Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I was happy to chat with a handful of folks I'd known from earlier recovery years at a big AA party over the weekend. Life goes on – we pair off, get jobs, schedules change, we do, or don't continue with meetings, and people who were perhaps strong members of our weekly regimen for years are no longer part of our circle.

At a 33rd sobriety anniversary meeting the next day, the chairperson spoke about the significance of the fellowship when he first came in. Yes. We often hear that "the program is in the book," coupled with "the fellowship won't keep you sober." To that, I say B.S. Yes, the program is in the book and the Steps, but if I hadn't had fellowship when I first came in, I wouldn't have stayed long enough to find that out. I drank and used other drugs as part of my social life - parties, clubs, dinners, picnics, the end of the work day, MondayTuesdayWednesday... Yes, it got ugly and lonely the longer I went on, but always was the belief that I needed the social lubricant of a substance to be in the world. I was desperate to know that I could still have fun while clean and sober, and the fellowship gave me that. We traveled in packs in those early years, dancing at ratty AA clubs, going to movies en masse, dinner parties and backyard barbecues, slumber parties and trips to the coast, hiking and running marathons. If it had just been me, my sponsor and the Big Book, I'd never have known that the whole wide world was out there waiting for me to show up sober. I'd traveled prior to recovery, but  much of that was through the fog of a hangover (I recently realized that I have absolutely no memory of a trip to Reno my boyfriend and I took with my best friend and her husband, even with the details she’s provided). What a joy to explore a city with an eye to more than finding an open bar, and to remember what I did where, and with whom.  

As was echoed by several at the anniversary meeting, I sometimes miss those early days when everything was new and exciting, and our group of pals explored the nuances of recovery together. But, sort of like with a romantic relationship, the initial exhilaration has given way to comfortable contentment. I do not miss the roller-coaster.

One of the folks I ran in to at the party, an older gentleman, talked with me about retirement and what he described as the chance to “get to know someone you may not know very well yet.” That would be me. I do know myself in relation to the structure of the working world. How might that shift and change when I’m no longer responsible for supervision, and time sheets and regulatory compliance? How might that change when I don’t need to run (or walk!) at 5am in order to get to work on time, or when I have an open day to do more than maintenance at home? I am excited to find out.

Excited, and a little nervous. But I think about all the other life transitions that initially might’ve seemed daunting – changes in jobs, relationships, in school/out of school, moving, etc, etc, etc. When a 9 year relationship ended unexpectedly a decade ago, I found myself in “who am I?” mode, feeling the need to reclaim “me” after being a “we.” What did like to do? Who did I want to be when I was able to stop defining myself as just having gotten out of a long term relationship? I think of a job of 5 years, where the boss and I mutually decided that I’d done all I could do there, and I left without a real plan, or even back to the old days when I changed from being a good-time alcoholic & cocaine user to seedy methamphetamine use and production (see Shadows and Veins). What I know today is that nearly every change I thought was a negative turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened (including the crystal meth chapter, since that brought me to my bottom very quickly). 

I don’t believe in a higher power pulling strings somewhere up in the cosmos, but I do believe that life works out exactly as it is supposed to. As as they used to say, "If things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different." My ongoing lesson is to relax into what is rather than fighting the currents, and simply stay out of my own way. I seek to meet each day with curiosity rather than expectation, an invitation rather than fear. 

Over time, my fellowship has gotten smaller. There is still a crew out there, for the holiday party and anniversary meeting, but most of my close friends are, like me, living satisfactory lives that are a bit more home and family centered, which seems to be a natural evolution - a good thing. I am forever grateful for all the caffeine-fueled late night talks and "morning meetings" at various kitchen tables. I am grateful for how we held each other's hands through job interviews and first dates, break-ups and college classes, and, of course all the "meetings, meetings, meetings" we grew through together. I am grateful for the deep knowing that is just a phone call or coffee date away.

How has the fellowship shaped your recovery over the years? What, if anything, is different today? What, from your past, seemed like a negative that turned out to be a positive?


  1. Hello. Good to read your blog.
    Lots of identification there, but I'm a bit further on. 35 years sober and retired 3 years. Sadly my husband died 6 months after I retired. My one regret is I didn't retire sooner so we had more time together.
    I read back now as to what I wrote just before I jumped off the cliff ( as I saw it) into retirement, burned my bridges, no going back. All the fears were unfounded. and I loved how you said about reclaiming " me" after all the roles I wore as a professional and also a wife.
    3 years on I can honestly say I have never regretted retiring from my job. I'm sure other people will tell you too that I don't know how I had time to work. I'm much more involved with AA, sponsorship and fellowship. To the point where I overstretched myself and had to stop one of my voluntary jobs with refugees.
    I had drifted away from AA,never stopped going, but was not fully engaged in later years, now it's been a lifesaver, especially with the bereavement. Sponsorship has taken me through the 12 steps again with a whole new deeper understanding.
    Not sure I can think of any negatives from my past other than discovering I had a spending addiction after a mugging in 2000 so the resultant control on my finances has stood me in good stead for retirement budgeting.
    Come on in the water is lovely !

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  3. Thanks, Jeanine. Totally identify with your post. I always say that what I thought was The Very Worst Thing in my life was finding out I am an alcoholic and having to join AA. Ha! It was, of course, the best thing ever. And I learned a whole new way to have real fun: sober! What a revelation, terrifying yet exhilerating. The path has been frought with "opportunities" to live life on life's terms without resorting to taking comfort from substances that actually provide none. I've been doing it one day at a time for over 31 years and it's working. Illness forced me to "retire" at 45 when I had 5 years of solid AA work under my belt and a great sponsor who stuck with me, even through a relocation. And, though that recovery was not easy, I used the principles of our program, the support from friends both in and out of fellowship, to learn take it one day, one right action at a time and trust whatever came was what was meant to be --- a whole new way to live in action. It's all been a wonderful experience. Not always fun or easy, but rewarding and fruitful. I just had an exchange with my sister-in-law who came into recovery a few months after I did and she's (once again) dropped out of regular meeting attendance and doing it all online. That has no appeal to me as I need face to face contact with my sober sisters and brothers, else I would forget the real threat of the disease, and be able to hide behind a screen with well-crafted words to be who I wanted to be. Recovery for me is ongoing, personal, and thrives only through honest connection which often means humble confessions. Oh, and by the way, retirement is not stopping work, it is simply refocusing the work to be what you desire rather than what conformity and convention define. Good luck --- I know you'll soar!