d be cool not to be the only weirdo who goes to AA meetings for fun.