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im·pos·tor
imˈpästər
noun

a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain.

synonyms: impersonator, masquerader, pretender, imitator, deceiver, hoaxer, trickster, fraudster, swindler

As I sit in the meeting, listening intently, trying to hear a message that I’ve not heard one hundred — (no, thousands) — times before, I hear only the same things over and over again. The medium might be different but the message is the same.

Meeting makers make it
I go to a meeting a day, sometimes two just for good measure.
This is my medicine, I need to take it daily
Your addiction is doing pushups in the parking lot

If you didn’t feel a great sense of relief when you did your 5th Step, you didn’t do it completely

The only way I know to stay sober is to be of service to others
If you don’t stay in the center of the herd, you’ll end up dead, in jail or institutionalized
If you don’t do all the steps, in order, you’re not going to stay sober.

And what I hear in all this is a familiar refrain. One that I’ve heard all my life. One that tells me that I’m not good enough. A refrain that tells me that I haven’t done things right. Over and over and over again, I hear the refrain:

You’re Doing This Wrong

And more often than not, today, I leave a 12 Step meeting with a deep sense that I’m an imposter, that I’ve gotten nothing out of the meeting, and perhaps worse, that I’ve contributed nothing to the meeting because what I have to share doesn’t fit the narrative so I keep it to myself.

I want to share that I’ve been sober for nearly three years, that my life has gotten immeasurably better, that my relationships with the people that I love are better than they have been in a long time, and that I’ve not done all 12 of the steps. I want to share that I’m not so sure that the 12 steps are as magical as they’re made out to be. I want to say that when I did my fifth step it was no big deal and I didn’t feel a great sense of relief after it, more of a “well, that’s done.”

I want to share that I feel strongly that I made a decision on September 23rd 2015 to stop drinking and that I needed the help of the fellowship to do that, but that I don’t struggle daily with the thought that I need a drink, and it’s not because I go to a meeting every day, and sometimes two for good measure.

And so, I wonder, am I doing this right? Have I missed something, or am I just an imposter.


Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

I’ve lived with it most of my life. When I was a kid, I was incredibly afraid that people would find out that I wasn’t cool. That I really couldn’t skateboard as well as I might have liked. In college, I was terrified that people would discovery that I really wasn’t working that hard on my studies despite my good grades (I wasn’t, sorry Mom.). My entire career has been in the world of information security, despite having a degree in English. I go to work every day wondering if people are actually going to believe that I know what I’m talking about, despite the fact that I’ve got over 20 years experience and have been recognized as a leader in ever role that I’ve ever had in my career.

So, why wouldn’t I doubt myself when it comes to being a sober man?  Especially when I hear messages that reinforce that I’m doing it wrong in ever meeting I go to?


This is not an indictment of the 12 Step model, or even a critique, its just a statement about my truth. My truth is that I have stayed sober for nearly three years for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was making a decision to abstain and having the support to achieve that goal.

When I walked in the doors of my first 12 Step meeting (this time) I knew deeply that I needed to change and I knew that the people in the rooms could help me. I knew that I needed to surround myself with people who were living a sober life. I was (and remain) powerless over alcohol, in that once I have my first drink all bets were off. I found the conversations about spirituality confusing at best, and annoying at worst. I’ve written about that extensively, so this is no surprise to my readers. But I found that the people in the rooms were warm, welcoming, and happy. And I wanted that desperately.

So I stuck around. And I found that the community was the most important part of the program for me. I found that in the beginning, daily meeting were necessary, but that over time as I became more comfortable in my own skin and gained surer footing walking this path, that I needed meetings less and less. Daily meetings became a few a week, a few a week became one a week. As my life became fuller, I had less time for meetings. And I am okay with that — until I go to a meeting and hear the messages that others need meetings daily and then I the doubt creeps in.

Some may recognize this in some way as fear mongering. That these repeated messages are meant to scare people into remaining in the 12 Step world. And that may in fact be a part of it, for some people — I’ve always said, “some of us are sicker than others.” But I’m not sure it’s that simple.

Recently I was discussing this with my wife. Ever insightful she said, “I think there are people who need to go to meetings ever day. I think there are people who, even several years in to sobriety, have thoughts of taking a drink daily. Who struggle with the decision to turn into the liquor store or the bar on the way home. But, you’re not one of them. The only way you’ll go out is if you make a conscious decision to take a drink.”

And I think she’s right about that. I don’t struggle with the idea of a drink, thankfully. Yes, the occasional thought crosses my mind, but these thoughts aren’t cravings or urges. They’re just thoughts. And I think there are many more people like me — people who got sober by going to a 12 Step group, who stayed a few years, and then stopped going to meetings. Like me, they don’t disparage the 12 Step world, they are grateful for it. And they know that if the time comes that they need to go to a meeting they can return.

When I think about my life, and I think about what it means if I don’t go to meetings, one thing that I worry about is the newcomer. I worry about the fact that if I’m not in meetings I won’t be there to help. Thats a fact of proximity and presence. But there are other ways to carry the message.

There are other messages that I hear in the rooms, less frequently, which I find incredibly valuable.

I didn’t get sober to spend all my life hiding in church basements.
I make my recovery the center of my life rather than my life.

I’m very active in the online recovery community — particularly on Twitter. Every time I engage with an addict or alcoholic on twitter and offer hope, I’m carrying the message. Every time I write a post here and broadcast it to my audience, I carry the message. But more importantly, each day that I live my life in accordance with the principles of the program — honesty, humility, service to others, and abstinence — I’m carrying the message.

Showing others, though example by my words and actions, that one can remain sober and live a rich and rewarding life is indeed carrying the message. And that’s what I’m doing. If that makes me an imposter, so be it. I know in my heart, that I’m enough, and that I’m living a better life than I ever did when I was drinking.

14 comments on “Imposter? I Don’t Think So.

  1. Matt Smedley says:

    You’re a good man Damien, although I don’t do AA and have walked away from local recovery groups.
    The enjoyment I got from yesterdays national UK 🇬🇧 recovery walk was amazing.
    I’m also in long-term recovery and feel that I’m past the need for regular meetings. Although my entire social circle is made up of people who are also sober.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. bgddyjim says:

    Three years? Your line of thought is vaguely familiar. I remember missing my pink cloud, to be honest. I too had some struggles with where I fit in this program. I can tell you what helped me, and this still works today; “it’s not what I get out of a meeting, it’s what I bring to it”.

    Your experience, strength and hope are all you have. Share it. I wouldn’t do it your way, but it’ll help someone new who thinks like you stay sober. You’ll catch some shit from the old-timers every now and again, but it’s your experience, strength and hope. Share it.

    The program is strong enough to survive someone who does it a little different. Just read the first three paragraphs of chapter five. If you do that, call it good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hearon (HD) says:

    You definitely are not an imposter and I’m sorry your self-talk takes you there at times. I go to meetings for a variety of reasons. More than 50% of it is community: making connections with people. Sprinkled in there is getting the “reminder” that I’m an alcoholic, helping others, and the occasional nugget that helps me. Our inclination to actually drink is very similar, as you know, but “to not drink” is not why I go to the meetings. It just keeps me in it and in mind. Going also helps my “spiritual fitness” or whatever you want to call it. I will say that it is very easy for me to filter out the things I do not agree with. (It is very easy for me to focus most entirely on the similarities). Anyway, I agree 100% with Mrs. TKD’s observations. I also do not think the jargon is fear mongering (I think “rarely have we seen…” is probably a factually accurate statement). And I also think from personal observation that you follow all of this a lot more closely than you admit (or perhaps more accurate: no less closely than MOST you are sitting with)….but that you have questions and doubts and that perhaps you think it’s wrong to have those. It’s not; you’re the real deal!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. damien says:

      Thanks H. Always appreciate your love and support.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Damien!
    It’s me again! You are just questioning things, which is what thinking people do!
    I go to AA once a week. I go to be a support if someone need to see a joyful recovery person. I just listen, and take what I need. I do the phone list for them, too. However, I don’t meet many newcomers in my meetings, and I have really only made a few connections there.
    So I, like you, find I help people the most on my blog, or by reading and commenting on other blogs, and on Twitter.
    I know I’ve said this before, AA alone did not get me sober. But it has helped me with life!!
    You are helping many people, and have brought peace and love to your family, as well as yourself!
    That’s the most important thing!! Hugs!
    Go Vikings!!
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 3 people

  5. byebyebeer says:

    This definitely resonates. For every fear based cliche heard at a meeting, there must be at least 5 people thinking the same thing as you. I do wish I would have kept going to meetings for the fellowship, but I’m not dissatisfied with the path my recovery took. In our hearts we know there are different ways to get and stay sober, but I don’t recall hearing that at a meeting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. damien says:

      I wish I had the courage to speak my mind in the meetings but I know I’d get the smack down from someone after the meetings.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. byebyebeer says:

        Yeah, I didn’t do that either…guess I felt it wasn’t my right and knew it would t be received well. I know there are others who get turned off and wonder if it’s just them. If only they were to go online. It’s an individual path, and there’s no rush to make a decision. Recovery constantly evolves, which I love.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. damien says:

        “Recovery constantly evolves” — I love that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. byebyebeer says:

        Just want to add when you’re sharing your thoughts and experiences in a meeting, you are helping others who struggle with the fear based cliches. In the early days, I remember looking for anyone I could relate to. They were there, just maybe quieter.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jim Wilson says:

    I agree with most of your views. The one thing I would request deeper consideration on is the benefit(s) of the 5th step. My initial reaction was exactly as yours was: Relief that it was over with. However, my sponsor urged me to reflect more carefully of what might have changed as a result. I then recalled as I attended a meeting that I felt was generally generallly attended by crude, raucous folks of little spiritual development; folks I would not associate with outside of a meeting, I realized that I no longer felt intimidated by them, & more specifically, that I no longer felt like an imposter in the meeting. I knew then, that they couldn’t throw me out (not that they could/would, but that was the way I felt). In other words, I felt like I earned my seat. It was only over time, that I came to realize the depth of relief at having told my entire story, including ALL secrets, to one person (not piecemealing it out, so that nobody got the entire picture). That was in Sept 1979. Still, it wasn’t for another month, when I commenced step 9, that I knew the nightmare was truly over & I really couldtstay sober. I’ve typically felt like an outsider much of my 40-Yrs sober. Much of the common groupthink in meetings is nonsense & I applaud your willingness to think carefully & challenge it. I just keep showing up to put my hand out to guys like me, who wanted to live a normal life, rather than join a cult :-/

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tom says:

    Hi Damien – I really appreciate your description of feeling like an imposter, that people have something you don’t. Those slogans and the way people sort of brag about what they have now that they have some recovery leaves me queasy. It’s one of the reasons I stopped going to meetings, though I work an awesome program … and now it seems I’m finding an online community via some blogs like yours to connect to. So thanks for being out here, trudging the road of happy destiny! (And I agree with you, what you’re doing on the Internet, I believe is carrying a message and making a difference. It’s helped THIS addict feel more comfortable stepping into this online recovery space. So thanks, brother!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. damien says:

      Thanks Tom. I’m glad to hear you’re finding community in the internet and that my blog is helpful. There are some really great people out there. I’ve made some great friends on Twitter and have actually met several in real life after first meeting them there.

      Like

      1. Tom says:

        Cool … yeah, I’m looking forward to this next leg of my journey!

        Like

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