I'm writing to you because I don't want to talk to anyone in my meetings about this. I told myself I would do what you said if you answer this. I really like what you say about AA.
I am [close to five years] sober in AA. I like meetings, my sponsor, everything. I did the steps with my first sponsor and now I am on my second but we are not going through the steps right now. I have 2 service commitments and I go to 4 meetings a week.
Mostly I drank but sometimes I did other drugs too. I have no problem admitting I am an alcoholic. But I have a problem admitting I am anything else. I've always been a big eater. I like my comfort food on the sofa watching TV. I also have a really big sweet tooth, so comfort food can be pizza or it can be candy. Or ice cream. How much I eat has slowly gotten bigger since I stopped drinking, and so I am slowly getting bigger too. Or maybe not so slowly.
On and off all my life I have dieted. Mostly whatever diet book is in. Now I am trying to cut back on how much I eat like half way through I will stop and throw the rest in the trash. But then later I will go back and get it out. I know that is gross and that is partly why I do not want to talk to anyone I see about this. So now after I throw it in the trash I spray Windex on it so I can't go back and get it. But the other night I saw my face in the kitchen window after I sprayed Windex on half a pizza and I just thought that this is not right. This is no way to live.
BUT I cannot even begin to think about going to another 12 Step Program. It feels overwhelming and too much. But I also am starting to hate myself (I already hate the way I look and I don't have anything I can wear anymore and I am staying home more because of it). I guess I am a food addict but what I want to do is just use my AA on my food and deal with it on my own.
What do you think?
Thank you anything you can say would help.
Windex Is For Windows
You'll do what I say? Really?
Okay, then this is what I want you to do:
Get up from the computer (or put down the phone, or however you're reading this) and go to the bathroom mirror and look yourself in the eye and just say "I love you. I forgive you. I love you. I forgive you." Slowly for three minutes (I went easy on you right there. I originally typed five). Really look yourself in the eye and really say it out loud. Maybe put one hand on your face and give yourself a loving pat, too. Then come back here and we'll go on.
If you really did it I suspect that maybe first you felt silly and then you felt irritated and then you started to feel... something else. While we talk a lot about an alcoholic's problem regarding self loathing is far more the "self" part than the "loathing" part, I don't think that means we can't (or shouldn't) address that inward-facing toxicity, too.
Your email is very moving -- your struggle and frustration come through clearly -- and I want to offer some thoughts which I hope will be helpful, but we've concluded with the "what I think you should do" part of the blog today. All I want to do, in an effort to help you find some insights and willingness on your own, is offer you some things to chew on.
(Too soon? Poor taste? Sorry, sorry -- I thought we needed some salt to balance the sugar.)
WIFW, let me ask you to consider something.
Do you think you could have gotten sober by going to Gambler's Anonymous?
I mean, it's the same 12 Steps and all, right? Addiction is addiction and you just swap out that one word in Step 1 and it's all the same thing, right?
But you and I both know that probably wouldn't have worked when you were brand new. Part of how meetings save lives, and the miracle of recovery is transferred from one to another, is through the process of identification. So, rather than looking at going to an OA meeting as one more thing -- and yes, you knew that's where this was going when you sat down to write me, right? -- try to look at it as a place where you may find, through identification, some people who understand intimately how you feel and have walked through what is happening to you. There is such comfort in that experience -- you know that from what happened to you in AA -- that I urge you to consider going to a meeting or two. Whether or not you fully identify, you may hear something(s) which will help. The 12 Steps are the same, but sometimes the specific tools can be different. (Just like if one person is missing a foot and the other a hand, they are both amputees but they each need to become fluent in using different tools and develop different habits and skills to navigate their day. A food addict and a drug addict are both addicts, and the 12 Steps can help them both, but they will face different triggers and challenges along the way.)
Addiction, whatever its stripe, wants to get us alone. It is a disease which makes you believe that it is safer, more comfortable, more fun, to say "no" to life rather than say yes. But right now -- RIGHT NOW -- in your life, every single night you isolate with the food -- you are experiencing what a lie addictive thinking truly is, because, dear WIFW, I'm sorry but the email you sent me was not written by a happy person.
Now, it's very likely that your involvement in AA (and good for you and congrats on your sobriety, btw!) brings some comfort and healing, but that is addressing the symptom of the other issue you are going through, not the problem. And once again, we know first hand from our sobriety that ultimately that won't work. Can you "use your AA on it?" Well, sure, you can try I guess. But you're already active in AA, and you still find yourself standing in your kitchen, in probably old sweats or a bathrobe, not feeling so good about yourself and reaching for the window cleaner. Ask yourself, truly what, exactly, is "using your AA on this" going to look like? I am sorry, WIFW but I smell an evasion.
You know you don't have to admit anything, or tell anyone anything, or eat anything different or shop for groceries different(ly) to go to a meeting. Just go. If you want to say "I'm visiting" when or if you are asked to identify, that's fine. You know the 12 Step world now, you know people will want to make you feel welcome (and may sometimes be enthusiastic in that regard) but you're safe there, and no one can make you do or say anything. You're not making a commitment to add another five 12 Step meetings to your week, you're just going to a meeting. Go, and listen and see how you feel. Grab a brochure or two. Google OA and poke around the site. (Okay fine HERE, okay?)
As the old addage goes, take what you like and leave the rest. Treat it like a buffet, if you will. (oh my God I can't stop!)
WIFW, you know I am only silly sometimes because one thing that happens when we isolate is that we take ourselves very seriously. Our disease is serious, yes, but our recovery need not be all widows weeds and ashes. You've been sober for [close to five years]! You are a living, breathing miracle! Checking out another 12 Step Program won't be overwhelming, it will be a piece of cake!
(Okay, that was the last one. I swear.)
But lean in, because I'm going to whisper something very important right now. And I am going to whisper it not because it's a secret, but because it's important you remember it:
The trick, when you have been sober in AA for a while, and you go to another 12 Step Program, is to not just work on your willingness, but on your humility as well. You aren't some Inspector General, sent from AAHQ to see how they do recovery in the hinterlands. Dont' hide behind your time in AA. Don't hide behind the lingo you know. If you go, and if you identify, and if you decide to do the deal and heal this addiction (since, dear WIFW, while I don't know you and I do not like to "diagnose" over the internet, what you describe does sound a teensy little bit like addictive behavior) don't just give yourself permission to be a newcomer - actually BE a newcomer. Or, to put it more succinctly: 12 Step credits do not transfer.
Finally, if I was right, and after feeling silly and irritated you felt... something else... when you were looking in the mirror and giving yourself love and forgiveness, then maybe you should lean into that and incorporate some real, regular, demonstrative (in that you say them out loud) affirmations into your life. While affirmations are a potent psychological and spiritual tool, I find that many of us secretly look down on them as more suited to the Stuart Smalley's of the world; vapid, slightly insipid and a little sad. My experience is that if you do them as a routine you can engender a sincere and profound healing over time. (And while, strictly speaking, affirmations are not exactly an AA thing, per se, I will be happy to, in some other essay, postulate a brief but elegant theorem demonstrating that affirmations are a type of formal meditation, and we can slide them in under that heading to comfort the dogmatic, difficult or purists among us.)
But if you do go to OA, and you work a program and celebrate a year anniversary, don't get too excited about having some birthday cake when you pick up your chip.
All they give you is a pineapple.
But from those who have struggled and made it, the reports are that it was one of the most satisfying meals they ever had. In fact one dear friend in particular, who had a very hard path with much relapse, but who eventually achieved (one day at a time) a year of abstinence, reported that tears and pineapple juice mix just fine running down your chin.
Good luck, my prayers are with you, and please let me know how it goes.
You are worth saving, and you deserve a joyful life.
I have been in and out of AA so many times I can’t stand it. Been in [a number of] treatment centers, gotten [a number of] dui’s, lost everything many times. Still can’t stop drinking. Don’t understand why I just can’t stop and surrender to the program. I do for a few weeks then something comes over me and I am right back out.
What is wrong with me?
-dead soon if I don’t stop.
The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) is rich with language to describe addiction and what you are going through: Words like baffling... heartbreaking... in fact, it calls this the "heartbreaking riddle" -- and in reading your brief, poignant and desperate email I cannot but feel that phrase is a perfect expression of this terrible cycle.
The internet has allowed you and I, through it's strange combination of intimacy and anonymity, to reach out to each other. As such, given both the specific and general nature of your email, what I am moved to do is offer you questions to consider, rather than write some passionate plea about things you've maybe heard countless times in rehabs and meetings. I want to offer you the best I can in trying to help -- I hope and pray something in these questions triggers an insight which can be the first domino in a chain of thoughts and actions which knocks your relapse cycle on its ass.
Before I do, remember this: Sometimes a cancer is so virulent that it takes many applications of a medicine for it to be arrested. Addiction is a disease. There is nothing "wrong" with you. You have a disease which corrupts your thinking and triggers this cycle. I use the cancer analogy a lot lately, and I believe now it is more apt than ever. Addiction is like a cancer of the mind. If cancer in the body is cell growth out of control, then addiction is the cancer of our thinking; certain thoughts grow out of control, until they eclipse all others. So it's not a question of you not "getting it" it's a question of you seeking the place where your disease trumps the medicine, and working to ward against that.
Some, all or none may apply. It is my deep hope one of them helps you shine a light on this relapse mechanism -- because you are right. It will kill you.
Consider what might help and ignore the rest:
Do you have a secret?
Some of the people I know who have not been able to stay sober had terrible secrets which seemed to prevent them from fully surrendering to their recovery. Sometimes these things are deep down, and may not be in our thoughts every day, but still exert a pull on us, so that after we get clean, and feel raw from doing life un-buffered, we are vulnerable to using again. Is it possible you have a secret which you're carrying around, and which is working against your staying sober?
Do you have an "outside issue?"
I am speaking in medical terms now. Addicts are difficult to diagnose since we present with so many different kinds of symptoms. Sometimes we are undiagnosed, and our drinking and using is an attempt to self-medicate not just our addiction, but something else. Sometimes we are over-diagnosed, and have many medications which we are sloppy about taking or combine in ways we shouldn't or... or... or. If you're playing a game with meds, that's not going to help you get and stay sober. Regardless, if you are taking medicine as prescribed by a qualified medical professional DO NOT STOP TAKING IT. Outside issues need outside help, only you can be honest with yourself and say whether you are using or abusing any medicine you're prescribed. And if you have a family history of certain medical conditions, i.e., bi-polar disorder, manic depression, etc., you need competent, qualified medical assistance in dealing with those conditions in addition to dealing with your addiciton.
Have you come to believe that AA won't work for you?
One of the most terrible things about a relapse cycle is you look around and see others "getting it," and you try everything AA suggests and yet it feels like it doesn't work for you, and you begin to fear that while AA works for everybody else, you're too broken and damaged and it never will in your case. But here's the thing -- and this is NOT an accusation -- is it possible you've been inconsistent in what you're tried? If I go to the gym for a couple of weeks, but leave the spin class early, and skip out on a couple of appointments with my trainer, and then become discouraged and give up, I'm able to sit at home and say to myself that I tried going to the gym but it didn't work for me. This is NOT a moral issue. Trying all of AA's suggestions is counter to a lot of our thinking and nature, and there can be a lot of factors working on us to phone it in or plain opt out. So you might have come to believe that AA won't work for you by only taking a half dose of the AA medicine. Reading that might make you want to scream and tear your hair out. "I've tried! I've tried and tried!" If you have, you have. But with your life on the line it's worth sitting back down and looking over what "tried" looks like, objectively. Again, I'm not impuning what you've done so far, just suggesting you look at the dosage on your AA medicine.
Are you listening to the wrong person?
Is there someone close to you in your life who undermines your sobriety?
Are you unwilling to do things differently?
On a very basic level AA works for me because I decided to do what AA suggested, and not what I wanted to do, no matter how mad, bad, sad, ugly, pretty, horny, scared, entitled, tired or -- most dangerous of all -- bored, I felt. I always have a really good reason for doing what I want to do. It was a great lightbulb for me to understand that willingness is not the same as "want to" -- I kept waiting to "want to" do what AA suggested, when really it was much more the truth that I didn't want to feel bad, so I did what AA suggested until I felt better, and then I went back to doing what I wanted. I want the result, sobriety, without doing the process, which in this case equals not doing things my way. Willingness, for me, means that I'll do what I don't want to do, one day at a time, whether I feel like it, or think I need it, or not. You say in your email "... why I just can't stop and surrender to the program..." Perhaps that's a telling clue for you to look at regarding how you approach this, because in my experience it works better the other way around: If you surrender to the Program, then you'll find Grace and can stop.
What's going on with your sharing?
Don't think that relapsing, or only having a few weeks sober, means you have nothing to offer. NOTHING could be farther from the truth. Your experience of relapse, and what happens to you before you go out, and your ability to keep coming back, is INVALUABLE and can save lives, if you share it. But you have to share it. And sharing it, while maybe uncomfortable, will help you begin to change any self-judgment you have into self-acceptance -- though for most of us that's a gradual process which takes a while.
Are you being of service?
God, I'm so worried by this point in my questions it sounds like some litany of lack, like I'm playing at being subtly accusatory regarding what you're not doing. That's not what I want to do at all -- but you say "something comes over you" and I have heard similar things from others over the years. While it can be very useful to deconstruct what that "something" is, the deconstruction is a mental exercise, and to stay sober it's about action. Service will save your life. "We work out our solution on the altruistic plane" is what the Big Book says. More than just setting up chairs -- though that's a great thing if you choose to take the commitment seriously, and show up for it drunk or sober, happy or sad, feeling like it or not -- service to other addicts in recovery can make all the difference, be it giving rides to meetings, calling to see how someone having a hard time is doing, being a "phone buddy" to someone else who's new, volunteering to be on a panel which goes into hospitals and jails and telling your story, offering to help at one of those rehabs you went to... something. Anything. The more you are of service the better your chance to thwart the "something" you describe as coming over you, as it tries to take you back out.
Believe me when I tell you this: Just today I met with someone who's more than ten years sober who took years to get it. I talked on the phone with someone who used to live in Central Park, covered in wine sores, who had a terrible, horrible time for years in AA when they tried to get sober, who is now literally "happy, joyous and free," at the top of his profession, in a great relationship and sober many years now. I have sponsored -- and sponsor -- people who have not been able to stay sober in terms of years, but continue to get better and continue to come back, with long amounts of sober time filling their lives. AA works, if you stay and keep trying. The voice in your head that tells you it's not working, it won't work, you can't do it... that's not the voice to listen to. Listen instead to the voices outside your head, the one's in meetings, who understand and want to help.
Thank you for writing, and I hope one or more of those questions might spark some light to pierce the fog which shrouds your thinking before you pick up a drink again.
You are not alone, though it may feel like it.
You are not without help, even if you feel helpless, or hopeless.
You are not doomed to die drunk, no matter what your fear and your alcoholism tells you. You're not.
If you don't believe that today, believe that I do, and borrow some of mine, since I believe it with all my heart.
Pray and breathe.
Read the Big Book. Go to 90 meetings in 90 days. Call three other alcoholics every day. Get a sponsor and be open to their direction. So what if you tried it before and you think it didn't work -- you're alive today, so it can work today. Many applications of the medicine may be required for it to take, remember? Just take it one day at a time. Your past is not your future; every sober person is living proof of that.
"If hundreds of experiences have shown him that one drink means another debacle with all its attendant suffering and humiliation, why is it he takes that one drink?" -- "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) Chapter 2 'There Is A Solution,' pg. 22.
get beaten, robbed, shamed. We lose relationships, property, jobs and sanity. Time after time we start drinking "just to have fun" and disaster occurs. Yet no matter what happens -- or how often it happens -- we can't see, or we deny, the relationship between our drinking and the state of our lives. We
still believe drinking is okay, or even that we deserve it. We act like we're from Alcoholadonia, and as citizens of that great nation it is our God Given Right to get hammered. Defiant and entitled, despite all the hell, we still "choose" to pick up that first drink.
"We are equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop." -- Big Book, Chapter 2, pgs. 22 - 23
Right. Once we take that first drink we're like a car with two pedals:
An accelerator and an accelerator.
"These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefor, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than his body." -- Big Book, Chapter 2, pg. 23
So the heart of the problem is far less what happens after we start drinking, but rather that we keep deciding to have that first drink.
We have a "curious mental blank spot." We can't -- or won't -- remember what happens when we start drinking. Which means the problem is in our thinking -- the problem is in our mind.
Thus, if you're trying to figure out on your own how not to drink, or if you have admitted to yourself you have a problem but want to deal with it "in your own way..."
Then you are trying to solve the problem with the problem.
I'm no expert, but that just doesn't look like a good plan to me.
I did not usually get to know my drug dealers very well. Try as I might to start a conversation they just didn't seem that interested, frankly.
I used to buy drugs at this seedy house in Famously Dangerous Neighborhood, and I'm pretty sure the folks at the house didn't speak very much English -- that's not a judgment of any sort, just my experience -- but it was certainly a barrier to getting to know one another.
Buying the drugs was simple. I would go up to the house and knock on the front door. Eventually someone would peer through the little window next to the door to see who it was (I've seen enough movies now to assume they didn't look through the peep-hole in the door so that if the person knocking had a gun, the person peep-hole-ing wouldn't get shot through the door). They'd see it was me, and apparently they were sort of fond of me (or planning my homicide), since they always invited me in. Naturally enough this deeply impressed Greg and Leon, the guys who drove me there ("Jeeze, man, we never got inside. They always made us wait on the porch.")
What can I say? I'm a people person. Even with my drug dealers.
Since I was always really loaded when I got there, my memory of the front room of the house is hazy, but I seem to remember a family, and I might have sat on the floor and played patty-cake with a baby while they were doing their mumbo-jumbo with the scale, but ... it might have been a dwarf. Or a hallucination. As I said, it's all pretty hazy now. I'm sure though that I was likely one of the only buyers who said things like, "May I please buy some drugs?" and "Oh, excellent! Thank you!"
Good manners in all things, to my mind -- felony drug transactions most of all.
The last time I went to the house I remember knocking and knocking on the front door for a long time, and sort of cheerfully calling out "Hey! Hey! You guys, it's me!" -- no lie (If the guys who always drove me there were still alive they would totally verify that -- but Greg OD'd and Leon died in prison, so please take my word for it.) Knocking on the door, calling out, it took me a while to notice the Police Tape across the door. Aww, man, nobody home! (Loaded, remember? Totally loaded.) Was I frightened? No, I was irritated that now I had to find a new place to buy. (I would have said "cop" but I never said it when I was using, so it would be silly to start now. The only people I've ever heard use the word "cop" in relation to buying drugs are really tough chicks in N.A. who have something like a thousand years clean. And extras in '70's TV Shows. Oh, and Al Pacino in "Serpico.")
But with no one home, and the police tape and all, my driver "friends" took off without me, and I remember walking to a bar I'd never been to before, somewhere in the neighborhood, and actually having a great time. It was definitely not my usual crowd, but I was a friendly drunk, and, as the record shows, unfailingly polite. The rest of the night is pretty much gone, and I woke up on my front door step with no idea how I got there -- and at the time, of course, waking up someplace and not knowing how I got there was a common occurrence. God watches out for drunks and little children, is the old saw. Overall I only got mugged and badly beaten a few times, careening around cities and neighborhoods blind drunk and on anything else I could drink, snort, swallow or inhale -- I would have shot up, but I was too chicken, and hadn't fallen in with anyone who would do it for me -- yet.
But, as I say, I only got badly beaten a few times.
There comes a point when, to paraphrase the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) an alcoholic's life seems normal to them. Coming out of a blackout being beaten so hard I could feel my brain hit the inside of my skull was just ... life, I thought. It sure as hell didn't slow me down. Once I healed, that is.
Fast forward just a year or so from that point and it seemed perfectly normal to me to sit in a bar at 6:00am, drinking beer, watching Jane Pauley on "The Today Show" (just to give you a little historical perspective.) Why was I at the bar at 6:00am? Because I was waiting for the bar I wanted to be drinking at to open, and they were lazy, and didn't begin their business day till noon. Imagine! Noon! Slackers. Yes, I went to a bar while I was on the way to a bar.
Now, drinking beer at 6:00am is a tricky prospect. It is, in fact, a two-handed operation. One hand to pick up the mug, and the other hand to then hold the first one steady, since until you got a few of those beers in you the shakes are pretty bad. Being forced to drink with two hands means you have to decide if you're going to pick up your beer or your cigarette. That can be a pretty tough call, since both are important -- both are needs, by then. Beer usually won out, of course, but it was nice to rest from the work of picking up the mug and take a hit on your cigarette every so often.
Though I was usually a happy, outgoing drunk, the crowd drinking at a bar at 6:00am is pretty quiet -- and by then I fit right in. No singing. No chit chat. Not even a lot of reading the newspaper. (I'm so glad I'm writing this in 2009, and not in, say, 2015, when I'd then have to stop for a moment and explain to the new kids that we used to have these things called "newspapers." Something to add to my gratitude list later, I suppose.) All we had was Jane, quietly interviewing someone on the television in the corner, while the bartender and the rest of us nursed our poison, both liquid and spiritual.
By that point, if I went too many hours without a drink I got the shakes -- bad shakes. My liver was swollen -- distended enough so I could begin to kind of feel it through my side. There was always blood in my stool. I was beginning to have audio hallucinations.