Yeah Buts live in the forest (Or what I learned in AA)

My sobriety date is July 20, 1997. I got sober in my 20's and can now say that I have been sober much longer than I drank and that I have in fact, spent the majority of my adult life sober. My name is....I'm not gonna give that, am I? I believe that anonymity is super important to recovery. So you can call me....Sally. (And yes, I stole that from the title of an earlier blog.)

A lot of people find it easy to bash AA. And I guess I can even understand some of the reasons. I hear people say it's a cult. That they don't buy into all that 'God' stuff. That's it's too 'cliquish' and too gossipy. I hear all kinds of reasons not to be cool with AA and some of them I even agree with. But I also know that I have learned a lot from the program. And as I get older, I see how those lessons have translated to life lessons that I thought were worth sharing. So in no particular order...what AA has taught me.

1. Yeah buts live in the forest. This is something I heard a lot when I first got sober. Basically when someone gave a lot of excuses or rationalizing why they couldn't do something, they would say yeah but....and a friend would shoot back, 'Yeah buts live in the forest. There's no place for them here.” To this day when I hear myself start a sentence with, “Yeah but..” it's a reminder for me to stop and really look at the situation and see if I am making excuses instead of acting.

2. Support is essential. I think it's heartbreaking in this culture that we find ourselves more connected than ever before and yet also more isolated. I'm incredibly grateful that no matter where I go, I find myself with an instant community and an instant support network. I can't tell you the number of business trips I've been on, especially in early sobriety, where I was scared and feeling very alone and all I had to do was pick up the yellow pages (yes, I'm old and this was a long time ago!) I would make a couple of phone calls and find myself in a room full of people that understood an awful lot about me without ever having met me. This kind of support is not easy to find in our society. But I believe it is essential, not only to be sobriety, but to my humanity.

3. The importance of service work. Service work is encouraged in AA. For me that started with getting the coffee ready, cleaning the ashtrays, setting up and breaking down meetings. In the early days I did this because I was told too. It didn't take long for me to realize that being of service helped me as much, if not more than it helped the other people. I still believe in service work. Not so much in AA anymore, but in other volunteer commitments. It gives me a sense of community, of belonging, of being of worth. Basically it makes me happy.

4. How to be open and welcoming to people. Another thing that is stressed in AA is helping newcomers feel comfortable, at home and welcome. I am by nature, shy, so this was a tough one for me. I spent a lot of years watching others chat up the new person and help them feel at home. Eventually, I started copying those people. And eventually I got comfortable with this myself. This is a skill that I use all the time at my job and in general. I no longer want or need to fade into the background when I meet new people.

5. How to ask for help. This is another challenging thing. Not just for me, but for most people. Again, I suspect this is a cultural thing. After all, aren't American's supposed to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps.' That implies that we have to go it alone and not ask for help. For me, there was no way I could get sober alone. It wasn't an option. And so the gift of desperation forced me to ask for help on a daily basis. With time, I realized that when I gave others the opportunity to help me it was good for them too. It's another form of service work for the other person. It makes the other person feel useful and good about themselves. Asking for help is still not a natural thing for me. I have to really stop and think about it before I reach out. But AA has taught me that I can't really get through life by myself. And more importantly, that I don't really need to.

6. I am powerless over people, places and things. This is a cornerstone of AA and a lifelong lesson that impacts the whole of my life. When I can remember that the only thing I have control over is myself, life gets just that much simpler.

7. This too shall pass. This is one of my favorite lessons. In the early days, that referred to my cravings for alcohol and my over the top, insane, out of control emotions. (Oh early sobriety, how I don't miss you!) I have a favorite story I like to tell about early sobriety. I was experiencing my first stretch of peace in my life and it freaked me out. I went to a meeting and shared about how nervous it was making me. And old timer said, 'Don't worry Sally. This too shall pass.' That made me laugh, but it also helped me relax into moment. This extends to the rest of my world. When I am in an uncomfortable situation, I remind myself that it's only temporary. When life is awesome, I remind myself that this too shall pass, I like to think that helps me appreciate the awesomeness just a little bit more.

8. Progress not perfection. This is my second favorite lesson. (Not that I value one over the other.) As with so many of us, in the early days, I felt like if I didn't complete all 12 steps in a month, than I sucked. I had so much to learn, but I constantly beat myself up when I found I didn't already know all life had to offer. Progress not perfection taught me to be gentle with myself. It's okay if I'm human. It's okay if I make mistakes. If I let others down, if I let myself down. It's all good as long as I learn from what is going on.

AA has taught me so many other lessons. I could write a book! (But I won't!) These are the first ones that sprang to mine. I am truly thankful to AA for giving me my life back and what the men and women in recovery have taught me. Not just about how to stay sober, but about how to live life on life's terms.

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