I feel like AA has been getting really boring lately. The speaker’s stories are not as salacious as they used to be. I think it’s because they are leaving out juicy details to avoid glamorizing their hedonistic lifestyle, or to avoid mention of criminality. Certainly, it protects AA’s reputation as a do-gooders society (if they mentioned these things they would easily be identified as the scoundrels that they are). But it makes the meetings boring. The whole point of AA is to drink as cover for mischief. So what’s the point without the mischief?
Tonight’s Old-Timer’s meeting in West Hollywood featured an energetic 59 year old woman with 36 years sobriety. Her drinking and drugging career lasted from age 15 to 24. She was sober after her very first AA meeting. There was nothing salacious in her story. It was nicely told but boring.
Typical of most of the old-timers, she is now cured of alcoholism. She no longer has any cravings or desire to drink. Paradoxically, this is due to her acceptance of the first Step: “I am an alcoholic.” This took a while to accept because she always thought of alcoholism as being a disease for one’s parents. But this acceptance, along with the acceptance of the other spiritual principles in the 12 steps, cured her of her disease. Of course, what she doesn’t realize, is that it actually created her “disease” in the first place.
The room was fully occupied, with at least 100 middle age gay men. There was a small smattering of young people. It’s hard to believe they are all alcoholics. Most likely it is simply a social gathering that is an alternate to the bar scene. Instead of admitting that they are too old for the bars, they prefer to believe they can’t go due to health reasons — the threat of the evil-juice. That darn allergy.
Back to our speaker: Her mother was very mean growing up, and always made her feel like a failure. She was extremely jealous of her brother and sister. Her mother always liked her sister more, but it was not clear why. After the sister died in middle age, the mother kept a chair in her house dedicated to her, and no one was allowed to sit in it. The mother was devastated and even then it was clear that the mother felt the wrong daughter had died. They actually live together now, although at first the mother made her feel like a guest in her house. Although she was able to use the 12 Steps spiritual principles to keep things civil, she still does not have a loving relationship with her mother. Evidently even the 12 Steps has its limits.
Her parents divorced when she was 4 and she dealt with it by getting angry and bullying. At age 15 she had her first sip and that was the start of the love affair. She felt “all right” but she also learned that her behavior was not amusing to others. She got into fights and loved to fight when on drugs, and was also very mean to people. It was a wild and crazy time.
She went into the hospital for appendicitis. When she woke up she was craving drugs — proof that they are addictive. Fortunately, her boyfriend brought her some.
At age 19 she went to rehab because her mother said she would disown/disinherit her if she didn’t. The detox experience was actually very comfortable. She felt grateful and safe. Of course, any good detox should be able to alleviate the discomfort of withdrawals. But the rehab program was “Just say no”. She was discharged, and that very night her father offered her a drink. She refused. But within a few months she was using again. A friend had offered coke. She continued to use for 3 more years.
During this time, her mother discovered Al Anon, and learned the language of love. She actually became a loving and kind person. She also learned to disconnect – offer support but not money. This made all the difference. So, the young lady walked into AA and hasn’t used since. She recovered but unfortunately her mom returned to her old ways.
It is clear to me that she used drugs as rebellion against her mother. It is not uncommon to punish a parent in retaliation due to jealousy towards a sibling. For example, the child may be angry that they lost the genetic lottery. Or they may feel that the parent should be punished for playing favorites. Keep in mind, this girl had anger issues since early childhood, well before her first sip. Drug abuse would be sweet revenge.
Was she really addicted? First of all she didn’t mention any desire to quit except for the last attempt which was successful. The appendicitis incident is not surprising, since it’s a painful experience and someone who had become tolerant to drugs would feel under-medicated. It would be stressful — so her cravings at this time are not evidence of addiction. Also, the first detox experience was pretty comfortable. So, she could have detoxed any time after that but chose not to. So you can’t argue that she feared the pain of withdrawals. Nor did she claim that she did. No: I think she simply preferred to torture her mother — who probably deserved it. But of course at some point you realize that you have to grow up and accept the hand life deals you. Fortunately this girl realized that relatively early on, in her mid 20’s.
Also, although she didn’t mention it explicitly, I would not be surprised if she went for older guys whom her parents would hate, and who would keep her supplied with drugs and alcohol. Again, this is rebellion for the sake of rebellion. The fact that she was using drugs just made it more acute. And of course more fun.
When she stopped using, she hated herself. For what? For how mean she was when she was using. So, her guilt of the bad things she did when using actually made her want to relapse. She continued to have cravings for 10 years, but hasn’t had any cravings since. But this seems like manufactured angst. “Oh no, I feel like drinking again. It’s such a struggle!” It’s always possible to find something to get upset about to reassure yourself that you really must be an addict. This is another consequence of the addiction myth: instead of recognizing negative emotions for what they are, we can easily misinterpret them as cravings for alcohol. The Big Book is great at training people to do exactly this. In all cases, the alcoholics are innocent victims of a disease, but otherwise have no obvious emotional concerns other than perhaps not fitting in. And then there is a sudden, inexplicable craving to drink; or they have one glass of wine at home and can’t stop until it’s all gone. Does this sound like you? Congratulations, you’re an alcoholic! It’s a great way to avoid the underlying issue.
She hasn’t reached her goals yet, but is still working towards them. Although she didn’t reveal her profession, I suspect she is in the drug rehab industry. Perhaps a counselor or motivational speaker. Of course, she has to exaggerate the power of drugs in her life, since her livelihood depends on it. She probably does not realize that her work actually creates new addicts. Or maybe she does, and she enjoys modeling to young people how to fritter away their precious youth in a haze of drugs and booze just like she did. They can always become drug counselors later.
But she really didn’t glorify the “wild and crazy” side of her youth as previous speakers I’ve heard have. This is big problem for a drinking club like AA, because what’s the attraction of drinking if it’s not fun, or if you can’t tell everyone how much fun you had afterwards? (Of course, hasten to add that you’ve moved on and now all you want is serenity.)