The story that I’m about to write about my experiences in AA is one that really pulls at my heart strings. Many aspects of AA caused detriment in my life, however, my reliance on the program, especially up until 2015, practically killed me. However, despite reading books and articles about AA and it’s effects of it’s members, I still have a hard time reconciling how much of an impact it had on me.
This post is going to be similar to others that I written but still is different in it’s own way. In 2015, when I started to work through trauma that happened both in and out of AA, it came as a shock to me that I hadn’t already worked through it. This is because I was convinced by sponsors and other people in AA that I had worked through my trauma because I had talked about it in step work with sponsors and with people in AA. I really believed this and held onto it despite the fact that my denial and dissociative symptoms worsened over time. In fact, this idea that I had worked through my trauma through step work was actually a source of self-esteem for me.
This leads me to an overall problem that happened to me and was caused by my AA participation. Even though I felt like I had self esteem due to many positive things that I was doing in my life, when I started to realize that AA had not done for me as it should, in other words that my life had not turned out as AA said that is should despite all of my work in the program, all of my self-esteem and self-worth just fell away within a matter of days. This was because at the time I thought that I must be the problem, not AA. Also, when I first started working through the abuse I’d been through I quickly realized that the abusive relationship that I’d been in with a man from AA was in fact domestic violence and the “unhealthy relationship” that I was in later also with a man from AA was actually also abusive and was domestic violence as well. Because I had been taught, though, to blame myself for bad situations I found myself in during my time in AA, I immediately blamed myself and then started to believe that I didn’t have a good program and hadn’t for years. I felt, then, like I had been dishonest to everyone around me and began to really blame myself for all of this and assume all sorts of terrible things about myself, as AA harps on “honesty” and “openness”. I believed that I had let everyone around me down because I was in domestic violence during my time in AA. The fear that I felt around this was strikingly high.
My whole life quickly fell apart and any and all self esteem that I had was completely lost. I had problems connecting to other people and even to my cats and was having constant panic attacks whenever I had repressed memories. At the time I couldn’t figure out why this had happened. I can see now that part of the reason why was that I based all of my self esteem on my AA participation, my sobriety date, how much sobriety I had, how “good” my program was, and other things that AA considers to be “good”. I had no idea though that all of my self esteem and confidence revolved around this, though, because I felt like I had self esteem due to other things as well. But it turned out that any and all self esteem that I felt even from something outside of AA was still tied into and dependent on my ability to stay sober and be a “good-standing member in AA”. When it started to become clear that I had struggles in my life, then, despite my AA membership, I assumed that I’d done something wrong and hadn’t lived up to AA standards, which resulted in fear, panic, and helplessness, which only lowered my confidence even more.
Although it’s shocking for me to realize that all of my self-worth revolved around AA, I can see how it happened. When I first went to AA I was at one of the lower points in my life. I had just survived a rape and attempted murder and was being blamed for it by my parents and other people in my life. I was afraid, felt alone, and my self esteem had taken a huge hit, even though before this assault I felt quite confident. But, no one in my life encouraged me to go to counseling. Instead, they acted like I had to change what I was doing to prevent something like this happening again (victim blaming). And, because I was drinking last night, my parents persuaded me to go to AA.
I, then, was the perfect target when I arrived in AA. My self esteem was low, and because I was being discouraged from seeing a counselor by my parents, I was looking for anything that would help me feel better. An early sponsor who ended up being very abusive towards me and worse picked up on this and made it clear to me that AA would solve all of my problems. Then, she and others tore me down in terms of pretty much everything that I was doing or had happened in my life that didn’t have to do with AA and/or my sobriety, and then brought me back up by praising me for staying sober and working the program. It didn’t take long for me to base my self-esteem on staying sober and living up to the expectations of the program, even though I wasn’t fully aware that I was doing this.
The longer I stayed sober, then, and “worked the program” the higher my self esteem became. To me, this really concreted in my mind that AA was a good thing for me and that the people in the rooms really were my friends and supportive of me despite all of the victim blaming and abuse that I endured. But eventually because of all of the abuse I went through and my worsening health issues, I ended up not able to work at all at 8 years of sobriety. The result as that I ended up basing even more of my self esteem and self worth on my sobriety and AA.
I remember that when I first met David, he asked me once if I had a hard time finding purpose in my life because I was unable to work. I replied back and said “My purpose is AA.” David told me later on about how weird he thought that this was, especially since I didn’t say “My purpose is helping people in AA” or “staying sober through AA” and rather just said what I said above, which is saying that my purpose simply is AA. And, he said that I was very adamant about this, even though he felt it strange that I would say that a support group for alcoholism was my sole purpose in life. But, I didn’t think much about this until years later when I began to process my experiences in AA and how it affected my life.
Now, back to 2015. As I said earlier, I quickly blamed myself for being in domestic violence during sobriety and began to question my “sobriety”. Also, I blamed myself for not working through the abuse that I had gone through earlier, even though it had ended fairly recently. And, when I started having repressed memories, I naturally started thinking about drinking, as that was a coping mechanism that I had that I used to keep those memories at bay. The fact that I was thinking about this even though I was currently “working the program” exactly as I was supposed to put me in a state of panic that lasted for a couple of years. I really worried that my “alcoholic” or “alcoholism” was taking over and that I was going to drink, which made me even more dependent upon AA.
But, AA was not helping me to feel better. In fact, it seemed to be making me feel worse. I kept hoping that if I continued going to AA, doing step work, praying, and talking to women in the program that this would all pass and that I would go back to being as confident as I was before the memories with the help of AA. But, my participation in AA and everything that came with it only made my self-esteem decrease even more due to severe victim blaming and problems that I noticed within the program. But, the more that I noticed these things the lower my self esteem became because it still revolved somewhat around AA. Eventually, though, with the help of a counselor and David, I ended up realizing that AA was only making me feel worse, and left in August of 2017.
It’s now May 2019 and I’m still struggling to find a way back to the self-confidence that I had before the assault in 2005 and my time in AA. I see now that it was really unhealthy to base my life and well being around ideas like how many years I’d been sober or whether or not I was called on in meetings. It seems surprising now that I did that, but looking back I really felt good about those things. I just didn’t know how precarious these good feelings really were.
Today I do all kinds of things to try to build up my self esteem. I challenge negative thoughts that I have about myself, and have worked hard to bring myself out of patterns of self-blame. I have recovered many memories and skills that I had lost, which is a big deal. Also, I write in this blog, take care of my cats who are sick, and have a good relationship with my boyfriend. Most of all, though, I can see that I am a worthy person just because of who I fundamentally am. This is providing me a sense of self worth and self esteem that is much more concrete than I’ve ever had before, as throughout most of my life I devoted too much of my self-esteem to the achievements in my life rather than who I am. This, of course, made me more vulnerable to being pulled into something like AA.
Although it’s been a long road for me to build myself back up after my experience in AA, life is getting better, even if it’s happening slowly. I’m gaining back my connection with people and animals in my life, and am not being hard on myself for every little thing. I’m learning to have fun again and how to feel comfortable.
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