Though I had earned my 30-day chip, I did not want it.
As a new member, I had faithfully attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at least twice a week, every week, that icy February 2016. I somberly listened as people shared the importance of their sobriety and how choosing to go to AA changed their lives in unique and positive ways. Whether someone had experienced an intensive outpatient program or found themselves walking through the doors of a local AA meeting one day, I was in awe of how big the light at the end of my tunnel was getting just by listening.
I texted hellos and thank yous to the ladies who kindly gave me their numbers on the back of my newcomer’s welcome packet. I followed their advice and sat at the tables, not in the back.
I did my first share methodically and almost inaudibly when my brain told me to pull the fire alarm and RUN instead. Sharing one’s personal story was never high on my list before AA.
I learned how to ask for “friends of Dr. Bob” when staying at hotels so that I was never far from an AA meeting.
At night, I paced around my apartment, blasting music in my earbuds – my version of pretending I was out having fun at the bar (I guess?).
I read the Big Book until I fell asleep each night, sometimes with the words, “You can have a drink tomorrow,” slipping out as I sank into my first nights of unmedicated sleep in decades.
I held my tongue at work when my nerves were on fire for want of a drink or a pill to numb the office chaos. I continued to be the “team player” everyone expected while silently chanting the Serenity Prayer in my head, often holding back tears.
Yes, I had earned my 30-day chip (aka 30-day aa sobriety coins, sobriety aa coins, sobriety tokens, AA chip). Still, the thought of receiving it scared me more than getting sober, walking into my first AA meeting, and the big word RECOVERY. I hadn’t even figured out what in the world Higher Power meant. All I could think was, “I’m not ready!”
I had a pit in my stomach all day leading up to the 5:30 Open Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting (the group I considered my Home). I knew I was among friends; these people listened as I stumbled through my first share weeks earlier. I knew I was supported and liked.
What was the problem?
The fact that I had their support was part of the problem.
I had involved people -strangers!- into my private world of addiction. They understood and still liked me. I didn’t feel that I had earned it.
I hadn’t yet learned to love myself nor see myself as the others did: a person worthy of getting better. At that point, I was only “kind of” proud of myself and couldn’t stomach the thought of a whole room (did I mention it was Friday night?) congratulating me…ugh, no, thank you. I would much rather go home and eat half a birthday cake alone.
All day I tried to talk myself out of going by telling myself everything from the ridiculous, “You haven’t even read the 12 Steps out loud during the opening of a meeting; you don’t deserve a chip.” To the awful, “You’ve never succeeded at anything; why start now?” and “You’re the first person in your family to admit you have a drinking problem – loser.” But 5:00 came, as it always does, and the love of my life was ready to drive me across town to my local group. He was so proud of me, so I silently said I would claim my dang coin for him.
Despite arriving 10 minutes early, the place was packed – OF COURSE. One of the local treatment centers bussed over a large group – OF COURSE. I started to get sweaty.
But the beat goes on, and we all must go with it, right? The inevitable question filled the air, “Does anyone here have 30 days?” I felt a light nudge in my side; my guy. I reluctantly raised my hand and blurted, “Hi, I’m Amy, and I am 30 days sober today.”
I forgot to say, “I’m an alcoholic”! I’m the worst!
Everyone started clapping, someone jumped up to get my AA Sobriety Chip, and I was dying inside. It felt a bit like when the servers at a restaurant approach you with a funky hat and a cookie with a firecracker in it: CRINGE.
My guy whispered to me, “You did it.” I shyly acknowledged him and realized that I had tears in my eyes.
Then, something happened that made me rethink the entire day – and my acceptance of the medallion. One by one, all of those who had supported me for the last 30 days shared their 30-day stories. I heard stories from people of various lengths of sobriety share great pain, redemption, and ongoing hurts that hurt a little less after 30 days.
New members who hadn’t yet shared expressed gratitude for the abundance of HOPE. Some in their first year of sobriety were shiny-eyed about their 30-day milestone and thanked everyone for the chance to relive it.
I watched as each person shared; eyes initially were downcast but lit up with a brightness you sometimes only see at AA and Narcotics Anonymous. Sobriety milestones were dusted off and given new life!
Someone I admired very much -with years of sobriety- articulated what I felt during the shares: when someone in the AA groups gets their 24 hours or 30 days, or 20 years, in different ways, we all get our AA plastic aa chips again.
Oh, yes, what is that little saying we have in AA about it not being all about us? Yeah, I learned that lesson HARD on my 30th day. If only I had paid more attention to the 3rd Step Prayer (“…remove me from the bondage of self.” Oops!)
Each time a member of the fellowship groups shows the courage to share, it can give another member that tiny nugget of hope that they can keep going for another 24 hours. I had been the direct beneficiary of everyone’s shares for the last 30 days. How dare I not participate with my group in kind?
Now I was cringing not because the focus had been on me, but because I had made the receiving of my chip about me and me ONLY. I even lamented the visiting recovery group from a hospitalization program when I should have been celebrating that they were with my home group and not out using.
But, as I’ve learned from the personal stories at AA recovery meetings, I won’t be too hard myself here. I now have gratitude for that 30th day beyond the gift of sobriety. My home group openly and unabashedly celebrated me, and I received a lesson I can carry forward in all my affairs. I get to do better each time I’m given the gift of another 24 hours.