Keeping it Simple

By Lucinda Lumiere 11/18/16

The temptation to consider myself irreparably damaged that I have found in the culture of modern recovery has been strong.

An image of someone walking on a train track, only showing the legs and feet.
Focus on the path and you'll get there.

This is a simple program for complicated people, I remember hearing when I first came into the rooms at the age of 15. After many flaming red flags and a therapist mother forced me into recovery, I spent several years proving to myself that I was powerless over drinking and drugging. Finally, at age 21, I admitted defeat. I had ended up a junkie cocktail waitress who kept dropping out of college, overdosing and hiding my track marks from my mom.

Luckily, the twin gifts of Grace and Desperation were powerful enough that I did what I was told. I changed everything. I went to a 28-day program in a hospital. When the program directors told me I needed secondary residential care, I did that, too. I dumped a toxic relationship, moved to the suburbs, and started waitressing in a diner. I prayed, I did service, I did the 12 steps. At first, I went to both Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, but once I realized I drank the same way I used, I gravitated more towards AA. The “old me” was slowly transformed. I put together a year, went back to school, and got a college degree.

I knew I had a life-long disease when my brain told me that since I had finished college and received a degree, it would be okay to start drinking a little. Luckily, I didn’t listen to that voice, but continued working the program, sponsoring and volunteering while pursuing my career.

As time and life unfolded, I experienced my disease jumping around. I started eating compulsively. I realized I was in a codependent relationship. I worked out—a lot. My ideas around money and career seemed at times off base. I got into jobs I didn’t want or like. I heard mention of other programs that were designed to address these “special topics.”

First, I went to the “relationship program.” This helped me to see how I used relationships to avoid my deep-seated fears. In Al-Anon, I met people who went to sex-related recovery meetings, too.

"I realized after attending Sex and Love Addicts meetings that I am more of a fantasy addict, so now I go to Sex Compulsives Anonymous," one woman told me.

The distinctions between these behaviors seemed infinitesimal to me, but since I was also someone who could get lost in a crush, I heeded her suggestion.

I knew I was willing to look for the similarities instead of the differences when I went to one meeting in a Gay Men’s Health Center and was the lone woman in a group of leather-clad motorcycle bears. They welcomed me, in theory, but I didn’t really feel I belonged.

To confront my career and money issues, I attended Debtors Anonymous. I didn’t really connect with the stories of crushing debt and loss, but felt I could apply some of the tools to my own life. They were basically common sense, and worked when I used them.

It was sometimes difficult to find a sponsor in some of the offshoot programs, all modeled on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was willing to work the steps around these “other issues,” but would often return to my AA sponsor to read the written work. Surprisingly, when I read my tenth step inventories around these specific issues to my AA sponsor, I got relief. Clarity came, compulsion lifted. I realized that the container of my relationship with my AA sponsor was big enough to address all my issues, not just the substance ones. My Higher Power was the same Higher Power whether I was asking for help with money, relationships, or just another day sober.

The temptation to consider myself irreparably damaged that I have found in the culture of modern recovery has been strong. Many people scorn the original language of the Big Book, decrying it sexist or out of touch. They start new and improved programs, but the blueprint is always the same: the old-fashioned Program as laid out in the Big Book. Plug in sex for alcohol, or money for alcohol, and you’re good to go.

These topics are included in the Big Book. There’s a significant section on sex relations under the fourth step inventory, and the 8th and 9th steps address money and debt.

After some time spent chasing my own tail and wedging more and more fellowships into my schedule, tracking down sponsors who didn’t seem as sober as the folks I knew in my home group, I realized something had to give.

The diffusing effect of chasing recovery in other areas can be dangerous, too, for it globalizes my alcoholism and makes me think it is life that I can’t handle. I start to forget that I am a recovered alcoholic, and think I am just someone who can’t handle life. What is to stop me from picking up if I forget my primary purpose?

A friend I originally met in AA, who turned to Underearners Anonymous, recently stopped going to AA.

"I don’t want to identify with having a problem that can’t be lifted," she told me.

That’s when the lightbulb went on.

I am an alcoholic. I like to do things that feel good until the wheels fall off. Then I go back to step one. That’s what the program is for—to help me stay on track.

Keep it simple, I have heard again and again. The main issue for me is my alcoholism. The bonus gift of my sobriety is a template for life that works on all areas of it. I can seek more information and get tools to address other issues—“outside help”—but I must stay focused in AA to get the help I need. If I truly trust my Higher Power, I will bring all of me to all of him, her or whatever gender it is.

As someone who has derived benefit from other programs, I don’t wish to denigrate them. I am glad the 12-step model lends itself to other issues. I also know that as a garden variety alcoholic, I am prone to complicate things, to forget the basics. I hope I never forget that without sobriety, nothing else is possible for me.

The spiritual part of this program is like the wet part of the ocean, I recently heard. My Higher Power will help me in any area at any time as a sober alcoholic. All I need to do is have the willingness to ask for help. And keep it really, really simple.

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