Although I have recovered somewhat from my time in AA, I am nowhere close to being where I was before I went to AA in a lot of respects. The year before I started going to AA I was in graduate school, performing award winning research, and was a Teaching Assistant for a 300 level class. I also helped to run a psychology research lab at Western along with my adviser at the time.
I was very good at arguing and debating in a constructive way, and at keeping my cool despite being passionate or angry about something. I used this to get ahead in life while at the same time doing research that I felt would bring positive changes to this world. I was able to write persuasively in research proposals in order to get my research ideas approved, and also was persuasive in writing up my ideas about it after the experiments were complete. In addition to this, I was also very good at public speaking.
But I wasn’t always great at these things. As a child, I preferred writing fiction writing over non-fiction, and as a teenager I was terrified of public speaking. In middle school, I was the kid who would shake and sweat noticeably while giving a speech in class. My face would turn bright red, and my voice would quiver. It seemed as though public speaking was not for me.
I persevered anyways though, and ended up taking speech and debate courses in both high school and college. I also would practice public speaking at any chance that I got. By the time I attended college I was a very good public speaker, and improved in this up until I got to AA.
The truth is, though, that I learned to argue and debate in an unorthodox way. Growing up, my father was a rage-aholic, and he loved to argue. He could easily win debates and arguments with just about anyone. He is extremely intelligent, and is pretty grandiose about a number of things in his life. But, he did have one downfall when it came to arguing: if it got heated enough, or if he got to the point of raging, he would become incoherent and irrational. And, as a child I picked up on this.
I spent years listening to him argue with me, my mom, and my sister. I listened to his yelling, his rage, and experienced physical abuse from him. But, I picked up on his patterns of communication within these arguments, and by the time that I was 14 I was beginning to out-argue my Dad and developed a knack for debate.
Now my Dad’s a successful guy. He was in a managerial position for an entire healthcare system, and was very successful at his job. He also has always made friends easily, and is a proud man. Yet here I was winning arguments and debates against him in middle school. I know that it drove him crazy but I was able to debate my way out of some very harsh punishments by showing him through debate that it was irrational and over the top (the punishment did not match the “crime”).
I continued to do this and was able to find a sense of empowerment in it. What I was really doing was taking a bad situation and finding a way to turn it into a positive one, at least for me.
Going back, now, to the idea of public speaking and debate, I am pretty sure that part of the reason why I decided to go this route was because I was confident that I would be able to transfer my skills that I had learned while debating with my father to the rest of my life. And, despite all of my nervousness and social anxiety, I still was very good at public speaking and debate. I’m guessing, though, that this probably was also an innate ability as it seems as though everyone in my family is pretty good at arguing. I just happened to apply my gifts with this in a healthy way.
I also learned from my family how to keep my cool during a debate and in situations that involved high emotions in general. I was a great lifeguard because of this, and ended up in head lifeguard positions. I also was able to do very well in school and was a great test-taker. I continued to hone my skills in this area and ended up really loving to debate about academic matters and was confident while doing it. There was no more sweating, shaking, or quivering of the voice for me!
Graduate school was especially great for this, as there were many debates between students and faculty, and we were encouraged to write persuasively. I really excelled there, and the whole time I knew that I had made the best of my difficult upbringing.
But then, during my second year of graduate school, I joined AA. People really looked down on me and would put me down for this ability to argue and debate, and called it selfish and egotistical, among other things. In AA we are told that intelligence can lead us to drink, to suppress anger, not to fight with anyone or anything, and to always be of love and service. Now, these things didn’t bide well when it comes to excelling in the field f research psychology, where you have to be confident and assured enough to hold your own. It can actually be a pretty cutthroat field. But, people in AA told me that I would die if I didn’t get sober, and were adamant that my skills would lead me to ruin.
Within two years of AA membership, I had lost all of those skills that I had worked so hard to get. Thus all of my hard work that I had done for years to overcome my childhood abuse fell apart within only a short time of attending AA.
At 9 1/2 years of sobriety my repressed and suppressed thoughts and emotions that I’d been burying during my time in AA all began to rise. I also found myself in a situation where I needed to be able to talk and debate clearly for the first time in years, however, because of the influence of AA I found that I could no longer stay calm while arguing and debating. This is basically because I had too many emotions that were flying out at me, because I was out of practice, and because AA had instilled a lot of fear in me around feeling anger and fear and standing up for myself. The result of this was that I found myself acting similarly to my Dad while trying to cope with an abusive situation (abusive towards me), although I was not abusive like him. I just didn’t seem to be able to keep cool anymore when I needed too, which is a problem that he has as well.
The whole situation was terrifying to me. I really needed to stick up for myself and clearly explain to people what was going on as lies were being spread about me. But, I was not only out of practice but had developed a lot of fear around arguing, debating, really standing up for myself, and stating my opinions and sharing my point of view. Because of AA’s strong influence, it was extremely hard for me to get back to doing these things in an effective way. In fact, it took me about three years to even sound somewhat coherent when it was time for me to stand up for myself and explain my point of view to people and to clearly tell others that these people are just lying about me.
Looking back, I see that before I went to AA I was much more comfortable with my emotions than I am today. I was able to be angry or even fearful without any problem, and even though I was drinking I was a much healthier person when it came to feeling and expressing my emotions than I believe that I even am today. I also was very good at standing up for myself and speaking my point of view in an effective way. When I think about this, I realize that AA stole so much from me, and that the depth of what it stole is incomprehensible. I cannot put the damage that was done to me by this organization into words. It robbed me of so much that I had worked so hard to get, and I only hope that I can get back to having the skills and abilities that I once did. The whole thing, though, is still pretty heartbreaking, and the truth is that I have no assurance even from counselors that I will be able to fully regain what I lost.
But I’ll keep trying. I’m not going to give up and allow AA or any of the people who abused me to win. I will persevere, even if I cannot regain all of my lost skills, abilities, and confidence. I will find a way to succeed.
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