How I Stay Sober Since Leaving AA

How I Stay Sober Since Leaving AA

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SelfKnowledgeKeepsMeSoberOutsideAAAs I’ve recently blathered to the world, or at least the AfterParty Magazine community, I left Alcoholics Anonymous due to some serious philosophical conflicts with the program about a year ago. I also left because meetings began to agitate me in a major way—lots of problems, lots of drama and the continual talk about how defective we are as alcoholics. I’d leave meetings anxious and despondent.

Regardless, I’m committed to staying abstinent from alcohol—no, I don’t feel I can safely moderate. But staying sober outside of AA has its unique challenges, and I’d be lying if I said I never think about drinking. Because every now and then, I do.

Most recently, I sort of “needed” a drink in Spain, because the girls staying above me in my airbnb made a tremendous amount of noise. It sounded like either bull fighting or stomping flamenco dancers. I really did think they were flamenco dancers for a spell, but in truth a group of three young perpetually high-heeled women had taken over the apartment above me for a wild drunken weekend. I was staying in a 700-year-old building in the Albayzin district of Granada that was constructed by the Moors. And 700-year-old buildings don’t have the thickest of floors and aren’t exactly sound proof.

Now I have a bad case of misophonia to begin with, a condition where certain noises irritate you to the point of rage—or maybe even contemplating homicide—so that obviously didn’t help. After trying to get the girls to shut up by banging on the door and yelling “Please quiet down!” in Spanish, my helplessness and anxiety made me think of a drink. Ugh, I could use a glass of Rioja right now, I thought. But I didn’t entertain that thought or further contemplate the Rioja, because I knew in the deepest part of my being that me and alcohol don’t mix.

Alcohol destroyed me life, or, more correctly, I let it destroy my life. Losing my job, home, car, phone and friends certainly helped hammer home the idea that drinking is not an option. In that moment, I didn’t need a friend to reach out to or a meeting to attend. I just needed to remember—as I quickly did—that alcohol never solves any problems. For me, all it does is amplify them by about one thousand percent.

When I say I was on edge about the noise, it’s an understatement—I slowly became more and more unstable to the point I felt batshit crazy. And those my upstairs neighbors weren’t the only source of noise—I could hear other people talking loud and stomping throughout the building, noises echoing inside the Spanish-tiled stairwell. Outside, in the courtyard right below my apartment, young kids would hang out late at night, smoking and drinking and inhaling weed, their voices carrying right up to my bedroom at 2 am. There was no way I could put Spanish culture on pause for my misophonia.

Sleep is very important to me. Without sleep, I just become unhinged. So when those girls refused to shut up, given I had no recourse, I decided to just move myself a quiet hotel through the weekend. I knew I was packing up and heading to Armenia in just a few days, so I stayed there until the night before my flight. Despite its transience, I didn’t take that thought of drinking lightly.

It’s true that spending money on a hotel when I’d already dropped wads on travel wasn’t exactly frugal. But at the time, I had thick financial cushion and figured spending a couple hundred to stay at a hotel for three nights would be a far safer bet than drinking. When that happens, I inevitably lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Maybe it’s a result of dropping $500 on a bar tab, but more often it’s the result of $900 ambulance fees, $10,000 ER and hospital costs, and a $2,000 bill from a 72-hour stay stay in the psych unit (I’d be liable to pay in Spain even though the country has nationalized healthcare because I don’t have papers).

So I did a little wager in my head and decided to bet on the peace and quiet and a nice huge bed with luxurious sheets. I may be a snob, but I decided it would keep me sane. The expense was really an investment in my sobriety and mental health. Thank God for Booking.com. I was able to score a room at a four-star hotel for like $60 a night—no joke. This is what I love about Europe. In the States, $60 will barely buy you a room at a Motel 6.

The hotel was in the boring business district of Granada, near the freeway, typically used for business conventions, which is why I landed the deal. But I could give a hoot—I’d already stayed for a month in the most desirable part of the city. The place had a spa! A pool! A jacuzzi! A lounge! And the room was dead quiet with a posh bathroom and a huge tub. I caught up on sleep, I relaxed, and I got loads of work done being so refreshed. I don’t at all regret the decision. But that wasn’t the only time I felt like drinking.

When in Armenia, during my month-long stay, I was extremely isolated, and the language barrier only furthered this aloneness. Once again, I felt shaky, and the thought, “I could really use some of that Armenian vodka right now” passed through my head. And once again, I didn’t take that lightly. So, I took action to end my isolation by volunteering through a wonderful group, which led to making lots of friends and attending social outings. Sure I had more work to do as a volunteer, in addition to my own writing assignments, but that’s a small price to pay to hold onto my sobriety.

These experiences overseas stick in my mind the most, probably because of the isolation factor. Being so far from my own support network—my awesome roommate, my killer boyfriend, my parents and best friends—could have proven dangerous. So I find it encouraging that even in those lonely times I put my sobriety first, without having to “pass it by” a sponsor or go to a meeting.

Depending on the sponsor, I could have gotten all sorts of disparate “direction” on the imperial marchers above me in Spain. An old-schooler may have told me to suffer it out and stop thinking the world revolves around me. Another may have said to go to a meeting every day, which would be impossible, since they only held two in Granada and none were in English. Another may have told me to go into the ornate gold-gilded basilicas and get on my knees. Another may have said, “Hell yeah! Go stay in a posh hotel and soak in a nice hot bath!”

My own self-will, bright ideas, determination and self-knowledge doesn’t “avail me nothing,” as the Big Book of AA says. Instead, the self-knowledge of what alcohol does to my brain and body, of how impossible it is for me to stop drinking and my “best thinking” leads me to continually “recoil from it as a hot flame.” I’m not bashing AA, as I know it works for countless people. It’s only my personal experience about how, as you get and stay sober, you can empower yourself without a Higher Power or sponsor or AA meeting to “take the next right action” and stay away from taking a sip of Rioja, Sangria, or that much-raved-about Armenian brandy.

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4 Comments

  1. Brian Rawlings on

    It seems like it would have been healthier and less selfish to start your own AA meeting with guidelines about topics and sharing. Then you may have helped lots of other people who are suffering the same way you are.

  2. “I’m not bashing AA, as I know it works for countless people. It’s only my personal experience about how, as you get and stay sober, you can empower yourself without a Higher Power or sponsor or AA meeting to “take the next right action” and stay away from taking a sip of Rioja, Sangria, or that much-raved-about Armenian brandy.”

    ^ AMEN. Tracy, once again, you’ve nailed it. Nice to see another former AA-er who can still respect the program but doesn’t need it to stay sober. Well done. A breath of fresh air.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.