(This is a long-ish post and It does have something to do with running, if you’re willing to stick with all the AA talk at the start)
Making a point of having gratitude is something frequently encouraged by Alcoholics Anonymous. And it’s something I seldom dwell on. I’m not a fan of “fake it until you make it” or gratitude lists. Somehow, I end up feeling worse than ever when I focus on these sorts of things. I think much of my problem lies in my familial history and the fact that I am still trying to convince myself I deserve to be happy or have a nice life, that it’s not all going to be taken away from me the second I acknowledge it.
Which is not to say I am not tremendously grateful for the wonderful things in my life. I have quite a bit to be glad about. But even just sitting here typing this, I get a sense of doom thinking about it. Obviously, I still have psychological work to do. But I’m also not convinced that covering up bad feelings by forcing good ones to the fore is anything other than a bandaid. Part of the human experience is feeling all the things, the bad ones too. I’m very good at covering up the bad ones, so I think, for me, faking it until I make it is a bad idea. It just perpetuates me burying stuff instead of examining it.
In the past couple weeks, I’ve had a few incidents that reminded me how much better my life is since I quit drinking, and reading something that fellow sober blogger Furtheron of Guitars & Life wrote made me think to share.
I don’t still attend AA meetings for a number of reasons, none of which are such that I am closed to the idea of going back to AA. My last meeting was at Christmastime last year with my sister-in-law, mostly to support her new sobriety. One thing that bothered me a lot about the AA meetings I attended was the attitude that if a person was not constantly in a meeting, they must be drunk or a dry drunk. I feel this attitude is very much based in fear and that AA can be too much of a crutch for actually living life for some people.
For the first two years of sobriety, I went to an AA meeting every day. For the first year, I went to two or three a day. I didn’t know what to do with myself in early sobriety, and frankly, I was afraid of myself and my addiction. It really helped me to sit in a safe place for an hour in the morning, lunchtime and night. I spent a lot of time mulling over what I believed about myself, the words in the AA Big Book and marveled at the resilience of the other drunks in the room. I truly believe AA works and was key to saving my sorry ass.
After two years, I decided to cut back my meetings to a couple times a week. I was getting bored with hearing the same things over and over, often the same people sharing the same stuff. Perhaps that is a flaw in myself, but I also felt I had gotten to a point where I didn’t need the daily meetings because the messages had become a part of me.
My sponsor, however, did not like this. At all. And when I saw her at the meetings I did attend, she shunned me. I mean, turned her shoulder and pretended I wasn’t there when I said hello shunned. This hurt me, and even worse, reminded me of a behavior my mother would employ, a behavior my sponsor knew about because I had confided in her. I tried getting in touch with her so that we could talk because it bothered me, but she didn’t return my calls.
I also had a few people come up to me in meetings and say my reduced attendance was me isolating myself and that I needed to get back to daily meetings because my next step would be drinking again. This all irked me a great deal, especially since I was, in fact, still regularly attending meetings. Eventually, I stopped going to meetings, in part because I didn’t think the attitude of the overall group was terribly healthy. (An aside, the number of smokers in AA and rehab is completely ridiculous and I don’t understand how that isn’t frowned on more than it is. /rant)
I won’t claim I was super-duper on my own or that I might not have been better served if I’d tried to find a new meeting, but I chose not to. I was, however, still in therapy and continued to do so for a few years after I left AA until my therapist and I decided that I was done needing therapy. Personally, I think moving on from AA can be healthy, but I know this is a controversial statement for many alcoholics in AA.
Just before I started running, I had a period of about two years where I was entangled with my parents and my three remaining grandparents died. I was in a very bad place then and probably should have gone back to AA. I think I partly decided not to do that was because I didn’t want people telling me to let my anger at my parents go and to forgive them. I’d tried that, and it just made things worse for me. My mother is a narcissist who tends to take advantage of forgiveness. Right about when I decided to cut my parents from my life, I started to feel better. I wanted to take care of myself. I started walking on the treadmill to begin my journey towards my goal of running a half marathon in Philadelphia.
Fast forward to last week, I ran into my former sponsor at the Wal-Mart. It’s been about five years since I’d last seen her. We hugged, which was cool. I half expected the stink eye when I called out her name and she recognized me. One of the first things she asked me was if I was still sober. And, man, was I glad I was able to say “yes.” I also added that I couldn’t be running the way I am if I were drinking. Which is true — alcohol messed up my nervous system and elevated my blood pressure something awful. When I was in rehab, the doctors had to give me heart medication to shock my heart back into a normal rhythm because it was trying to pick up the slack that my liver was unable to process. Scary shit. (I was told I probably had only a few years to live, if that, if I’d continued at the level of drinking I had been. Less if I increased my consumption, which as an alcoholic, was likely to happen.)
My former sponsor said she thought about me often, and my guess is that she was thinking I was passed out drunk somewhere. Which is perhaps not a fair assumption, but I had run into other AA members over the years and a several of them told me that people in the group assumed I was back off the wagon and were genuinely surprised (and a few, perplexed) to see me out and about and healthy. I’m sure there are other sober alcoholics out there like me — we just are out living our lives outside the AA rooms, not disappeared into our addictions.
I also had a recent ugly reminder of the neurological affect of alcohol on me. One morning, I drank waaaayyyy too much coffee before going to meet my personal trainer, and I was wired. I was shaking like crazy and it reminded me of when I had alcohol withdrawal. My heart was racing and I felt miserable and mortified. Luckily I have told my trainer about my alcoholism and was able to laugh it off a bit. And I’ve cut back on the caffeine. As far as I can tell, I don’t have an addiction to caffeine since cutting back and switching to decaf seems to have had no ill effects. Now when I shake when working out, it’s because I’m working hard.
But can I tell you how much I hated shaking and feeling so out of control of my physical body? It was terrible. It also made my workout and my run that day suck until I sweated the stuff out of my system.
Both of these incidents made me so grateful that I am sober — and that running is in my life. Blogger Jim of Fit Recovery just wrote a post on his 22 years of sobriety and how fitness has improved his life, and I agree. Not shockingly, alcohol is not good for physical fitness for a variety of reasons, including impeding the repair of muscles as well as the the effects I mentioned earlier and those mentioned in this article on RunnersConnect. As a runner in her mid-40s, I need all the muscle repair I can get.
Without alcohol in my life, I have a chance to become a better person and a better runner. I’m glad I had a couple reminders recently about what it was like before I stopped drinking. Because while I am building my life and fitness, my alcoholism sits in the background waiting to take me down for good. I don’t want to give it that chance again.