Thursday, April 8, 2010

You Don't Have to Do It Alone

**submitted by Anonymous

A note from Robin: Today's contributor is posting anonymously, to respect the wishes of the recovery group to which she belongs. As always, we welcome her story as her story, not as a recommendation for any one approach or perspective. We invite all voices of addiction and recovery, and if you have a story we hope you'll consider sharing with us as well.

When I was near the end of my drinking career, I was utterly alone. I had just gotten married a few months earlier, but in my disease, I couldn't see him, my family, my job, myself. When I awoke in the morning, I managed to get myself to work and home again, but as soon as I walked in the door, I grabbed a pack of cigarettes, my first drink of the evening, and a book or my telephone, and then I hit the back porch -- my haven.

I lived in my own little world then and I know that, but for Alcoholics Anonymous, I would either still be in that dark place, minus the husband and job, most likely. I would not have my child. I might even be dead. My family could barely tolerate me. My husband didn't know what do to with me. I had no friends.

Why am I sharing this?

Over the past few months, I have been interacting with more and more women online who struggle with alcoholism. Some of them are in Alcoholics Anonymous. Others prefer to go it alone by either moderating or abstaining altogether. Some have told their friends and loved ones, but others have not yet worked up the courage to tell anyone of the demon that is haunting them on a daily basis. A common theme that I have noticed is a sense of isolation shared by so many of them. Some of these women feel that they can't talk to their families, but they are afraid of going to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I won't know anyone!

I'm afraid I will know someone there!

It's a common debate that many alcoholics have with themselves and others before finally walking through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. I did.

Some of these women have chosen to reach out to other women online, making their online groups a life line.

I see it happening, and I am afraid for them.

I am afraid that they place too much reliance on a group of unknown strangers who have lives elsewhere, husbands elsewhere, children elsewhere, deadlines and commitments elsewhere. I am seeing it now, as voices start to ask where everyone is, why is everyone so quiet.

I am afraid for the newcomers who wonder where everyone has gone. Who can they talk to? Is anyone there?

For the newcomer, that sense of isolation is the scariest feeling in the world. That is the fear that leads one to think that no one is watching, no one is listening, no one cares, everyone is too busy having their easy time of sobriety to pay attention to the still-struggling alcoholic who is reaching out over the internet.

I know I haven't been that active in my online group . . . I work. I have a career. I have meetings to attend (three a week). I have a mommy group in which I am active. I attend church. I still love reading a book, but I also love writing, and I do it often, for pleasure and for work.

I'm still there, though.

The thing, for me, though, is that the online group is recreational for me. It is an opportunity for me to interact with other women who struggle with alcoholism, but it is not the place I go to maintain my sobriety. I am there to socialize.

The idea that I would want to socialize with other women would have been completely foreign to me a few years ago. Women were to be mistrusted, envied, watched, guarded against. I had nothing in common with other women.

That is where I was when I entered Alcoholics Anonymous, but that is not what I found, and that is the reason I wanted to write this post today.

I want to share with you the sponsoring system to which my sponsor introduced me.

I work the steps with my sponsor. She works the steps with her sponsor. There are more than ten other women who are also working the steps with my sponsor. She has nearly 20 years of sobriety and she is very active in the program. She also takes her responsibility to carry the message to the still-struggling alcoholic very, very seriously. When I call her, she might not be able to answer the phone, and she won't call me back if I don't specifically ask her to, but when I do need her to call me back, she will do it at the first chance she gets.

The burden of making that contact is on me.

I am responsible for my sobriety. I am responsible for making the effort to reach out to her, to share with her what is going on with me, to attend meetings, to work the steps.

I have responsibilities for my own well-being, and I accept those responsibilities.

In return, once a month, my sponsor hosts all of her sponsees (and their sponsees) for a group meeting at her home. It gives us the chance to know each other, to share our experience, strength, and hope with a group of women who are all working the same program. Some of them are mothers. Some aren't. Some of them are highly educated. Some aren't. We are from all different walks of life, different socio-economic backgrounds, different races, different, different, different. But we have a common bond -- this woman who started this network of women.

The result is that there are about 20 women in my local area that I can call when I want a girl's night out. We go to meetings together. We have become friends, instead of just a bunch of drunks trying to stay sober. One of those women even hosted my baby shower, when I learned that I was pregnant in sobriety!

The system that my sponsor has is unique, in a way. At least, I am not familiar with other sponsors who host group meetings like she does. It has made all the difference in the world in my program, though!

That's what I wanted to share. I know that the online connections can be so valuable. I know, because I am there, too, but it's not enough.

I'm sorry if that offends anyone, but it's not. It's important to get out. It's important to interact with other people who share a common bond. It's important to take proactive measures to ensure our own sobriety, rather than waiting for others to respond to a message through an email. It's important, and it is available.

Maybe I am hoping that there are those who will read this, who will understand the value I place on that sponsorship circle my own sponsor has created. Maybe there are women out there who will consider doing the same for women in their own cities or towns. Maybe there are women who could really benefit from getting out of the house, meeting women from whom they don't have to hide this horrible secret. Maybe there are women out there who feel lonely, isolated, and afraid, with no women to whom they can turn, or who would care if they did.
Alcohol isolates us, but it doesn't have to be that way.

To the alcoholic who is out there, afraid to reach out, to go to a meeting, to have the face-to-face contact with others, to overcome that fear of being recognized, I just want to say, simply: You don't have to do it alone, and you might just get more than you ever dreamed of through reaching out in your own community, beyond your sobriety. You might just find a group of people whom you proudly call "friend," and mean it.

Thanks for letting me share.

9 comments:

  1. Great post! I agree, the online group is not my lifeline. I would love to be able to put more time and energy into it to help the women who do find it so vital to their sobriety, but I just can't right now. Also-for me the face-to-face groups are really important. I was deathly afraid to go to AA before I did it, but since then I have met so many wonderful people. I have girl friends at my women's meetings, and I have brothers at my mixed meeting. I trust each of them to never break my anonymity. And the program itself has given me so much. It's a way of life, not just a way to get sober.

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  2. Like Jane, I completely agree with the post, and thank you anonymous author. On-line groups are an addendum to my group meetings. I have met so many wonderful people at meetings. Hearing their stories truly gives me the strength, the courage and the will to keep on my path of sobriety. I was also scared to death before my first meeting. I did not know at all what to expect and didn't think there was any way I would open my mouth and speak. But I did. And every single person who spoke after me gave me encouragement and told me how glad they were that I was there. And I knew, in that moment, that I was exactly where I needed to be.

    So to those of you who are scared of going to a meeting, don't be. Just go. Don't feel like you have to speak. But if the spirit moves you, say whatever you are feeling. And if you don't feel comfortable in that meeting, find another one. I promise you there is a meeting that is a good fit for you. I have my "home" group, as well as a women's group and a big open speaker's meeting that I love. They all give me something different. And my sponsor? Fits me to a tee. Again, if you have a sponsor, and it's not a good fit, find another one. It's hugely important. I, for one, could not do this alone. My on-line support is wonderful, but the in-real-life meetings can't be replaced.

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  3. Ditto - I have had the same worry for the online-only gals. While I have loved discovering this online community and wish it were around when I got sober, it by it's self wouldn't have been enough to support me when I was going through all that.

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  4. Going to AA was a big step towards admitting I had a problem. I didn't want to go, at all, and frequently don't even want to go now, but I think of it as therapy.. If I don't go, I will relapse.

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  5. This is a very persuasive post. You articulated many things that I guess I felt at some level but hadn't been able to refine the way you have. The in-person interaction, the commitment to the group, the regularity/reliability of the meetings -- all of this functions differently than the online group only.

    I guess I think of everything as parts of the solution. I started with passively reading Stefanie's blog, then joined the online group and read one drinking memoir/self-help guide after another. I never expected to do AA but then saw it was a key element of so many women's recoveries, so I started going, but I wasn't going to get a sponsor or do the steps or anything. And now that's where I am - that I know I need to get a sponsor and work the steps to keep my sobriety and live a better, more authentic life.

    I had so much fear and resistance regarding AA that I empathize with what the online-only gals are feeling. It seems like a big, frightening, stigmatized step. I guess I would just tell them that going to AA makes sobriety better, not harder.

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  6. Thank you so much for saying what so many need to hear! Including myself. For me, AA has been a life saver. I go to meetings and feel serenity ~ I hear exactly what I need to hear ~ I am in a roomful of women who "get me." The on line group is a great place for me to remember what early sobriety was like and to share my experience, strength, and hope. I do want to shout to all those women who don't want to go to AA for whatever reasons that it isn't what they think. That I thought some of the same things. Thank you for your beautiful and articulate and important post.

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  7. Well Said! I am one of the "on-line" only gals. I tried one meeting, saw someone I knew and couldn't stop thinking about it. I definately feel that on-line blogs are not enough. I don't feel completely "helped" just reading someones words. I crave an actual conversation with a human being. I am trying to get past all my fears and just go. Thanks for the kind push.

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  8. Absolutely an excellent post! Thank you, thank you, for saying this. As 2010 has unfolded, I have found the online sharing and stories very comforting, as well as a bit worrisome. I think it's incredibly healthy to share - however you do it - yet, I agree with you 100% that the online community is no substitute for going to the meetings. The online community will eventually leave you feeling alone, isolated, and heading into that stinkin' thinkin' that we're all so awesome at. Wondering things like "why isn't anyone responding?" "Why does she have an easier time with all this than I do?" and so on ... Attending meetings, having the face to face interaction is SO important. Thank you so much for writing this post.

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  9. This was a gut punch to me. Not the online vs. real life opinions.
    But the "Just go."
    I'm afraid.
    I'm closer and closer to hitting a bottom that only I know is coming and I'm afraid to give it all up.
    So thank you for writing this. And for (hopefully) pushing me in the right direction.

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