In my last post, I talked about working on the 4th and 5th steps. Since then I’ve finished my 5th step. Though I found the first section on resentments to be cathartic and refreshing, the sex & harms section was a different story. I was surprised again, this time at the shame and sadness I felt about my past.
I have always been so sure of my decisions. I refused to regret anything I had done since I liked myself and everything that had happened had led me to be that person. But looking back, there are lots of things it’s hard not to regret. So what do I do with that?
How do I reconcile the fact that I was doing the best that I could at the time and living according to what my values were at the time? The fact that my values today look so different is hard for me. I don’t place moral judgments on drinking or sex, and I certainly didn’t at the time. And yet, the things I did then are not things I’m proud of or would do today. Does that mean I now judge them as bad? Does that make all the years I was drinking BAD? But what about “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it”
Something else I’ve been doing lately that I hadn’t done before was thinking of how the past could have been different. How all those years would have looked with a sober Ingrid instead of lush Ingrid. I haven’t allowed myself to think of that because what’s the point? Plus, I never judged myself for any of it. Sometimes for the drinking, but even that just felt like a choice I was making and that I had a right to make. But suddenly I can’t help but imagine a different life: a missed life.
Then, yesterday, I read an article on the irrationality of AA. It shook me. It brought up for me the way I used to see AA – it’s a cult, it’s unscientific, where’s the evidence…and yet here I am in the program and it’s helping me. It’s working for me. So far, that has been evidence enough for me.
I’m still digesting why the article bothered me. I guess it has something to do with the concept I have of myself, which has perhaps remained the same while my thoughts and actions have changed drastically. And this is why I struggle to look back on the past. I still see myself as that free-thinking, non-judging girl. And yet now, I live by different rules. So what does that mean for my vision of myself?
The article talked about many problem drinkers being able to learn to moderate. Which I find irritating, because I know I cannot moderate. But I don’t even want to moderate! So why does that bother me? Not everyone has to do it my way.
The article also stated that it is damaging to some problem drinkers that total abstinence is presented as the only way. This, I agree with. I don’t think AA is the only way for everyone, and I actually don’t think I could have gotten sober through AA alone. For me it is one useful tool that has given me a community and support that I am so grateful for. If some people can learn to moderate, that is great. If the god thing is a deal breaker for some people, I wish for there to be another option for them.
And I want science to be applied to addiction and recovery. I sometimes still chafe at the old-timey language of the Big Book and the suggestions I find just plain wrong (eat sugar instead of drinking alcohol!). I am able to look past those things, but I want people who are more attached to evidence based science to have access to the gifts of sobriety I have found.
And, I’ve read the research that links addiction to lack of social connection. This rings very true to me, though I was not conscious of a lack of connection in my life before I got sober. My alcoholism really started at the beginning of my marriage, when I was alone in another country with only my new husband, who had a whole community of his own that I was not a part of. I was desperately lonely at first, and I remember so many nights thinking I wouldn’t drink so I wouldn’t be hungover for class the next day, but eventually buying that bottle of rum or champagne or whatever. I couldn’t really understand it at the time.
Later, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. As long as I had a bottle or a joint I was ok by myself.
And that, I feel, is [at least one reason] why AA does work in many cases, even if science may not see any reason for it to work. From day one I felt connection and support and love, and it felt amazing. And this was long after those lonely days alone in a new country. Objectively, by US standards, I was not alone. And yet, our society is hyper fragmented. Our social circles are much smaller than at other times in history, or in other cultures. We are supposed to figure it out on our own, be self sufficient.
That connection and love I felt in AA helped me to do the other work I needed to do to stay sober. For me, it is working. These days I marvel at all the people I connect with on a daily basis – in and out of the program, but mostly because of the program. It is such a change, and such a welcome one.
These days, people my age use apps to find friends. There are articles online on how to make friends as an adult. It’s the million dollar question. There are not a lot of built in communities in this society. There is school, and then after that, work. Other than that, you may have a religious community. You may have a big family. If not? Well good luck to you.
Ok, I know I’m all over the place!
I think this all comes down to a reconciling of my beliefs and who I am. I have changed so much, but some things have remained unexamined. I’ve been reflecting on my past due to the 4th step, and the contrast with today is stark, in so many ways.
But why is that bad? I embrace evolution. Constant improvement is my life’s motto. I guess that, just like I never wanted to blame my parents for anything, I don’t want to blame that young girl. I don’t want to judge her for doing what she wanted and what felt right at the time. She was trying to figure this life out the best she could.
She made mistakes, yes, but then again, she did alright. And just look at her today. 🙂