Questioning how this happened to me: Reflections on the impact that AA had on my life

I still can’t believe that it happened. That I was part of a “support group” that changed my entire way of thinking, feeling, and behaving for over a decade. Despite all of the severe trauma that I experienced as a child, before going to AA my life was drastically different than it is now. I was able to focus on the important things in my life, channel my abilities in a productive way, make and keep friends, and most importantly be myself. I knew who I was, and was growing more and more confident all of the time. Through psychology and other avenues, I had become aware of some of the problems in my dysfunctional family. But then, I developed Epstein Barr for the second time in graduate school, and everything began fell apart.

I have traced my symptoms of Epstein Barr, which has now been diagnosed as Chronic Epstein Barr, back to my senior year of college. Epstein Barr can affect brain chemistry, and once I started showing symptoms of it my behavior started to become erratic.

When I went to treatment and AA, I told everyone about how sick I’d been during my drinking, and about my erratic behavior, and I was met with explanations of alcohol withdrawal, the idea of alcohol making you sick and tired, and basically that all of my problems were due to alcohol use. Even CDP counselors told me this despite knowing that I had a history of physical and mental health problems. “It must be your drinking”, they said. Thus, I never looked further into my symptoms or the fact that I developed mono (Epstein Barr) for a second time. Plus, it was easy and even comforting to believe that all my problems were caused by alcohol and that working the AA program would solve everything in my life.

My health issues didn’t get better though. I was having panic attacks two to three times a week, yet still hung on to an idea that my sobriety was better than my drinking just because going to AA made me feel so good…. so good, in fact, that I didn’t do things like go to counseling or really practice self -care. I was quite shocked, then, when I started to get severe symptoms of Chronic Epstein Barr in 2009 because after all, I was working my program. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, and although I asked to be checked for mono, the tests for Chronic Epstein Barr were never done.

I continued to go to AA meetings even when I wasn’t feeling well. They made me so happy, though, that I really couldn’t focus on or accept the difficult things that were going on in my life. I was told so many times that my main focus should be on my sobriety that I had a hard time fully focusing on anything else. I started losing jobs, yet continued to work anyways. The high of AA kept me from realizing what was really going on.

Eventually, though, that high wore off. Although I don’t fully understand why this happened to me (it doesn’t always happen to people so entrenched in the program), over time, all of the contradictions in my life began to pile up, as had the number of times that I was burned by or mistreated by people in the program. I began feeling hopeless, depressed and had treatment-resistant depression due to this and other factors. I felt shocked and betrayed that AA no longer seemed to be working for me.

I began to really take a good look at my life and realize that my life had worsened over time and that many of the promises and things that I had been told in AA were false. I also saw that AA had never worked for me in the way that it promised that it should. Before that, when I was convinced that my life was better in sobriety than before it, I was decided this based on how I felt rather than by actually assessing or objectively looking at my life. AA really kept me in this ignorant state of bliss for about 9 1/2 years. It’s saddening and frustrating to me that I was in such a state of fog.

Today I’m still trying to sort out what happened and how AA made me so happy that I overlooked the problems in my life. I’m having a hard time getting a handle on all of my mental and physical health issues because I didn’t fully accept them for so long. I also seem to have problems with focus; it seems as though AA’s teaching of focus on sobriety has messed up my ability to choose what to focus on and just my focusing in general. Right now I am feeling rather low about my life, and am frustrated with myself that I listened to other people to the extent that I did instead of listening to my own intuition and inner compass. I knew that things were wrong the whole time that I was going to AA, but made all kinds of stories and justifications for why everything was okay. I think that I just wanted so much to belong and for AA to work for me that it almost killed me. All of the promises were just too alluring.

My reaction to my feelings that something was off in my life was to just do step work over and over again. I worked the steps all the way through two times and did about 5 or 6 fourth and fifth steps on top of this. I really thought that if I kept working the program that miracles would happen in my life. While I did experience good things in my sobriety, though, they usually weren’t associated with AA or the steps. Even so, I would find ways to work them into my AA story.

Today I am left after all of this feeling alone, confused, and rather terrified. What will my life look like after this? Am I making the right decisions for myself? I feel a lot of embarrassment and shame in myself for everything that has happened in the last 13 + years, and the shame mostly arises from my involvement in AA as well as my family. I can’t believe that I was controlled that much by an organization and others. Even though I left a year and a half ago, shock and denial are still present. I commonly ask myself “How did this happen to me?”

I still wish that I could be as happy as I was in AA, but I realize that the happiness that I felt was not based in reality. I would argue that AA made me quite delusional for a long time. I have so much to sort out today as I recover from all of my experiences there and try to live a life that is based in reality and real emotions rather than false promises and big (yet limited) emotions.

Here are a few things to ask yourself if you are an AA member or went to AA, or are even sober in general. Do you make justifications in your mind in order to stay sober? Do you allow yourself to really feel your emotions? Is it truly logical to feel the way what you feel in terms of your overall life? How could outside circumstances like AA be skewing your perceptions of your life? These are all questions that we can ask ourselves in order to get a better handle of where your lives are. I believe that the fear of alcoholism and drinking can make us do some pretty crazy things, such as deny what’s really going on in our lives. For me, this fear was only perpetuated in AA.

Know that if you are reading this too and are in AA and plan to stay there is that part of life is feeling emotions such as anger and fear, and learning how to deal with them rather than pushing them away. Acknowledging and addressing these feelings will not cause you to drink. In fact, it will likely strengthen your sobriety as it has mine.

I hope that you can relate to this story. Know that despite my current difficulties that I will continue to work on myself and improve my life. Thanks!

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