It’s been about a year since I’ve been to a meeting.
For a couple of years, I went to a meeting a couple of towns over. I was having coffee with my sponsor and another oldtimer, and they were talking about someone who was sharing their trauma history at a meeting. The oldtimer was ripping her apart. I could see the potential outcomes of sharing trauma at a meeting (i.e., triggering others, setting yourself up for victimization if you’re not in a healthy place), and I also left that conversation with a sinking feeling. It was the age old, shitty, generations-impacting, “You can’t talk about your trauma” feeling. Rational me knew there were places to go with that trauma – therapy, etc. But still. It had that patriarchal, either-or, “you don’t change this rule” vibe to it.
And I sure as shit wasn’t impressed that an oldtimer was ripping into someone with one fifth the sobriety he had.
Let me back up. I’m eight years sober. Which means nothing and everything. When I got sober, I NEEDED something like a 12 Step program. I hated where my life was going, and I needed a community of like-minded young people I could hang with who let me say and do crazy things. My mind was spinning so fast then I literally couldn’t speak because my mouth couldn’t keep up with my brain. I remember celebrating my first year sober with my father, then alive, and my group in Brookline. I met an amazing woman who became my sponsor, and we went through the steps together. It changed my life, it truly did. I would not be where I am today without that program and those particular people.
A year in, however, I started to realize there were some “sharks in the tank”. Five months in, I met a young man at a 12 Step conference who completely invaded my physical boundaries. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know this, because I was 5 months sober, and I was used to men assaulting me in various ways, quite frankly. And I wondered why I felt suicidal a couple of weeks later when the romance ended, gazing over the side of the Tobin Bridge. Now I can see, but then I couldn’t.
A couple of years in, I started to hear some expressions at meetings that made me squirm. “You either grow or you go.” All-or-nothing expressions that I had been taught in therapy to challenge or ignore. “You can be too intelligent for this program.” That initially made sense, when I was a newbie (i.e, you can analyze something until it doesn’t work for you anymore), but I started to see its limits as I moved on. Sometimes, I’d try to challenge or explore other, more ambiguous options in my growth, and people would dismiss them with the “too intelligent” thing. I began to see why some people never left those halls. Because they listened to that.
Also, there was inevitably that well-meaning person who thought they needed to teach me a lesson and tell me exactly what I was doing wrong with my life after a meeting. THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I would scream silently in my head. BECAUSE I ALREADY DON’T BEAT MYSELF UP ON A DAILY BASIS FOR LIVING.
And the GOD THING. Oh God. I never had a problem with God, but I can count about 10 problem drinkers I know who have purposefully stayed away from 12-Step programs because of the God thing.
I had a baby, left the program for awhile, and came back to a meeting that saved my ass…for a bit. My dad was dying, and I was getting married. What a mindfuck. The donuts, conversation, company and commitments distracted me. I truly loved some people at that meeting.
AND….it was at that point I noticed myself embodying some of the qualities of that young man I encountered 5 or so years earlier. I was using other people to distract me emotionally. It wasn’t OK, or fair to anyone. It snowballed and snowballed until I left that meeting, a little over a year ago. Turns out the program could be just as triggering for me as a bar, at times.
When I stopped going to that meeting, I literally felt as if I was having withdrawals. I missed the meeting and had to do something to distract myself on Thursday nights. Then, I started to work later, and I slowly forgot about it. I’d remember from time to time, and wonder what they were doing when it was 830 on a Thursday night. Over time, I forgot completely.
It was then I realized I was addicted to the meetings, and to people at them.
Over the past year, I have gotten healthier and healthier. I’ve never eaten better. I’ve noticed that my tendency to seek joy or fulfillment through other individuals has decreased. It’s almost died out, actually. I don’t think about drinking often, and I’m 100% submerged in my life. Which does not mean it’s perfect! IT IS LIFE. Which means it can be annoying and messy and just plain hard. Especially when my husband wants me to check in more to our marriage or my daughter is pinching or hitting me because I wouldn’t let her watch TV during dinner. But I’m in it, and I’m feeling shit.
Do I think 12 Step Programs suck? NO WAY. They save people’s lives and marriages and families. Do I think they need some work? Absolutely. And I think we need to do away with not challenging some tenets of the program, and talk about what’s wrong with it. Because let’s face it. What Bill W created in 1935 may have lasted, but it doesn’t fit 2017 so snugly.
So yeah. The program isn’t for me now, but it might be sometime again. But not right now. I do therapy and exercise and writing and other spiritual work as my self care. And where I stand with it makes me no better than you. Maybe you need it every day. And that’s cool.
Cause different things work for different people.
(I picked that gem up at this 12-Step Program I went to.)