Over the last four years or so, I’ve developed a really severe fear of driving. This happened due to a number of reason, but the most significant one was because of my participation in AA.
In AA we are given all kinds of message that we must participate in the program no matter what and that the program will not just save our lives regarding drinking but will also lead us to a life that we could never dream of. These ideas are perpetuated in meetings and are told to us in the Big Book. Also, we are told that AA is the only way to get and stay sober, and that if we drink we will die, end up in institutions, or in jail. We are also told things like “Go to a meeting even if your ass is falling off” and things like that. Basically, we are told to go to meetings even if we are sick, tired, having issues with our health or even if our family or friends need us, because our sobriety always comes first.
What I saw over time in AA, then, was people coming into meetings horribly sick (and sometimes taking a bunch of over the counter prescriptions just to make it through meetings); people with health issues forcing themselves to go to meetings even when it was detrimental to their health; and people neglecting their family, friends, jobs, and even themselves in order to go to meetings and to participate in AA.
I remember this man in the AA community who actually acted like his neglect of his wife was a good thing. This man was a pillar of the AA community and was a DCM. At meetings, he would sometimes boast about how he was so busy with AA, including meetings, sponsoring, and service, that he had to purposefully put aside one evening a week to spend with his wife. So, he set aside Thursday nights for her. He was actually proud of this though, as it showed how very active he was in AA, and that despite it, he spent an entire evening with his wife once a week. So, he prided himself on both being a good AA member and a good husband, and everyone agreed with him on these “facts”. I, however, thought, “That’s really weird” and brought the situation to my counselor. She told me that their marriage doesn’t sound like a marriage at all. This was one clue that I had that things were amiss in AA, but I didn’t listen to that red flag for years.
This man also talked about how if he spent even an hour alone that he would drive himself to be absolutely miserable. I think that he might have even said that he would drive himself to the brink of suicide if he spent time alone. Everyone laughed and supported him in this, even though I found it quite weird and unhealthy, and wondered how he could actually be happy in life if he couldn’t or wouldn’t spend time alone. It seemed to me like this guy needed AA for reasons other than drinking.
The truth is that I saw many members in AA acting similarly to him. They would commonly neglect their families, even their children, in order to go to AA meetings and also neglected themselves. Sometimes they might come to regret this years later, but much of the time people just saw this as a necessary evil. In chapters in the Big Book that are devoted to families and to wives they are told to be accepting of their husbands/the alcoholics participation in AA even if it means that their family members spend a lot less time at home. In other words, the Big Book explicitly states that members of AA will likely neglect their families due to the amount of time that they must spend doing AA activities in order to stay sober, and that this is a normal and acceptable and that the family must learn to live with it, and even stay cheerful despite it. They are told that they must remember first and foremost that Father is now sober and has been given the key to a new life, and so the family must tolerate his absences. Thus neglecting one’s family is seen as a sign that a person is actually progressing in the program. It’s pretty sick if you ask me.
Members of AA are also sometimes encouraged to go to meetings even if it clearly is not in their best interest. I remember struggling to make it to meetings when I first developed chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Before this, I’d attend at least 5 meetings a week, sometimes more. But when my health started to go downhill I sometimes only made it to one meeting a week. I was extremely concerned about this because my sponsor and others told me that I must go to at least three meetings a week in order to stay sober.
But I couldn’t always make this. My sponsor at the time still was adamant that I must find a way to make three meetings a week, though, even though she knew how severe my health problems were. I told her that I just couldn’t do it, and she told me to just go to three meetings in one day on one of my days off (I was working at the time). But, going to three meetings a day would have wiped me out to the point that it would have put me in jeopardy of losing my job, as a day like that could wipe me out for days afterward. And the thing is that my sponsor knew that I had severe post-exertion fatigue, yet irrationally suggested that I go to all of the meetings per week in one day. Of course I didn’t do it because I knew that it would be very harmful to me, and I was put off that she would suggest something like that. Plus, if I went to three meetings on one of my days off I would not be able to complete the necessary tasks of living such as going to the store or doctor’s appointments. There was just no way that was possible for me, yet my sponsor at the time attempted to push this idea on me for quite some time.
But, over the years this “three meetings a week” was concreted into me. When I was working I still was careful about how many meetings I went to, and sometimes only went to one a week, but when I stopped working I felt inclined to go to at least three meetings a week, even if my health suffered, as now I was not working and could deal with the consequences. All this did was lead to years of burnout, which started in 2014/2015.
When I started having repressed traumatic memories in July 2015, I continued to go to meetings even though I was really struggling with mental health issues, as by this point I was in the habit of doing so, even though I had reached burnout. And, I drove to meetings and back despite having traumatic memories while I was driving to and from meetings. The reason why I was having these memories when I was driving was because participating in AA was extremely traumatizing to me. But, it took me some time to realize this, because for a long time I assumed that it was re-traumatizing and triggering in terms of my past abuse rather than being traumatizing itself. At meetings, people shame and blame themselves and each other during meetings, laugh about their abusive behavior, are abusive to others (and were to me), and did a number of other things that traumatized me. Also there are many predators in AA that sometimes would prey on me or other members openly, which was scary and traumatizing, and the rigidity of the program itself traumatized me because it matched the abuse that I went through as a child. But, it took me awhile to realize that AA was traumatizing me and just re-traumatizing me.
But even when I knew that meetings were at least triggering me to the point of causing repressed memories while I drove, I still kept attempting to go to three meetings a week because I thought that I needed to do this to stay sober, and at that point I felt like my sobriety was more important than anything else. Also, I felt like it was even more important for me to make it to meetings at that time because I was having such a hard time in my life and was worried that I would drink over the memories if I didn’t attend AA. This was despite the fact that it was my participation in AA that was causing me to have so many memories on a daily basis and while driving.
The result was that I not only developed a fear of going to AA meetings, but I also developed an intense fear of driving. And, the more I attempted to drive to AA, the more this fear was reinforced. Eventually repressed memories began to surface every time that I drove, and it became hard for me to drive pretty much anywhere. Thus my perception that I must continue to go to AA to stay sober profoundly affected my ability to function in life in general.
By 2017 I had begun to take breaks from driving all together. Eventually, too, I began to rely on David to drive me to meetings on the weekend. This resulted in my attendance at meetings becoming once a week, at the most. But, by that point my fear of AA was so severe that I would have meltdowns before AA meetings to the point of feeling suicidal. Also, I would be physically sick after going and/or having meltdowns/suicidal feelings for at least a few days after every meeting that I went to (this started I think in 2016). I still, though, continued to go as often as I could and people in the program actually encouraged this, even though they knew that going to meetings was causing severe problems in my life. But people in AA really thought that I should just “work out these issues” with a counselor and that eventually I would be able to go to AA meetings without issue, and to keep going in the meantime. But the truth is that AA was and still is too toxic for me to handle, and always will be.
I haven’t gone to AA now in over a year and a half, yet my fears of driving and leaving the house still remain even though I no longer have repressed memories or flashbacks when I drive. This drastically reduces my overall functioning in life. It is sad that AA membership had this much of an effect on me.
The house is now set up so that I have everything I need within it’s walls. We have an elliptical, an exercise bike, I have a subscription to a Yoga website, we always have extra food, and of course I have the internet so that I can still talk to people even though I’m pretty home bound. I still do drive a couple of times a week but it’s usually not very far. I try to keep my medical providers as close to home as possible, and find ways to avoid freeways, which are particularly scary to me because of what it was like to drive on them while having traumatic memories to and from meetings.
Still, every time that I drive I’m terrified, which continues to reinforce my fear of driving. I don’t know how long it will take me to work this or if I ever fully will. Driving so often while having such severe traumatic memories really has had a huge impact on me. Time will tell if I am able to overcome this or not.
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