The 7-Year Itch in AA

By Kiki Baxter 07/24/16

Apparently, there is a phenomenon where people get itchy to leave around seven years sober. My seventh year is coming up, and...

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The 7-Year Itch in Sobriety
Gotta leave?

I’m getting itchy. Or itchy-ish. I’m six and ¾ years sober and in October I’ll be entering my seventh year. Do I want to drink? No. Do I doubt that I’m an alcoholic? No. Do I want to go to AA meetings anymore? Well...

I’ve heard people talk about the "seven year itch" in the rooms, but in regards to their sobriety, not to marriage. Apparently, there is a phenomenon where people get itchy to leave around seven years. In my home group—an intimate meeting of about 200 people (I love intimacy!)—I notice that every month during the anniversary meeting, there tends to be a noticeable drop in celebrants after year five. Basically, between five and ten. It’s interesting to note that Pia Mellody, author of such scintillating beach reads as Facing Codependence with its page-turning companion, Facing Love Addiction, postulates that the reason people go out between those years is because of untreated codependence—meaning, difficulties dealing with assholes other than yourself. And I totally didn’t mean to say assholes. Let me amend myself...

When I walked into the store of recovery to buy a pair of sobriety socks, I left with a pair in every color with matching panties, parkas and pumps. I’ve got the outfit and I’m ready to go. Hello, life! Here I am. Recovered! And life answered back. You pay your bills, you show up on time—life gets better! In fact, life gets busy. Too busy. I’m too busy right now, and I don’t have time for meetings. And the popular refrain dances through my brain: “Anything you put before meetings, you lose.” 

I haven’t been to an AA meeting in three or four weeks. That’s the longest period of time I’ve gone. I did go to an Al-Anon meeting, and I have been attending my weekly Debtors Anonymous meetings, so I figured that counted (sorta). It’s not like I feel like drinking or anything. Except for that one slip dream I had last week and oh, yeah, the other day when I was smashed between two sweating people on the train, a thought went through my mind that went like this: “Wine.” But I’m good. In fact, I’m fine. Unfortunately, I learned years ago in Al-Anon that “fine” is an acronym for Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. I wrote a line in a recent play where a character says, “Maybe it means Fueled by God, Inspired by the joy, Kneeling at the foot of the divine, and Enveloped by love and compassion.” His mom, in response, points out that that spells F.I.K.E. So instead of fine, maybe I’m fiked.

“I never stopped going to meetings,” says Bara, a fabulous sober woman who has double-digit sobriety. “I’m 54 and I came in at 22. It was a long time ago, but I knew deep down the thing was up. I was cooked. Relapse is a choice. It’s a choice we make way before we pick up. It’s the ‘fuck-its.’ I know people come back. Sometimes. But we don’t hear about all the people that don’t come back. The damage is huge.”

Was I cooked when I came in? It could have been worse. Physically, I mean, but spiritually? Psychologically? I was in deep despair and having thoughts about jumping out a window or taking a grenade launcher and aiming it at the world. I was feeling Ramba. But truthfully, if anything had gone down, it would have taken the shape of walking in front of a bus because I was so out of it. So despondent. I would have gone out not with a bang, but a splat.

“We all have rough spots,” continues Bara. “Physical, mental, financial. In my fifth year, I had moved for a man from Paris to LA, and he dumped me for a sponsee. It was a very devastating blow. I wanted to drive off a cliff. I went to a couple therapy sessions and she said I’d be fine. I went back to Paris but I never stopped going to meetings. Before, I was more afraid of change, and now, I’m afraid that if I don’t change, I’ll die. So, for me, I walk in change.”

The Bowie song Changes flashes though my mind. “Turn and face the strain.” It is a strain, sometimes. With sobriety, I have changed a lot. But I also see where I need to change more, and sometimes it’s daunting. I’ve got to walk through some new behaviors and actions stone-cold sober. No cushion. Maybe HP is supposed to be my cushion. Or meetings.

“I try to keep my recovery one day at a time,” says David, a successful artist who is in his seventh year after going out when he was a little short of nineteen years sober. “It was easy to do one day at a time the first 90 days, but after a year it was easier to see it in bigger chunks. In fact, there was a meeting where only people who had ten plus years could share. I thought everyone would really have their shit together but when I went, I found the people there so disturbed that I didn’t even want to go.”

I’ve seen that. People with double-digit sobriety struggling to pay their rent. Acting out sexually—or conversely, not dating and not having sex for decades. (In SLAA, they call that anorexia.) But hey, if they didn’t pick up a drink today, then today was a success, right? “After ten years sobriety, I went to DA,” says David. “And then I was advised to go to Al-Anon, so suddenly I’m going to all these meetings, and I started going to less AA meetings, and I started taking inventory of people at AA meetings like, ‘They need Al-Anon. They’re un-recovered Al-Anons.’ I was getting arrogant.” Hmmm, sounds familiar. I’d say that about sums up my mental milieu for the last year. Can’t stop watching porn or hooking up? Don’t really want to hear about that in an AA meeting when I’m going to SLAA meetings to deal with my own bullshit. Hello resentment, my creepy crawly friend.

“The twelve steps were about having a more serene life,” adds David, smiling. “The original people had a hard time rejoining society because of their resentments and so the steps were there to help them.” For David, it wasn’t until he had gotten through some of his ninth step amends that he found relief. “It helped my reconnection with the world and broke my isolation. My fear of economic insecurity and people left. The ninth step promises come. Until we’ve done that, at least for me, I was still at war in my head with a lot of people.” David sighs and continues, “But doing the steps and making amends didn’t stop me from slipping.” David stopped going to meetings when he traveled out of town for work and one day, he found a beer in his hand and he drank it. “There are no guarantees. Or there is: If I don’t pick up a drink today, I won’t get drunk.”

The phone rings. It’s an AA newcomer. She asks if I’ll meet her for coffee before the meeting I usually go to. I say, “Sure.” I meet her and we talk. We go to the meeting and see 200 of my family members. The speaker shares their story. Not my story, but I relate. I relate to the insanity, the denial, and the grace. Thank God for the Grace. “The angels that got me here aren’t here today,” he says. “It’s not for people who need it. It’s for people who want it.” And just for today, I do. And I hope I feel the same tomorrow.

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Kiki Baxter is an experienced content creator with a demonstrated history of working in tech, non-profit, and hospitalityindustries. She is also skilled in Digital Marketing, Design, and Photography and is a yoga instructor. You can find out more about Kiki on her website or on Linkedin or Instagram.

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