Why We Tell Our Stories.
After my men’s meeting last night, one of the guys asked me if I would speak at a meeting on Tuesday. Of course, I said yes. One of the core elements of the program is passing it on. Not in an evangelistic sense, we don’t go door to door looking for alcoholics to proselytize to. But in the sense that when someone reaches out for help, we need to be there to help them achieve sobriety. When I teach the program, when I help another alcoholic relinquish their active addiction and move forward into a new and better life, my own life improves. My own program improves. My own ability to live and achieve peace and serenity in life is enhanced.
So I’ll go on Tuesday and I’ll tell my story, and I’ll probably record it and post it here as a podcast. When we speak, if there’s not a specific topic, we are generally told to share our “experience, strength, and hope”. We do this by explaining “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now“. I never prepare much. Every time I tell my story it’s a little different. My memory changes and the past changes with it. As I get further from my last drink, how I felt when I drank recedes a bit too. Telling my story is a good way to remind myself how it was. Why I mustn’t go back.
In many ways, AA is an altruistic program. We help others. We try to relieve some of the suffering in the world associated with alcoholism. But in a far more relevant way for its members, AA is a very selfish program. I am in AA for precisely one reason: I want to have a good life. And I can’t do that on my own. On my own, I am a lazy, drunken slob. I know because I tried to live on my own terms, and that’s what I did. That’s what I made of myself. In AA, I have the opportunity to be more.
I can be sober, and mostly sane, and employed, and effective. I can be in a relationship and I can participate in things that matter to me. I can attain moderate fitness and health. I can do the things I dreamed of doing and handle things I didn’t know how to even approach when I drank. And to keep these things, I need to help others. I need to give away the same things that I’ve been given in the program.
And here’s why: I believe that the social network in AA is the key to its success. I don’t think there’s anything magic about the steps. They’re a sensible and straightforward path to respectability. And that’s fine and important, and I think sobriety requires having a specific program of accountability and effort to take hold. But they could be in a slightly different order, or say slightly different things, and it’d probably work just the same. I believe (and this is only my own opinion) that it is the social network that makes AA work the way it does.
Humans are social animals, and like-minded people gather to achieve things that individuals can’t. I’m not sure what precisely “like-minded” means in the context of addiction recovery, but I know that you can find us congregating at meetings and at coffee-shops after them. We depend on each other. We share ideas. We owe each other our lives. I work harder at my sobriety knowing that mine is not just mine, it is a knot in a rope in a net that separates active alcoholics from the abyss.
So I go. And I share. And some of the people in the room will connect to what I say, I hope. Because I need a community to be sober. And I need sobriety to be me.