sober lifestyle


I’m a bit of a problem child in the 12-Step support group I’ve attended on a weekly basis since I got sober in July of 2019. Or at least that’s how I feel.

I know, I know. It’s wrong to focus on how I feel. That’s what got me wrapped up in addiction in the first place, right?

See, I’m at that part in the steps where you dig into all your “character defects” and learn how self-centered and self-pitying you are, and realize that the fierce, strong-willed, independent spirit you’ve prided yourself on your entire life was less an asset than a liability, and even though you probably never would’ve made it through school or kept a job — or quit drinking — without it, it has also helped to make you a maladjusted adult who struggles to have faith, practice humility, find peace and balance, and carve out a truly productive place in society.

The hyper-sensitivity that fuels your creativity and makes you good at writing also gets you hopelessly stuck up in your own head, tangled in a web of doubt and fear — which are all forms of self-absorption, BTW, and self-absorption happens to be the root of your addiction and the thing keeping you from living a fulfilling life.

Also, the only way out of the web is more meetings, prayers explicitly written out in the official 12-step literature, and service commitments within “the fellowship.”

This makes sense to me intellectually, but something in me just won’t accept it all as gospel. That damn individuality, that self-will, just won’t go away and let me grow like I’m supposed to!

Is it selfish, or childish, to feel conflicted about what’s truly “right” in recovery, to question everything you hear, and to want to follow your own path based more on your inner compass than what other people, or programs, tell you to do?

Truth be told, that inner conflict has been chugging away for 17 months now. Wait; strike that. It’s been going on all my life!

I’m still the kid in the story I love to tell to describe my personality: seven or eight years old, playing happily by myself with my dollhouse in my room, then hearing the shouts of neighborhood kids outside in the street, playing together, without me, and suddenly feeling a deep, melancholic confusion.

I thought I was doing just fine on my own, and yet, the world seemed to be sending a different message. I stuck to my guns, but the cognitive dissonance always made me very uncomfortable.

Of course, I understand that it’s not always black or white, and there’s no one “right” versus one “wrong” way to live, and it’s perfectly fine to have one foot on the busy highway and the other on the “road less traveled,” or to prefer aloneness while also craving connection, and to remain firm in your convictions while also being open to suggestion. You can do your own thing while following a structured program. Can’t you?

Come to think of it, that seems like a pretty good prescription for growth. Be willing to listen and learn from others, but always follow your heart!

Why does it never feel quite that simple? Why am I still experiencing this emotional tug of war over what it really means to “be good” at recovery?

I think this is what you would call growing pains. The discomfort that accompanies any kind of change. Core beliefs and ingrained habits vs. new ideas and differing perspectives…let’s get ready to rumble! 💥🥊🥊

In case you hadn’t guessed, my regular 12-step meeting is affiliated with a huge international organization that’s both famous and secretive. I learned early on, after sharing about my self-proclaimed “well-rounded” approach to recovery, which includes podcasts, “quit lit,” nature walks, yoga, therapy — and blogging — in addition to “the program,” that I might want to stop mentioning the blog part. Apparently, it’s a sensitive issue.

Apparently, even though I do not explicitly say the name of the organization or any of its members here in this space, the mere act of sitting here and sharing my story on the internet under my real name is technically breaking the rules.

I almost stormed out of the group the day someone suggested that a public record of my recovery from alcoholism might reflect poorly on the entire program, if I someday slipped up and “went back out.” The concept of “principles over personalities” meant I would put the program’s image in jeopardy by telling my own ugly truths.

“People might think that the program doesn’t work, if you relapsed,” they said with a look that I read as stern. Scolding.

I’m still not sure I understand that line of thinking, and my feelings on the subject are still a little bitter complicated, but I decided it was better to “go along to get along” — for once in my life — because I do place great value on the 12-step community. Without “the fellowship,” I would basically be the kid in her room with the dollhouse, up in her head, devoid of real human contact outside of my home…and the internet, which is as “real” as anything else in this topsy turvy world, but you get the point.

There was/is NO WAY I was ever going to stop writing this blog, but I decided I needed to compromise. I decided I should no longer talk about it with members of the aforementioned organization. I should keep the different parts of my recovery program — each equally vital — separate, depending on the situation.

So now, I just say that “I journal,” because that seems to be a crowd-pleaser. It doesn’t raise eyebrows or create conflict. It even gets nods of approval! 🤷🏼‍♀️

I was never trying to create conflict. I was just trying to do what felt right to me. But I guess some kind of conflict is inevitable whenever an individual meets a society. Whenever “self-will” meets “the greater good.”

It’s important to note that what felt right to me for 20 years led me down the path of addiction and almost lost me everything I hold dear. It’s important to point out all the very clear evidence that I don’t have all the answers, and my way is by no means the best way, and in fact, my internal compass might be calibrated a few ticks off center.

It’s important to recognize and appreciate the immense power of self-reliance, while also recognizing the arrogant folly of trying to control everything. It’s important to appreciate the value of “letting go” and trying to see things from another viewpoint. You don’t have to be a slave to society, but you can’t stay stuck in your own head all the time, either.

I feel like a well-rounded recovery is a wonderful goal, but that doesn’t mean simply doing what you want to do whenever you want to do it. It does require some change, some pain, some intense soul-searching and questioning your own beliefs, as vigorously as you question others’. You may never really resolve all the little conflicts between what your heart tells you and what you are told “works if you work it,” but there’s nothing that says you have to.

You do, however, have to keep doing work if you want to make progress.

“Problem children” can grow up to do great things for the greater good, if they have the courage to push through the growing pains.

It also helps to have people who love you in spite of your “character defects,” and maybe even some people who find those defects entertaining. Dear blog readers, you have my deepest gratitude. I owe a lot to the 12-step program, but I absolutely would not be where I am today without you! 😘

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