by Bree L.  

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those who came in through the back door (controlled drinking and other 12 step programs). That is, unlike those who came in the front door—the “real” alcoholics, who knew they were alcoholics out of the gate. I wasn’t all that sure for the first month or so. Yes, my life was a mess and I’d cut down to one glass of wine for special occasions. I wanted the benefits of the program without full-on signing up so I played around with my attendance those first months. Then came a time when I knew in my bone marrow I was an alcoholic and this was where I belonged if I wanted any kind of life. 

That is why when my friend Jamie M. said, “Too many years and not enough days,” it didn’t ring true with me. I’d come in slow and gotten closer while Jill came in fast and then got slower. I’d never been loosey-goosey with the program, because I was afraid of returning to my old ways. Here is how Jill explained her dilemma.

A few of us with years under our belt go through periods of barely hanging onto the A.A. lifeboat

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She had 21 years of “sodriety”—her program had plateaued. She maintained one monthly service commitment, went to sporadic meetings, had no sponsees, and was thinking about dropping out of the program. “I was at a crossroads,” she says. “I wasn’t drinking but I wanted more and saw it might be beyond the A.A. program.” 

She took a trip from San Francisco to Cape Cod, a vacation place she knew from childhood. While there she walked by a distinctive church she remembered from long ago. Coincidentally, there was an A.A. meeting there. She was curious about what the church looked like inside. She says, “That was probably more of a draw than the meeting.” 

She wanted more of a sense of who she was 

As the meeting began they asked for newcomers and one woman approximately the same age as Jill raised her hand to identify herself as a newcomer. As the meeting progressed the woman spoke and opened with the fact that a week earlier she’d had 17 years. Today she had 6 days. Then came the line, “I had a lot of years but not enough days.” Jill listened closely to a description of reduced meeting attendance, no service commitment, no community work and no sponsees. The woman explained that she was doing the equivalent of resting on her laurels.

This was a cautionary tale for Jill.  She returned to San Francisco and recommitted herself to A.A. Within 3 months she had 2 sponsees, 4 meetings a week, a sponsor, and she took on 2 service commitments. Now seven years later most of those things are still in place. She stresses that one is never exempt from service and has firmly placed herself in the middle of the boat. 

When Pam G. was asked how she’d accumulated 28 years, she spoke of what she was doing to keep her program alive. She spoke of a time when she strayed from the program, saying. “I’ve been away for whole years at a time. I didn’t drink but I didn’t go to meetings.” She had stuck very close to the program in the beginning but then, as she says, “The program gave me a life.”  She became disengaged. She was a teacher and a single parent who was overly conscientious about her work. When she retired in 2001, she came back to A.A.  She wanted more of a sense of who she was and has stuck more closely since. 

Pam talks of friends with many years who don’t come to meetings. They have accepted the benefits of A.A. and moved on. Some became therapists and say they’re afraid of running into patients at the meetings. She says, “Non-participation is self-perpetuating. The longer one stays away the harder it can be to return.”

A few of us with years under our belt go through periods of barely hanging onto the A.A. lifeboat. Some never do make it back. The way to fight our way back in is to gather those days and with our H.P.’s help we’ll stay.

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