Step Lessons

When I began this journey, I chose the name “UnPickled” because it represented my goal.  I expected to be “done” by now; that after three months or so I could consider it a successful project and I would be able to say “I am now UnPickled.  Here is how to do it.”

As it turns out, becoming Unpickled is a process and one I will continue indefinitely.

I opted to quit drinking without a specific program, which has so far worked fine for me.  This could be attributed to the coincidental fact that several of the things I’ve done intuitively are similar to AA “Steps”: facing my past wrongs, shortcomings, and resentments; facing and understand bad things that have happened to me; forgiving myself and others; making changes to correct things I’ve done wrong; helping others; spending a lot of quiet time.

An important part of “working the steps” is accepting that a greater power is in charge and surrendering it all.   I’ve always had faith in a higher power, always been a spiritual, prayerful, sporadically church-going person.  So for me, that first step of recognizing a higher power was never an issue.

I’ve gotten great advice and insights from AA’ers along the way. I appreciate the value of the program and can see in them how it has changed their lives for the better.  I’ve also had to look up the 12 Steps on many occasions in order to understand their references on Twitter (“Worked on Step 4 all weekend” or “Step 6ing with my sponsor tonight and I am nervous about it”).  I’ve had to learn terms like “moral inventory” in order to understand what the AA experience is all about.

Upon looking into the steps, I have come to realize what it is about AA that hasn’t appealed to me:  the very first step, which refers to a powerlessness over alcohol.  I believe that I caught myself sliding into addiction before I hit a stage of utter powerlessness.  I may not have been far away from it, but I still decided each and every day to drink.  I do believe that the burning desire to stop drinking, the fearful survival instinct that screamed “DANGER” to my head and heart was a beautiful gift from God, but ultimately – I believe – I drank by choice and I quit by choice.

I won’t for a minute suggest that “anyone can do it this way” or argue against the value of AA or any other program.  It’s just how it unfolded for me and likely because I stopped when I did.  “Alcoholism and Free Choice” by John T Marohn ( was an interesting read for me this week – a good reminder that it doesn’t happen the same way for many people.  Then again, based on the many comments and emails from this blog, many of you have had an experience similar to mine.  It doesn’t matter how you get to “sanetown” – just get a map, get a ticket, hitch a ride, and don’t stop til you arrive.

People in the program have urged me to consider my resentments, which play a significant role in healing alcoholic behaviours.  I really didn’t think I had any, until I started thinking about things I can argue passionately about – religions based on supposed modern prophets; CBC’s political bias; the importance of using real butter.

I’m recognizing annoyances that never go away, such as the relative whose kids I always seem to be looking after, and long-forgotten but painful instances of childhood unfairness.  I’m lining them up like a feather collection and looking at them objectively.  I’m realizing that I can’t control these things, only my reaction to them.  I’m accepting that maybe, maybe it isn’t my job to single-handedly convince the millions of members of our local cult-church that their theology is deeply whacked.  We have police to ticket jaywalkers, so I can stop giving them the stinkeye in hopes they will question their dangerous ways.  And really, I can probably stop being annoyed that the best singers don’t always win American Idol.

Another thing I have learned to recognize is all my unnecessary worries.  The key to strength and freedom is in the present.  I’ve heard before that we are closest to God in the present – that if we focus on past resentment or future worries we take ourselves away from God.  I always liked the idea but also somehow believed that the tension in my chest was the glue holding the universe together.  If I relaxed everything might just fall to shit.

I’m giving myself a bit of a break and, as you may have noticed, the sun has continued to rise and set just fine without me.  I can watch Survivor and not stress about the fact that I would totally fail at the reward challenge.  It’s nice to know what books I would want on a deserted island, but the other day I really realized I will probably never actually BE deserted on an island.  As dumb as it sounds, that was something that bothered me – how I’d fare.

To recap, the biggest keys to quitting the booze for me have been:

a)    not drinking (obviously)

b)   building my support network (in real life and on line)

c)    continuing to enjoy my faith, however quietly

d)   addressing old hurts and forgiving those involved

e)    examining resentments and letting go

f)     recognizing worry and staying in the present

g)    feeling pride in each milestone of recovery

h)   encouraging others

In some ways, appreciating the value in the steps and even implementing them is similar to a person who lives by the values of the Ten Commandments without considering them divine laws from God.

I don’t know what lies ahead, or if this path I’ve chosen will always be the one that works for me.  But what I won’t do now is worry about that.  I will just have to trust that if I ever require additional help in order to continue walking the walk, I know exactly where to turn.



About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on July 2, 2011, in Getting Sober. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. We miss you, how come you are not blogging much anymore?


  2. I think the answer to step #1 is realizing that even you don’t have control to stop or start, it’s God who ultimately has control over that. He has control of every breath you take, and every day you have to live, and can take it away at any second. I think that’s where step #3 (turning your life and will over to God) is intertwined and so important.

    I love how you have taken so much of the AA program and other valuable life lessons and made a recovery for yourself. You know what works and that is so awesome. Congrats on your sobriety…I love reading your insight and progress.


  3. “every morning I’d say ‘today I’ll stop” and every evening (afternoon actually) I’d drink”
    That’s it. step one. You were/are powerless over alcohol. Of course, YOU chose to not drink, and you keep making that choice every single day, as do I. Good for you. Good for me (I’m at 106 days ..). I think we (read:me) like to over analyze all of this stuff because we (I) find it hard to believe how simple it is.
    Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog and wish you (and me) a smooth journey into this new space of not drinking.


  4. I myself am coming up on 20 months sober. I , like you, have done this without AA or a specific program. My first year I did have an online support group that I checked in with. As of late, I don’t do that. I do take one day at a time and have made it known to most everyone in my life that I do not drink. Some know the details, others do not. I have found that everything is not always wonderful and rosy, but without the booze coping, learning and growing are possible. I commend you on your journey!


  5. Your issue with the first step could be rooted in the fact that you, perhaps, are not an alcoholic. An alcoholic is powerless over the substance. A non alcoholic is not. That doesn’t mean that quitting is not a good option for you. It sounds as though your life has improved.


    • I guess the important part is that drinking heavily and daily for over ten years was taking its toll. I told myself if I wasn’t an alcoholic, I mustn’t need to quit – even though I wanted to stop drinking. Every morning I’d say “today I’ll stop” and every evening (afternoon actually) I’d drink.

      I often visited the website and did the diagnostic quiz. I always got the same answer (heavy drinker) but was never able to implement the suggestions for cutting down. Leaving alcohol behind has been the only answer for me.


  6. I am so intrigued by you its ridiculous. I am a full fledged AA’er as you know. This is probably because it was the most familiar and inexpensive option to getting my life back on track. I think your discoveries and insights into recovery without the traditional AA program are invaluable. You are on to something. What my mind ran off to while reading this was that you have a reasonable program outlined here that may serve those who find something objectionable about some of the AA or other step programs. Basically you have created a wonderful alternative that should be shared with those that want it. Just one more thing, you never graduate from sobriety, its a journey for a life time.


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