I used to listen to the horror stories of other alcoholics, and because my experiences never rose to the same level of terribleness, I’d use them as an excuse to ease my own conscience.
I haven’t gotten a DUI, and I’ve never been arrested, so I’m not an alcoholic.
I thought I needed to look and behave like those people who were always there at that one AA meeting I used to attend- the only one in my city that still allowed smoking indoors. You know who I’m talking about- the actual alcoholics in the room.
I’d leave with a sense of relief (“Whew. That was close. Those damn AA’ers almost sucked me in this time!”), mentally listing all the ways I am not like them. Never mind the fact that I ended up at AA meetings on a semi-regular basis to begin with. It’s not the kind of place you just pass by on your way home from work and think, “Hmm. I’ll just run inside that place real quick.”
It’s not Walgreens, after all. They don’t advertise.
Obviously, even then I knew what I was, and I was there for a reason.
Thankfully, things have changed.
I no longer listen to the stories others have to tell with the sole purpose of finding each and every difference between them and me. The truth is, when I finally shut up (and most especially muted my own inner noise), I actually learned something.
Now, when I hear stories of drunken debauchery, of legal troubles, financial woes and relationship problems, I no longer use the fact that these things never happened to me as a reason to keep behaving badly. Rather, I listen to them for the value they can provide, because I finally understand why they’re so important to hear.
They are cautionary tales.
I know- after years of pretending otherwise- that the question was never if my life- literally and figuratively- would come to an end as a result of my drinking.
No, it was simply a question of when.
Listening has given me the opportunity to see what my future held, had I not put the bottle down, and what the futures of my children and my husband held as a result.
As addicts, our journeys are not all the same- the roads we’ve taken are often very different. Some are longer than others, some have more twists, turns, ups and downs- but the final destination- the final realization- is the same.
If we keep drinking, we will die.
I don’t hide from these stories anymore. Now, as part of my recovery, I seek them out. I listen to every single one of them, and I listen carefully. I find that I have more in common with other alcoholics than I ever thought- or wanted to think, anyway.
My fellow alcoholics aren’t scary or unsavory to me anymore. They’re friends. Family, even. We have an instant bond, and while we’re a diverse group- black, white, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, gay and straight- we automatically look out for each other.
Suddenly, alcoholism- and all of its stories, tragedies and triumphs- has become one of my favorite topics. Not for argument’s sake, like it once was, but for the sake of healing instead.
Listening and learning keeps me sane, and sanity keeps me sober. Hearing the stories of alcoholics and the stories of those who love them, has become a critical part of my recovery. I need to hear the truth of what would have happened, had I not stopped drinking, and I need to hear the voices of those who have been impacted by the addicts in their lives.
It’s a reminder of who I was, and what I will still become if I don’t remain vigilant every single day.