AA

Guest Blogger Amy C. Willis: The Sobriety Smörgåsbord

sobriety smorgasbord

I went to a women’s only Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting this morning with a sober gal pal of mine. It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve been to an AA or Al-Anon meeting and to be honest, I wasn’t necessarily super excited about going. That said, I was open to going because I think there’s value in checking in on things periodically, even if you previously felt it wasn’t for you. As a woman and as a sober woman, I have evolved significantly since I last attended a meeting and I think with evolution comes the opportunity to hear old information with new ears. So I went.

And I’m glad that I did! I love that I got to occupy space with other women in recovery. The women in the room were diverse in age, race, ethnicity, socio-economic location, duration in recovery but what brought us together was our individual and collective commitment to sobriety,  which is incredibly special. What I also found special is that despite our vast differences, we were able to come together and find common ground, which is sacred. I also LOVED that it was a women’s only space. I also can see the value in co-ed spaces but I’m grateful that this one was not and that women’s only spaces within recovery exist because they are necessary. I wholeheartedly believe that women’s experiences with alcohol are fundamentally different than men’s (of course there are similarities but also considerable differences - more on that in another post); as such, creating women’s only spaces in recovery is essential.

After the meeting, my friend and I de-briefed on what we took from it, what we liked and didn’t like and so on. During this debrief, she said something really interesting which was (and I’m paraphrasing) that in trying different approaches to recovery (she is relatively new in her journey), she’s able to stand back, take what she needs from them and also recognize their limitations. I thought this was so poignant and so accurate and I really appreciated hearing her perspective from newer recovery eyes (next month, I celebrate 3 years of consistent sobriety).

I think it’s incredibly powerful to be able to recognize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. Once upon a time (not that long ago!), the only option for folks seeking sobriety was AA. And if AA didn’t work for or jive with you, you either had to suck it up or go it alone. Thankfully, so many different options exist for recovery including AA, SMART Recovery, rehab, online communities, coaching, She Recovers, counseling, blogs, podcasts, books, and so on.

I have always felt that a multi-method approach to recovery made a lot of sense, especially given that each approach does have its inherent limitations. For example, as a Holistic Health Coach, I provide 1-on-1 coaching to women who struggle with their drinking, supporting them to enter and sustain sobriety, while also designing lives they don’t want to escape from. I love this approach and have found great success with my clients. It allows for a high level of support and accountability, an in-depth connection, deep and lasting transformation and the creation of sustainable healthy habits. That said, it’s also a paid service which means it may not be accessible for everyone and because the work is 1-on-1, it does not offer any community elements. Conversely, AA meetings provide tons of community support and are free and frequent, making them much more accessible but don’t necessarily offer the same level of transformation or habit change that’s possible through coaching. Neither AA nor coaching is a better or worse approach to recovery; they are simply different avenues to reach the same destination.

For those considering entering sobriety or recovery, I would strongly encourage you to approach recovery like a buffet. Try different methods out and see what fits. If AA is your jam, incredible! If you find that a combination of online support groups, blogs, meditation, movement and therapy work best for you, amazing! The idea here is there is no “right” way to recover and our approaches to recovery are just as unique as we are. Fortunately, we live in a world where there are more options than ever and we have the luxury of really taking what works for us and ditching the rest. If you haven’t yet found the right combination for you, keep trying! And if you find you keep trying the same thing and it’s not working for you (aka you’re relapsing on the regs), for goodness sake, try something new! The right combination of resources, tools and support is out there for you, it’s just a matter of discovering it.

For all the reasons listed above, I created the Lose the Booze 100 Day Challenge. I wanted to provide another option to support women in their recovery journeys, that landed somewhere between 1-on-1 coaching and online community groups. Yes, there are other 100 day alcohol-free challenges but none like the one I created. Because I know how important accountability is, especially in the early stages of sobriety, I built in daily email check-ins to keep the challenge and not drinking at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I intentionally kept the group small because I believe so strongly in the power of connection and community-building, which is really hard to authentically create when you’re one of thousands in an online group.

 
lose the booze
 

*program starts August 1st! sign up today ^^*


amy c willis

Amy C. Willis is a certified holistic Health Coach, soon to be certified Life Coach and the founder of HOL + WELL, a brand that focuses on all things holistic wellness. Amy is in recovery from alcohol use disorder and has been sober for almost 3 years. Through her own journey in recovery, she's been inspired to support other women in their path to sobriety and does so through her coaching practice. Amy is an avid reader, loves writing, travel, community-building and moving her body. When she's not coaching, hanging out with friends or spending time outside, she's teaching indoor cycling. Amy lives in Toronto and works with clients globally.

Connect with Amy:
website: www.holandwell.com
instagram: @msamycwillis

Nancy Carr's Last Call

Life is beautiful.  Messy, but beautiful.  I've been super busy with my regular 9-5 but also with The Sobriety Collective's efforts and with my own goals of helping our joint cause.  More details on that to come.  Point being, Nancy sent me her story in late May--yes, May!  And I thank her for her never-ending well of patience.  I'm so thrilled to bring her tale of resilience to you and I'm super excited to read her memoir!  Yay for new additions to my Kindle!  

**

Nancy living life--not drunk here!

I got drunk for the first time at age 13 at a teenage drinking party in Avalon, NJ.  There was a large punch bowl filled with grain alcohol jungle juice and I was eager to try alcohol, as it was a constant in our household growing up.  I wanted to be cool and I wanted to fit in.   But it was never the taste that made me chase it, it was the alcohol buzz.  The effect that it produced was one that I loved and craved. Then, when I tried cocaine at age 16 for the first time and that combination together, it was like BAM! I’ve arrived! Within a few years I was dating a drug dealer and my usage increased.  My 20s were a bit of a blur and wild, but by 30 I had become a “recreational” weekend cocaine user and a daily drinker. I also had a thriving career so I was considered a high-functioning alcoholic.  I was able to make my weekend drug use and daily drinking work within my lifestyle as I only hung out with others that drank and used the way I did.  I thought I was a typical “party girl” and weekend warrior.  By 32, I had racked up my first DUI.  I also moved over 22 times during these years and kept jobs for 3-4 years until I knew they’d find me out.  I was able to maintain pretty well.  But I knew I had a problem, I just didn’t really care.  Alcohol and cocaine were the two things that made me feel normal and happiest. 

In November 2003, I was drunk and typing in my journal about how messed up my life was.  I knew I needed help, but I was too scared to ask anyone.  A few months later, at age 37, I received my 2nd DUI in San Diego – a town I had been living in for the past few years – and sitting in that jail cell for 11 hours really made me think that I needed to do something different.  In May 2004, I walked into an AA meeting.  I left that meeting and quicker than you can say alcoholic, I went out and drank for a week – during that week I had my moment of clarity.  My first real A-HA moment; I realized that everything bad that had ever happened to me during my life was from drinking and drugging.  I may want to give the sobriety thing a try.  So, that’s what I did.  I had heard Hope in that first meeting and I clung onto that hope and walked into recovery with complete blind faith.  I had no idea what to expect as I knew nothing about sobriety.   I got sober the AA way; 90 meetings in 90 days.  I got a sponsor, I worked the steps and I did what the woman in recovery told me to do.  I didn’t want anyone in my family or corporate life to know what I was doing, so treatment wasn’t an option for me.   I’m grateful I got sober the way I did and I’m so appreciative of the Fellowship where I got sober.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  AA doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s just what worked for me.

I’ve been able to live life today free from the bondage of alcohol and drugs.  I don’t hang out in seedy places, I don’t get DUIs, I don’t wake up in stranger’s beds and I don’t have to wonder what happened the night before and who I pissed off.  I have been able to get married in recovery and share my journey with someone else who gets me and who is also in recovery.  I rescued my constant companion and dog, Lucy, and she brings me so much joy.   

I have been able to maintain and make new friendships – I get to live and participate in my life today.    The freedom I have today is just amazing and the fact that I get to live my life today without lying, manipulating, cheating and stealing is all just gravy to me.  I am just so happy that I don’t HAVE to drink today.  I am a strong supporter of AA and helping others and being of service.  I am grateful I don’t need a drink to manage my life and that I get to have choices today – healthy choices on who I want to be, not who alcohol and cocaine want me to be.   As Sir Elton John once said in an interview, “My biggest accomplishment in my life is getting sober, it’s not the Grammy’s, the money, being Knighted or how many records I’ve sold, it’s my sobriety!”

That drunken journal entry turned into a Memoir that I recently launched via Kindle, “Last Call, A Memoir”.  It’s a story of my experience, strength and hope.  My hope is that I can help someone - anyone - that may be able to relate to my life as a “social party girl” and realize that they too have a chance at a better life.   A life where they will be able to wake up in the morning and have dignity, integrity and self-love – because that’s what living a clean and sober life has given me. 

**

 

 

Connect with Nancy.
Twitter: @NlcarrC
Blog: Last Call 2015

Buy Last Call, read,
rinse, repeat.

What AA Taught Me

I don’t love AA, but I don’t hate it either. 

Kind of a revolutionary statement to make considering the whole reason I started The Sobriety Collective was to have a place where people who found sobriety and recovery in any way, shape, or form, could congregate.  With close to eight years of continuous sobriety, I have long-term recovery I never imagined possible--most of which I achieved outside of "the rooms."  But I did learn from the program. 

I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous not by choice, but by “force.” 

The intensive outpatient rehab I checked myself into stipulated 15 hours of AA as a non-negotiable.  So of course, besides feeling like I had crawled out of my skin and landed on a foreign planet—and I’m not talking about the meeting here, I’m talking about that “newly sober and not sure what the hell is happening” feeling—I also didn’t want to be there. 

At the behest of my group counselor, I kept it up after I graduated from my five-week program and attempted, just attempted, to compare in instead of out (commonalities instead of differences).  I went back for all my sober month-aversaries and tried the whole finding a sponsor thing.  But it just wasn’t clicking.  Even though these people intimately understood what I had been through, I still felt so alien, so less than.  The underlying current in treatment was that 12-step programs were the only way to get/stay sober[1]. 

So I stopped going.  And before I knew it, I was coming up on three years sober.

I was already well into therapy for the underlying issues that I was self-medicating with alcohol (anxiety, OCD, panic attacks) and had cut ties with toxic people I was friends with in my drinking days.  I exercised more and had better relationships with my family.  But still, according to many of the very people I had met in the rooms, though, I wasn’t sober.  I was a “dry drunk” and “white knuckling” my way through life because I was one of those “unfortunates” who just didn’t get the program (words in quotations heard, verbatim, from people in meetings).  Maybe I should just pray on it, they said.  Call my sponsor.

yeah, about that. 

As proud as I felt of my sobriety, I still felt a chasm in my life.  I didn’t have a sober network and to say I was spiritual was a blatant overstatement.  So I went back…and found what would become my home group for the next 18 months.

Here are the top three lessons I learned from AA that I still apply to my life: 

1) Be of service.

(To my fellow human—alcoholics, addicts, alcohol abusers, heavy drinkers, anyone who seeks help, family, friends, the homeless, coworkers; hell, everyone.)

YES, I was an (imposter) AA-er!  I opened my mind.  I found a sponsor who I worked all 12 steps with, I called at least one woman a day, and I became a “meeting maker.”  I volunteered for service positions and really immersed myself into the meat of the program.  And for a while, it really was wonderful.  Because I finally had a sober network and was feeding myself spiritual nuggets in the form of eastern philosophies, books from the likes of Don Miguel Ruiz, and going on retreats with other women in AA.

With The Sobriety Collective, I feel like I’m continuing that strong belief in serving others.  Having this community helps me, and in helping myself, I help others.  In helping others, I help myself.

**

 

2) Do my part, let go of the outcome, and check my ego at the door.

When I think back on my time in the program, the key takeaway I always return to is letting go of the outcome.  Learning to let go brought me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

Ruiz advocates not taking things personally.  Hello ego!  We’re not talking the whole “Woe is me, I’m so sensitive” way—ensue waterfall of tears.  It’s more about people doing things because of THEM, not because of YOU.  We all have our own interpretations of the world, but we should be careful not to impose our world on someone else’s world.   Easier said than done; trust me.  It takes constant practice.  For what it’s worth, I’m way over-sensitive [which I craftily call COMPASSION and EMPATHY] and I have to remind myself that I can’t expect someone to experience life the way I do, because I have my own unique perspective.  Yes, we may have shared experiences—but there is only one YOU.  *Special snowflake dance*

**
 

3) Recovery is a process.

One day at a time.  Progress, not perfection.  It works if you work itLet go and let God.  They’re cheesy, but their roots are deep. Recovery is an ongoing journey and we’ll have roadblocks and detours and traffic cones to maneuver.  I feel immense gratitude that I’ve been continuously sober for almost 8 years—to me, sobriety means a) no relapses and b) a constant quest for self-betterment.   That doesn’t mean I haven’t had hiccups and done things that I wouldn’t categorize as “sober” behavior (old habits die hard—I’m talking about selfish behavior, not boozing).   But I keep reminding myself that I’m human, I make mistakes, I own up to my mistakes, and I keep moving.  Not to mention that my therapist is a godsend.  

As long as we’re making progress, that’s all we can ask for, right?

**

After 18 months, I quietly said my goodbyes to AA.  It just wasn’t for me anymore.  It played its part, just like it taught me to always own my part and let go of the rest. 

I always heard I could take what I want and leave the rest, so I did.  And it brought me to where I am today.

**

 

[1] This is a separate manifesto—which, thankfully, has been written numerous times (for example, here and here).  I’m not the only one who believes that inpatient/outpatient programs need to incorporate a variety of treatment options, to give patients exposure to more than just the twelve steps.  SMART recovery, Women in Recovery, yoga, mental health treatment (therapy, medication for conditions, and so on), animal/music/dance/art therapy, etc.  

 

David Greenspan: Drug Abuse Saved My Life

The man himself, surrounded by books. A fellow nerd :)

The man himself, surrounded by books. A fellow nerd :)

Super thrilled to bring you a story from David Greenspan.  Ch-ch-check his bio out after his magnificent tale of recovery.  - Laura

**

Sounds like a bold, not to mention nonsensical, claim, right? In many ways it is. On the surface, drug abuse saves no one’s life. On the surface, drug abuse, especially teenage drug abuse, is a public health problem second to none. This isn’t the surface though.

Teenage drug abuse saved my life. I stand by that statement. I even say it with pride. See, my name is David Greenspan and I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict. I’d like to share with you my story. It’s not much different from thousands of other teenagers’ stories. This one, though, is mine.

I’ve always felt “different.” I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like an outsider looking in. I can, however, remember being in second grade and getting in trouble because I wouldn’t sit in my assigned seat. That seat was in the middle of the classroom. I couldn’t sit there! People would be behind me, looking at me, judging.

This gut level discomfort, this ingrained anxiety, followed me through elementary and middle school. I could never be myself because, well, myself wasn’t good enough. That’s what my diseased thinking told me.

I was suffering from three diseases – depression, anxiety, and addiction. See, addiction isn’t all about the drugs. In truth, it’s hardly about the drugs at all. It has much more to do with my thinking, my emotions, my relationships (strained as they may have been), and my reactions to life. Addiction is, to me, a maladaptive way to exist, rather than live.

In eighth grade, at the age of twelve, I smoked pot. I immediately felt a release. I felt like a balloon with all the helium let out. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful that felt. I didn’t care what others thought of me. I didn’t care about not measuring up. I didn’t care about anything other than what was happening right then, right there.

To say I was addicted from the very start feels true. Remember, though, I believe I was born with the disease of addiction. If it hadn’t manifested in compulsively using drugs, it would have manifested elsewhere. Perhaps it would have popped up in overachieving at school or work. Perhaps I would have become a fitness junkie and run no less than ten miles each day. Perhaps I’d become codependent and a serial monogamist, always looking for relief through people.

I can’t be sure where addiction would have entered my life had it not been for drugs. I’m not sure if I’d have ended up a despondent middle-aged man. What I am sure of, one of the only things I’m sure of in this life, is that drug addiction brought me to recovery. And recovery, readers, has brought me to peace.

Returning to my story, I began drinking and taking pills not long after I first smoked pot. The progression only intensified from there. By fifteen I was doing cocaine and had tried opioids. By seventeen I was physically addicted, strung out as some say, to heroin and painkillers.

What followed was two years of pure hell. I bounced around the country, from New York to Florida and back. I bounced in and out of rehabs, detoxes, counseling groups, halfway houses, and the streets. I had periods of abstinence, but never of recovery, never of knowing freedom from the incessant feeling of inferiority in my mind.

I make the distinction between abstinence and recovery based on my understanding of addiction as a disease. It was explained to me as a three-part disease – physical, mental, and spiritual.

I have a mental obsession with anything that changes the way I feel.  Once I start thinking about something, be it drugs, alcohol, food, women, etc., I won’t stop until I have that something in my hands.

I have a physical allergy to drugs and alcohol that ensures I keep using them until I’m stopped. That can come in the form of going to treatment, going to jail, getting into a car crash, or having a loved one lock me in a room to detox. I’ve experienced it all. The bottom line is that, when in active addiction, I need something or someone to physically stop me from obtaining drugs.

Finally, I have a spiritual malady. This last part, this spiritual sickness, was the source of my gut level discomfort. It was comprised of all the turmoil that made drugs so appealing in the first place. Upon treating this void, this emptiness, I began to recover.

I began to recover in the rooms of a twelve-step fellowship. That’s my personal experience and I begrudge no one their choice of recovery methods. There are a million and one ways to kick drugs and alcohol. For me, though, a spiritual approach worked wonders.

And just what do these wonders look like? Well, for the first time in my life, I’m able to sit in the middle of a room, surrounded by people, and not worry about their thoughts or opinions about me. I’m able to proclaim, loudly and with dignity, that drug abuse moved me from existing to living, that drug abuse saved my life.

**

David Greenspan is a writer and media specialist at Lighthouse Recovery InstituteHe’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than helping the still struggling addict or alcoholic.

Shannon Whaley - The Traveling Wild Woman

The traveling wild woman, Ms. Shannon Whaley, is here today to share this piece she wrote for her own community on her website.   One of you fine lads or lasses posted a link on Twitter to her article and I took an e-flight over to her site (I rhyme!).  I remember feeling this kinship with Shannon--seeing the value of 12-step programs but not feeling *the fit*.  And that's OK.  -Laura

***

So I went to an AA meeting on Wednesday

.  I just wanted to see if it was as bad as I remember it.  I really miss having friends and I don't know where else to meet them!!!  So it was kind of out of desperation.  I really don't know where else to meet other sober people.  This island is probably THE WORST place to get sober.  I live a surreal life here, where it's acceptable to drink on the job, dealing coke is talked about openly, and drunk driving is a way of life.  

I want to surround myself with like-minded people, people who are serious about not using and who want to take control of their life and actually live!!  

I understand why people need to be in the program, I just really can't connect with the dogma

. The steps, the wording, the way you have to say you're an alcoholic every time you say your name.  Like it's your identity.  I don't want to identify as that.  I don't want that to be my label, my title.  I want to be Shannon, Healthy, Happy, Whole and Sober.  It feels so much more empowering.  I had to introduce myself and I didn't say that I was an alcoholic and I'm sure I was looked at with a nice side eye.  "Who's this bitch?"  I didn't tell them I have over a year and a half clean and sober and that I did it on my own.  I guess I was worried about being judged for not getting sober the 'right' way.  Or maybe I'm just full of myself and need to lose the ego.

What was interesting was that all of the stuff the people were talking about, was all personal development stuff I've been doing on my own this last year and half.

 Admitting I have a problem, making amends to people, taking inventory of myself and what I need to fix (my "shortcomings"), connecting with a Higher Power, (The Universe, and Nature), and I continuing to work on myself on a daily basis.  

Shannon: being all gorgeous and life-loving and sober.  Rock on, lady.  Rock on <3 ♫ \m/

Shannon: being all gorgeous and life-loving and sober.  Rock on, lady.  Rock on <3 ♫ \m/

One thing I did hear that made me think was when someone said, "I have a disease that tells me I don't have a disease.

 And after I'm sober for a while, I think I can go back out and have a few drinks like a normal person.  But I don't want to drink like a normal person.  I want to get fucked up."  

This has been a regular thought for me.  Maybe NOW I can go back out and have just one drink.  Maybe today I can just have a drink with friends.  And then I remember the last time I quit drinking and tried to go back out, and eventually, sometimes that night and sometimes a few months down the road, I ended up passed out in the back of a bus.  Or crying in a bar.  Or taking a quick nap in my car before I had to drive home.  I can't drink like a normal person.  And history has shown me that.  I'm pretty sure it will always be like that.  And right now I'm not willing to see if things have changed.  My life has been too good to take any chances.(Editor's note: AMEN!  Every time I've thought about going back to drinking *normally*, I remember--I can't.  I'm just not wired that way. - Laura)

I may go to another meeting, mostly because I'll try anything twice.  That's what got me into this whole predicament in the first place.  I wasn't a quitter.  

It wasn't horrible, although anytime I have to hold a strangers hand I pray to baby Jesus they have proper hand washing etiquette.

 And why are your hands so sweaty??  Why do we have to touch?  Why so much touching??  Can we have a meeting where we high five after and call it a day please?    

Meh.

What I did like was that I was in a group of people who didn't make me explain why I quit drinking. They didn't think I was weird.  They didn't leave me out of an invite because I'm sober and they didn't want to deal with their feelings about their own drinking.  It was an automatic understanding that shit got out of control and I want a better way of life.  There's something to be said about that.  

I just wish there were more options available on the island, and more options for people not living in a complete bubble like I am.   

UPDATE!  UPDATE!

Hear ye, hear ye!  Shannon has an update for all of us since she wrote her story:

Basically I got sober on my own in October 2013. I was craving friendship and connection with other sober people so I decided to give AA a chance. I went to a weekly meeting and a once monthly women's meeting. AA is still not for me. So now I'm in the process of researching Women for Sobriety and Buddhist Recovery meetings when I return back to the States to visit in Seattle at the end of May. I'm hoping to bring options with me back to the island so people here have more recovery resources. Interests include travel, eating, writing and cats. ;-)

You can find the absolutely stunning Shannon on her stylish website or on Twitter: @ShannonWhaley.