Wednesday, 17 April 2013

AA themes - a personal reflection

In my Monday post about my fear - which has been a lot better since then btw - I mentioned about a set of themes that come out whenever alcoholics gather together.  I should instantly caveat that with, in my experience and with my personal reflection!

The themes are
  • Never felt they fitted in
  • Never given the manual of life
  • Real difficulty with handling emotions
  • Large ego with lost self esteem
  • Preoccupation with self
  • Most love a good cup of tea or coffee!
To expand ...

Never felt they fitted in

In many different ways, either through being into something like "being a punk", "self employed from young age", "traveller", "dropped out" etc. etc. you find many alcoholics were always a little outside the circle - or at least felt that way.  I'll use myself as an example here with a couple of things before I even started to drink alcohol.  In 1974 I headed off to grammar school.  Now around that time, long hair, flares and platform shoes were all they thing... think Marc Bolan or Noddy Holder - that is what 11 year olds wanted to be.  I wore drainpipes, winkle pickers and had a quiff!!  I wanted to be different not fit in, I was a punk for a year a little later then turned from that when it became common place.  Also still to this day I'm more a rugby fan than a football fan and I'm sure part of that was simply I wanted to be in the minority.

Once in sobriety I realise that everybody is in a minority in some way and that just being true to yourself is the thing - by end of my drinking I was a season ticket holder at Gillingham FC, I'll be honest it was simply an excuse for a good drink.  I haven't been in regularly in ages although I'm really chuffed at this season but to be true to myself, I save money and enjoy more by paying £12 a month to watch some live rugby premiership matches on ESPN!

Never Given the Manual to Life

I could never have articulated that but along with the not fitting in I was at a loss on life.  I just didn't really get it, mostly relationships.  I pushed friendships away when younger, good people who did probably simply want to be a friend, but I was always frightened of having to give of myself back into that relationship and be committed to it.  It is very difficult to put into words but there was also jealousy, greed, anger all mixed in there too - "why does he get that girl?"  "His job title is now better than mine!" etc.  I ended up in this always judging myself against everybody else on the basis of job, house, car, income, quality of girlfriend/wife (normally totally superficial judgement too!!), etc. in comparison to mine.  I thought life was a board game like Monopoly!  

Again in sobriety I've learnt all the clichés about "it's a journey not a destination", "happiness is the road" (had to get a Marillion lyric in there, most of my non AA philosophy comes from prog rock lyrics!).  And I see the change, I really don't care about much of this stuff.  I am lucky to have a modern large estate car that suits me that I like driving and is reliable.  It will have the wrong badge and engine to please the Clarkson disciples but as I say it don't bother me.  

Real difficulty with handling emotions.

Now what I really mean is - total aversion to acknowledging emotions at all and bludgeoning them out of my head totally!  That was the issue I now realise, that mixed in all this out-on-edge-never-happy-in-life was this inability to deal constructively with feelings.  My last bender was because my wife texted to say "...tonight we can celebrate".  With phone in left hand and pint of beer in the rights (it was after noon after all!) my head said "My life is shit" and bender ensued!!!   My life wasn't shit but neither did the single piece of good news make it 100% perfect but I couldn't deal in emotions that weren't black or white.   Soon in recovery as I rebuilt my relationship with my wife (or maybe that should say built a new relationship from the start again) she made a comment that made me feel both sad and happy at once.  I sneaked off upstairs as quickly as I could to talk to another AA member to see if this was "normal"... honestly not a clue.  A 41 year old man with the emotional intelligence of a toddler.  

At the bottom of a lot of this is fear as I mentioned in my last post - fear is often at the route of many negative reactions, emotions, resentments etc.

I'm still an emotional child, I think I will be forever, but I can grieve now, I can acknowledge sadness is different from grief and vastly different to depression.  I am probably just getting off the Janet and John ABC of emotional knowledge - I want to learn so much more about it too.  Oh and I can now just "sit with it". If I am sad that is ok if there is a good reason to be - a friends Dad dies, I am sad for my friend - that is understandable, acceptable, right and what can I do about it?  Get involved by helping with the washing up and tea making at the wake - help my friend who is hurting exponentially more than I. 

Large Ego with Low Self-Esteem

Adding all that lot together gives you a lot... but then add in the next bit and oh boy what a potent mix.  The next bit adds to the often no-shades-of-grey (Mr Christian!) black and white characters I identify with in other alcoholics.  Don't you (and the rest of the world!!) realise that I am something really special - utterly brilliant, I could solve the worlds major issues, write the best new symphony since Beethoven and solve the Middle East peace issue before teatime if only you let me!   Honestly that was how I sort of thought - I did nothing to achieve any of that or have the skills etc.   However whenever in a new situation or indeed an old familiar one but one with a touch of stress etc. on it I'd go into "I'm a fraud, they'll find me out, I really know nothing, I have to cover-up  bluster, cheat, bullshit etc. my way out of this again".   Another example of the flip flop nature of my thinking around this stuff. I still really struggle with this, but found like many things this is a normal human condition known as "imposter syndrome" - many highly qualified academics in particular suffer with it.  However of course to an alcoholic the real issue is that listening to this crap in your head and not dealing with it in some sensible manner will eventually cause you to drink to just shut the head up!   

Preoccupation with Self.

Do I need to elaborate if you have even skim read this far - non-alcoholics will be thinking "But most people feel that or this in their life at some point" etc.  I don't deny it, but alcoholics will sit in the craziness rather than dismissing it or constructively doing something active to work through/around/over the issue.  And of course "Nobody understands" - the boring mantra of a drinking alcoholic.  Sadly I now know that most did understand all too well and that actually the only one that didn't understand was me!

Most like a good cup of tea or coffee!

The most important job in any AA group is the tea boy/girl.  They often are the person who welcomes the newcomer, visitor, stranger, returnee, regular person etc.  There is an old saying in AA all you need for an AA meeting is two alcoholics, a coffee pot and resentment!  


  1. A very honest post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Yes, a lovely honest post!
    I think you're right - as a non-alcoholic I can say I've pretty much felt many of those things my entire life too (especially the first two) - I guess we all just find different ways of dealing with them dependent on many complex reasons and other personality traits: "There but for the grace of God" as they say. I think maybe a big problem many of us have is the tendency to think we're the *only one* who feels that way (often increased by social pressures, when we're young, to be 'normal' - whatever that is!) Perhaps if everyone was a little more honest, candid and relaxed about themselves - just as you've been here now - at least some of those issues could have been alleviated to some degree... but who knows?!

    1. Spot on - with me I felt all these things were only me and that I was a huge failure for feeling like this, so ignore it, smash it via booze, run away, lie, etc. etc. When you finally stop and soberly look at it all it isn't so bad and you can handle / deal with it mostly and if you can't then seek help - obvious I know but how many of us don't do that?

  3. Yes, I can also identify with all of those (except maybe not being able to handle my emotions--I'm quite a selfish person so I find it easy to indulge what I'm feeling).

    I know a few people who drink a fair bit and sometimes I think it's definitely a way of not thinking about anything, and so one person in particular I know, just goes round and round in circles with the same problems over and over again. A little clarity does go a very long way, as you've found out, but my friend doesn't seem to be at the stage where she wants to think clearly about the pattern she's got herself into.

  4. Anonymous Comment sent to me to relay here...

    Really could identify with the themes you so eloquently describe. Excellent stuff!

  5. I could have easily written this myself (not as well, thought!) - you nailed it all so well. I too have heard these things, and I too felt that big "click" when someone mentioned about not having the manual to life when I was growing up and in my active alcoholism. But I have that manual now - the big book. and it's amazing how those things seem to slowly vanish - the hard time with emotions, the feeling of being a child in a man's body, of the large ego and low self esteem...all normalize and level out. It's like I am a normal functioning 25 yr old now in a 42 yr old's body. One day I will catch up!

    Wonderful post, Graham.


    1. Don't know about catching up... I still often feel like a 20something in a 50 year old's body! :-)

  6. Terrific post. I related to most of it and/or have heard them in the AA rooms. The only ones that don't quite fit me are the large ego with low self-esteem and pre-occupation with self. But I can understand how these things happen as defenses to our spiritual unwellness. I was a little too beaten down and not allowed to feel sorry for myself, so my struggle has been to exercise a little more ego (with improved self-esteem) and try not to hide in corners while neglecting my needs.

    And I'd love to share a cup of tea or coffee with you, like any good alkie in recovery :)