Before I went to rehab, I went to AA to hear people’s stories. I would listen to people who ended up homeless, all of their “yets” having by then transpired. They talked about shooting up under a bridge, selling themselves, living outside by the park, where the cops didn’t bother them, all of their possessions laid out on a blanket, the rain falling lightly at first, then substantially, soaking them all. They talked about being far from where they set out to be.
I would start my own brief shares with caveats like “I’m dealing with a lot of trauma from my childhood.” And I was. I’d talk about being confused. About feeling my feelings for the first time. I was trying to explain why I drank until I could no longer see, why I drank when I didn’t even want to. Why I eventually crossed the line into hard drugs, one of my “yets,” only in order to wake myself up out of a blackout before it was too late. Why, after doing so, I still drank more. Why I woke up in hotel rooms with blood dripping down my face and onto the white sheets, so far from where I ever wanted to be.
In the story we read tonight, at the meeting where I serve as secretary, a woman describes being told, after posing many hypotheses: “That’s not why you drank.” It’s possible that she could have said anything and still received that response, and possible that no one thought it helpful to take time to validate her experience, but it is wise. They were saying she drank because she was an alcoholic, because she was compelled to, because it was written in her DNA, in the stars. She drank because she drank. In that story, she does not mention feeling hurt or defensive in that moment. Instead, she believes them, as if it was an undeniable fact and she was relieved to know it.
When I said that I was confronting how my dad treated me when I was younger, and that this was a challenge for me in recovery, and people told me things like “You’ll get over your dad stuff” or they shared their experience with forgiving their abusive parents, with all but a nod in my direction, I did not feel like the recipient of some wonderful revelation. I felt hurt and defensive. I thought: if people can assume that they know what forgiveness means for me, or trivialize my past by saying I should get over it, then maybe this was not an organization to which I wanted to belong.
Now, a year and a half sober, I’ve come to realize that those people talking about my dad were being kind and helpful, were people who had seen trauma soften and change, who had felt it sober for a long time. They weren’t saying: Get over it. They were saying: Eventually, it will not hurt you anymore. They were saying: You can be free. They were saying: that’s not why you drank.