So What Really Happens in an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting? by Jean-Paul Bedard

aa_logo_2I wish I had read this prior to my first AA meeting, it would have been very helpful and alleviated some of my knee knocking fear.

No one, and mean no one, walks through the doors of their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting feeling “happy, joyous, and free.” The prospect of spending countless hours in damp church basements and community centers, in the company of other twitching, coffee-swilling addicts doesn’t do much to warm the soul.

By the time I found my way to the rooms of AA, I was desperate to try anything, but truth be told, I came in looking for a way out. There was no denying I had a drinking problem, but like most people in recovery rooms, my addiction was merely a symptom of a much more deeply rooted problem. Alcoholism is cunning in that it is an illness that continually whispers and enchants by trying to convince the addict that you are different; you can have just one, and this time you’ll be able to control yourself. The irony is that the alcohol never solves anything — It just buries problems and feelings that invariably bubble their way to the surface like a festering boil.

And here in lies the problem — every alcoholic is an unwitting player acting out his or her part not in a tragic comedy, but in a comic tragedy. The best description I’ve ever read about the insanity of alcoholism comes from Dr. Vincent Felitti, who said: “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.” That is certainly how it played out for me. From the first drink to my last alcoholic binge, I was chasing a solution that never quite worked. It is in this space of “not quite working” that the greatest devastation unfolds in the alcoholic’s personal and professional life. There is not an active alcoholic on the planet who doesn’t cause collateral damage. Like ripples in a pond, the chaotic dissonance is far-reaching.

When I finally reached that point of being sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, I grudgingly agreed to give Alcoholics Anonymous a try. Although I was willing to go to any lengths to get my drink or drug, the same could not be said for my foray into recovery. I’m an addict, so naturally I want the quickest fix possible. I called the 1-800 number in the phone book, and asked the polite lady on the other end of the phone if she could send out some AA pamphlets to me in the mail. At that point, I was still convinced I could get sober simply by reading the “How-To Guide.” Surprise… It doesn’t work that way. The volunteer on the phone asked me where I lived, and she told me that there was a meeting just down the street from me starting in a couple of hours.

When the time came, I walked down the street towards a group of men and women smoking and laughing on the sidewalk near the side entrance to the church basement. Careful not to make any eye contact whatsoever, I slipped past the group and made my way to the door, where I was greeted by a guy, who must have been a bouncer in his former life, who said: “Welcome to the Friendly Group. Grab a coffee and grab a seat.”

Many of you may be wondering what an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting looks like, so let me give you a quick AA primer. I’ve been to meetings throughout North America and some in Europe, and generally, they all follow the same format. There are two types of AA meetings: closed meetings and open meetings. Open meetings are exactly what they sound like — they are open to alcoholics and to anyone else who wants to attend. Typically, after the initial announcements, and the reading of the 12 Steps and12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, one alcoholic will come up to the front and share his or her story of strength, hope, and recovery. On the other hand, closed meetings are for alcoholics and for those who think they may have a problem with alcohol. These meetings also begin with the reading of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, and are followed by a group reading or discussion based on one of the steps or traditions, or a topic related to recovery.

I’ve been attending AA meetings for almost 18 years now, and in that entire time, I’ve managed to stay clean and sober one day at a time. After the thousands of hours I’ve spent in recovery meetings, I can say I’m certain of only a few things. First, despite what many people believe, AA is not a cult. It’s just a group of alcoholics trying to figure out how to stay sober by helping the next guy or gal stay sober. Two, no matter how shitty I feel before walking into a meeting, I always feel a little better after it’s over. Three, going to meetings is like holding up a mirror to your sobriety. It’s impossible to see the changes in me since I’ve stopped drinking, but by looking around the room at others with different amounts of sobriety and encountering varying struggles and joys, I’m able to see myself in each and every other person in the room. And finally, having to sit in a chair for 60 or 90 minutes and listen to other alcoholics as they listen to me, is a much needed lesson in patience.

Eighteen years later, I still have days where I desperately want a drink, but I remind myself that no matter how bad I’m feeling and no matter what problem I have, if I pick up that first drink, I’ll still have that problem, but now I’ll be right back in the caustic belly of my addiction. Today I consider myself a grateful alcoholic, and I now realize that I don’t have a drinking problem — I have a living problem.

Originally posted on Huffington Post 1/15/2015

FALLING FORWARD

I just saw the movie You’re not You.  This song is at the end, and it really resonated with me.  This is how I feel about my sobriety, this journey and my sponsor.

At least I am falling forward.

Finally I’m laying down these arms
The ones I held so close to see me through
And I’m just like a sparrow in a barn
I’m flyin’ for that tiny patch of blue
I dive head-first into the dark
I don’t look back, I just keep stumbling
I trip and fall
I hit the ground, I skin my knees
I just keep going
I made a mess, I’ve been a mess, I guess
And guess what – life is messy
And if I learned anything
At least I’m falling forward
Because of you
I’m fallin’ forward

Living My Best Sober Life

I heard this twice at today’s meeting.  I have never heard it before.

I do not think I am doing that.

I am not even sure how to do it.

Any thoughts?

 

Afterthought:

There was a lot of talk about mail yesterday.  Opening mail, not opening mail, leaving mail in piles, and being afraid of mail.  I was lost.

And dogs, do all recovering alcoholics have dogs?  How do dogs relate to recovery?

There is no I in Team

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I was so thrilled when the stars seemed to line up in regards to moving my mother.  My younger brother found an assisted living center we could move her into on 9/2.  My brother began his drive, hauling his trailer from St. Louis to Fredericksburg.  I went to Lowes to get packing supplies, and the machine began to roll once again. He arrived Friday 8/29.  We began the moving process once again, one year to the day that we moved her from Massachusetts to Virginia.  Wrap, pack, load.

My Uncle and Aunt drove down from New Jersey to spend Saturday afternoon and evening with us, and to be on hand to say goodbye on Sunday morning.  We had a fantastic afternoon, and dinner out.  I only had a few uncomfortable moments during “cocktail” hour, but all in all, I weathered the drinking without a craving or trigger.

My brothers and I had done a lot of task assignment to make the transition from independent living to assisted living as seamless as possible. Everyone had their tasks.

Advanced Medical Directives were written, with an assist from my husband who is an MD.  They were to be taken to Missouri for notarization.  Task completed, or so I thought.

Medical records were collected and filed for transfer to the new physicians in St. Louis.

The codicil to Mom’s will was added, cremation and burial details.  A cremation outfit was picked out.

My younger brother lives 6 miles away from the assisted living center and will be the on site person for her immediate care.

My older brother and I are taking charge of her finances.  No need for her to worry about money at this time in her life.

Then the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan.  Money, medical care, hospice, and alcohol all became hot button issues.  Items that had already been checked off the “to do” list were being brought back to the table, questioned, and being redone.

The emails began to fly, Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

The cohesive team that had gotten her moved halfway across the country in a weekend was tearing apart at the seams.

It was so reminiscent of my father and his brother fighting over the care of their 97 year old mother.  They emailed their way into never speaking to each other again.  My Grandmother died at the age of 100, and they still don’t speak.

There is a lot of ego involved in all of this.

We still have many hurdles to overcome.

I hope that these initial interactions are the exception to what the future will bring.

As time goes on, my mother is going to get worse, and we will need to work together.  We will need to be able to talk, be reasonable and come to agreement on many, many things, bigger things than what we have faced so far.

We need to get it together.  We need to set aside our egos, we need to all get back in the huddle, and head toward the goal line together.

That goal is to get the best possible care for my very sick mother, we also need to remain a team.

There is no I in team, but there is in WIN.

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Suicide is NOT painless

 

I have discovered hundreds of reasons why I never went to nursing school.  I would have to say empathy is not my strong suit.  It is a definite shortcoming, and I am not sure it is curable.

So far, my mother has rejected her diagnosis.  She wants nothing to do with chemotherapy,she has stated she has no desire to live, that her time is up, what is the purpose of it all, and maybe she should just do herself in.

My brother and I have talked her into trying one cycle of chemo, and the nurse practitioner promised her she would feel better.  She agreed.  But, with my mother, what she says is not always what she means.  One story for one person, another for someone else.

I have spent two weeks working on spreadsheets of medications and timetables of treatment, which seem to change daily. I have gotten hooks, and hung the sheets next to her cabinet where she keeps all her medications.  I have written and printed them in 20 point font so that she can see them, as her eyesight is going.  2014-08-20 15.35.12

She has yet to look at anything related to her course of therapy.  I have made the directions so easy a 10 year old could follow it.  Every time I hand anything to her, she says she just can’t do it, makes a noise of disgust, and chucks the papers on the floor.

I am trying to PP (practice patience), trying to give her space and time to wrap her head around this news.  That said, I have limited time here, and I need her to get engaged in this so that I will feel comfortable leaving her alone.  I need to feel sure she will take the medications at the proper times so as not to interrupt the treatment schedule.

On Monday, she expressed a desire to end her life in front of the oncology nurse.  This has been a theme in her life since my father walked out 35 years ago.  We, her children, are so used to her threatening to “drive into a bridge abutment, stick her head in the oven, just end it all”, that none of us take it seriously.  I had planned to discuss her change in tone about suicide at her next General Practitioner appointment. Her comment on Monday saved me from having to have that awkward discussion.  The oncologist called in a prescription for an antidepressant.  She started on that today, which leads me to the bottom line of this post.

My mother is a hard core alcoholic.  She has been for 50+ years.  She drinks copious amounts of anything, mostly bourbon and wine, nightly.  The hospitalization stopped that for a week and two days.  Right before chemotherapy, she drank.  She drank 3/4 of a bottle of wine.  Pretty heavy coming off a week of iv’s, blood thinners, anemia, and partial kidney failure.

During our first chemotherapy session, I inquired about alcohol intake.  The nurse looked at me like I had two heads, there was a long pause, and then she said, yes she can drink, but VERY LIMITED.

I have been shocked by my mother, she seemed to take it to heart.  I have yet to see her have anything alcoholic.

Until last night.  I was in my little room, reading a book, when I heard a glass being filled with ice.  It was after 9 pm,unusual, unless she is drinking alcohol, she doesn’t drink anything after 9 pm.  I made a mental note to check the wine bottle this morning when I got up.

I was elated to see I was wrong, no wine was gone from the open bottle in the refrigerator.  Never happier to be wrong!

As I ran this morning it hit me..the bourbon.  I forgot to check the bourbon bottle.  Sure enough, it wasn’t facing the way I had left it when I was in that cabinet looking for something, and some was gone.

I now know what people mean when they use the term blinded by rage.  I was.  I immediately texted my sponsor with the question, should I confront her?  Of course I didn’t wait the 30 seconds it took for her reply with the answer, NO.  I asked her,  AND SHE LIED!!!

Of course she lied, she is an alcoholic.  I lied, you lied, we all lied.  It is what we do.

Now I am once again sitting on a mountain of resentment.

All of the hours behind the wheel of a car, all of  the planning, all of the  scheduling, all of the emotional and physical energy we are ALL spending to keep this woman alive, and she is drinking. SHE IS FUCKING DRINKING WHILE TAKING CHEMOTHERAPY!!!  WTF is the point?

Why have I put my life on hold, why is my brother working so hard to find her a place near him, why are we emailing, talking and texting constantly about this woman? Why is this our only topic of discussion, our sole focus of the energy of our lives right now?

I can make it impossible for her to drink for the rest of the time I am here.

I have taken away the Ambien and dispense one nightly so she won’t swallow the whole bottle.

I have added the antidepressant to her medication list with bold letters stating DO NOT DRINK WHILE ON THIS MEDICATION.

I have laid out the chemotherapy treatments on a daily calender, and spreadsheet.  I have added them to a Google calendar and linked it to both my brothers as well.

I leave on August 30th.  What happens then?

Why are we working so hard to save her, when she wants nothing to do with being saved?

 

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Is My Higher Power Testing Me?

That was my thought this morning as I was running. I was thinking about all of the stuff that has been happening this summer:
My husband and his 99 year old father,and the trash, the dirt, and the driving.  The fact that the hubs hasn’t set foot in his own home since 6/3.

Me and my mother, our awful relationship, and me now having to be her caretaker, decision maker, and part time therapist. Having to be brutally honest with myself and come to terms with the fact that this relationship is so toxic and damaged that I just don’t care what the outcome of all of this is.

The fact is that  I am really only here so that if and when something happens I can get up in the morning, look at myself and realize that I did the right thing, no matter how painful this is to my psyche. No matter how many body shots I have to take from her foul, bitter attitude. No matter how many drinking triggers this sets off.  No matter how many times I have to see her snot flying drunk.

Is this my higher power throwing down lighting bolts, laughing and saying, “Will she really stay off the bottle? Is she up to this life on life’s terms? Can she manage everything I am throwing down and not go get drunk?”

Maybe it is payback for being a shitty person for so long. Putting a glass of wine before everything and everyone. Maybe my metal is being tested. I don’t know.

As these questions consumed me during my run I shook off the negative thinking, and looked up. This is what I saw.

2014-08-14 11.35.24

Maybe my HP decided to shine on me for a few minutes. Whatever it is, I’ll take the strength it gave me to keep on keeping on for the rest of today.

Tomorrow, who knows. Right now I am looking down at where my feet are.

Open Bar Party

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Last night the hubs and I went to a Luau party at his golf club.  The tickets were $75.00 per person, for that nominal fee you got an open bar a buffet  which included grilled shrimp, and a reggae band.

When I was drinking, only 8 months ago, I would have made a valiant effort to try and drink my $75.00 entrance fee worth of wine.  Because that is what you do, isn’t it?

I felt a small pang of regret that I wasn’t drinking as we approached the bar.  I knew there was no way I could consume $75.00 worth of food, so I was disappointed that we weren’t going to get our money’s worth at the bar.   (That is normal thinking, right?)

Well, the hubs only had two vodka and cranberries, one of which I got for him.  I had four club sodas with lemon.

The food was mediocre at best.  And there was NO chocolate in sight on the dessert table.  Coconut ice cream, and rice pudding, who calls that dessert?

People came, drank a drink or two, ate and left.  It was not one of the better parties we have attended there.

We were home before 10.

This morning I woke up without a hangover.   hungover

I know that this a normal phenomenon for a “normal” drinker, but for me, it was very unusual.

It feels GREAT!!  I feel GREAT!!

I emailed my sponsor, M, to tell her what a great fait accompli this was, not drinking at an OPEN BAR!!!

I didn’t share it with anyone else, because no one else would understand, most especially not the hubs.  (He still astounds me with the lack of understanding he has for this disease.  I guess it wasn’t part of his MD training, or it is selective, I haven’t decided yet.  If he suggests that we get a wine machine that dispenses only ONE glass before it shuts down one more time I AM GOING TO PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE! )

I am a super sober star, I DID NOT DRINK AT AN OPEN BAR!!!  (Yup, it rhymes!!  See what you can do when not hung over?)

I am a DRUNKEN LOSER

 

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Last night I watched a movie I had seen before.  Of course it was while I was drinking my way through a large bottle of wine.  I can recall hating the movie, thinking the plot was ridiculous and the acting terrible.  That being said, it was raining, and television really doesn’t offer much anymore, so I went with it.

As it began, I thought to myself, I am sure the plot will come back to me as I am watching, and I will remember it.  NOPE.

There was only one scene I vaguely remembered.

Yes, the movie had a thin plot line, and Cameron Diaz is a terrible actress, but I did not hate the movie.

When it was over, this terrible feeling washed over me.  It was my brain screaming, YOU ARE SUCH A FUCKING LOSER!  

For years I have sat on the couch every evening with tumbler after tumbler of wine going down my throat, missing everything around me, purposely making it hazy or nonexistent.  Conversations, movies, interactions with my kids and spouse.  All in a haze.

Yes, I was there, but I really wasn’t.

I can recall getting irrationally angry, yelling, screaming, laughing, crying, making slurry telephone calls, and sending stupid emails all in my “I’m not really that drunk, drunken stupor.”   I would wake up every morning, and have to replay the events of the past evening in my head.  Did I yell at someone?  Did I get in a fight with the husband, the children?  Was I slurring when I went to bed?  Did I say something snarky and roll over in a huff to pass out?

What a waste of a life.  

I frequently would tell myself that what I was doing wasn’t normal.

Normal people don’t start drinking mid afternoon and drink until the bottle is gone or 10 pm rolls around, which ever happens first.

Normal people don’t “pre-game” drinks in case one isn’t offered immediately upon arrival at an event.

Normal people don’t drink to get drunk EVERY FUCKING NIGHT.

Normal people remember conversations, events and what they say to their spouse or children.

I have wasted a lot of time being a drunken loser.

Time I will never get back.

It makes me feel terrible.

How do you feel about Anonymity in AA?

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This was the topic of the meeting Monday night.  The moderator chose it.  He is from Canada, and he had printed the story of Rob Ford’s return from rehab.  He is running again for Mayor of Toronto, and has stated that he can’t promise he will stay sober.   He is quoted as saying, “I’m taking it one day at a time, I did not drink yesterday, I haven’t drunk today.”    Is that an abstract reference to AA?

Bill Wilson refused an honorary degree from Yale because he did not want to break his anonymity.  He is quoted as saying, “If I don’t take this it will act as a terrific restraint on big shots and power seekers in Alcoholics Anonymous.”  

The eleventh tradition states that recovering alcoholics should,  “maintain personal anonymity at the level of press radio and film.”

Another principle of AA is service to others, you can’t keep your sobriety unless you give it away.

It is stated in AA literature,  “It is important that we remain anonymous,” the founders wrote in the preface to Alcoholics Anonymous, “ because we are too few, at present, to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication. Being mostly business or professional folk, we could not well carry on our occupations in such an event.”

But, in this age of instant information, 24 hour news cycles, and the pervasive presence of paparazzi, how does one maintain anonymity in recovery, and is it still important?   If it is, how do we give away what we have, and remain anonymous at the same time?

I spoke about the movie The Anonymous People, and ManyFaces1Voice.org, both of which are trying to “engage and mobilize the newly emerging constituency to transform public attitudes and policies affecting people seeking or in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Whether behind the scenes or on the front line, every recovery voice is needed.”  

Kristen Johnson, from the television show 3rd Rock from the Sun is a very vocal advocate of taking the stigma and anonymity out of recovery.  She believes that the shroud of anonymity keeps the negative stigma perpetuated about recovery.

Most of the group Monday evening did not agree with this theory.  A lot of the old timers kept quoting  “We are to place principles before personalities”.

I know that my fear of being recognized, or recognizing someone at an AA meeting kept me from going for the first 3 months of my sobriety.  I live in a small community where there is a local meeting.  I was afraid to go, but I knew if I had to drive any further, I would never go.

My fear was realized as I struggled to get through the door and sit down.  Across the table were two people that I had worked with the previous summer.  I was mortified.

That was then.  Today, I am less shy about my membership in the group, yet I still do not readily share the information.  I still feel embarrassed that I let this situation get so out of control.  That is my own shame that I will have to work through.

Recently we have seen headlines about Robin Williams,  Portia de Rossi and Zac Efron all attending rehab.  They are not afforded the cloak of anonymity due to their profession.

How do you all feel about anonymity in recovery, and specifically in AA?  Please discuss.

 

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Step 4: Resentments

 

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I have a very undefinable relationship with my mother.  For me, it is difficult.  I have never asked her how she feels, as she would answer me as any mother would, unconditional love, of course!

The years, and life, have made my mother a very bitter woman.  She is passive aggressive, and a lot of the time, aggressive-aggressive.   She has no idea how she sounds, and most of the time can’t remember what she has said as it is fueled by bourbon.

She has had two major surgeries in the past, the last one was an operation to remove a benign tumor from her brain.  At times I think the surgeon used a hand mixer when he went into her skull as she seems to be getting crazier as time goes on.  Then there are glimpses of cleverness, so I am thinking she is “crazy like a fox”.

Over the years, I have looked at my relationship with my mother with my wine goggles on.

I have always recognized that it is not a typical mother-daughter arrangement.  It may have been at one time, but it isn’t now.

The dysfunction of this relationship became very clear to me as I took my first stab at sobriety last summer.

I was asked to go to Massachusetts and pack all of her worldly goods to move to Virginia. I had 4 days to get it done.   I had 20 days of sobriety going in.  My daughter and I spent 4 days in her dusty, smoky condominium packing up 30 years worth of living.  It was a tenuous situation.  She was scared, naturally, but unhelpful beyond measure.

Such as:

Me: Mom, you have 4 butter dishes, do you need them all to go?

Mom: Well, one I have for the refrigerator, and one I keep on the counter and then I need the others for when those get dirty. (Along with 10 more minutes of babble, which I stopped listening to after it was clear that 4 butter dishes were what one should have in reserve.)

Me: (Huge eye roll)  WHATEVER…they will go, dripping with sarcasm, laced with you are crazy, woman.

Every afternoon ended with the same question from her, “Did you get any wine?  Sit down and let’s have a drink.”

I didn’t tell her about my bad blood tests, I just told her I had too much to do in too short an amount of time to stop and have a drink.

We got it done.  We actually got it done a day early.

My brother rode in on his white stallion and loaded her up, and they moved to Beverly, Hills that is…I mean Virginia, and he drove a U-haul.

Then the shit hit the fan.  She started to bad mouth me.  I was a bitch, I unpacked all her little tiny boxes and DUMPED them into a big box, I threw away all her treasures, and what I didn’t throw out, I sold at a yard sale, or gave to the junk man.  (Who, by the way, wouldn’t even TAKE all of her stuff, it was TOO junky for him.)

Then I drank.  I had many reasons to drink.  I finished the job!  I did it in the allotted time!  I didn’t kill my mother!  I took bushels of shit and didn’t smack anyone until their teeth bled!

I drank for another 3 months.  I drank because of….name it, I drank at it.

Now, I have been sober for 215 days.

I am beginning the 4th step.

Resentments.  Guess who is at the top of the list?  That is right, my mother.

I put her name at the top of the page, and I am astounded at the feelings that flood into my brain and body.  I am so overwhelmed that I don’t know where to start.  I have been so damaged by this relationship that my eyes are filling with tears just typing this.

All I ever wanted was a “normal” relationship with her.  Not the one I got, not the one filled with jealousy, hostility, and aggression.

I know she has been broken by life, but I can’t reconcile the fact that she would have been better off if she had only given birth to boys, as they are her preference.

I have A LOT of work to do.

 

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