Why I’m Not Into AA

As you may or may not know, I’ve been sober since March 25th, 2017. Like, sober sober. No I do not smoke weed. No I do not microdose or do acid, nor do I recommend these things for spiritual reasons. Yes, I did eat some mushrooms last summer and perhaps that “disqualifies” me from the March 25th sobriety date in some people’s minds. If anything, that experience taught me that I am still not into mind-altering substances. I apologize if all this comes across as self-congratulatory; it really isn’t meant to be. I take no personal credit for my sobriety (or for anything), and do not feel it’s something to be proud of. My truth here is that drugs feel unnecessary, and I am very happy that I was moved to set them aside.

Drugs can provide us with interesting experiences and expose us to other relative realities. They may give us a broader lens through which to view the traumas we have endured, and if one finds a psychedelic experience to be deeply healing, I take no issue with this.

However, seeking Truth is another matter altogether. I have done the drugs and can say that these experiences do not come close to Realization. If we feel we are on the path, the best way to keep our minds is in a state of clarity, and the best way to keep our bodies is in a state of good health. If you spontaneously wake up and have been abusing your body for 10 years, that much more damage will need to be repaired. It is not fun, and it is avoidable.

I know that “sobriety for higher consciousness” isn’t a popular view to hold, but it is a true one. Drugs are for those seeking experiences. Truth is for those who are done seeking experiences and wish to come home to themselves. If we feel we need a biannual drug trip to “reset,” there is something we have missed.

Before March 25th, 2017, I was a drinker.

I started drinking heavily when I was about 18, finding it a very effective way to a) socialize, b) deaden my extremely overactive mind, and c) sneakily release aspects of my “shadow,” or, that suppressed part of me I regularly tried to deny. The shadow is the one with unhealthy preoccupations and deep negativity. It is revealed in all the “bad” things we do when we’re drunk that we wouldn’t otherwise do. We all have this “shadow,” and until we shine a light on it, it will escape somehow.

I loved drinking, and it is not an exaggeration to say that in my early 20s I blacked out at least once a month, sometimes once a week. That person I thought I was felt that it was “fun.” I was not ready to examine what was so fun about becoming less conscious, less present for the life I was living. Being that alcohol is an addictive drug (please never forget this, btw), I was pretty dependent on it in order to even be in large groups by the time I was 25.

The normal progression of abuse ensued. I won’t get into such details here, because they are literally the same for every single person who has stumbled down the road of addiction. It started out like “NBD this is totally normal,” but within a few years I found myself walking through Whole Foods with a terrible hangover as I confessed to my partner, “I definitely have a drinking problem.”

By the time I was 26, I was doing the thing where I semi-regularly took online quizzes with fun titles such as  “Are You an Alcoholic?” I always hoped the answer would come out differently than I knew it would. I bargained a lot, fudging the answers: Do I have more or less than five drinks per week? Who counts? 

Seriously, who counts drinks? If you are drinking straight out of a bottle of wine or drinking beers all day, as I surely did, this whole “measurement” thing is truly laughable. Also, if you are taking these kinds of quizzes and asking yourself these kinds of questions, the answer is “you’d do best to stop drinking, yo.”

After many attempts to quit, I finally did at age 29, and I did it without going to AA meetings.

I am going to say straight away that this was made possible largely due to an undeniable spiritual realization. If you’re trying to quit drinking, I do not recommend waiting around for a click of light. Please, do whatever works for you. If you are reading this and find AA beneficial to you, that is beautiful. But I want to share why it is that AA was never appealing to me, if only to offer a different perspective that may resonate with someone someday:

  1. AA reinforces the false dichotomy of “alcoholic” vs. “normie.” What is going on here? Alcohol is an addictive neurotoxin that our culture just happens to approve of. We are conditioned to believe that it is “normal” to “be able” to regularly ingest this drug. This is a ridiculous piece of conditioning I would like to see fall away entirely. I do not believe alcohol really has any place within a healthy society, again, because it is a poisonous drug that kills a whole lot of people in many different ways.
  2. AA encourages us to view ourselves as “moral failures.” I have written about this before in a much more long-winded post. Talk about a vicious cycle: Do you know why people want to deaden their pain with drugs and alcohol and/or kill themselves? Because they sincerely believe they are moral failures and the world is better off without them. The connection between “moral failing” and addiction needs to be broken. We already know we are fucking our lives up and hurting people we love, and we feel terrible about it. I had no desire to go crawling to an organization (in a church, no less!) to rub my nose in this more and more and more.
  3. AA encourages us to keep energizing the story that “we have a problem.” It asks that we to keep on identifying with a false story. Being that the ego-identity itself is ultimately false, all of our personal stories are also ultimately false. I am aware that this is a quantum leap in spiritual understanding, and to get to the point where we are ready to let go of our cherished stories is no quick task. But it surely does not help to keep telling them over and over again, always upholding the identity of “addict.” There is a time and place for processing trauma, but if we want to be free, we have to drop these stories someday. AA does not encourage us to let go of this story.No one is an alcoholic. No one is a “normie.” These are all surface-level stories. No one is an individual entity at all.

I could keep going, but I’m just going to include another link to Hip Sobriety, because this kind of talk is their whole purview. The founder of the company, Holly Whitaker, has written many blog posts about these things. She wants to live in a culture where addiction is viewed in its appropriate context, and so do I.

Ultimately, though, I think we both want to live in a culture where addiction is a non-issue, one wherein we actually take care of each other and cease our unconscious cycles of trauma. This can only come about by way of radical transformation made possible by realization of the Self.

 

 

The Glory of Sobriety

You never could have convinced me that being sober was going to be this awesome. From the drunk side, sobriety looks like it sucks. It looks like the thing you “have” to do when your drunken behaviors sadly catch up to you, like you have to sit down in a room full of people and say things like “I’m an alcoholic” with a bunch of strangers. The idea of sobriety seemed very depressing and fluorescent-lit and full of bad coffee and store-bought pastries. It felt stale, and I really had (what I thought was) fun getting drunk.

Interestingly, there are probably only a few individuals in my life who knew how bad my drinking was. When people find out I’m sober, usually they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you struggled with alcohol*.” To most, I probably looked like something of a “normal” drinker who occasionally overdid it. I’d never lost a job to it, I didn’t drink and drive, I didn’t become violent while drunk or use other hard drugs… I just drank. A lot. Still, I managed to keep it just to the side of the line most people deem problematic, and only talked about it with people who were very close to me.

However, I knew that drinking was a destructive behavior rooted in the need to avoid generations of pain and also as a way to maintain my energy (which, as it turns out, can get pretty ridiculously high). I felt deeply ashamed of the way I routinely sickened myself. My father was an addict and I was addict and I felt like would only ever perpetuate this issue in my family. Hiding it was part of it.

I knew it was a problem by the time I was in my early 20s, and by my mid-20s I was launching all kinds of “cutback” campaigns: A four-drink max, a month off here and there to make sure I wasn’t physically dependent, a relinquishing of hard alcohol, etc. I suspect anyone reading this is familiar with the game we play before we’re finally hit with the understanding this has to stop now. It takes all of us something different to get there. As this game went on, I still hated the idea of quitting full-stop, in part because I thought it meant I wouldn’t be social anymore.

But you know what’s so awesome about being sober now? I still party. I stay up til all hours in conversation, I go to shows, I dance my ass off, and I meet amazing people. I definitely had to sit totally alone eating cake in front of a TV for about 8 months before I got to this point, but my travels have taught me that I can still be outgoing and do even more fun stuff because I’m not nursing hangovers and/or feeling awkward without a drink.

The flipside of drinking is that, in time, it totally erodes your self-confidence. You begin to only feel capable of interacting with others in a real way when you’ve had a beer or two. You start to drink out of habit, alone, while writing or reading and don’t even care to interact as often anymore. Even if you don’t feel you cross the threshold into “addiction,” it really does begin to isolate you and keeps you from pursuing a more interesting life. Alcohol becomes your bestie, and all kinds of opportunities slip away.

For a good number of us, drinking slowly yet predictably becomes warm, easy, and eventually life-denying.

*Just because I get asked so often: No, I don’t smoke weed either. Although the physical effects are far less damaging than most other drugs, the path to true freedom is about releasing attachments without exception. That includes weed, my loves.

I’m not going to bullshit you: The work of getting sober is the work of a lifetime—that’s because it’s you, literally reclaiming your life.

And you should be prepared for literally everything to change as a result of getting sober, including those things that seem fine right now. It is possible that once you are in a clearer, more elevated headspace, certain friendships/relationships/employment situations won’t feel right anymore. You’ll start to get a sense that much more is possible for your life if you can give up drugs and alcohol.

I now consider getting sober to be something of an overall “life upgrade” rather than simply the illness-oriented idea of “recovery.” Yes, we’re recovering, but getting sober changes your mind dramatically as you heal your brain and body. If you upgrade your mind by clearing it of toxins, you’ll also upgrade your perception of reality (a function of the mind), as well as begin to uplift other people’s as well. I don’t know if that sounds too hippie-dippie for you all, but this is my experience with getting sober.

Some things will immediately improve (my skin was smoother and shockingly not-dehydrated after about two weeks), and others will take some time (feeling confident enough in my writing to launch this blog, submit fiction to publications/pursue writing in a real way, peace out on my life to move to an ashram with no guarantees, etc.).

In any case, if you stick with it, changes will occur.

I want to be clear that none of this is about “changing your relationship to alcohol.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. Now, when I talk to people about sobriety, I hear them say these kinds of things, but I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It reveals that they still think alcohol is a “good thing” they’d like to “be able” to partake in. It is not that. Drinking actually sucks; we’ve just all been culturally programmed (and then psychologically and physically programmed) to believe otherwise.

From where I sit now, this sentiment appears to be little more than a bargaining chip the mind uses to keep us entrenched in its existing patterns. The mind will rationalize and justify in many (MANY) sneaky ways why it’s okay to keep doing what the real You knows needs to stop. Odds are that you’re going to end up just as drunk as you always were in a short amount of time. Alcohol is a drug of dependence; that’s its whole thing. No one is special and immune, it’s just that some of us are more sensitive than others.

The sane way to give up alcohol (rather than the disease-oriented narrative) is to see it clearly: Alcohol is poisonous and consciousness-lowering, end of story. Are any of us trying to “change our relationship to arsenic”? No, we are not. The primary difference is that we are all heavily socialized to believe alcohol plays a vital role in being an Adult™ and many of us cannot imagine our interactions without it. Just because it’s the drug of choice for the masses that doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or something we should be using like we do.

Having said all that: I love my friends and family members who drink (which is pretty much all of them) and hold no moral judgment in my heart about… well, anything really, especially this pattern of behavior I understand so intimately. I still like being around drinkers and feel no temptation in their presence. I will wholeheartedly support anyone in their path to sobriety, and wholeheartedly accept anyone who isn’t even close to thinking about being sober. I do love all human beings without exclusion and see my Self in them.

Personally, I just don’t drink anymore. The result? I’m clear-headed, not saying/doing stupid shit while intoxicated, I remember everything, I don’t fall over when I dance or make out with people I wish I wouldn’t have, I hold cogent conversations well past 2AM, and when I wake up I feel great, like, every single day. Even when I get two hours (or zero hours) of sleep, I feel great. On top of that, I get to post things like this and feel really good about it.

Really, the only downside of sobriety is that my energy is sometimes off the charts. I wake up and I want music going, loudly; I want hot coffee while doing jumping jacks; I want to run, to sing, to dance, to create. Nothing is fast enough. I think all of this is generally part of awakening spiritually, of being labeled “bipolar,” and of being creative. We go hard naturally and alcohol helps to keep us somewhat palatable and even, so much that we often end up abusing it. I’m still learning how to best maintain my energy without lowering it in that way, and when I feel I have it more streamlined, I’ll share that wisdom for sure.

Instead of alcohol, what feels warm now is laying my head wherever I happen to be sleeping, listening to music and feeling my heart expand, going over whatever I’m writing and knowing without a doubt that I am getting better. When I say “getting better,” I don’t even mean recovering from alcohol addiction. I mean as a human, I am rising and improving, little by little, just by virtue of not clouding my mental space with the toxic and emotional baggage that comes along with drinking and smoking.

It’s a beautiful life, even when I uncomfortably feel kinda like a rocketship. Though life be uncertain, I know alcohol could never be a replacement for the solidity of knowing for sure who I am.

– Lish

Location: Burlington, WA

Getting Sober Without AA

Full disclosure: As of this writing, I’m “only” 8 months sober. I put that in quotes because—if you’re like I was—8 months might sound like an unfathomably long period of time without alcohol. When you’re regularly drinking, going 3 days feels like a stretch. So, to many sober veterans, 8 months ain’t nothin, and maybe they’d think I should shut my mouth because I’m so new to this thing. But to a drinker who is trying to quit drinking, 8 months feels like forever away. (Also, I know I’m not going to drink again.)

In 2015, when I first googled “Getting sober without AA,” this article by Mishka Shubaly popped up. It’s a great article, the heart of which is this: No one gets to define sobriety for you but you, and there’s no “one right way” to get there. If you give up booze but take mushrooms one weekend, you can still hold yourself in high regard, knowing you aren’t about to fall off the rails. Also: People have really whacked out ideas about what addiction is. I loved the article. I wrote to Mishka about my struggles with alcohol, he wrote back, then I got sober… and two months later I was in the mental hospital experiencing a full-on ego death. (I did not write to Mishka about that.)

Even though I thought (and still think) Mishka is a stunning human/writer/recovery story, the answer to my googled question never really appeared. I knew there had to be people who gave up drinking without Alcoholics Anonymous. Where were they? What did they do? How’d they subvert the demon of alcohol addiction without the meetings?

Basically, I’m writing the post I wish had existed for me when I’d gone looking for it a little over 2 years ago.

Also: The first thing that came to my mind when I asked myself How *have* I managed to stay sober for 8 months? was this: I have no clue.

It’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned, but that’s kinda how I feel about life in general. Then I got to thinking and realized that there have been all these things I’ve done; they’ve just so fully become parts of my regular life that they hardly feel worth mentioning anymore.

  1. Start paying attention to how drinking really makes you feel. With rare exceptions, you are not going to quit drinking the first time you try to quit drinking. Or the second. Or the 20th. And that’s fine! You’re still cultivating awareness about this thing (I think AA calls it “gathering information”), and part of that means you’re still going to drink. However, you know now that you don’t want to do it forever. You can use these times of drinking to consciously notice a) How the body tends to physically reject things like hard alcohol, b) How much harder it is for you to hold your train of thought and maintain an intelligent conversation when you’ve had a few, c) How dull and sleepy your mind feels after even one, d) How your head/stomach/soul feel after a big night out. Bringing awareness to the total lack of awesomeness here did a lot for me. Most beautifully, alcohol genuinely ceased to be enjoyable.

  2. Start paying attention to the ten million stories you (consciously or unconsciously) tell yourself about alcohol. Things like, “it’s fun,” “I need it to socialize,” “I just like it,” and/or “it’s relaxing.” Underneath every single one of these justifications there’s an accordion of self-investigation just waiting to unravel, i.e., Why does the mind interpret becoming less conscious as “fun”? There’s a whole lot of stuff to look into just by questioning the basic premises of your “whys” for drinking.

  3. Journal about all of this. Go to an art supply store and get yourself a rad journal you’re going to want to write in. Pick something that feels new and hopeful, and just get to writing. I’m willing to say it doesn’t even matter what you write, except that you do it. Writing relieves pressure from the mind and allows you to see your own “logic” on paper. It’s you talking to yourself about yourself in the privacy of You. There are highly therapeutic opportunities here, provided you’re able to be honest with yourself.

  4. Check out Hip Sobriety. I’ve never taken one of Holly’s courses, but I follow her on Instagram and I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything on her blog. Holly’s is an amazing story about a woman who once appeared to “have it all,” except that she was semi-secretly crumbling beneath the weight of several addictions. I have more than a suspicion that a lot of us (see: many millions) fall into this category: We’re normal, busy, hardworking people… who kinda just have to poison ourselves into unconsciousness to make it through the stress/confusion/Groundhog’s Day vibe of our daily lives. (Does this ring a “that’s really messed up” bell to you? It does to me.) Holly’s all about getting sober because being sober equals freedom, and about challenging the stigma of addiction so that we can actually be given the chance to survive this totally preventable and totally curable disease. Even though I’ve never met her, I love her, and her work has been incredibly inspiring to me. Along these lines, it doesn’t hurt to just stock up on addiction memoirs, binge on addiction blog posts, etc. This just helps to remind you you are not the only one working on this thing! Not even close.

  5. Do anything else. You heard me: Anything. Else. Okay, maybe not harder drugs, but I mean all those other little things you avoid out of guilt. Things like eating a whole box of macaroni and cheese and a pint of ice cream for dinner? Go ahead and do that. I am not encouraging you to transfer addictions, but to let yourself off the hook completely for every other thing you chastise yourself for. For instance, I ate a lot of cake. I bought an unnecessary amount of tea. I smoked cigarettes. I got Indian takeout (appetizer/entree/naan) and ate all of it in the span of several episodes of Arrested Development. Give yourself a fuckload of credit for dropping the sinister drug out of your life, and take it one step at a time. Giving up too much at once is a recipe for disaster, so just try to be gentle with yourself.


There are a lot more, and when they feel timely, I will of course post them here.

It feels important to say that navigating life sober is still nowhere near easy or comfortable for me. I’m pretty sure I only ever liked large groups of people because in our society, they usually come standard with alcohol. No, I don’t know what to do with my hands except be awkward, and there is no magic pill to snap you into being totally at peace in your sober skin after years of ingesting a dependency-causing neurotoxin. I’m sorry, but discomfort is the name of the game for a while. Luckily, discomfort doesn’t kill—addiction does.

Oh, and guess how much time I spend alone? Almost all of it when I’m not at work. I know this is best for me, being that I’m still in the “spiritual cocoon,” but it does get pretty lonesome. I have always appreciated solitude, but sometimes I step over the line into that bad word, “isolation.” Still, I’d rather risk isolation than try to force conversations I don’t know how to have naturally anymore in situations I don’t feel like myself in anymore.

My point here is this: Don’t be surprised if something bigger starts to shift in you when you give up huge, identity-bolstering habits. “Being a drinker” is probably something you’ve built into who you think you are. Letting that go means your assumed identity will take a hit, and the assumed identity (ego) really doesn’t like this.

BIG, BLARING WARNING: Your ego will use your mind to retain its solidity, and this is not a maybe. It 100% will happen that your ego uses your mind against you. This is when you start to think things like “oh but such-and-such holiday is coming up; I can’t be sober for that,” or maybe you casually envision yourself on a camping trip with, of course, a beer. These are the sneaky ways the mind lures you back to those behaviors which maintain the old identity you’re (rightfully) trying to outgrow. In this case, your own mind is literally holding you hostage. Don’t let it win.

Very infrequently, my mind still does this. I imagine myself some years in the future, drinking straight from a bottle of red wine, blasting Rihanna and dancing in somebody’s living room. This delusional projection is always  a super fun and sexy time. Pretty quickly, I wise up: I see what you’re doing, mind, and it’s back to reality, which is something like me folding socks alone and listening to Rihanna.

The most important thing I want to instill you with if you’re considering giving up alcohol is this: You can get sober and live an amazing life. It will not be without its difficulties, but you can handle them, because you’re incredible and perfect and strong. I know that’s true.

– Lish