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.