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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

When Alcohol and Drugs No Longer Work



There are a couple of reasons I've been hesitant to write about this topic. Partly because of the anonymous part of AA, and I hate to say, partly because I know a lot of people who are frankly, a little snotty about AA. In the end, I decided that since I'm not mentioning anyone, except my son, whose permission I have to write about, I am not divulging anything I shouldn't. And,though I have experienced a lot of teasing and judgement about AA, I decided I don't care what anyone else thinks, and perhaps those who criticize the loudest could perhaps stand to reevaluate their own relationship with various substances.

I am not an alcoholic or drug addict. I have certainly faced my own challenges, but addiction is not one of them. I have however spent my entire life surrounded by people who are. From my father, to a plethora of relatives, friends and eventually my son, I have witnessed a very ugly side of alcohol and drug use and abuse. Of course there are many who drink responsibly for whom it does not impact their lives or that of their loved ones, but when it turns that corner, AA is an incredible resource for those who chose to take a different path.

This past week I ventured out to where my oldest son lives to see him celebrate four years of sobriety. My younger son, his brother, came with me for the second year in a row. I have only been to four AA meetings in my life having attended each year of my son's sobriety, and each time am moved to tears.

My son celebrates at the rehab center he went to, twice, and I am always humbled by the people fresh out of detoxing getting a 24 hour chip. Often they're very young, looking shell-shocked, sick and like this is the last place they want to be. Often they don't get it yet, they are angry, resentful and not yet willing to take that first step - admitting powerlessness to drugs and alcohol to heart.

It took my son years to get that, and this is where I see the disconnect for people who dub themselves too smart, too cool, too anti-spirituality to buy into the 12 Steps. I've known many people who continue to slowly kill themselves and ravage the lives of those around them because they are way too smart to need AA. I've seen well-educated people in my own family who snub their nose at the folks who read the Big Book and attend meetings, they're too wise for that. Meanwhile they end up destroying their health, careers and lives of the people they supposedly love.

My son, by the admission of his sponsor and the director of this center, was destined for jail, a mental hospital (both of which he spent time in) or death. Toward the end of his run he was living in a moving van with a raccoon, panhandling for drug money. When he went from a psych ward after an overdose, back to rehab, he tells the story of letting go of thinking he was smarter than everyone else and just decided to do whatever they told him.

So, on Christmas that year he shoveled snow. For hours. He studied the Big Book, he listened to people who had come out on the other side and he slowly began to get it.

AA is not a cult, nor it is a group of religious fervents who try to indoctrinate people into their fold. It is a group that is dedicated to helping others overcome an affliction that is controlling their lives. My son said it well that night as he spoke to the group, "Using drugs or alcohol to deal with your emotions is never a good thing." And he's right.

The people I have met through him who are in AA are some of the most amazing people I've ever met. They are open, honest and working to live their lives to the fullest. They are no longer hiding from their feelings and fears, and they know they are never alone. Twenty four hours a day they can call someone who will listen and give them good advice. The most important of which is the solution is never in a bottle or a needle.

My son is now living a life he never could have before. He is an avid rock climber, in the process of starting a business, and getting ready to leave on a five week trip to Bali and Thailand to rock climb with a friend. He overdosed more times than I care to know, and by all rights he should be dead. But he's not, and now he lives his life with more passion and energy than ten others put together. He's no longer living a life where he's dulling his discomfort with drugs and alcohol, and while it's not always easy, he's wide awake and excited by what's next.

We are all so much stronger than we think we are, and we're even stronger when we stand together, supporting each other. Life can be damn hard and scary. Of course it's tempting to turn to something to dull the pain, to lessen the feelings of discomfort, but that's never a good long-term solution. Sooner or later the bill comes due, and how much better it is if you're not facing it alone.

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