If this is Alcohol Awareness Month, why are you talking about drugs, too?
Back in the 19th century, a group was formed called the Washingtonian Temperance Society. The Washingtonians were heavy drinkers who sought sobriety through sharing their stories and working with other “drunkards” much the same way that AA does. This early group of recovering drunks was actually quite successful with some reporting membership as high as 600,000 at its peak. Within a few years, though, the group had entirely disbanded because they lost sight of their original purpose and started pursuing other controversial and political issues. Alcoholics Anonymous learned from the example set forth by the Washingtonians. Our fifth tradition created a singleness of purpose – “to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers” and our tenth was established to preserve it – “AA has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”
Drugs are an “outside issue” and therefore generally not discussed within the rooms of AA. Neither are addictions to gambling, sex, food, etc. While most alcoholics will settle on a favorite addiction, it is very easy for us to jump from one addiction to another. I’ve got no exact statistics here, but based on what I’ve seen, the majority of alcoholics in recovery have also abused drugs and/or other addictions. Of course, when new folks come into the rooms, they suffer from that same “terminal uniqueness” that we all start with, so they have to identify themselves as “alcoholic AND a drug addict.” Silly andas. I love to grab these folks and tell them my story, then introduce them to all the other addicts in the room. I can laugh because this was me. Actually, I was worse than an anda. At my first meeting, I felt compelled to not just tell you how different I was, but try to build a big stone wall to keep you away: “My name is Laurie and I am not an alcoholic; I am a heroin addict.” (As if they couldn’t tell.)
Over the next couple of months, I was sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently instructed on the traditions that protect AA for future generations. When we are in these rooms, we discuss alcohol and alcoholism. There are other programs for outside issues – NA for narcotics, CA for cocaine, GA for gambling, OA for overeating, SA for sex addiction, CoDA for codependency, etc. Me, I didn’t really fit anywhere because I could’ve fit nearly everywhere. I often say if I could get a kick out of ice water, I’d get addicted to it. When it was time to get sober, I didn’t care where I needed to go or what I needed to do; I just wanted to find something that worked. I have heard things, but I don’t really know, so I won’t speak to success rates in any of these other programs. The first words on page 58 of the Big Book, though, tell me what AA’s success rate looks like: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” A woman who had initially gotten sober in CA took me under her wing and explained how alcoholism had kind of become a catch-all for addiction in general. Together, we examined my history and I was able to see that alcohol was the first substance I used to escape. Though I preferred other substances, alcohol would always do in a pinch, and sure enough, I was drunk the day before I got sober. (Yeah, I know that sounded stupid and obvious, but whatever.)
This is why I want to talk about drugs today (Ha! Just noticed it’s 4/20. That was totally unintentional). I’ve been writing these posts for 19 days now; every day signing off as “My name is Laurie and I am an alcoholic.” At first, maybe that made you a little uncomfortable. And that’s cool. That’s the whole reason there IS an Alcohol Awareness Month; because talking about it makes people uncomfortable. After reading this for 19 days in a row, though, you’re probably getting a little more okay with it. Show of hands, how many people winced with the term “heroin addict” above? Nah, no need. I know. I still wince, myself. Whereas alcoholics easily find themselves as lepers in the general community, drug addicts are those people who aren’t even good enough for the leper colony. All that is to say that alcoholism is becoming more acceptable in modern society. IV drug users, though, really are never trusted again. And with good reason! They say, “An alcoholic will steal your wallet. A drug addict will steal your wallet then help you look for it.” Drug addiction is like living on a whole other planet. The statistics for long term recovery from heroin addiction are so abysmal as to be laughable. But it is possible. And just like alcoholics, these are not bad people, but sick people. If you suspect you or someone you know has a problem with drugs, educate yourself and love that person (just don’t let him near your wallet).
My name is Laurie and I am an alcoholic and an IV drug addict. Recovery is possible as long as I look at the similarities instead of the differences. We may have lived and used differently, but if you understand the pain in my soul that I’m trying to soothe, then we can work together to recover from our common illness.