Yesterday I hit 2 milestones: I hadn’t touched any alcohol in 31 days (ie a month), and I attended my first AA meeting. I guess I didn’t do the usual thing – most people, when they realize they’ve hit a Rock Bottom and decide they need to quit, probably make some calls, look up the next meeting, and get help. I didn’t do this for several reasons: 1) my realization and decision took place during December, when life is hectic enough and I don’t need more entries in my calendar; 2) I figured that my history of committing to things and following through, would hold me through at least a few weeks of Going It Alone; and 3) I wasn’t convinced that AA was for me.
Number 3 is really the strongest and trickiest and probably most relevant reason. As I stated in my original Scary Blog Post, I didn’t identify myself with alcoholism. I wasn’t drinking every day, I often stopped after 1 glass of wine, I could go to social events and not drink if I was driving or had a race the next day. Surely that wouldn’t grant me admission to a 12 steps meeting, right? I mean, I’m just doing what most other moms and grandmothers, teachers, athletes, medical professionals, faith leaders and followers, etc. are doing. I’m not getting DUI arrests or drinking at noon (well, unless I just raced) or slurring at parties. Surely I’m not an alcoholic.
I went to yesterday’s meeting because after my Scary Blog Post, many (hundreds?) of people messaged me with their own scary admissions, and their relief at finally reading about someone who was experiencing similar struggles. So I created a private Facebook group (let me know if you want to join it) where we could support each other, ask questions, share resources, get accountability, not feel like freaks or suffer in isolation. One of the women who joined the group shared that she has been sober for several years, and she credits her all-women’s AA group with being a major part of her success. I love all-women’s anything so my curiosity was piqued.
While I was sitting in the meeting, listening to various women’s heart-wrenching, candid, shocking, hilarious, victorious, humbling stories, I thought about the whole addiction spectrum. It so happened that in this group, the first meeting of each month (they meet once per week) starts with a reading of one of the 12 steps, and then participants can, optionally, offer their story and how it relates to the step. It’s January, so yesterday we did Step 1:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”
I had a few of a-ha! Moments during the reading of Step 1. It occurred to me how much it reminded me of running. Not because of the famous runner’s high, or because it’s increasingly popular, or because according to various studies, runners are among the highest drinkers (especially of craft beers). No, it reminded me of how often I hear “I’m not a runner.” Often uttered by someone who shops at real running stores for shoes (i.e not Sports Authority or Dick’s), runs 3+ times per week and has done so for awhile, braves frigid temperatures to get in his or her run, and may even have experienced a running-related injury such as plantars fasciitis. And yet, according to them, they’re “not really a runner” because they haven’t done a marathon or a half marathon or maybe even a 5k, nor do they have the desire to do so.
Labels can be interesting, and if you ask me, not necessarily in a good way. Actually, I try to stay away from labels as much as possible, at least for myself. I find labels too constricting and limiting, and while on the plus side, they can be helpful as they help us define ourselves and our values and goals, on the negative side, we can miss opportunities to grow and to be curious, if we identify too much with a label, and what it means to us. When it comes to running, I often hear “I don’t want to run with ----- group because I’m not really a runner and I’ll feel stupid.” We have already determined what an experience will be like because we have stuck a label on others, and a different label on ourselves.
At the AA meeting, the women’s stories made me think of the runner-addict analogy because I know that like me, many people are holding back from change, from asking for help, from seeking the resources they need, because like me, they don’t identify with their idea of just how far you need to fall before surreptitiously slipping into a 12 step (or similar program) meeting. This is an excerpt from the Step 1, and I encourage you to read the whole Step (it’s short) right here.
In A.A.’s pioneering time, none but the most desperate cases could swallow and digest this unpalatable truth. Even these “last-gaspers” often had difficulty in realizing how hopeless they actually were. But a few did, and when these laid hold of A.A. principles with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers, they almost invariably got well. That is why the first edition of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” published when our membership was small, dealt with low-bottom cases only. Many less desperate alcoholics tried A.A., but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness.
I know many people who once insisted “I am not a runner” in spite of their behavior showing otherwise, who now galvanize others to run, have race registrations as a separate line item on their budget, and will now classify themselves as a runner. They are grateful for the joy running has brought to their lives, especially because of the sense of accomplishment and the depth of relationships with people they may not have gotten to know otherwise. Obviously, showing up to run is vastly different from showing up to a group that unlike running groups, doesn’t have medal racks and tee shirts. Calling yourself a runner provokes admiration and envy, whereas saying “I’m an alcoholic” in many circles is probably met with dead silence, deer in headlights looks, or the typical “Really? You sure? Nah! You’re just a social drinker! Everything in moderation!”
Admittedly, I would feel much more comfortable if when you speak up at an AA meeting you could say, “Hi, I’m Susanne, and I’m a Potential Alcoholic because I have too much confidence in my ability to stop an occasional indulgence from turning into a Slippery Slope.” But I’m not going to let labels and the limits posed by semantics, keep me from my curious exploration of a healthier life. This past month of sobriety has been pretty amazing. I suspect that going to AA meetings is a helpful tool for me and introduces me to other strong, beautiful people in different shades of brokenness, which is, to me, inspiring and real.
One day at a time.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.