An exile in isolation finds that no one has to hurt alone
Each of us entering the doors of AA has been filled with more than enough loneliness. My response was a stoic attempt to neither admit nor share that pain. My silent tears became an impenetrable wall of emotional isolation–and only alcohol was allowed inside. I was too proud to let others see my human frailties.
Much to my surprise, this pridefulness followed me into sobriety. I repeatedly heard members tell me that AA is the place where we never again have to be alone with our sorrows. The trouble was, I thought “we” meant everybody else–not me. So, I set out to build character and humility by learning how to listen to others’ pain, all the while denying my own need to allow others to know me. I believed I wasn’t worthy of taking another AA member’s time, and I was definitely ashamed of the weakness I might reveal if I did open up. By my fifth year in sobriety, it became painfully clear that nothing pushed down inside of us stays down for very long.
During that time, I discovered that my husband was having an affair with a newcomer in sobriety. The humiliation and resentment I held inside began to sprout in the darkness of my silence, stirring up unspoken fears and insecurities. The pain I tried to push down only created additional pains–a re-emerging desire to drink and to harm myself. Once again I resorted to my old alcoholic belief that no one cared or could be trusted to know what I was going through. I was too embarrassed to be in meetings with people who knew my husband or the young woman he was involved with. I didn’t trust anyone in the rooms of AA. After all, it was another AA member who was sleeping with my husband! My disease suggested that a drink would make it all better; a drink wouldn’t let me down like people had; a drink would keep me from losing my mind. I made a decision to end the pain the only way I knew how. I contacted old buddies, and we planned my great escape from life in the familiar form of a five-day binge. I was going to leave town on Wednesday.
There was only one problem. For five years, I had gone to the same home group meeting every Tuesday night. The habits of sobriety had become so ingrained in me that I couldn’t possibly leave town the next day without at least showing up at my home group–even if I planned to relapse. I shared nothing about my present state of insanity, smiled unconvincingly, and then quickly scurried to the parking lot after the meeting. I was met at my car door by a group of AA women who were wise to my signs of impending doom. As they talked to me, my house of cards came tumbling down and I realized my irrationality. Their presence and compassion shattered my self-imposed loneliness. I began to speak honestly about my plan to drink and they understood. The magic happened in the moment that they extended themselves to me, another alcoholic. And in that moment, I no longer stood alone.
In that parking lot, I was blessed with one of the most vital principles of Twelfth-Step work–the gift of allowing another sober member of AA to shoulder the weight of my pain with me. I learned that I am most likely to be harmed when I sit in isolation with my problems rather than attempt to reach out to another AA member. I became aware of the errors in my thinking that repeatedly exile me into solitude: I wait too long to begin sharing my pain, rationalize that I’m not really hurting, or simply refuse to let others see my painful truth. Taking the step to share my fear and shame with other AA members was a turning point in my sobriety. It was a moment of redemption and reaffirmation, for myself and for the women I allowed to be with me. I am forever grateful to them for bringing me home when I had lost my way. I need all the moments of this kind that I can get–but I rarely get them alone.