I have my list for Step 8 from my Step 4 inventory. This step holds me accountable to the harms I have caused others. Step 8 awakens me to clarity. I have heard a common phrase in the rooms for years: “What is your part?” and I was asked to consider, could it all be your part? I discovered this to be more true, and I must take full responsibility for my thoughts and actions.
Al-Anon taught me that alcoholism is a family disease. The disease manifests as selfishness and self-centredness, not only in the alcoholic, but in the family member as well. I was also introduced to Al-Anon’s principle: “we can be happy, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.” I unfortunately did not heed this principle and suffered with the delusion that I could not be happy until Spencer, my son, was sober. My self reliance, driven by a hundred forms of fear and self pity, was how my disease manifested. I truly believed that I needed him to be different for me to be happy. I managed, manipulated, and mothered his life without awareness.
As my awareness of the disease grew, I was now on my path to recovery. I admitted I was powerless over wanting Spencer to be different, to be sober. And with this admission, I admitted the harms I had done. Because of this defect, I became obsessed with him and his life. The drama and pain were insurmountable for both Spencer and me. From the time he was 15 and for the next 10 years, I watched the disease progress from drinking and marijuana to OxyContin and injecting heroin. An inadvertent overdose of fentanyl finally took his life.
I am truly sorry that I worked harder on his life than on my own. My love was conditional, for it required that he get clean and sober. Little did I know that my disease had progressed just as fast as his.
Through the grace of God, the 12 steps, and loving sponsorship to guide me, I considered the question: are you willing to be happy whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not? Are you willing to change, to do the work, to experience happiness?
Brought to my knees, I admitted that I was a hopeless Al-Anon. I was open to a power greater than myself. It took Spencer’s death for me to realize my powerlessness — my disease. When I think anyone should be different than they are, I am causing harm to them and I will continue to make my list and be willing to make amends. I continue to ask God for help.
Through the process of the 12 steps, and Step 8 not being the least, I have recovered from this selfish self-centred disease, so long as I stay in fit spiritual condition. Thank you Al-Anon for showing me the path of happiness. Alcoholism is a family disease and I can be happy, no matter what. God is Good.
So many of us seek recovery when we are desperate and have tried our own ways and failed. We have had our share of pain and suffering and are looking for the solution. Yet the biggest riddle is this: When given the solution, many of are unwilling to fully accept it or do what we are told will make us better. Many of us want recovery on our own terms. “I’ll do this, but not that.”
I was one of those people. Initially, I never even wanted to be a sober person. Sobriety to me was the end of the road and signified the end of my life. Unknowingly, I sabotaged my every attempt to be sober. It took me six years of constant relapsing to become completely 100% willing to go to any lengths.
When I first entered AA, the initial problem I had was with God. I didn’t believe nor did I plan to. My mind was a steel trap. Completely closed. This was the first sign of my unwillingness. Straight out of the gate, I wanted it my way. I relapsed.
My next attempt at recovery was doomed because of my dislike of the 12 steps. I was aghast at the notion of being told that I might have some character defects or was less than perfect. How dare AA suggest that, without knowing me! No AA for me and I continued to relapse. I chose a different path of recovery, known as harm reduction. No 12 steps, no need for God. This I would do. I entered a harm reduction treatment centre and relapsed five days after leaving.
My options were running out and my relapses were getting worse. I didn’t yet understand that my alcoholism was progressing. My work was being affected, my family was at their wits’ end, and I was isolating and binge drinking. I decided I would give AA another try and imagined I would be finally healed. I went to some meetings and sat in the back row (relapse row). I never went early and I shot out of there as soon as the Lord’s Prayer was recited. I continued to relapse.
I decided to get a sponsor but was unwilling to calI her because I was full of fear, I had social anxiety, and a phone phobia. In my mind, I was going to AA, I was accepting God, and I had a sponsor and believed this was enough. Now when I relapsed though, my short spurts of binge drinking had progressed to not being able to stop once I took that first drink. The nightmare of a binge would not end until I went to the hospital.
I decided I was not connecting to my sponsor so I got a new one and she made me begin the steps. I started to get better and got a little bit of sobriety time. I didn’t really enjoy AA though. I didn’t connect to the fellowship. I still had some of my old friends and still wanted my old life. I was one foot in and unwilling to jump in with both feet. And although my relapses were farther apart, they had become dangerous, terrifying, and worst of all, life threatening. I was locked up in the psych ward on a Form 1 more than once, in and out of the hospital, suicide attempts, injuries, and loss of my driver’s licence. My body and my mind were no longer working properly. I was a shell of my former self.
I was beaten. I knew this disease was going to kill me so I put myself into Renascent. There began a journey of real recovery and the beginning of a new life. I became willing. I decided I would do anything and everything I was told to do. I did the work. After leaving Renascent I did their Continuing Care program, I did 90 meetings in 90 days, I did the 12 steps, and I got active in the program and in service. I went to retreats, round ups, conferences. I went to closed discussion meetings and Big Book studies. When I was afraid or unwilling, I prayed for help for strength and willingness. I built a foundation of trust in my Higher Power and began to think of myself as a student of AA and recovery. The more I did, the more I began to like it, and even love it. I learned tools to live happily in this world without the need or desire for any substance.
This past February I celebrated two years of sobriety.
I am continuing to learn and grow and I feel grateful every day. I look back at my stumbling blocks and I remember thinking that because I couldn’t understand how or why things worked, that they couldn’t possibly. I remember thinking “How will praying help me find a job and pay my bills?” “How will going to a meeting affect my day today?” I had been unwilling to listen and trust. In the end, I just had to do the things I was told to do.
At a 12-step retreat I attended a little over a year ago, I read something that has stuck with me, because it described the old me. It read, “Most people say to God, ‘Prove to me that you exist and I will believe in you.’ God says in return, ‘Believe in me, and I will prove to you I exist.’” For me, that says it all. Believe first. Do the work. Live a life beyond your greatest dreams.
Last year I went to India for two months to study yoga and meditation. This year I am travelling to Thailand for a month to volunteer for an organization that rescues street dogs. This is a life I never could have imagined. I have had a spiritual awakening and the desire to drink has been lifted from me. I have a love for recovery, for AA, and for 12-step living. I am no longer running the show; thank God for that!
Officially I don’t belong to a 12-step group; I do have a sponsor who has become like a sister, and a team of incredible women who inspire, mentor, entertain, challenge, and have continued to love me on my best and worst days over the last 8 years, 10 months. Some may say that because I don’t have a home group, I am not a member of AA. I remind them the only requirement of membership is a desire to stop drinking.
For the past 8+ years, I have lived my best life. I am the same woman who could not stop drinking for anything or anyone; I was hopeless and destined to die until I finally “surrendered” in January 2010.
I am growing up in AA and was actively involved in service for a number of years. I still say I owe everything to AA, my higher power, and the people who showed me the way. This includes people outside of 12 step and the people who stick around the rooms, make coffee, and open the doors. I have experienced my parent’s funeral and my child’s wedding, and I didn’t drink — this is truly a miracle. I have found a recovery program that worked for me, and I have persevered. I still consider myself in early recovery, and I don’t hide my recovery from the public. Whenever I can put a face to recovery, I do it with pride as a person with lived experience of a substance use disorder and long-term recovery.
What I’ve learned along the way is there are many roads to recovery, and recovery looks different for everyone. What I measure as success may not be what you consider success. One of the very first teachings in AA was “to keep an open mind” and when I was in early sobriety, I was very opinionated about the quality of other people’s programs even though the next thing I was taught was “live and let live.” It took time, patience, pain, and practice to stop looking at the quality of other people’s lives and focus on my own.
What prompted me to write this is that I want to — as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous — provide an alternate perspective when it comes to harm reduction, abstinence, cannabis, methadone, suboxone, and other mood-altering substances. What people choose to do is none of my business; I want my friends and members of the fellowship to live their best lives. I don’t care if you smoke pot, I don’t care if you drink, I don’t care if you come to meetings drunk. I care that you’re happy, I care that you’re whole, I care that you’re not suffering, and I care that you’re alive.
Letting go has been a process, and for me that means freedom.
Women’s experience of recovery often comes with a specific set of considerations and hurdles; Women’s History Month has been our excuse to dive into the subject.
Dee Young was expecting a man to catch her when she fell, but found that it was the women she met through AA who held her up. In her piece “The Women of AA” she explains how they “surrounded [her] like mother hens” and “treated [her] like their little sister” and eventually became the reason she sought out the all-women meeting that supported through her first decade of sobriety.