While our program is simple, recovery is not an easy process for the vast majority of people. Despite working two thorough sets of steps, I spent my first year bouncing back and forth between a total preoccupation with alcohol and faith that personal recovery was possible for me. I believe that my desperation to develop integrity, and discover my authentic self through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, in many ways has kept me sober for past two years. Some time ago I realized that the obsession to drink had been lifted and I began to feel grounded and surrounded by loving teachers, who have found serenity through this design for living. My abject fear of relapse served me well. It carried me through those early milestones, by an obstinate wilfulness to remain abstinent.
There has been no pink cloud for me. I am searching for hope, peace, and happiness – to go beyond what I previously was – amidst life’s grief, losses, and disappointments. My story primed me for the turbulence of being; however, the challenge that I did not anticipate was how my close connections and loved ones relapsing would impact me. Logically I knew that for most of our members relapse is a part of recovery. As my sponsor always reminded me: we don’t all recover at the same speed. “Into Action” is a fearful and daunting process that takes tremendous effort and an open heart and mind. For most of us honesty, and the willingness to face past and present, does not come easily.
The empathy I felt for peripheral characters in my life that relapsed was challenged with those closest to me. In my first year one of my dearest friends relapsed in a tragic and unending manner. An angry and resentful woman replaced this beautiful and funny soul, who had once graced my life. As our Big Book describes: “He does absurd, incredible, and tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk. His disposition when drinking resembles his normal nature but little. He may be one of the finest fellows in the world. Yet let him drink for a day, and he frequently becomes disgustingly, and even dangerously antisocial.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2001, p. 21) Her behaviour was no different from mine before I sobered up, yet the hurt that I felt and the power the bottle held over her severed the connection.
I identify as double blessed both very much codependent and fundamentally a true alcoholic. For a long time I was so uncomfortable with the former that I engaged in active denial. Accepting that individuals must own their own recovery, and that I have no power to control the health and wellness of those I loved, was incredibly difficult for me. I met my partner of two years in a treatment centre at the beginning of my sobriety. When he relapsed I hit an emotional bottom and was forced to face the reality that I am powerless over the recovery of another. I felt tremendous anger, frustration, self-pity, and shame. I fluctuated between feeling personally responsible for the relapse and blaming him. The 12×12 suggests “It is only where ‘boy meets girl on A.A. campus’ and love follows at first sight, that difficulties may develop. The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.’s and long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility at spiritual, mental, and emotional levels is a fact and not wishful thinking.” (Twelve steps and twelve traditions, 1989, p. 119) The very nature of beginning a relationship at the start of our recoveries made it impossible for either of us to be solid A.A.’s and find individual identities before coming together.
Although I had a wonderful home group, loving sponsor, multiple service positions, and was actively working steps, given my codependency the first 18 months of my recovery was essentially tied to him. It was only once he relapsed and I required him to move out that I was able to utilize tools, which I had been searching for in both A.A. and Al-Anon, and learn how to develop healthy boundaries in practice. For me I needed to cut off contact for a period of time to begin to develop an identity outside of another person. At 27 I have spent 15 years in active addiction, complete with codependent romantic relationships with active alcoholics. I am still learning how to identify the space between where I end and another person begins. I am fortunate that his experience of relapse brought about a more rigorous application of the program for him – in place of another institution or death. The irony of the situation is that while my experience of my partner relapsing was devastating, the event resulted in tremendous personal growth and recovery. I often say that other than working the steps and coming to terms with grief rooted in my family of origin, the space created by my loved one relapsing is the best thing to ever happen to my recovery.
As a young woman in early sobriety I struggle with low self-esteem and the belief that I am not enough as I am. The manifestation of the unconscious idea that the love of another will help cure this underlying insecurity is an innately human practice. The time I continue to take for myself has begun to lay a foundation for greater self-esteem and authentic discovery. I am closer with my support network and sponsor, I spend more time sitting in my own skin and processing my strong emotions with the help of women in recovery. I encourage women entering the program to take time for themselves before engaging in a romantic relationship, with the caveat that if they do fall in love on A.A. campus to work hard on developing an individual identity (and stay out of their partners recovery). The phrase “suggestions are free, you only pay for the ones you don’t take” applies to everyone as an individual. While I don’t regret the past and I am thankful for the teachings of relationships and relapse, I am principally grateful for this program and it’s enduring gifts of self-respect and a loving community.