Of programs that work and programs that don’t

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my stints in AA. Once I dried out a bit the first time, I realized I didn’t really fit in. I didn’t sound like any of these people. I tried a number of different meetings and never found a common thread. I always had the voice in the back of my head telling me I wasn’t really an alcoholic. My sponsor(s) insisted that everyone’s story was different and I should keep praying and working the program. And those voices were a hell of a lot louder than the one in the back of my mind. I bounced in and out of the program for about 2 and a half years before I got the DUI. Trying to be proactive, I started going to meetings again. It was then I realized I wasn’t really an alcoholic. I was heavily self medicating all the pain. Part of me already knew that. I’d quit the tattoos and the sleeping around first. The last of my unholy trinity of self medication hung on. When I would bring up doubts or disagree with various sponsors, they would all tow the party line. Pray more on your knees. Write a gratitude list. Go back and work the steps again. None of them would listen to what I was actually saying. Alcohol *had* to be the problem. Not the rape. Not the abuse. Not the PTSD. I even found a sponsor who had a similar history to mine and she didn’t get it. For everyone who saw results from AA, that’s great. But it’s not the only solution.

When I was put on the anti-seizure meds (AEDs to those of us on them), I literally lost all desire to drink. I had already been put off it because of the DUI and I knew one of the stipulations was to not drink for a year. Once the drugs got into my system, I didn’t want it any more. I would see someone out at a restaurant having a cocktail or a glass of wine, shrug, and move on. To me, that says the AEDs are doing something in my brain that stopped the problem. I’m sure AA would disagree. I was reading an article on the way up to Virginia before my cousin’s wedding. It was about addiction recovery and how painfully behind they are in researching alternative options to going to meetings. Can’t stop drinking? Go to a meeting. Can’t stop doing coke? Go to a meeting. Trying to quit meth or heroin? Go to a meeting. I screwed myself a bit when I did my drug and alcohol assessment (one of the many requirements after getting a DUI). The guy who was evaluating me had been in AA for years. I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d tried it a few times. He didn’t require me to go to meetings regularly, but he “strongly suggested it”. He also gave me the maximum number (12 sessions) of “risk reduction” classes for first offenders. I chose a different program to complete that requirement. When I finished my classes and was having the counselor fill out all the paperwork, he said he would’ve given me 6-8 sessions (6 is the minimum under the current laws). He said he knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, I didn’t actually enjoy drinking, I was doing it to numb the pain. I’ve never even tried any illegal drugs. It’s not like I didn’t have the chance. I just chose not to. I think that was a big clue to him that there were other issues in play.

Court mandated meetings are even more ridiculous. I understand the basic idea behind it, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need medication and that will control their behaviour. I lost a friend to a heroin overdose a few years ago. We met in AA because she was court mandated to go to meetings 3 times a week. She was self medicating bipolar disorder. By the time we met, she’d been shooting up since she was 14. She was 24 when she died. Maybe if she’d gotten the right help from the outset, she could’ve recovered. It’s things like that which irritate me about the paradigm of addiction recovery. For some people, they need that accountability. They need someone to babysit them. They need a group situation to keep them from drinking. Other people would benefit more from medication or some combination of drug and talk therapy. I’m sure there are other options I haven’t considered that would work as well.

I had no interest in drinking before I started dating Will. I’d tried it a few times before then, but never really enjoyed it. As I’ve said before, he bullied me into it. As things got worse between us, I drank harder. He fancied himself a beer snob and mixologist. He would pressure me into trying his concoctions, most of them pretty strong. It became a habit. I didn’t enjoy it, but it was just what was done. I think I fooled myself into believing I enjoyed it because it was easier that way. So I kept doing it. As my tolerance went up, I lost a lot of my judgment. For most of the worst moments, I had at least twice the legal limit in my system. But it was easier to drink and not remember all of it than it was to stay sober and take all the abuse full force. Even then, I still remember a lot of it. Blacking out was rare in those days. I often say my co-author my senior thesis in college was a Cosmo that was 80% vodka and 20% cranberry juice. I have vivid memories of trying to write that paper, getting up and refilling my glass, and continuing. I wonder what my grade would’ve been if I hadn’t done that. By that point, it was pretty apparent that our relationship wasn’t working. Once we finally broke up for good, I had booze, boys, and ink to keep me occupied.

I’m not trying to take cheap shots at AA. It helped me at the time. It helped me stay sober long enough to examine my choices. It helped me stay accountable in those early days. Once I moved beyond that, it was a chore. Now I know my drinking days are over for good. I’d rather stay seizure free than have a glass of wine. I know where my priorities are. I’m perfectly content with that.


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