BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
I don’t know what came first – the chicken or the egg. I don’t think it really matters now; what does matter is that I finally accepted the truth of my condition. My name is Tami, and I am a recovering Al anon/Alcoholic. I am what most term a double-winner. If the story I share is one you can relate to, I ask that you reach out to others in your community that might be able to help you in the direction that you need to go. I know that my experience is not unique, but is common. I know that for me, I needed some good clean time behind me and some healthy work on my sobriety before I could see the truth and be willing to accept it. I suffered from both sides of the coin (term often used in recovery) and would surely die if I didn’t treat both.
For others, the formula may be backwards. I’ve seen that too. I’ve seen women/men in Al anon who later found their way to the rooms of AA having realized that they too were suffering from the hideous disease of addiction. You see, you can’t have an alcoholic without an Al anon so it makes perfect sense. We are both and all parts of this disease.
I was mad at first when I realized the truth about myself. I was angry that I now had to do twice the work as a regular alcoholic. Why me? I tried to find blame in every corner of my mental house. Was I an alcoholic first? Was I a codependent first? The parents that did raise me weren’t alcoholic. But what I was raised with, I would later learn, was a very Al anon father who had suffered greatly at the hands of his mother who was an alcoholic. I also would learn later that my biological mother was an alcoholic who used while pregnant with me. My journey through recovery was not an easy one by far, but as I dug deeper to cure this disease, more somehow was always revealed. It got tough and I wasn’t sure I wanted anymore truth. The more I found out, meant that there was more work on me that needed to be done. It was painstaking work too.
But for me, today I wanted to live and so I was willing to go to any length to do that – despite the ugly truth. I couldn’t change the past, nor did I want to. Somehow it would be my greatest ally they told me. So, even as I write this today some 5 years after my discovery, I know that that statement holds truth to it.
I remember sitting in my first Al anon meeting thinking, “they are talking about me”. I felt like an AA spy, like I was infiltrating their camp. I felt like an imposter. I couldn’t relate. In fact, at times I found myself getting mad that they were talking about the damage that the alcoholic had done – like they had no responsibility in the making of one. I felt surrounded by victims. I knew that I wouldn’t make it if I stayed in that mentality. Didn’t they understand that I was dying? Weren’t they dying too? It seemed so void of hope or solution.
Then she spoke, the lady who would become my first Al anon sponsor, and I heard my story. She saw me sitting there looking like I was yellow with the jaundice of codependency and she reached out to me. She recognized herself in me I would later come to find out. I spoke to her after the meeting and didn’t hesitate to ask her immediately to be my sponsor. She said yes and the journey began instantly.
I had learned from the best in Alcoholic’s Anonymous that I needed to get into the solution as quickly as possible. They had trained me right – for that I was grateful. I knew how to save my life today thanks to the program of recovery I had worked.
I heard my AA sponsor say to me on my last night at the resort, that she had heard it said by others that AA had saved their lives and Al anon is what gave them a life worth saving. I can honestly say they couldn’t be more accurate.
The programs are sister programs. Each puts the focus on the person sitting in the chair. Like AA there are those in Al anon that do not work the program and therefor do not have what I want. They do not know the miracles of working the steps honestly and thoroughly. Again, I am blessed to have found my way to Alcoholic’s Anonymous first. I wanted that 12th step promise. I knew what it felt like and I wanted it.
The programs work differently but are all centered around the 12 steps. AA has you work it so you can see where you were wrong so you can correct it and not harm others. There are those that practice the belief that we are self centered and selfish to the point that to even think of ourselves is considered a cardinal sin. I will tell you that thought nearly killed me.
When I first started actually listening in Al anon, they talked about the fact that I had not been selfish or self centered enough. This thought completely betrayed what had been engrained in me. In fact, I believed that to think of myself meant that I would drink again – my problem was I couldn’t stop thinking about me. In Al anon, they said that I placed everyone else before myself that I became bitter and resentful and made others pay because of my perceived injustices from them. Well, wait a minute. Wasn’t that along the same lines of AA thinking? It got very confusing and there were many heated debates with my Al anon sponsor about this train of thought they were trying to sell me. I wasn’t sure I could buy what they were selling.
So, I began to take what I learned in AA and tried to find the similarities and not the differences. Slowly, I came to understand that being selfish and self centered was mandatory for self survival. If I didn’t take care of myself or love myself first, then who would and how could I ever help anyone else? Wasn’t AA a selfish program? I mean my sobriety had to come above everyone and everything else. I had to focus on me. Now, I hope you are beginning to see the complete fog I had a hard time navigating through. These were completely similar yet so completely opposing views on recovery.
So, during my time in the rooms of Al anon I came to learn what it meant to care for myself in a way that didn’t hurt others. I began to understand what that looked like in a healthy way. I learned that I was of value too – something I’d never felt in all my life, especially being a drunk. I learned that I was important and my needs mattered too. As an alcoholic I learned that my needs were selfish and what got me in trouble my whole life.
No, what got me in trouble my whole life was not feeling like I was worth the air I breathed, like I shouldn’t be alive, like no one wanted or loved me. That is what I truly believed and I can say after hearing many 4th step inventories in AA, I am not alone in any way shape or form. In fact, it underlies most of our stories. You see, I drank because I didn’t fit in. I drank because when I did I could be all the things I was either told I couldn’t or believed I never would be. It was a blanket that wrapped my weak self esteem in the safety of lies – because that is what alcohol is, a bold-faced liar.
My inventories revealed that when I drank I took things from people I felt justified taking. I created pain and damage because I felt entitled to. I had defense mechanisms that worked then but weren’t needed now. Damn right that’s why I drank. When you live your whole life believing the way I believed about my worth, it only made sense that I would find a way to make my needs important no matter the cost. Alcohol just gave me the courage to, not to mention it numbed my feelings about anything at all.
It all began to make perfect sense to me. Here is the tricky part though. What was I going to do with this newfound information? Where did I go from here? I began the task of taking everything I knew and completely stripping it bare to start anew again. I can honestly say that the program of Al anon has been the toughest journey I’ve been on so far. I thought undoing the damage I’d created in my disease of alcoholism was tough. It didn’t compare to undoing the damage I’d created that began long before I ever took a drink.
I will always be an alcoholic. I have in fact crossed the invisible line they talk of in the big book of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I can never go back. Now, with the help of Al anon I truly understand why I have no need to go back and why I would never want to go back again anyways.
I still have to actively work both programs today and for that I am thankful. It was just time now on my journey as a recovery blogger to share with you the other side of my coin. You are worth knowing the truth about your disease just as I was. If this is any part of what you have experienced, you too may be one of us. Only you can diagnose yourself alcoholic and only you can diagnose yourself Al anon.
As I finish up this blog, my 18-year-old daughter stands at my bedroom door on her way to bed. In her hands she holds a breakfast tray. On it is a cup of hot honey water, a book, and a beautiful flower she bought. She explains that she couldn’t decide who to give the flower to so she decided she was just as good a candidate for it as anyone. She was going to finish off her weekend enjoying its sweet smell and taking in its beauty. She then smiles at me and says good night.
What I just experienced is all the proof I need to know that the program of Al anon works. The daughter born to an alcoholic mom, is loving herself and being kind to herself better than anyone else could. She believes she has value and is worth all that is good. She provides that for herself first. Because she suits up and shows up for herself, she will be able to do so with others in her life. I wonder. Where did she learn that?
I don’t need to ponder it. She may never have to be an alcoholic too or marry someone alcoholic now because she has a mom who works a program of recovery in Al anon and Alcoholics Anonymous. Looks like she’s a double-winner too in all of this.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.