7 Cliché—but Surprisingly Wise—Lessons I Learned in AA.

5. Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.

This “rule” was made up by an early AA group in 1946 who tried to fund a multifaceted recovery center with a hospital and an educational department, all spearheaded by a real self-promoter. When they realized that they were venturing out of the realm of traditions of AA (of keeping it simple), they scrapped the whole idea. They realized they got carried away and reserved the right to be wrong. They laughed at themselves for creating unnecessary drama and made up special cards that said, “Rule 62: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously!”

I have always taken myself, my problems, and my worries really seriously. I’ve even had worry lines between my eyebrows since my 30s. An acupuncturist I used to go to would always poke her finger in that spot, saying “too much worry,” and would then stick me full of needles to bring some flow back to my chi.

I once read a story about a Buddhist monk who wrote the word “smile” in large, lettered pencil on his ceiling. He said he wanted it to be the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes. It set the tone for his entire day to start with a little joy. To me, it’s not about spiritual bypass, but more of a nudge to just lighten up!

6. Make friends with your fear.

“FEAR stands for F*ck Everything And Run.” ~ Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

I’ve run before. I denied my problem with alcohol, yet used booze to hide the fact that I was afraid of everything in my life. I was scared to fail and scared to succeed. I wanted to be a glorious, drinking writer, and instead just became a drunk who didn’t write. It is only by grace that, when I walked into AA, the urge to drink lifted. It’s only by a lot of hard work that I haven’t had a drink since. When I see people come and go from AA, in and out of sobriety over and over, I know they get the “f*ck-its” as they run from the feelings sobriety brings forward.

“When you make friends with fear it can’t rule you.” ~ Anne Lamott

I like to think of FEAR standing for “Face Everything And Recover.”

I used to have so many fears about money, men, sêχ, friends, work, writing, my body, my brain, my future, and my past. It was bewildering. I had to learn how to sit with uncertainty and face my problems. Understandably, this worked out better than avoidance and pretending they didn’t exist, while simultaneously drinking myself to death.

Even after a bit of long-term sobriety, I’ve been so fearful of many of the categories listed above—sometimes I’ve been immobilized. This is when a talk with a sponsor, a friend, or an expert in that specific area has helped me face it head-on and begin to take the steps to move through it.

After the loss of my home to the hurricane, I went to a therapist to unpack all the feelings and trauma of what happened. I wrote about it and talked to people who went through the same thing. I shared about it in AA meetings in a mindful way.

As a friend said to me today, “It’s hard work when you no longer have a buffer between you and your feelings.” But the work is the very thing of life, so we do it!

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