The intention of this column, The First 500, is to describe my first five hundred days of sobriety in hopes of inspiring others. My experience references AA a lot because that’s the program I’ve chosen as a tool in my recovery. Now that I’m 350-odd days without a drink, things have changed. I’ve completed the 12 Steps of the program and service work is now my focus which means volunteering at meetings and events, sponsoring others new to recovery, and more.
I volunteer at my regular Saturday meeting as the newcomer contact.
That is, I make sure that any new women in the program have what they need to get started - phone numbers for support, a sponsor to guide them, literature to learn more about the program, a list of meetings to attend, etc. This past Saturday, I met a new person who has 3 days sober. She was nervous and scared, and I’m now reflecting on how things must seem for new people, from a not-so-newcomer’s perspective.
Welcome. Welcome. WELCOME!
Overwhelmed yet? Feeling the searing heat of the spotlight, simultaneously enjoying it and being nauseated by it? I know exactly how you feel.
People in the program have good intentions that might look phony and cartoon-y to you. We touch your arm and make eye contact with you. You’re a magnet to us and we’re so excited that you’re here because we remember exactly what it was like to be you. All we want is to make sure you know what a loving and supportive community we are so you’ll feel comfortable becoming one of us. Not because being part of the club is such an esteemed honor, but because we want to save your life.
“To you, we look like hyenas feasting on an injured carcass. We circle around you, jutting in and out as we interrupt each other just to get a quick bite.”
But you don’t know that yet. To you, we look like hyenas feasting on an injured carcass. We circle around you, jutting in and out as we interrupt each other just to get a quick bite - to say an encouraging word, to smile and reassure you.
“Keep coming back!” we say to you, and you feel nervous, giddy, scared, embarrassed, and pressured to come to another meeting because you think we’re all expecting you. And to some degree, we are. But we also know that many of you won’t come back, at least not right away. You’re turned off by something, anything really, because you’re looking for an excuse to go back to that cheap white wine or bottle of vodka under the bathroom sink.
At least I was. I do not belong with this crowd, I said to myself, time and again. My tough, outer coating hadn’t been peeled back yet so I used it like armor and keep everyone at sword's length. The toothy grins seemed cheesy and not genuine to me and I just didn’t get how people could be so fucking happy on a Saturday morning, or a Tuesday evening, or a Thursday at noon. This had to be an act, I kept thinking.
But I’m here to tell you, Newbie, that it’s not. Sure, in any crowd of people you’ve got those who are less interested in helping, but in a program like AA, they are few and far between. Our enthusiasm for ourselves and our recovery is only eclipsed by our excitement for you. We desperately want to connect with you because we so badly want you to have what we have, because even though you can’t imagine it right now, it is pretty fucking amazing.
We can help you, if you’ll let us. We can give you the tools you need to stay sober. We will listen when you most need to be heard. We can be real with you when you can’t be real with yourself. We can show you that by working the steps, your drinking may not have been about drinking at all. And we can simply sit next to you in a meeting and soak it all in, just like you. What we can’t do is back off and leave you to your old ways of doing things. Letting you slide into your comfort zone will take you back to where you were.
If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.
So give us a shot, please, and forgive us for swarming around you like bees. People in this program told me I could have the life I always imagined, and now I do. You can have that too.
Keep coming back!
Until next time…
Jennifer is an entrepreneur, a mother, a writer, and an alcoholic in recovery with a sobriety date of September 14, 2015. She is a former human resources professional, which means she’s seen it all, in and out of the workplace. She has a daughter in college and a dog curled up on the sofa. She’s naturally inclined to use foul language and believes there aren’t enough women in positions of power in this world, and she’s looking to change that. Her writing here will shed light on what it’s like to be new in recovery.