Each time I go to an AA meeting with a speaker who says they got sober in AA, and they have several years sober because of AA, and they are living it up (thanks to AA) – I stir in my seat. AA works for a lot of people. That rigorous honesty thing and sponsorship is the answer for many. It also doesn’t work for many because some of us are too clever for our own good. I remember often wanting a drink after some of those meetings. It takes a willingness beyond the desire to drink in order to do the work and to surround yourself with people who can support you along the way. It takes discipline, and that’s a word I couldn’t relate to back then.
When I first started going to AA, I had no idea how self-centered I was, and I was one of those who worked my own program. I thought I was being honest with my sponsor, but in retrospect I see that I had my own agenda. Some people realize early on in their drinking (before several multi-car train wrecks) that they need help, and they are smart enough to get their ass straightened out before it gets rock bottom embarrassing. Not me. I wanted to see how far I could wrestle with my affliction of alcoholism before it took me to places that I wouldn’t dare confess to a priest (although I’m not Catholic, but they supposedly hear a lot of terrible things in those little booths). I had to scrape my ass on the rocky bottom of the hole that I dug myself into (not once, but several times over). It was a seven year rock bottom for me. AA was the piece of cake that I ate during those seven years, which kept me briefly sober. In other words, I needed something more intense than a meeting once or twice a day. My self-destruction and self-loathing was beyond those thin walls that displayed posters of steps and helpful sayings. I know I’m not the only one here.
I had no idea that there were several treatment centers in the Bay Area (where I live) that were county funded. If I had known it during those seven years of my toilet bowl spiral, I would have most likely got the help I needed a lot sooner, but I may have not been so desperate for help then, to choose the most intense treatment center of the bunch (besides Delancey Street in San Francisco, which is two years of militant rehabilitation). I may have gone for easy-street and chosen a program that let me do whatever I wanted, which was mostly sit around and watch tv, eat garbage and drink coffee. I know a lot of people who go into treatment for a sabbatical from life. That doesn’t work. I went to a sixth month program that ripped my head out of my ass and slammed it into the mirror until I saw my bad behaviors around my drinking so clearly that I pretty much left there licking my wounds. I was chastised and humbled and awakened. Reality slammed me in that program like madness into the Hatter. I woke up to myself and saw what I was, which was a piece of shit. But six months of that, plus ten months of sober-living and aftercare, brought me to complete wholeness in myself. I know a lot of people who go to 30-60 day treatment programs and come out of it feeling refreshed and alive, just to discover that they can’t cope in the real world. You’re safe in those programs, you see, and then suddenly you’re exposed to reality again. When I graduated from New Bridge Foundation (in Berkeley), I not only coped in the real world, but I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted in the real world, and I knew how to go after it, sober. That’s the place I wanted to be, so that’s why I chose a behavior modification program as opposed to a cushy institution with TVs and endless pots of coffee. I was willing. When I first got into New Bridge, everything was weird and regiment. The clients wore slacks and button down shirts. There were a thousand rules to follow, and a hundred plastic red chairs. The counselors kept saying, “hold onto your red chair.” It was confusing at first, and everything got under my skin. I was angry often, and bored, and annoyed, but I kept sitting in those red chairs, and standing in their infamous mirror, and eventually, I “got it.”
Here I am nearly four years later, and I know beyond the shadow of doubt if I were stuck on a deserted island out in the middle of nowhere, by myself, with a shit ton of fermenting fruit surrounding me, and there were no AA meetings to speak of, I would not get drunk. That’s the place I wanted to be in my sobriety. More than anything, I just wanted to trust myself, so I guess the question you have to ask yourself when choosing a route of sobriety is, where do you want to see yourself at the end? What kind of sobriety do you want? Do you want to live your life to the fullest, or do you want to struggle for the remainder of your life with your affliction? Do you want to know how to live a fulfilling existence sober, or do you want to just get by? Because it really is your choice. I don’t go to many AA meetings. I go hiking. I go to the beach often. I write as much as I breathe. I meditate and listen to positive speakers on YouTube. I spend a lot of time with my family. I surround myself with people who are filled with integrity and who love me dearly. I laugh often. I go to meetings sometimes to recall what it was like. I do a constant inventory of my life, and when I’m wrong, I admit it as soon as possible. I know a lot of people go to meetings to give back to Newcomers, and I think that’s amazing. I try to give back to the world everyday I’m in it. I do my best with what I have. I put up a lot of boundaries with people, even if it means pissing them off, because it keeps me centered and sober. I stay spiritually connected and surrender to things I have no control over, everyday. That’s what treatment did for me, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way, even though it sucked much of the time. I’m eternally grateful for that place. I still have friends from New Bridge, and most of my graduating group is still sober and very strong as a whole. That’s pretty incredible right there.
If you are trying to figure out how to stay sober, you’ve got to be willing to do the work. It isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do everything at once. You get to do it one moment at a time, and there will be a lot of support around you during the process. Whether you choose AA, NA, or a rigorous program like I did, do it willingly and with discipline. Do it to the point that you get to a place where you completely trust yourself. Because until you completely trust yourself, you are a slave to your drug of choice. So ask yourself exactly what it is you want, and then go the distance. There are so many resources and programs that are county and state funded. If you are worried about leaving work behind, and leaving your family during treatment, think of how not-present you are for your job and family now. Ninety days or six months of treatment is a drop in the bucket. When I got out, I found a job immediately and my family was happier than ever to see me. They rooted me on throughout the entire process, and they supported me going in there because they were tired of my shit. I have a friend who’s job was waiting for him a year later. The universe will fall into place for you when you get the help you need. It truly will, so do whatever it takes, and do it as intensely as you went after your high. That’s the way to go, and if you have any questions about my journey, please feel free to write them in the comments below, or email me at ArticulatingMagic@gmail.com.