Blogging Myself Sober
AA didn't work for me, but then I found that expressing myself through a blog, and interacting with other blogs, could keep me sober.
I never felt like AA meetings were my bag. Even if I did agree with the precepts, baring my soul in such a public setting was just too much. I felt exposed, and often worse about myself. "I’m too introverted to share," I would think, fidgeting in my chair. "This touchy-feely nonsense is freaking me out."
Even when I did muster a feeble share, I felt worse. Ashamed that not only was I a drunk, but that I couldn’t string two coherent sentences together in front of a group. And truth be told, there was never an opportunity to share what was really going on inside my head. I came to AA as a belligerent drunk who needed to stop, but my urges to drink continued relentlessly. In AA meetings, the loudest voices always seemed to win. Not only did talking about drinking for an hour make me want to drink, but having to muster the courage to come clean to a group of strangers wiped me out.
In a way, sober blogging is like online dating: You can find a broader pool of sober people to choose from.
But I needed help. I had all the car crashes, arrests, lost friends, broken bones and evictions that I heard about from others in AA. I called a few treatment centers but they were all way too expensive. I started seeing a counselor, and after six months of that I was finally ready to quit. I tried AA meetings for three months. I picked up my 90-day chip and never went back.
That’s when, on June 14th, 2012, I turned to the one thing that really has helped me stop drinking—anonymous sober blogging.
Virtual help-net, sobersphere, sober blogosphere—call it what you will, it comes in many different forms, all presenting a different take on recovery. There are more online sober options than you could ever read in a lifetime; aside from the blogs there are online forums or message boards, alternative online recovery groups—like Women for Sobriety—and some organizations, like SMART Recovery, that offer meetings in an online format. Online AA meetings also take place at venues like InTheRooms.com.
Some of the benefits of these virtual forums are that you can unload your innermost thoughts and feelings in a safe setting; you receive immediate feedback; you’re held accountable and kept honest; and you get all the other benefits of real-life sober friends, such as encouragement, praise and a virtual kick in the ass when you need it.
Alcoholism is both a disorder of the brain and a disease of the mind. The semantics are important; AA does not have the vocabulary to make this distinction. I recognize that the words 'disease' and 'disorder' might amount to the same thing, the connotation of the word 'disease' is that something is not working to the point of being forever damaged. The one-size-fit's all mentality does not apply; it's a sliding scale, and some who exhibit alcoholic behavior can drink again in moderation after a period of abstinence.
For most of us, realizing that this distinction can be written about carefully makes all the difference in recovering and how we view our addiction. In other words, we’re in our heads and we need to get out of them. What better way than to write about it?
It is only through writing that I can process my experiences. Many psychologists and art therapists tout creativity as a way to process negative thoughts and emotions. Writing about my drinking problem—thinking the cravings through and dissecting them—has afforded me not only an analytical understanding of what’s going on in my head, but a way to express, share and possibly even educate others.
Despite the fact that I post anonymously, I'm still as public as it gets—anyone can read about my stumbling blacked outs and arrests. That unburdening is exactly what is needed in early sobriety. A blog allows for an intimacy that I cannot find elsewhere.
There’s also an immediacy to writing and commenting on blogs and forums. I’m pen pals with a lot of my sober blogging friends, and when we’re not emailing, I know they’re just a click away.
Most mornings, I wake up and the first thing I do is check my blog and reply to comments, and then check all my friends’ blogs and comment on their posts. I follow about 75 other sober blogs. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps me from drinking is a post or comment letting me know I have their support. One blog is particularly helpful, The 100 Day Challenge has helped a lot of people stay sober.
I'm also accountable in a way I have never been. Most days I write a post and feel a mixture of pride, relief and butterflies. I write about how much I want to drink or about how much mental work is involved in resisting that compulsive urge. I write about the nature of cravings and avoidance and fear. I’ve written posts about the neuroscience of addiction, about trips I’ve taken sober, about jobs and work and love and relationships on the wagon.
Blogging offers a different kind of conversation. AA didn’t afford me much conversation, mainly because criticism of the program is not a welcome distraction. I get it. However, as a scientist and journalist, it’s my job to ask questions. Sober blogging has given me a way to ask questions of people on different paths, in a nonjudgmental space.
Getting and staying sober is a process, yes, but not a linear, step-wise one. In the sobersphere, I can get more “how-to” advice than I would from people who are afraid to admit that not drinking is more or less a mental game. I can scream at the top of my virtual lungs, and my sober blogging friends won’t just dismiss me and tell me to “go to a meeting.” They’ll comment—or send me an email—about what it means to deal with that voice: how to sit through those urges to drink. It’s like they’re personal trainers doling out practical advice on how to build sober muscle, whereas people at AA meetings were more like friends watching the marathon from the sidelines, clapping as I heaved past.
Blogging anonymously has given me a way to try out the label of "alcoholic"—to lurk for a while. AA meetings are, in essence, public outings; and for some of us, that stress is too much. Some might say it’s a cop-out, and in a way it is. However, for many sober bloggers, blogging is just one tool. Some blog and go to AA. Some blog and participate in online recovery forums. Some use blogging as a way to connect with potential addicts, as 12th-Step work. Sober blogging is like online dating: You can find a broader pool of sober people to choose from, and it might help you find a better match.
Today, at 39 years old, I have over 100 days sober. I was sober for six months, then I fell off the wagon. But for me, sobriety is cumulative, you do not start over. I consider my "slips" to be educational, contributing to a more substantial sobriety. I'm not teetering on the edge because I tried to drink again. For many, expecting to never drink again is unfathomable and counter productive. But I can not drink for today with the support I have found online.
Don’t get me wrong. Every now and then, I wish for a real-life sober buddy. The thing is, I know where to find them, and, when I’m ready, I’ll log off and go looking. Maybe even at an AA meeting.
Jenny Oliver is a pseudonym for a scientist and sober blogger.