Three Years Without a Drink, and No Shiny Gold Chip to Show for it

Hi. My name is Megan, and I don’t drink anymore. For awhile, I introduced myself as an alcoholic. Then, as a person in long term recovery. Sometimes, when I’m talking with people who know the jargon, as a person with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Person Who Misused Substances. But mostly, I’m just a person who doesn’t drink anymore, and hasn’t for exactly 3 years today. That’s my program of recovery these days. That doesn’t make me special or different. I simply make the choice not to put booze in my face hole anymore because I don’t want to.

This “anniversary” has been different than the other two. This year, I don’t belong to a “program”. This year, no one called or texted. This year, no one asked where I was celebrating. This year, I didn’t pick up that coveted gold chip. This year, I kept forgetting. The only thing that kept the date fresh is the fact that my partner made dinner reservations, and I love having a reason to get dressed up, wear heels, and eat fancy, overpriced food. This year is better.

Around this time last year, I made the decision to entirely remove myself from 12 step recovery. It simply wasn’t conducive to my emotional well-being anymore. I was confused, anxious, and unable to differentiate my own thoughts from “program” thoughts. I knew without question that I didn’t want to drink, but was terrified that if I left I’d somehow end up drunk against my will.

That hasn’t happened, obviously. Shortly after I decided to stop attending, I came across a blog in a panicked Google search called “Leaving AA and Staying Sober”. I sent an email to the man who wrote it, and he added me to a bunch of recovery debate groups. There, I found a bunch of people from all over the country and world who loved to debate and discuss all things recovery. I found other sober atheists (I thought you were all dead or drunk) who were still attending various 12 step programs. I found people who utilized and facilitated other recovery programs like SMART and Refuge Recovery. I found Harm Reduction activists. I found people who actively questioned what they were being told about addiction and recovery, and weren’t afraid to talk about it. I found my people, and they saved my sanity and my life all over again.

None of them know that today is any different than any other day for me. Most of them couldn’t even give you a general idea about how much time it’s been since I put booze in my face or drugs in my body. I couldn’t tell you the same about many of them. Partly because some of them have learned to use in moderation. Some of them don’t prioritize abstinence. Mostly because we just don’t care. Mostly because we don’t wield the amount of time it’s been since we have or haven’t used against each other as a measure of recovery.

The thing that brings us together is that, at some point, we all used various substances in a way that was harmful or life threatening, and we all have a passion for debating and discussing recovery from that in whatever form that takes. But, that’s far from the only thing we have in common, and our friendships aren’t contingent upon the fact that we agree about how we define recovery for ourselves.

What I’ve found over this last year is that there is no one way to do recovery that works for everyone. In fact, there are as many ways to “do recovery” as there are people. Unfortunately, 12 step recovery still has this particular market cornered, and saying that it doesn’t work for you (and especially that there may be other ways to do things) is often met with fierce hostility and accusations of “potentially killing addicts and alcoholics”. If I’m being honest, the fear of that kind of backlash and assaults on my character or recovery have kept me pretty silent about this issue this year, despite my passion for the new and ever-evolving beliefs that I cherish.

Yesterday I heard someone on a panel for atheist AA members say something that shook me to my core. He said that some in AA accuse him of a “lack of serenity” for being passionately outspoken about his beliefs and his atheism. His response was, “I’m willing to let go of a little bit of serenity as long as I know that what I’m doing is right.” Being honest about my recovery is the right thing for me to do. Especially if there’s anyone that might read this who’s feeling as lost as I was about a year ago. I’m always here. Feel free to send me a message. I don’t have all the answers, but I will always offer my support, honesty, and experience.

Thank you all for continuing this incredible journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Three Years Without a Drink, and No Shiny Gold Chip to Show for it

  1. Megan,
    Thank you so much for being brave enough to speak your mind on this. I have been through this over and over, always going back because I’ve been trained to believe it’s the only way. I was raised by a trial lawyer and a librarian who taught me to spot bullshit and think for myself, but i am also overly sensitive, totally open and emphatic. I had never heard the term gaslighting until my recent breakup with AA. I read that people with personality traits like mine are often targeted by controlling and narcissistic people. My life of dysfunctional relationships suddenly made sense. I am fifty one so there has been a lot of them! I cannot tell you enough how comforting it is to read your post.
    Thank you


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