My first introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous came through my mother's married lover who was a "Grandfather In AA", an "old-timer" who spoke about how the Twelve Steps changed his life, morals and values (ahem!) all over the world. This man hijacked the funds of AA's Sober Sailors to take my mother and my two sisters and I on luxury vacations…but, I wouldn't want to "take his inventory" so that is all I'll say on that subject. Shortly after meeting my mother's flame—that is, shortly after hearing about the Miracles of Recovery Through AA ad nauseum—I called AA's Hotline and met with two volunteers who were "12 Steppers" in the hopes they might help me "save" my alcoholic father. To give credit where credit is due, these men met me in the midst of a Chicago blizzard outside of a city landmark to give me literature and to offer me advice about how to do a successful intervention for my dad. It was Christmastime, so I wrapped The Big Book and the other books they gave me in holiday gift wrap and presented them to my father as he staggered into his apartment one night. He unwrapped them, gave me a look that could wither a forest, and threw them at me as he lunged into his room and passed out. So much for my Intervention efforts. A year later my father suffered a heart attack at 45 and had "hit bottom" enough to embrace AA. I rejoiced. After awhile, I spent time with Dad again and found myself secretly wishing he was still drinking, so irritating were his constant use of AA slogans and ceaseless referrals to Bill W. As much as I loathed answering midnight calls from strangers from Chicago bars or jails requesting that I come pick my father up, I have to admit that he was charismatic and captivating when he began to drink. He could truly hold the attention of any audience and also knew how to dine and dance. Once he was an AA, however, his life consisted of meetings and proselytizing. Every other sentence began with "My sponsor says…" or "My Higher Power…" Certainly I wanted him to live a healthy life, but as a non-conformist or rugged individualist or independent thinker—whatever you want to call me—I winced and worried Dad had been swallowed up by a cult. He never drank again. But he also continued to have the kind of ethics and values shared by con artists and flimflam men. AA seemed to serve as a dating service for him and as a platform for his boundless skills as a speaker (storyteller).
Alcohol was not my addiction of choice at this time. Instead I was anorexic, later bulimic. I was addicted to dieting, addicted to weighing myself, addicted to purging my food. There was no diet I was not familiar with. Finally in desperation, I entered The Careunit Eating Disorder Unit in East Los Angeles for treatment of my "disease". Have you ever seen "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"? Well, our "Nurse Ratchet" had a whole new weapon in her medical arsenal: Leaving Treatment Against Medical Advice. What this tool achieved was my unwilling continued participation in a treatment program so toxic that I would later enter psychotherapy to be treated for my experiences there. (Had I left "A.M.A.", my health insurance would not have covered my tab—$20K within my first few days!) What do I mean by "toxic"? The counselors had no degrees in psychology or social work. They were simply active in Overeaters Anonymous! On my first day in treatment, I was dispatched to an inpatient group therapy session called (after an AA slogan) "You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets". As the newbie, I was instructed to admit a secret to the group. Embarrassed but committed to my recovery, I told the listening members that I had stolen Barbie doll heads from a toy store when I was a child. The group leader "shared" next: "I taught my german shephard to 'lick me'," she volunteered, "but when he licked me with company there, I yelled 'Bad Dog, bad dog!' at him…and then later, in the kitchen, I pet him and said 'Good Dog, good dog!'" I called my mother from a pay phone in the hallway after the group ended and begged to come home and find a better place to treat my eating disorder. She had already been instructed to hang up on me. I was there three months. By the time I left Inpatient Treatment, I was spouting AA-aphorisms with the best of them! I immediately went to 90 OA meetings in 90 days and found a sponsor to call my food in to every day. For one year I was "abstinent" and followed the strict OA Food Plan. One day, I had a piece of bread ("unrefined carbohydrate") and a tic tac ("sugar!") at a business lunch. I knew I had broken my abstinence and would no longer qualify for one year as a clean OA member. I phoned my sponsor to let her know of my transgression. "You are going to die!" she screamed through the telephone receiver. She meant it. For a moment or two, I held my breath. "What if this starts my eating disorder up again and I DO die?" I thought in horror. It didn't take long for me to feel pissed off and disgusted. I quit OA that day. I gained 15 pounds at first as I allowed myself to eat of the forbidden foods on my "No-No" list. Then I came to realize that I could have those food anytime I wanted, as much as I wanted. Suddenly, these foods no longer sang to me in a siren song. They had lost their power. I had gained mine. I have been 125 lbs. ever since…
Later in my life I experienced a serious health problem similar to lupus. I lived in excruciating pain on a daily basis until surgery relieved me of my agony. By the time I was through this experience, I was dependent on an array of pain killers that could have knocked out a healthy horse. I entered treatment again, this time to get off all prescription drugs. My insurance didn't cover a high-end treatment program, so I found myself in a recovery center where I was the only caucasian patient and the only person not addicted to crack. The other patients had me mistaken for the new unit nurse. I had to argue for my "disease", but no one bought it until I was forced to share my 1st Step admitting my powerlessness in the wake of pain killers. The drug cocktail I had been on included so many pharmacological substances that I was unable to sleep for 17 days while I twitched, ached and hallucinated during forced attendance at AA meetings and AA groups. The counselors thought I was merely being a typical egocentric addict in denial when I begged for something to help me with severe withdrawal symptoms and hallucinations. The staff psychiatrist said, "What do you want? A pill for everything?!" After my escape—against medical advice, but fortunately with insurance coverage—I consulted a Sleep Disorder Specialist. Eying my chart with my copious pain narcotics listed, he asked me in amazement, "My God! How long did it take you to sleep at all?!" adding, "You could have had a seizure!" An opinion offered a bit too late. I will never recall my twelve step recovery staff labeling me as "schizophrenic" for "seeing things that weren't there" and wanted to medicate me for this "dual diagnosis".
Naturally attendance at AA and NA meetings was pushed down my throat in the place of my pain killers. I was resistant based upon my experiences, and for awhile was free of any addictive behaviors.
Unfortunately, I struggled with insomnia after getting off all those downers. My sleeplessness interfered with my ability to function at work, not to mention causing me to feel irritable and depressed. I consulted a doctor who prescribed a benign medication called Ambien.
After a short time, I became dependent on Ambien, upping my dose from 1/2 a tablet to a whole, then two and more as I became tolerant to the drug. You guessed it! A whole new "disease" to conquer! And, yet another Rehab with only one solution to offer: AA and NA For Life.
Have you ever learned about the psychological studies conducted where control groups are all instructed to claim that they have all been given pencils of an uneven length while one poor sucker is given an inordinately short pencil? By the time the "groupthink" has convinced this person that he is either crazy or completely blind, the studies usually show that he will cave into the pressure of the majority's findings and claim that his pencil is exactly as long as the rest of the group's. Well, I guess I am truly a stubborn rebel. All of my counselors and all of my peers persistently told me that I would die of my "disease" if I didn't find a sponsor immediately, attend 90 meetings in 90 days and then attend a home group for at least 3 to 4 meetings a week for life. I had been sexually abused as a child so the concept of admitting to a state of powerlessness was particularly repugnant to me, as was relinquishing any "control" over my own life. I did go to a meeting immediately upon my release from the treatment center and found a sponsor I called devotedly. Unfortunately, the center had only prepared me for my life in recovery, but didn't bother to mention that many people coming off opiates experienced panic attacks so badly that they thought they were dying. Sure enough, I was so terrified in the midst of a panic attack—with no idea what was happening to me—that I begged my boyfriend to bring me to an E.R. They admitted me to a psychiatric ward where I was forced to stay for ten days…but that is another story. I phoned my sponsor to let her know that I had downed a beer in an effort to calm myself down in the midst of the panic attack. "Well," she sneered, "I guess you still think you can recreationally drink! Well, why don't you call me when you really hit bottom and are ready for the miracles of this program?" I wondered if I might be that "poor unfortunate" whose "grave emotional or mental disorder" prohibited them from embracing the steps of "this simple program" and worried I might indeed "die of my disease". But I didn't go back.
I still struggle with alcohol and substance abuse. Let's face it, life without anesthesia can be daunting! Not to mention the fact that I ENJOY feeling intoxicated. I LIKE having a few cocktails and feeling relaxed and happy. Do I know that this is not in my best interest? Of course I do. Does my "disease" render me helpless? Am I a victim of my addictions? I don't think so. I am a bright, educated, and hopelessly therapeutically experienced woman. I KNOW BETTER. While I am genetically predisposed to alcoholism and drug addiction—and prone to want to abuse both booze and narcotics because of a long history of traumatic abuse—I do know what is and isn't in my best interest. It is my choice, my decision to pick up a drink or a pill. It is really up to me.
I am a spiritually oriented person who does believe in a higher intelligence than our own. I don't have trouble acknowledging that there might be "something" more powerful and intelligent than I am. (I certainly hope so!) But I also have trouble accepting that I am "helpless", a "victim of my disease", unable to choose to say "NO" to alcohol and drugs. I remember how I overcame my eating disorder—and after all, you do have to eat! I got over it once I realized that I could have whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I chose to, in whatever amounts I chose to consume. Once I realized I could have those "evil" foods, that it was at my discretion, they ceased to have any power over me. Somehow, I have to hope that it will be the same with addictive substances. Regardless, I know that lifetime adherence to a twelve-step program isn't something I can or desire to commit to. Fortunately, this site and several others have other solutions to suggest—all of which are based upon a belief in the individual's ability to make a choice and to learn new behaviors. No, nothing is easy when you are breaking lifelong and potentially fatal habits. Whoever said that the struggles we face in life were going to be easy? Part of human evolution is based upon the idea of growth, growth in consciousness, growth in maturity. Maybe it is time to look at a new model, one which embraces self-determination and self-empowerment. I certainly hope so. Because that is the decision I will make.
I have seen people "recover" from their addictions through twelve step groups, and in no way do I mean to discount their experiences. I know in my heart that I am not going to join "the program". It just isn't for me. If it works for others, than it is a blessing and a wonderful solution to addiction. I just wish that treatment centers, counselors, psychiatrists and the media would offer other solutions to fighting addiction. They are out there. We just don't hear about them! But choosing a different paradigm doesn't condemn you to death. If just offers you a way to live substance free—or in some cases, to live in moderation—where you can make your own choices and learn to rid yourself of habits that don't serve you.