This article was originally published on February 5, 2016.
Last September, I was knee-deep in weeds and bees, trying to figure out how I got there and where it all went wrong. When I signed up for the volunteer gardening post at my daughter’s school, I had not considered the virility of weeds and frankly I hadn’t considered bees at all. As I wrestled with Canada thistle and snapped close-ups of crickets on my phone, it occurred to me that I was probably self-medicating a bad case of survivor’s guilt. I was sober but had ducked out of meetings awhile back, so I wasn’t being of service to others—or so I thought.
I now realize service work is one of the things that scared me away from recovery meetings. I was a little over a year sober and feeling sharp pangs of guilt when the brave men and women raised their hands at meetings to show they were willing to be a temporary sponsor. I always kept my hand down. I never refused when asked to speak at a meeting, but public speaking still hovers above death on my list of worst fears.
I did choose a home group and started attending monthly business meetings. There were only a few of us, so naturally I said yes when asked if I would volunteer as secretary. All I had to do was attend one meeting a month and take notes and type them up afterwards. I attended dutifully for months, then missed two meetings in a row—one for a family vacation and then for an open house at my kid’s school—and let the others know I wouldn’t be there. Imagine my surprise when one of the other members passive-aggressively announced that we needed a new secretary at the next meeting. I felt a mix of indignation and complete disappointment in myself for failing at service work.
I see now that I already had one foot out the door of AA. I was already an active sober blogger by then, so I just shifted time and energy there. I didn’t recognize that writing about sobriety and developing friendships with other bloggers was also a form of reaching out to other alcoholics. It is a natural way for me to get out of my own head and help others.
Sober blogs are like a recovery meeting share, but with cross-talk. The comment section is where the real conversation takes place. And I love it. I never had much fear of leaving open, often vulnerable comments on others’ blogs because I had nothing to lose. It was my way of saying “me too.” When I get emails from new bloggers asking how to build readership, I tell them the only way I know is to read other blogs and leave comments. They might also be surprised with the connections and friendships that follow.
I follow numerous sober blogs and sites because I get to hear new ideas and it helps keep my sobriety fresh. Those who relapse regularly are rallied by kind suggestions to get to a meeting or, for the meeting-averse, to try concrete steps like counting days, getting a sober coach, or buying a treat at a certain milestone. Often I witness the online equivalent of hand-holding. The only place I’ve seen unconditional support like this is at a recovery meeting. This reminds me why we stay sober. Even when life is hard and we have to feel it all, it beats the dark cave where many of us retreated to drink alone.
Emailing with sober penpals is another way I can reach out to other alcoholics and I practice this daily. I have even met up with a few for a coffee or 5K. I know them through blogging or when I used to attend meetings, though occasionally I’ll get emails from newly sober folks. Maybe they have one sober day under their belt and wonder if it gets any better and have this idea to reach out to someone else. So they write that they have one day sober and are lying on the floor of their kid’s room and not feeling too great. I always reply because I too, lied on the floor and wondered the same thing. Sometimes I hear back from these folks and we keep a volley going for months or years, but just as often I never hear from them again. I am open and willing to offer my experience, strength and hope, just as I would have as a 12-step sponsor.
One email conversation I will never forget was from a young woman who was attending recovery meetings through her church. She said her main goal was to put drinking so far behind her she wouldn’t think about it. She wanted it so far gone, she didn’t even want to remember she was sober. I didn’t want to imagine a world like that and told her why. Sobriety has been the biggest gift of not drinking. I didn’t hear from her after that exchange and often wonder if she’s still sober. I like to think that she is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sober blogs and penpals, it’s that there’s more than one way to get and stay sober.
I still haven’t mastered service work outside the online sober sphere. In addition to weeding and accidental bee-keeping, I also briefly tried my hand at teaching a spiritual education class for teens. I felt too green with both. They say to start wherever you are and so I will continue writing and reaching out through sober blogs and email. I love doing these things, not just because they feel good and natural, but because I know sobriety is a gift you pass on in whatever way you can. The real magic happens when you do.