I'll probably be the least popular sober alcoholic on the planet for writing this piece, but something needs to be done.
Next month, I will "celebrate" 27 years of continuous sobriety. This year I chose to leave my program of support largely because I don't think it supports long-term sobriety in a way that is livable to me.
Here are some of the challenges that have appeared for me over the last several years.
First, I don't believe in the language of recovery anymore. After decades of hard work, prayer, amends and general good living, I find it hard to think of myself as defective of character. Yes, of course, I have many fine points that could be sanded down when you compare me to my "Higher Power," but all the broad strokes and many of the others have long since been eradicated.
I simply refuse to think of myself as defective any more.
Second, I don't want to spend all of my life "in the rooms." I don't want to live the insular life that many have chosen to live by surrounding themselves primarily with other alcoholics. I want to know other people, I want to experience other things. Our program of recovery tells us to "practice these principles in all our affairs," which should indicate that we're to go out into the world. But many many sober alcoholics don't do this and, if you do, the culture of the culture doesn't support it.
I need my life to be about transcending alcoholism, not immersing myself with it.
Third, I can no longer live in a culture of fear. There is so much terror and intimidation in the recovery culture. The whole language of the community reveals it even as the steps portend to remove it. There is a huge mythos about what happens to other people who leave the culture.
Maybe they're right. Maybe I'll go back. Maybe I'm wrong. But I simply have to feel freedom and joy in my life. It makes me sad to leave, but it makes me feel suffocated to stay.
Believe me, I've tried. I've tried to find "sobriety 2.0" there. I've tried interviewing other old timers to see how they stand it. I've tried for the last eight or nine years of continuous sobriety to fall in love again, but I simply cannot do it anymore.
At the same time I write this, it's important to me that I do no damage to the rooms of recovery. Thousands of lives are saved there. And thousands of families are restored to happiness. And thousands upon thousands of alcoholics are returned to good good citizens there.
I am one of those people. And I am grateful, which is why I am so very sad to leave.
But when the literature was written and when the culture was developed, the founders were in their early years of sobriety. Unfortunately, the culture seems to be stuck there.
Of course, I expect this piece to incite a lot of discord and vitriol. I wish it didn't have to be that way. But those who are "inside" the culture will feel threatened and will respond in kind and those who feel righteous for leaving will do the same.
I wish there was a loving conversation we could have about this. I wish there was a place for old timers to thrive in recovery -- any recovery program. I wish there were more research about alcoholism and what old timers need to stay invested in their program of recovery, or I wish we could find a new home that will support the issues of the later years.
But I haven't found it yet.
And so, after nearly three decades of continuous sobriety, I have left my program of support.
I'm a free agent. It's just God and me.
I hope we do okay. But to stay would have been intolerable.
With Love and Blessings to All,
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.