I was a few weeks sober and sitting across the table from the near-stranger I had asked to be my AA sponsor. It was our first official meeting, and we’d just finished reading a chapter from The Big Book when I decided to tell her about my blog.
“I’ve been writing about this whole experience on my personal website, and I’d love for you to take a look!” I said excitedly, as I ripped a page out of my notebook and began scribbling the address.
She held her hand up, palm out. 🖐🏻 A stop sign. 🛑 A rejection, from an authority figure. 🙅🏻♀️ My worst nightmare! 😱
Her words were stern and humorless: “I’m not going to go on your blog.”
She was concerned, she said, because I was breaking anonymity and putting personality over principles, and even potentially harming “The Program,” because what if I relapsed? Then all the people reading the blog would think AA didn’t work!
I was confused, hurt, pissed off and put off, for several reasons — one being, her admonition stunk of groupthink, or cult-speak, and I’m pretty much allergic to all that. But I filed my feelings away and stayed the 12-step course, for two full years. Meanwhile, I never stopped writing my little heart out, every single week.
Well, y’all, I’m here today, celebrating 1,000 days sober, and my AA experience is a big reason why. Blogging might be a bigger one.
Other reasons include exercise, and sleeping, and reading books, and listening to podcasts, and meditating, and going to therapy, and studying psychology, and enjoying nature (my “higher power”), and living with a super-supportive spouse, and following only sober hashtags and mental health-related accounts on Instagram.
I’ve always tried to be a well-rounded person, never getting too deep into one thing…until, of course, I found tequila 🙄. When I finally drank my last drop in July of 2019, I instinctively started building a well-rounded recovery “program” packed with pursuits that truly, as they say, fill my cup.
I think my progress so far is proof: When it comes to recovery, you don’t have to choose one way. There is no one way, and certainly no “right” way. You don’t have to do everything “by the book,” or follow someone else’s explicit instructions or tread their exact same path.
You can absorb and respect the wisdom of your “elders,” and participate in a fellowship without fully buying into every little thing you hear or read. You can acknowledge the validity of others’ experiences and personal preferences while blazing your own trail and expressing yourself…well, however the 🤬 makes you happy!
I mean, that’s what has worked for me.
Furthermore, you have the right to choose whether you want to guard your privacy or get loud about changing your life. You can choose whether to identify with a group’s traditional monikers (I went the “I’m Jen and I’m an alcoholic” route), or reject all labels. You can tell all parts of your story (mine includes eating disorders, hypomania and depression), not just the ones that center around your substance.
You can have principles and a personality at the same time!
In short, I believe you can “do you” and still stay sober.
AA has a saying that goes, “Take what works and leave the rest,” and for me, that might have been the most helpful of all the many maxims. Those words kept me going in moments of doubt. They kept me from walking away too soon — before I’d delved into the steps (with help from that same sponsor!), before I’d done the service work that sparked my newfound passion for helping people, before I discovered my true purpose and decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
The 12-step program was what inspired me to enroll in grad school and work toward my masters in counseling. I was fortunate enough to be admitted to Delaware Valley University as a member of Cohort 9, and to study for nearly two semesters under some incredible professors, with two full years of exciting challenges still ahead.
My focus is on that program now. Although I haven’t been to an AA meeting since classes started last fall, I’m still going strong — and still growing, which is what separates recovery from mere sobriety — and I can honestly say my brain and heart have never felt as full as they feel today.
I was a few weeks past my two-year sober anniversary when I sat at a table in a DelVal classroom with 17 strangers and introduced myself as a recovering addict whose long, winding, mistake-ridden journey had led her to this point. The people in that room have since supported and accepted me, as I them, warts and strong emotions and talkative tendencies and passionate personalities and all. And whether they know it or not, my classmates have helped keep me accountable.
I feel a sense of responsibility to every single person in my life today, from the couple who birthed me to the man I married to the kids (😉) sitting next to me in class, to the holdovers from my journalism days who still show me love on Twitter…
…and yes, I feel responsible to all the fellow alcoholics who lifted me up when I was newly sober and showed me, as the AA literature says, “the way up and out.” That way they’re talking about points toward other people, toward something outside your head and bigger than yourself. Whatever form that takes, and however you get where you’re going, is completely up to you.
The chance to write my own story is a gift I never plan to return and I hope I never take for granted. 🙏🏻