WHEN I GOT to treatment, I had nothing. That may not have been true physically, but it was emotionally and spiritually. I did not believe I was an alcoholic–I just had nowhere else to go. I had lost all faith in God as I had known him many years before.
While in treatment, I saw something I wanted–a love and caring I had never experienced. That kept me there when nothing else could have. I visited a local halfway house and found that same love and caring. When the staff suggested I live at this halfway house, I agreed, because the people there had something I wanted–not because I needed a stable place to live and grow, not because I needed to build a solid foundation in Alcoholics Anonymous that I could never have developed on my own, and certainly not because I needed to find that faith in God I had lost. But I got all of it!
That halfway house loved me back to life and carried me to AA when I didn’t want to go and wouldn’t have. I stayed at the halfway house until my one-year birthday–long enough to believe in people and begin to trust a God of my understanding. I kept going to AA, working the Steps, and giving back to AA, through the service structure, the love and support I had received.
Around my second-year birthday, I accepted the First Step and truly believed I was an alcoholic. It took me a long time, and I’m grateful that you were all there, loving and supporting me, and that the only requirement for AA membership was a desire to stop drinking–not the admission that I was an alcoholic. Tradition Three saved my life and my sanity.
Through all of this, God had blessed me with a loving, patient, and persistent sponsor and the kind of friends I had only dreamed of having. When I was two years sober, I came to grips with my second obsessive disease–compulsive overeating–through the grace of God and the fellowship of Overeaters Anonymous.
About the time of my three-year birthday, I started focusing on getting my self-worth from inside–not from things I did. I started saying no to service work, so I could concentrate on what became a nightmare that was not to end for three and one-half more years. I had flashbacks of a past I did not remember. My sponsor suggested therapy, and from that suggestion alone, I know God places people in our paths who are meant to be there. I could never have gotten through this without therapy. The memories were at first vague and unrelated, terrifying, insanity-producing. After a time, I was able to sort it all out, and I now know I am an incest victim, violently raped by my father from the ages of five to seven and again when I was twelve.
When I was five years sober, an AA man I knew only slightly took me aside and told me about the pain and frustration and letting go and changing and surrendering that would happen to me in the coming year. That man was a gift from God. I was then going through the most trying time in my incest memories, and I was also experiencing a lot of pain and change within AA. My foundation was changing when I needed it the most. He told me most people reach this spot at about five years. It’s called working Steps Six and Seven. Some go back and do One through Five again. Some become avidly involved in AA service. Some slip away from AA and may or may not get drunk. And some grow with the pain–go through it and see AA in a new light. He shared with me that his very foundation in God had been shaken–that he had come through it with a deeper understanding and growth in the program. I don’t know exactly what that meant for him, but I’d like to share with you what it has meant for me.
The struggle with AA has been one of the most painful times in my sobriety. At first, I thought I didn’t need you–I had my therapy and my OA meetings, and you didn’t understand my pain and depression anyway. I went away for a short time. Thank God, I had heard enough about slips around the tables that guilt kept haunting me. I came back out of fear–I didn’t want to get drunk. I went to all kinds of meetings–they were all the same. I felt different. I wasn’t madly in love with AA. When I was depressed or in pain, I would talk about my feelings, and some members would ask what Step I was working or tell me it would pass or talk about gratitude or share some dumb experience that was irrelevant. I kept going and hating it–angry and resentful because you all had something I didn’t. I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel this way, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know how to fix it. Through it all, there seemed to be nobody around who had been where I was or who even knew what was happening–except that one man. I knew he was with me. He loved and supported me, didn’t give me any pat answers or try to fix the pain. I hung on his words, trusting I’d get through this somehow, someday.
When I was six and one-half years sober, a friend told me about growing up. She said when a child grows up with loving parents, the natural thing for her to do as an adult is to cut the strings but to keep going back home, because that is her foundation and the very thing that has given her life–and also to go forward, to live all of life in all of its varied parts. I thought for a long time AA was changing and not meeting my needs. Now, I know I was changing and AA is meeting my needs, in a different way. What happened to me during my sixth year of sobriety was adolescence–temper tantrums, testing, pulling, pushing–although it felt like going to hell and back. And I’ve come through it. I’m an adult. I don’t need AA the way I used to as a child–I want AA today as the backbone of my life. By its very nature and existence, it has taught me how to grow up and live as an adult in the rest of the world.
Many times over the last three and one-half years, I would ask you and God: “Where are all the good things that are supposed to happen as a result of sobriety? Why am I always in pain? I work the Steps. I go to meetings. I’m growing, loving, and serving. I want the love of a special person. I want a child. I want some joy. When is it my turn?” Well, now I know it’s my turn! God has brought me through a lot of pain. I’m so grateful I stayed with it and trusted myself instead of returning to my childish dependence on AA or, when I felt nobody was listening, stuffing my feelings inside and getting more involved in outside things. I have now healed inside and out, and I’m ready for new challenges in the present.
The Big Book says, “Clear away the wreckage of your past.” Well, it takes some of us longer to clear away the wreckage. I had a lot to clear! Today, I’m sober, I’m free of my past and my father, and I have a new place for AA that fits for me. The last couple of years have been the hardest I’ve ever known in sobriety in the physical sense–but in the spiritual and emotional, I’ve never known such love and faith and trust. I thank you, God, for bringing me to this place of peace and serenity where I can share with others in need.
In Bill W.’s article “AA’s Responsibility,” he talked about newcomers and our responsibility to keep them coming back. What about the people who are five or six years sober?–people who leave the program because their needs aren’t being met, because nobody is there to sponsor and share with them an understanding “I’ve been there–I know what you’re going through. It hurts like hell. Just don’t leave–talk about it.” I hear many stories about the lack of people from six through ten years sober. Why? I think I’ve experienced why. I had never been so low or so alone. And being alone in AA is terribly lonely. God placed a man in my life who didn’t let that happen to me. I will be forever grateful and do all I can to give that back. Thank you, AA, for my continued sobriety and my new freedom!