Updated: Dec 29, 2019
A little over three months ago I moved home to Oregon. My Wisconsin sponsor suggested that, upon arrival, I attend 90 twelve step meetings in 90 days.
“90 in 90” is a common enough suggestion in program - but “suggestions” from my sponsor weren’t common at all. I tend to take them seriously. To add to that, I’m someone who hears “You mights” as “You musts"; in this case, I responded accordingly.
Which is to say, “with resentment.” I was resentful that I was suggested to do 90 in 90 at all. That’s the type of assignment you give a newcomer, I thought, or someone on the verge of drinking. In contrast, I felt like I was already flourishing, in part because I’d taken the next right action by moving home, and in part because my eating disorder recovery was new and strong for the first time in my life. I couldn’t help but feel that I was being punished, that my precious time was going to waste, that my needs had been gravely misunderstood. I didn't need 90 in 90.
I was doubly resentful because I had just moved back to my small, well-churched hometown. The meetings here were fewer and farther between than in Madison, and they all have a certain small-town feel. There are unofficial leaders (people with sober time), everyone hugs, and the feeling in the rooms is relaxed, even permissive. We all know each other, so let’s go ahead and break the rules a bit.
As the youngest child, I have a habit of adopting the only attitude left. Everyone else seemed to feel grateful, calm, and comfortable, so I went for the yet unclaimed “self-righteous indignation.” I was obligated to meetings and yet, I thought, they weren't doing it right. These meetings didn't feel like home.
And yet, a few did. Many weekends I found myself driving to Portland to try the meetings there. I was in search of women’s meetings, LGBTQ meetings, meetings where they didn’t conclude with the Lord’s Prayer. I wanted open meetings, too, so that my non-alcoholic girlfriend could attend in support - which she often did.
When I visited her in Seattle, I looked for meetings there too. Normally I might have taken those days off, but not with the goal of 90 in 90. I couldn’t afford missing 2-3 consecutive days. As a result, I tried harder, searched longer, and found more meetings that did feel like home. I now have a short list of meetings in both Portland and Seattle where I'm happy to claim a seat.
So, with all that in mind: Did 90 in 90 work?
Well, I didn’t drink, nor did I think about drinking.
But of course, it was about more than that. My sponsor had in part suggested 90 in 90 to encourage me to attend meetings at a time when they might have otherwise slid by the wayside. I was living at home, enjoying a new relationship, settling into a new work environment, tackling a new program of recovery from disordered eating. Further, I lacked the accountability of my former AA community in Madison. In my hometown, I’d ironically have the opportunity to feel anonymous. These people never saw me drink. If I wasn't careful, I might use this new set of circumstances to quit doing the things that work.
In the past, when I've seriously upped my meetings, it has been in an attempt to up my serenity too. After a breakup in 2018, I went to a meeting every day for a whole month. It got my mind off the problem and in the solution.
It used to be that, if I went more than two or three days without a meeting, I’d forget the solution entirely. I'd be distinctly non-serene. These weren’t the natural and necessary emotional waves that will forever characterize my inner life. These were things like needless irritability, excessive mental chatter, impulsivity, a shorter fuse.
You’d think then that 90 days of meetings would result in the world’s longest fuse. I’d expect my fuse to envelop the world two or three times over after attending so many meetings. I ought to be incredibly serene.
This did not seem to be the case. Although I’ve had many moments of serenity, gratitude, and growth in the last three months, I’ve had my fair share of mental chatter and irritability, too. Is it the case then that meetings didn't work their magic on my mental state? Or would I simply have been that much more insufferable without them? I don't know the answer to this question, but I'm guessing it lies somewhere in the word "humility." Maybe I don't need to know how great I could have been.
The most promising evidence that 90 in 90 worked is simply that I was willing to work for it. I proved to myself that I was willing to take direction, that I was willing to put meetings first - even when drinking was and is the farthest thing from my mind. I spent an hour or two of every day in pursuit of a meeting, motivated sometimes by faith and other times only by obedience. As a doubter and a contrarian, this wasn't my first instinct.
When I first completed 90 in 90, my brother asked if I'd told my Wisconsin sponsor about my victory. After all, she was the one who'd suggested it. Certainly she should be proud, impressed, complimentary - something?
Three months ago, that might have felt like a good question. Where's my parade?
After completing 90 in 90, I realize that the parade has been marching past this whole time. It was the feeling of walking into random room in a new city and hearing others speak my language. It was the feeling of having my girlfriend sit next to me in meetings, supporting my efforts to show up. And yes: it was getting to see people in my hometown who I’d known forever but had never known were friends of Bill’s.
Perhaps more than anything, my parade was the gift I’d given myself: permission to go far out of my way for faith, for something with a potentially undefinable outcome. If I can attend 90 meetings in 90 days, what else can I do for no other reason than that I’m worth the risk?