This post was originally published on August 14, 2015.
I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes more than I have in recovery. More specifically, in AA meetings. In early recovery, I soaked up people’s words with childlike wonder, hoping that I’d get more recovered by the simple act of listening. I wanted to stay sober so I shut the fuck up. Sixteen months into sobriety, I wish some of them would shut the fuck up, too.
I’ve learned to set aside my judgmental nature (see above) just so I can get through a meeting. I understand that at times, alcoholics need to expose the toxicity in their brains, even if it causes discomfort. I also see why we need to say things out loud for others to act as our sounding boards. What I can’t see, however, is why some people feel the need to discuss their anger, drama, relationship angst or legal problems in a public forum. As of late, I’ve felt a tad suffocated by my least favorite archetype at meetings: The Oversharer.
The Oversharer is a person who does not give a fuck about how she sounds to anyone. She nods and smiles when people greet her at the door. She looks innocuous enough, sitting in the back row minding her own business. The Oversharer camouflages herself with coffee cup in hand and eyes focused intently on the speaker. She strikes when your defenses are down and your heart rate is at its lowest. The moment a silent hush comes over the room, she makes her move.
The Oversharer bloviates with reckless abandon, ignoring social cues and polite “wrap this up” taps on the secretary’s imaginary wrist watch. She does not seek solutions; she just needs you to know that hers are The Biggest Problems Ever. What’s more, she doesn’t linger after a meeting to get advice or even sympathy. She vanishes, often leaving before the meeting has ended. And as for those 10 minutes wasted on her share—you will never get them back.
How, then, does an AA newcomer distinguish between transparent, rigorous honesty and unfiltered bullshit? The answer is simple: she overshares.
When I got sober, I got really honest. I had to test the boundaries of my willingness, they said. I took every opportunity I could to apologize to the world for being such a hedonistic whorebag. I told the nurse at Planned Parenthood the actual number of sex partners I’ve had. All she did was raise her eyebrows. A split second later, she was back to checking the stats on my chart. I spewed the truth at my Kaiser doctor about the amount of cocaine and alcohol I used on my last bender. She asked what part of that felt like a good idea to me. Finally, I revealed to my counselor that I must have several mental illness diagnoses. She informed me that these are what professionals in her field refer to as “alcoholism.”
To my dismay, this level of honesty did not shock and awe. I must not have been doing it right.
I was vulnerable—so vulnerable and naïve. I stormed into my favorite meetings with the burning desire to get everything off my chest and I didn’t care who heard it. For example, I thought it was my duty to announce at coed meetings that I was not only abstinent from alcohol, but celibate, too. I assumed openness and rigorous honesty meant repentance on my part, 24/7. As a self-proclaimed reformed slut, I felt it was my calling to overshare all of my indiscretions with the world.
When it became clear to me that AA was not the 12-step I needed to achieve such purity, I investigated a new fellowship—Recovering Sluts Anonymous. As it turned out, oversharing about past sexual exploits is frowned upon there (and demonstrably not fun in a room full of pained women). I was at a loss.
A few months ago, a friend of mine actually called me on my bullshit. He made a snide comment, something to the effect of, “Oh, you shared tonight, Lucy? What a surprise. I know how much you love that.” At first, my feelings were hurt. Then it dawned on me that perhaps he had a point. Was I using my precious two-minute share time at meetings to verbally excrete on unsuspecting randoms? Did I need to turn down the exceedingly loud honesty decibels? And just as quickly, I stopped the self-examination. I evolved past my self-deprecating false humility to feel some compassion for myself. After all, I am still a newcomer. And what would I have become if I hadn’t spilled my guts to those people? Where would I be now?
I don’t really care to answer those rhetorical questions. I am here because I’ve learned to distinguish my bullshit from that of people like The Oversharer. I’ve also learned that she and I are not that different. We are both alcoholics who want to be heard. It’s in our best interest to talk about the things that still haunt us. Most people don’t make it this far. Most people wind up spiritually asphyxiated by their own demons. I would not be the self-possessed, spiritual woman I am today if it weren’t for the opportunity to unload some of my brain’s raw material onto people who have felt the exact same way as I have. The fact is, we need to talk about this stuff—dare I say, to each other.
I’m lookin’ at you, Oversharer. Let’s (both) talk about it.