I Am Not Ashamed.
I’m embarrassed. Yesterday I did something stupid and foolish. I have a Picassa-album-type-thing for photos from my various travels that I share with my meatspace family and friends. I don’t share it here or on twitter because, well, I dunno exactly. I just don’t. Let’s call it non-overlapping magisteria, or something. But I shared my Bermuda pictures with my colleagues at work. Including my boss, who is a friendly, affable, pleasant man and an effective leader. And that album included this picture:
Well. that pretty clearly identifies that I went to an AA meeting while in Bermuda. If anyone took more than a second to look at the picture, they’ll know I’m an alcoholic. What they won’t know is how long I’ve been in recovery, or what my history with alcohol is. Or why. People have their own biases and impressions of AA. I’ve had people tell me that it’s a cult, that it’s a Christian Church, that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to addiction, that it’s the worst. I’ve had people tell me that it works/doesn’t work/should work/shouldn’t work/can’t work. I’ve had people tell me I’m lying to myself because I think AA works. I’ve had people tell me that if I have stopped drinking it means I was never an alcoholic in the first place.
Unless you’re a member, chances are, you don’t know what AA is or how it works. And that’s fine. If you don’t have a desire to stop drinking, AA isn’t for you. You don’t need to know. Feel free to go on about your business. We’ll handle ourselves. I’ll keep my side of the street clean, and your side is your side, and not my business.
But now I’m suddenly worried that any time I’m not perfect at work, my boss (who looked at the pictures and commented on them, though not on that one specifically) will be suspicious that it means that I’m drinking. I don’t know how to address that. So I did what every alcoholic-in-recovery should do when they feel panicked and confused and upset. I called my sponsor. He told me that I should drop it. Just don’t say anything, and if people ask, address it honestly and straightforwardly. And essentially to say, “I’m in recovery. What’s your point? How does that affect my job in any way?” But not as aggressively as that seems in print.
Because here’s the deal: I’m not ashamed. I’m an alcoholic. I’m an alcoholic for many reasons. Mental illness, probably genetic. I’m an alcoholic because I like to treat discomfiture with alcohol. I like to anesthetize myself against things that make me unhappy. I like to drink, because I like the effects produced by alcohol. Left to my own devices I will drink, rather than do any other thing. And I’m not ashamed of any of that. It’s just who I am. It’s an irremediable defect of my brain and my genes.
I am not ashamed, because I don’t drink anymore. I have made, or offered, amends to everyone I’ve harmed in my life to my knowledge. And I continue to do so as I continue to harm. I have examined the faults that I have and take daily steps to ameliorate them. I go to bed each night sober, and I wake up the same way. I have done this without fail for 2,118 days in a row. I am not ashamed, because I tend to my responsibilities and I care for the people who matter to me. I acknowledge the contributions that others make to my life, and I endeavor to repay those efforts.
Sometimes I am fearful. Sometimes I am stupid. Sometimes I am thoughtless. Sometimes I am regretful. Sometimes I am resentful. I have done many things in my life I am not proud of, and some people have been hurt in ways that I cannot repair. I have harmed people – even in sobriety – through bad decision-making, selfishness, and anger. I have attempted to amend those harms. I have not always succeeded. Sometimes I am lazy, and slipshod. Sometimes I am dishonest. But I work daily to say what I mean, and do what I say.
I am a work in progress. I have never claimed, nor will I ever claim, perfection. I do not do these things alone. I am not sober by my own strength or efforts. I am sober because I follow a program of moral accountability and spiritual seeking, guided by the wisdom of the many millions before me who succeeded at this task. My best efforts lead me to despair, desolation, inebriation, and moral destitution. The efforts of something much larger than me, this massive network of sober people who form the net into which I fell, which caught me, are responsible for my sobriety. I have done only what I was told by those who went before. I cannot claim authorship of my recovery.
I cannot control what others think, or do, or say. I have only the power to manage my own reaction, and my own feelings, and my own behavior. Because of AA, I have dignity and personhood. Because of AA, I understand my place as a man in the world. I am not ashamed of my alcoholism. But alcoholism has consequences. Part of my recovery means accepting all of the consequences associated with my disease, fair or not. Because it does me no good to rail against the world. I am no crusader. I have stopped fighting.
I doubt that there will be any consequences in this case. Hell, I doubt anyone noticed before I took the photo down. What happens will happen. I’m angry with myself. I’m fearful of becoming the subject of gossip. I am an alcoholic. But I am a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I am not ashamed.