You’ve probably heard of imposter syndrome.
That’s when you don’t feel like you deserve your seat at the table. You glance nervously around the room, waiting to see it in others’ eyes, that moment of realization. Wait - what’s she doing here?
I struggle with this a fair amount. It doesn’t tend to crop up professionally, but it happens in recovery meetings. I often feel that, if others in the room knew how boring my drinking truly was, they would question if I were a real alcoholic. If I even deserved to be there.
Maybe she’s just here for the free coffee.
I’ll be honest: I recently chose a home group in my hometown, and the coffee wasn’t not important.
Coffee aside, I know that my reasons for being in a meeting are sound. After all, our third tradition states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. That, I undoubtedly have.
And yet: when it comes to swapping war stories in the rooms, it’s like everyone else served in Vietnam. Meanwhile, I was drafted for the Cold War. I never had to fight; I was simply sad, jealous, self-pitying, and confused for several years. I was perpetually dissatisfied, but I never launched a missile.
Most of the time, it doesn’t matter how hard or how long you fought. I’ve been to many meetings where no one recites their drunkalogue – indeed, where alcohol isn’t mentioned at all. It really is a disease of the mind, and dependence on alcohol really is but a symptom.
But then, there are meetings like yesterday’s. It was a gratitude meeting, and each week we read a story from the back of the Big Book. Yesterday, we read Jim’s story. It’s fairly dramatic, so it spurred a full meeting of war stories.
Mothers shared about putting their children in danger. Others shared about friends overdosing. One girl knew she would die if she didn’t get help.
And then, there was me: using alcohol for social anxiety, to transform a fake titter into an indiscriminate laugh - to feel confident in my body, to forget that my stomach wasn’t quite flat and my clothes weren’t exactly current - to make a rude and tactless trade off: my feelings or his? (Usually: mine.)
Of course, the undercurrents in our stories are always the same. By the time we entered the rooms, we were full of shame. Our fear of change had become less than our fear of staying the same. We were willing. We were even intrigued by who we might be sober.
When I’m in a room full of women and hoping to connect, I sometimes wish I could say something a little more interesting. I was lucky enough to get sober in the early stages of my disease. This doesn’t mean I don’t have alcoholism; It simply means I had blessedly little time to collect stories.
The stories, whether glamorous, scandalous, or just plain sad, are not what make the disease. One-night stands, spontaneous trips to foreign countries, run-ins with the police, bouts of homelessness, daily drinking, drinking to oblivion - all of these are just stories. They are neither necessary nor sufficient to qualify for alcoholism. There are no such requirements for seeking relief.
I have a feeling that there are many people who would find companionship, understanding, and yes, relief, in recovery meetings. Perhaps these people suspect that alcohol is making things worse, that their drinking isn’t quite healthy, that they’d be a little more serene without ever pouring that first glass. And yet, something inside them insists that things need to get worse. “Sobriety can wait,” it says. “No one has even said anything.” “Meetings are for the real drunks.”
I selfishly wish that these people would come to meetings. Yes, I think it would be good for them; no, I don’t think things need to get worse. But more than that, I want it for me. I want to hear more boring drunkalogues. Nothing dramatic, no nail-biters. Boring. I want to hear about the uncomfortable outfits they pieced together, the ill-fitting jobs they accepted, the partners they chose who didn’t quite make sense.
I want to hear about the weird and pointless pitstops these people made at “dissatisfied,” “unhappy,” and “good enough,” all on the path to becoming more than that. Becoming serene.