Cling to the thought that, in God's hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have--the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 124
For over a decade I was a committed member of A.A. and then “life got lifey”. Career, relationships, moving, buying a house, pregnancies, miscarriages, babies, illnesses (my own and others’), a chicken coop and the kitchen sink...it all got a bit overwhelming - and instead of doubling up on my meetings I pulled away. I was too busy, too important, I knew it all...and I slipped. Out of sobriety, out of feeling a part of, out of the safety of A.A. Thankfully I'm still terrified of alcohol, so I didn’t drink, but when anxiety become a problem I went searching for a fancy pants Park Avenue psychiatrist who could sort me out.
I had done my research into head shrinkers and nothing but the best would do. As I was sitting in this esteemed professional's waiting room a delivery man entered the front door and walked straight into the doctor's office. He was carrying a large greasy bag, filled to the brim with what smelled like Chinese food. Immediately after the delivery man left I was escorted into the inner sanctum, and there sat the doctor, waiting for me expectantly, hands crossed in front of his chest, with that bag of Chinese food just resting on his desk. The office was permeated with the thick sticky aroma of what I am quite sure was fried eggrolls and General Tso's chicken. I wish I could say that I held this man captive, and that he was desperate to hear more about my battle with overwhelming anxiety. But between concerned glances at me and at his watch and his bag full of Chinese food it became clear that he wanted me gone. He wanted his lunch while it was hot goddammit and he wanted it now. At one point I actually said "if you want to eat your lunch I can go wait outside. I don't mind." But he seemed shocked by my statement. "For God's sake no. Please, go on. I'm not even hungry." This last utterance was such complete bullshit that I lost faith in him then and there.
The first thing I had told Dr. Chinese Food before I even sat down in his stupid shrink chair was that I was in recovery and as a satisfied customer of A.A. I didn't want any habit forming drugs. But the minute I explained that I was experiencing anxiety, this "doctor" handed me a prescription for 30 Ativan, a highly addictive sedating benzodiazepine, with what seemed like limitless refills. It was off to the races. In retrospect this highly decorated quack might have well prescribed an endless supply of vodka because benzos and alcohol work in the same way on our central nervous system. As I was leaving his office, still tearful and anxious, holding the prescription out to him, I asked him "do you think these can help me?" He laughed, pulling his lunch closer, and said "well if you liked martinis you will love these. It's pretty much the same thing." Had I been more connected to my home group or a sponsor or even A.A. friends at that time I never would have taken them, not even one. But I was hanging onto the program by a very thin thread at that point and that's when slips happen. I started out taking these benzos as prescribed but the manner in which those tiny white pills became my higher power was shocking. My slip was insidious and patient. It happened so slowly I couldn't even tell. Until suddenly I was taking way too many tiny white pills a day, every day, and wanting more.
Before I got hooked on pills I had been in the program for just over a decade. It astounded me to see people who had been in the program for years or even decades decide to go back out and “do some research”. In A.A. that is what we say when someone has gone back to drinking or drugging in an attempt to see if they can "handle" it. To see if their period of abstinence (be it 25 days or 25 years) had somehow turned them back into a "normie", a non-alcoholic. As explained in the big book on page 31
"We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself: step over to the nearest barroom and try a little controlled drinking." Some people do that. They go out and they try some controlled drinking or drugging, aka "research".
Only the lucky ones make it back. The unlucky ones die or sink to their rock bottom until we hear about their misery or untimely death. I could have easily been one of those stories but I slipped and came back. And now I share about that. No one wants to be a cautionary tale, but I have become one. A tale of benzos, of trusting fancy doctors with degrees from Harvard and Yale instead of trusting my gut, of switching addictions without even realizing that it’s happening. "Come on, don't worry, pills aren’t my thing" I assured my sponsor. To which she replied, "until they are." No one knew about my slip, and being able to carry it off was a thrill. My dangerous little secret. I had now done serious "research" into the effects of benzodiazepines on alcoholics and it was awful. So awful that I had nowhere to turn except back to what had saved my life once before, the program of A.A. I am beyond grateful to the members of A.A. who welcomed me back without judgement, without blame, without anger.
Before I slipped I used to see these "reseachers" (newly re-addicted people) slink back in to A.A. and I would think, "Why in the world did they do that? Honestly, how crazy can you be?" Now I know how crazy. I’ve been there. It takes courage to come back into the rooms and say "Thank you all so much for the time you spent with me and for the beautiful gift of sobriety. It was amazing. But I stomped on it. And then I threw it into the incinerator. Can I please have it back now?" Coming back is humiliating. And transformative. I had profound shame, but not because the group made me feel that way. I can beat myself up just fine, thank you. My disease tells me that I will never get it, that I am destined to die an alcoholic death, that I may be constitutionally incapable of EVER getting it. But now I know if we slip we can get right back up. We don't have to stay out there too long listening to our mind tell us that we can’t get sober. We start moving and we stop letting the crazy grow a permanent root system in our heads.
A slip can be a blessing if we make it back alive. We can come back and assure every single person in the room that they don't ever have to go out and do more research. Those of us who have slipped have done the research for you, and it was hellish. Take it from me, the only things out there waiting for you are pain, loneliness, shame and perhaps your unexpected demise. I have never heard of anyone that has gone back into the arms of their drug of choice and found addicted life better than sobriety. And if there is one alcoholic out there who stopped drinking for years, picked it up again and is now living their best life ever, I'm not sure I want to hear about it. I know who I am. I know where I belong. And that is safely ensconced in the rooms of A.A. where I now have the possibility of finding peace and maybe even joy in living an authentic life. In A.A. we share our stories in the hope that they may in turn help someone else struggling with addiction of any kind. And so, slowly slowly slowly, I'm beginning to believe the unbelievable "that in God's hands my dark past just might be the greatest possession I have."