Posts Tagged ‘Twelve Step Programs’

I received an email yesterday from a lady who is just starting to live sober. She has 30 days in recovery under her belt and is understandably nervous, apprehensive and scared.  She mentioned that she thought she may have left it too late in life to get sober. At 47 she feels as though she has wasted so much of her life, drinking away many years, before she finally admitted that she had a problem.

I remember thinking the same thing too and many of my friends did. I was 36 when I first got sober and now I’m 41, I have friends who were 26, 45, 54 and 60 when they sobered up.  It really doesn’t matter what age we are when we get sober, there will always be some excuse not to. It’s the nature of our disease, the part of our addiction that is centered in our minds, the part that tells us we are useless and worthless.

Feeling like this is far from unusual and unfortunately this thinking keeps many of us ‘out there’ drinking and using. Our disease is telling us, “What’s the point in getting sober, you’re ____  years old (fill in the blank), it’s too late, you’ve wasted your life up until now anyway, what can you possibly do?”

I’ll never forget this one AA meeting I went to early in sobriety. An older man was sharing, he started by saying he was 75 years old (I immediately assumed that he must have twenty or thirty years sober because of his seniority).  I was very surprised to hear that he had just celebrated his first year of sobriety. I was even more surprised when he said the last year had been the happiest year of his life. He had reconnected with his children, his grandchildren and he had found a new happiness that he never thought existed for someone like him. When I heard his story, I was inspired and thought “Wow, that’s f**king awesome – there is hope for me!”

Yesterday, when I read the email from the 47 year old, it made me think of that 75 year old man again and I decided to look up some achievements made by people later in life and here are a few of what I found:

  • At age 40 – John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth
  • At age 43 – Marie Curie won her second Nobel prize
  • At age 45 – George Foreman recaptured the heavyweight championship with a 10th round knockout, becoming the oldest person ever to win the heavyweight championship.
  • At age 47 – Edward Jenner, an English doctor, pioneered the use of vaccination against smallpox.
  • At age 49 – Julia Child published her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  • At age 53 – Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Ninth Symphony despite being so deaf that, at the end of its first performance, he could not hear whether the audience was applauding.
  • At age 59 – Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross.
  • At age 62 – J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of his fantasy series, Lord of the Rings

Reading about these people inspired me all over again, it’s never too late to change our lives and to get clean and sober, and while most of us won’t be orbiting the earth or winning a Nobel Prize; we get to live a life that we never thought imaginable – a sober one.  We get to experience life and the things that come with it, all the cliches – the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears, the success and the failures.

We all have something to offer and we all deserve a second chance, whether that chance comes at 27, 47 or 77 – don’t let your DISEASE talk you out of it.


stressRecovery meetings are a big part of staying clean and sober because they get us out of our heads and out into the world and sometimes we just really need to be around people who are as bat-shit crazy as we are.

In case you are wondering what some of the signs might be for getting your ass to a meeting, here’s a few clues (feel free to add any):

  • Who knew the laughter of small children could be so irritating?
  • The dog’s incessant tail wagging is really pissing you off, why does it have to be so happy ALL the time?
  • You think you don’t need a meeting, what you need is an evening in watching TV.
  • You find yourself shouting obscenities at the cartoon octopus on TV – the one  on the commercial promoting household air fresheners – it just doesn’t make any sense!
  • You tell the Girl Scout Cookie seller to go shove the cookies where the…you get the idea.
  • You find the line in the ‘fast food’ restaurant isn’t fast enough and you take it out on the 16 year old serving the fries.
  • Taking recovery tips from Lindsay Lohan seems like a good idea.
  • When the check-out person at the grocery store tells you to have a nice day, you tell her to go f**k herself.
  • Someone cuts you off in traffic and you think it’s a good idea to  follow them to their house.
  • It’s been 4 hours and you’re still trying to come up with an interesting enough status for your Facebook page.
  • You’ve  listened to The Eagles’ Desperado 10 times today.
  • Watching Titanic just doesn’t make you laugh like it used too.
  • You’re on Twitter and there’s no time for meetings, you’re too busy twittering and tweaking (I mean tweeting).
  • What’s so cute about kittens anyway?

And last, but not least,

  • You find yourself writing a blog entry about going to a meeting instead of actually going to a meeting.

sisters-beach240Sometimes I need a really big kick up the ass to remind me of just how lucky I am to be sober. Drunks like me die every day from this disease and by rights, I should be dead. You’d think that would be enough to keep me in an eternal state of gratitude? Yet somehow, I manage to piss and moan about something completely trivial on a daily basis. Even the most obvious ‘grateful’ scenarios, (like a beautiful sunset and the Mediterranean sea), can get spoiled by the addict in me  always wanting more…

I just spent a month with my family in England – something I’ve not been able to do in 19 years. During this time, I was lucky enough to go to the Costa Del Sol in Spain with my sister (who is also sober) and celebrate my sobriety birthday with her.

Now comes the part where I almost mess it all up. I wanted more – I didn’t want to leave! Thank God I have a program of recovery and so does my sister. We were sitting in her kitchen in England, the night before I was due to leave to come back to the USA and both of us were very upset. We were talking about how rotten we felt about the prospect of saying goodbye but somehow we started talking about our recovery programs and amidst all the self-pity, we managed to get our heads out of our asses and realize how lucky we were.

Boo ‘fucking’ hoo, so what! We hate to say goodbye  – at least we got to see each other in the first place AND take a vacation – how many people never see their families or get to go on a vacation? How ungrateful and selfish were we?

Our disease likes us to forget how bad it was and where we came from. Both of us had bottoms where we lost everything, we were hopeless drunks, chronic alcoholics, we lost our families, our homes, we lost touch with each other, yet here we were, clean and sober and moaning! That’s when I really felt immense gratitude for my sobriety, my sister’s sobriety and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous for giving us the tools to recognize our own bullshit.

I cried my eyes out the next day when I left and so did my sister, but having a recovery program allows me to take it one day at a time, and I’m certain we’ll be sitting having a cup of tea again in no time at all (and no doubt finding something to bitch about).


authentic-drama-queenMy Sponsee has gone off the radar, I’ve not heard from her in 2 weeks. She was working on the 4th Step – although ‘working’ might not be the right word, I think balking might be more fitting. I’ve tried to call her, but she’s not returning my calls.

It’s not the first time a person has gone MIA while on the 4th Step and it certainly won’t be the last. When I was new in recovery, I heard from other people that so many of us fall off the wagon when we do the 4th Step, “Oh it’s so terrible, really intense, it brings up all these bad feelings”. Well, that’s all my inner drama queen needed to hear and I started to see a way out – if the 4th Step was so bad and all these people drink because of it, then it won’t be such a surprise when I drink – I mean, no one could blame me right?

Armed with this positive attitude, I started writing my first inventory and after a couple of weeks of doodling broken hearts and dead flowers, I came to the conclusion that it was way too much hard work and I didn’t need to do it. Thinking about all this stuff from my past made me want to drink (just like all those people said it would – hee hee). I’d put the 4th Step down, keep going to meetings and I’d be okay.

Needless to say, listening to my own advice (or the advice of my disease)  wasn’t the best thing I could have done at that time and a month or so later, I’d completely lost the plot, the animals were running the zoo and I was well and truly ‘barking’- enough so that I picked up a drink.

It was back to the drawing board and the realization that I would do ANYTHING not to drink again – including the dreaded 4th Step. That’s when I picked up a pen and truly wrote. I made a commitment to write once a day, even if it was for only 15 minutes. What usually happened, was when I got going, I forgot about the time and before I knew it, I was getting through it. The best part was that once I stopped making excuses and actually got down to work, I could no longer hear my disease, telling me that I didn’t need this shit, I was on a mission.

My Sponsor and other people had told me how it was for them when they were done with writing their 4th Step, but I didn’t realize what a feeling of accomplishment it would be. That feeling paled in comparison to the utter freedom I felt after I read the inventory to my Sponsor. If you are like I was and are feeling like the 4th Step is not worth it or it’s too much hard work, my experience taught me that it really was worth everything and more than I ever thought it would be (although as you can see from this last sentence, I still have some residual drama queen in me). 


black-sheepLike most of us and definitely for me, the road to recovery was a long one and along the way I always had a feeling of being ‘less than’ and it only intensified with every failed attempt. I didn’t believe that I could get sober, in fact the only thing I believed without a shadow of a doubt was that I was going to die a drunk. 

When I got to the rooms of recovery and I saw the word ‘God’ plastered all over the walls, reading ‘Let Go Let God’ and that I needed to turn my will over to God, just reiterated that I was well and truly screwed. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, I just thought the God that I had grown up with didn’t believe in me because of all the lies and the crap I’d told. The only time I ever prayed was when I was trying to get out of something, “Please God,  just let me get away with this ONE thing and I’ll never drink again, I promise“, then sure enough once the crisis was averted I had forgotten my solemn promise and was back on the booze again.

So when I saw all this God talk in the recovery rooms, I was right back to that place of feeling ‘less than’, like an outsider – definitely not one of the chosen few. I had always thought of myself as the black sheep, always on the outside and never part of the ‘flock’, whatever flock that was, be it school, family or work. 

I’ve never felt comfortable in church and as a child, it just was a no brainer, given the choice of hearing about going to hell as a sinner or playing outside on the swingset, I was going to choose the playground every time.  And I figured that the God they were talking about in these rooms was the same God as I had when I was a kid and that was going to be a problem – because just talking about that kind of stuff made me want to think about something else, kind of like being in church. 

The great thing about Twelve Step programs is that my story is not unusual, in fact there are many people who go in with the same preconceived ideas that I had. Thankfully these ideas and beliefs are discussed a lot in meetings and thats where I heard some things that got my attention, such as the Higher Power concept. I didn’t even need to call it God, my Higher Power was something that I came up with and imagined, that I constructed in my mind, the only requirement was that my Higher Power was more powerful than I was so that I could ask for help when things went to shit – which being in early recovery, they very often did.  

Once I got past all the baggage from my past experiences with church and religion, I realized that finding a Higher Power wasn’t about finding religion, it was about looking for a spiritual path to help in my sobriety. Having a sense that there was something out there bigger than me that I could turn to for help gave me a feeling of relief that I didn’t have before. I was always trying to run the show, do things on my own, control other people and situations and when I finally let go and stopped doing all of those things, I managed to stay sober – go figure.


itchyscratchy2Unfortunately for this drunk, 90 days of sobriety usually signified both an achievement and the beginning of the end. I got quite a few 90 day chips in AA, it was what came after 90 days that was the problem. I’d start to feel better, mentally and physically and I’d start to get things back that I’d lost in the latest episode of screwing my life up. My job would be going good, my son would be spending more time with me or I’d decide to date again. In fact, when I think about it now, I realize that when I started thinking that I knew what was best for me, it was a sure sign that things were about to go to shit.  

When I’d first get sober, I’d eagerly go to meetings, get a Sponsor and start on the 12 Steps. I called my Sponsor every day, took time to read the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book and developed a network of friends who were in the same boat as me.  But, as the weeks went by and things got better, my life improved and I found that I got busy, I went to less meetings and I lost momentum in my recovery program. I was working on the 4th Step and it was just too much fucking hard work to write all my resentments down, after all I had a job to go too, a son to look after and a boyfriend to keep, all this other stuff could wait. Besides, no one was making me do the 12 Steps, it was up to me and I’d decided I was well enough to make it on my own. I didn’t need all this tedious recovery crap anymore.

It’s amazing, how when I adopted this viewpoint my life came undone very quickly. You’d think I would learn from making this mistake one or two times but I went through getting 90 days sober four or five times before the penny finally dropped. Finally, I learned that my way wasn’t working and the last time this happened I decided that NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED, no matter how great I was feeling at 90 days, I was going to continue working my recovery program.  

So, as the dreaded 90 day itch started to rear its ugly head, rather than succumb to what my disease was telling me, which was the usual, ‘recovery is boring, your all better now, there’s so much more to life than this, you don’t need this shit’,  – I  worked harder on my program, finished that ‘dreaded’ 4th Step and before I knew it I was way past another 90 days and still sober.

These days, if I continue to do what I’m doing and work on a program of recovery, I’m hopeful that I won’t have to do another 90 stretch again. In fact the only time I really think about those days is when I’m explaining to my Sponsee how I continually fucked up because I thought I could ‘handle it from here’. My Sponsee is at the ‘I’ll take it from here’ point and all I can do is point her in the right direction, tell her what worked and didn’t work for me and the rest is up to her. 

giftI’d hear people talk about the ‘gift’ of desperation in recovery meetings and wonder what the fuck they were talking about.  All I knew was that I couldn’t stop drinking, no matter what I tried, whether it was a few days in detox, a month in rehab or 9 months on Antabuse. It didn’t matter what I did, inevitably, I would get drunk. Over a period of four years I tried everything to stop, eventually I took a handful of pills, hoping that I wouldn’t wake up, instead I woke up in restraints in the ER covered in bruises from apparently fighting off the doctors and nurse who were trying to help me. I spent a few days in the psych ward in a bed opposite a lady who barely made an indent in the bed, there was nothing left of her, except a hollow expression and loose orange skin that made her look old, way beyond her thirty some years. Liver failure will do that to you. That was it, I was scared straight and vowed I’d never drink again. A week later I was back in detox.

I’ve said this before, but no one decides to walk into the rooms of AA, NA, detox or the psych ward because it looks like a fun way to spend the afternoon. Circumstances take us there, some of us are there because we’re trying to save a marriage, our family has given us an ultimatum or the courts have ordered it. That was my story for a while, I was there because other people wanted me sober and I found that while that reason worked in the short term, it never lasted longer than a few months.

When I finally wanted sobriety for myself, there were no more ultimatums, because there were no more people. I’d succeeded in driving them all away and I was completely broken. I knew I was fucked and that was when I became willing to do anything to stop drinking. Sure, I had sat in AA meetings before, cynically watching these ‘fakes’ pretend to be happy, but I had never got off my opinionated ass and asked for help. I just assumed that no one could help me because my alcoholism was different and they couldn’t possibly understand where I was coming from. Something had changed though; I was completely beaten and somehow that spurned me into action. I asked for help, got a sponsor and worked on the 12 Steps.  I did what was suggested – even if I thought it was crap (and I often did).

When I was in early sobriety, I did not see this desperation as a gift – it was more like a curse – but today, I realize that had I not felt as hopeless as I did, I might never have got off my ass and on the road to recovery.