I remember that when I first got to AA I really believed that I had been revolving my entire life around my drinking habit. Today, though, over 13 years later, I am able to look back and see that this definitely was not the case. In fact, I spent more time in my life revolving my life around “sobriety” and Alcoholics Anonymous far more than I ever revolved my life around drinking.
Why, you may ask, did I make this assumption about my life so many years ago? I actually believe that a large part of it was due to the guilt and shame that surrounds drinking within my immediate family, and the fact that my mom tends to peg anyone who drinks even moderately as an alcoholic. Because of this, I tended to guilt myself quite a bit even when my drinking was no more than social drinking. Also, even though I obviously did not have a problem with drinking for years, I still thought that I did because my parents had taught me that practically any amount of drinking meant that you were an alcoholic.
Still, I did have a brain and was able to see that the alcoholics in my family had many more problems than I did when it came to their drinking, and that they revolved their life around it much more than me. Even so, though, my parents basically brainwashing of me caused me to believe that I had a problem with drinking from a young age. But, even after I was diagnosed as chemically dependent, I didn’t want to call myself an alcoholic, and even felt uncomfortable with the diagnosis itself, especially because my parents had coached me on what to say in a way that I was bound to get diagnosed as chemically dependent regardless of if I actually was.
Upon entering treatment and AA the notion that I was an alcoholic, though, was thrown at me until I eventually believed it, despite my gut feeling that something was off with the situation and with the diagnosis. In addition, exercises that I completed during treatment, which again were coached somewhat by the chemical dependency counselor, were made to prove to patients that their lives really did revolve around substances. Most of the patients in this outpatient treatment were actually court ordered, though, and looking back I can see that these exercises were extremely coercive and could result in practically anyone agreeing with the purpose of it and thinking that they had a problem with alcohol and drugs even if they did not.
Just as I found treatment to be coercive, so was AA. And from this all, as I said above, I gained this idea that my life revolved around drinking when it did not. I also began to draw other erroneous conclusions in my life, such as that I never had free time because I was always trying to get life done with so that I can drink on the weekends. My whole perception of my life and even the memories of it skewed during the suggestions that I heard in early sobriety.
In the last year or so, I have asked friends who knew me before AA and treatment about what I was like in college. All of them had similar memories of me and they actually were quite different then my own. I also looked through my old Myspace account and found that my life was much different than I remembered. Because of this I’ve been trying to work through the basically false memories that treatment and AA produced about my life when I drank.
From this, I’ve realized that my life did not really revolve around drinking at all. It was something that I did and definitely had an effect on my life, and I did have to make adjustments to my life so that I could binge drink on the weekends. But in no way did drinking or alcoholism control my whole life. Instead, my life revolved mostly around college, friends, extracurricular activities, boyfriends, and spending time around my family. Drinking just happened to be a part of that.
Yet somehow AA itself and the treatment center produced enough false memories and perceptions that I really thought that alcohol ruled my life and had very weird ideas about what my life had been like. This made me extremely vulnerable to the “suggestions” in AA and to what people told me while I attended it.
I was told that my sobriety must be the most important thing in my life, and was pushed to become very active in AA. My life quickly began to revolve around sobriety and AA. I was going to three or four meetings a week, praying quite a bit, working the steps, doing service work, chairing meetings, calling at least three women from AA every day and my sponsor, hanging out with people outside of meetings constantly, and more. Plus, I had to find a way to fit all of these things into my life even though I was in graduate school. Because I was so involved in AA, though, I ended up actually reducing to part time and took an extra six months or so to graduate with my Master’s Degree.
From then on, throughout most of the time that I attended AA, my life revolved around it and my “sobriety”. But, I really convinced myself that I had more time now that I was sober and not spending all of my time drinking and trying to find time and ways to drink. I feel like this arose though from inaccurate perceptions of my life that were encouraged and produced, as I said earlier, within AA and treatment. Looking back, I realize that AA and the treatment industry go to great lengths to convince people that they have problems with drinking and need the program/treatment, and that some of these techniques are quite malicious. However, I doubt that everyone there necessarily knows that they are using coercive and malicious techniques to lure potential members into treatment or AA because these techniques are so heavily accepted in the recovery community.
When I think about all of the time that I spend in AA related activities for most of my sobriety, I realized that my life revolved around AA more than it had ever revolved around anything else. Because of this, I didn’t have as much time to participate in hobbies or to focus on anything other than AA. I still, though, worked for the first 8 years of sobriety, took care of my cats, and spent time with friends and family, but now can see that my heart wasn’t fully there for years. I see now that participating in AA is more than a full time job and is quite demanding. In the end, I just couldn’t keep up with it anymore.
In fact, AA and my sobriety permeated my consciousness pretty much all of the time. I can see that sometimes I was aware of this, and sometimes I wasn’t. Because I was told that sobriety and recovery needed to be my number one focus in my life, and that if I drank or left AA that I would die, it seems as though certain feelings associated with my sobriety were always there and part of my brain always seemed to be focused on it. What this meant was that I never fully got a break from sobriety or AA ever.
When I contrast this to graduate school, I can see why I eventually burnt out and why this is so unhealthy. During my first year of graduate school, I commonly put in 50-80 hours a week of time that included classes, schoolwork, research, teaching, and other commonalities that a person does while in graduate school. However, when it was time for me to take a break from graduate school related activities, I was fully able to, meaning that I was fully able to change focus off of this area of my life and onto something else, whether it be socializing, playing video games, watching a movie, or exercising. But in AA, I was encouraged never to fully let my out of recovery or sobriety mode. Thus, my brain was always “turned on” to AA and my recovery, and because of this I could never fully immerse myself in activities that I needed in order to cope with life. My brain was always on and I was always hyper-vigilant due to the fears of drinking that were instilled in AA, whereas even in graduate school I could turn my brain off and truly relax for awhile with no concerns at all. But in AA there was always those underlying emotions or constructs of concern, fear, hyper-vigilance, obsession, perfectionism, and many more that made it so I could not completely relax or let myself fully enjoy life. Even so, I couldn’t see this while I was in the middle of it and really had convinced myself that life was better than ever in order to justify my participation in AA. Today though with distance from the program I can see what life really was like while I was involved with it.
Even though I write this blog today, too, and talk to others who have left AA quite often, there is not that push in my life anymore that I must revolve my life around one thing (sobriety). I also don’t have underlying negative emotions and fear that drive my behavior. This means that I’ve been able to begin to take up hobbies again in a way where I really do feel enjoyment from them and can just let go of my worries for awhile. I’ve even been going shoe shopping lately online and just buying cute things for the enjoyment of it. I haven’t been able to do this without feeling weirdly guilty since before AA. For some reason, AA resulted in me feeling guilty about just doing everyday, fun things, I think because I always worried that I’d gain another “addiction” or that it was taking my focus off of “growth” and “sobriety”. Plus, I always felt like I had to be the perfect example of sobriety, and needless spending on shoes or playing video games for hours didn’t really equate to that in my mind. Because of this I really had a hard time just letting go and just really having fun in sobriety. When I did have fun it was kind of an abbreviated version of it, even though in my mind I was having more fun than ever. But I had forgotten what fun really was. It’s like being in AA skewed my whole perception of what life was like for me.
When I think about my time in AA I realize that I didn’t actually revolve my life around drinking until I went to treatment and then AA. Even though people say that AA is a substitution for drinking or a way to recover from it, I see it as just another way for people to center their lives around alcohol. And, because of this I want no part in it. I do not feel like it is healthy for me in any way to revolve my life fully around anything, especially drinking and alcohol in the form of a “recovery” program.
Today my life is full, complex, and I can allow myself to focus on other things than my “sobriety”. I do not see it as an all-important thing in my life anymore. I also recognize that for me drinking was not the thing that led to my eventual burnout. It was AA, trauma, ADHD, physical health problems, over-exercising, and other things. Drinking never had as much as a negative impact on my life as these things did. Even so, because of my physical health problems, I don’t drink, just like I don’t eat gluten, milk, eggs, tree nuts, high fructose syrup, rosemary, and anything else that would result in a flare of my physical health problems. To me, not drinking is basically on the same level in my life as sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet. It’s not a huge deal unless I make it one.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.