I’ve found myself thinking about AA a lot over these past few weeks. What I was sure was out of my system appears to be back with a vengeance. I’m seemingly missing AA – again! Given that it was about a year ago that I started this blog, I became curious as to why I would start getting this urge to go back at this particular time of year; I think I finally worked out why: the weather.
Although I lived in the northern hemisphere when I became abstinent in 2006, it’s currently spring here in its southern counterpart, and it was in spring that I joined AA.
Spring in Ukraine was amazing. After a long cold winter, it was as though the whole country had taken one huge sigh of relief. The whole atmosphere changed, and this bleak, grey and deathly cold environment was transformed into a beautiful green city with blue skies and sunshine.
As in so many religious practices of old, spring had perhaps become a symbol of my own rebirth – one of hope, of purpose and of better times ahead. Yet, it’s amazing how selective my memory is, because when I truly think about it, those first few months were as far from hope and purpose etc. as one can imagine: I was plagued with thoughts and images of death; I experienced around the clock panic attacks; I was unable to sleep, and would awake choking, or in a cold sweat from dying dreams; all those things – the shame, guilt, fear, inadequacy – that I had been blotting out with the booze all bubbled violently to the surface; and for the first time in my life I had ‘friends,’ and absolutely no idea how to navigate such relationships. Truth be told, those first few months – perhaps even years – were, on average, horrible. Yet, try telling that to my mind which insists on conjuring up Pollyanna-like images of me sat drinking coffee post-meeting in the spring sunshine with my new friends.
That’s not to say that there weren’t good times – even great times. As things settled down, I did manage to maintain some friendships; I did have a laugh; and my life did have purpose to a certain degree. The Fellowship in Kyiv was a real gift; it was so varied. Although there was a small core of us (about 4) we didn’t know who would turn up from week-to-week. Sometimes there was nobody, and at other times I’d find myself surrounded by all sorts of people, from all walks of life with some unbelievable stories of redemption. I’ve done fifth steps in hotel rooms with people whose names I don’t remember. I’d be running all over the city, helping members get accommodation, translating for them, meeting them and taking them to meetings. We came across few AA Nazis, and our core group was a really tight one which revolved more around fellowship than it did a programme of action.
Yet, when I moved to Australia, all of that changed. Meetings were solely about the Programme, and the same members went to the same meetings, and spouted the same stuff week in, week out. Even though I made an effort to attend different meetings, it was always the same old story, but with a different face. It was boring and repetitive and I was just a tiny drop in a big alcoholic ocean. I had, of course, by this time, already started to lose faith in some of AA’s core tenets, and it was inevitable that I would eventually leave. Staying would have been similar to an atheist continuing to attend church on Sundays. Yet, I can’t help but wonder that had I remained in Kyiv, whether I’d still be a member – I probably would. You see, I don’t miss AA as such, I miss a time in my life that was special. Yes, AA was our common ground, and it was a common problem that had brought us together, but it was our isolation from the rest of AA in a country so affected by alcohol misuse that made us such a tight-knit group. It was the visitors we got that made ‘recovery’ so interesting; the satisfaction of helping somebody sort out issues that don’t even exist in the West (and having nothing to do with recovery); and the bizarre everyday experiences that each of us had in Ukraine – things that just don’t happen here.
So, it would seem that I don’t actually miss AA at all. Even if I were to move back to Kyiv, those days are long gone (as are my friends), and I’m not even sure that with my current beliefs , I’d be content attending anyway.
I guess one thing has become clear for me, though: while I no longer believe in the biopsychospiritual illness that is posited by AA, alcohol has been the most dominant feature in my life with three-quarters of my time on earth having revolved around it: 15 years as an active drinker, and then 12 ‘in recovery.’ Perhaps there is a seed of truth in the phrase ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,’ just not in the traditional sense. My memories of both drinking and recovery will always be present, and I still have to refuse the offer of a drink occasionally. There are also the inevitable questions which come with a refusal, and the probing which comes from those who themselves are experiencing problems, and are secretly exploring a solution.
Whether I attend AA or not, or whether I identify as an alcoholic or as somebody who used to drink maladaptively, I will forever be a member of a community of people whose lives have unwittingly all but been destroyed by and, as a consequence, shaped by alcohol misuse. Whilst I don’t allow it to define me, it will always be a part of me, and no amount of AA apostasy can change that.