This post was originally published on July 30, 2014.
It is understandable why some people look at 12-step as a cult; you definitely need to “drink the Kool-Aid” if you plan on sticking around. But many of us will joke that Alcoholics Anonymous is a good cult because our brains needed a good washing; however, just like with anything (except pizza), 12-step programs aren’t for everyone. There is a lot of faith involved in the recovery process (and a good amount of reading and writing). Things get very uncomfortable at times and we have to be willing to believe that the program works (and/or trust that a Higher Power is taking care of us) in order to hold on to our sobriety.
I recently bumped into Chris, an old friend from AA who, a couple of years ago, made the decision to go back to drinking. Seeing him was not what one might expect (or fear) when running across someone who has “gone out.” Chris looked great; he was in good physical shape and was busy at work. We chatted for a while and it got me thinking—we hear horror stories of people who drank or used drugs again and died or ended up behind bars or in a psych ward. So when our post-AA fate isn’t jails, institutions or death, what is life like on the other side?
Chris, who is currently finishing up a successful “sober July,” agreed to sit down with APM and tell us about life after AA.
Danielle: When was the last time you had a drink?
Chris: June 30th.
Danielle: Did you get drunk?
Chris: Nah. The last time I was drunk was earlier in the month. Nothing exciting happened except that I probably spent too much money.
Danielle: So what made you decide to do a sober July?
Chris: Because I could. Other than the 4th of July, which is no big deal, there wasn’t anything happening that would have made it hard to not drink—no vacations, no sports, no big events. I knew this would be a good month to take off.
Danielle: How has the month been for you?
Chris: Challenging. First two weeks were especially tough. I was going through withdrawals—dramatic mood swings, going to sleep late, waking up late, couldn’t eat because my digestive system was all fucked up, then eating a lot of sugar. But now it’s pretty good. I started working out again, spending more time with my dog, being more productive; it feels like my brain started working since I started having creative ideas again. I stopped engaging in as much deviant behavior.
Danielle: What do you mean by deviant behavior?
Chris: Oh you know. When I am single and drinking, I get into this sexual conquering mode. I want to see who I can get and then I don’t want them. I want the chase so I start texting girls. It’s just to have something to do, to get some attention, a quick fix. Most of the time I don’t even end up seeing them. I have even told girls I was coming over and then not shown up.
Danielle: Not to sound like a shrink but how does that make you feel?
Chris: Terrible. Sometimes I even forget who I texted and have to look at my log. It’s not cool. It lacks integrity. There are girls who have reached out to me in the last couple of weeks and said, “I haven’t heard from you in a while, you must have stopped drinking.”
Danielle: Okay, so here’s the million-dollar question: do you think you are an alcoholic?
Chris: Oh yeah, for sure.
Danielle: What have you done to seek help with your alcoholism?
Chris: When I was in college, I went to an AA meeting on the recommendation of my doctor and friends. But I only went to one meeting—I wasn’t ready. In October of 2009, I was having problems with my girlfriend as a result of my drinking so I went to meetings for a little while but didn’t commit. Eight months later, in June of 2010, my girlfriend told me she was going to leave if I didn’t get help. So I started going to AA meetings again and this time I really threw myself into the program.
Danielle: Was it the ultimatum from your girlfriend that made you willing to work the AA program?
Chris: That was a big part of it. But I also knew that I was on a self-destructive spiral towards killing myself or killing someone, probably. I remember feeling really angry.
Danielle: Why were you angry?
Chris: Because I couldn’t control my drinking and it was ruining everything around me.
Danielle: So what was your experience in AA?
Chris: It was good at first. I got a sponsor and a bunch of commitments and started doing a lot of service work. But I think I might have gone at it too vigorously. I gave it 100% so I expected 100% back. It raised my expectations of what I thought I was going to get from the program.
Danielle: You mean like cash and prizes?
Chris: I mean that people are people and there are a lot of weird ones in AA. There are predators and it can be dangerous if you trust the wrong people. It changed my personality—if you aren’t hanging around the right people it can make you a worse alcoholic, in terms of the disease. But it was also some of the most fun I have ever had. I have never laughed as loud and as genuinely as I did at times when I was sober because you feel safe and supported. So much so in fact that it might be the reason why you flee from it.
Danielle: Like a fear of intimacy?
Chris: Yeah. Being sober around other sober people is real intimacy. You are dealing with all these personalities and their little intricacies and weird habits. It always seemed like none of us wanted to be there yet we all wanted to be there; it was weird. So I retreated from them. I was scared to be welcomed.
Look out for part 2 of this interview next week.