As the mother of eight children, I’ve spent most of my adult life pregnant. Or drunk. After I got sober, I realized the striking parallels between recovery from alcoholism and the process of pregnancy and childbirth. I credit 12-step recovery meetings with transforming my life as much as I do motherhood. In fact, today I could not do one without the other.
I’ve always been a little nerdy and loved to read. So, when I got sober, the literature of the program really spoke to me. I spent some time considering the three legacies in the 12-step program: recovery, unity and service. These three concepts are like a triangle, recovery serving as the foundation, with unity and service leaning on each other to complete the shape. It’s my experience that alcoholism is a three-part disease. In this context, it helps me to think of the word disease to mean a lack of ease. Essentially when I feel a lack of ease, I’m anxious, restless, irritable and discontented, until I can find something that gives me that sense of ease. The three parts of the sense are the mind, body and spirit.
Recovery treats the mind. It relieves the mental obsession, which for me was the realization that I was imprisoned by my thoughts of alcohol. Where was I going to get it and how? Did I have good enough plans or hiding places to drink without others noticing? Chasing the buzz alcohol provided became a recurrent, persistent impulse. Eventually it took over my mind and the pursuit of even the idea of the feeling of that drink became involuntary despite my attempts to ignore it, control it or suppress it. My mind will tell me even now, after a decade of sobriety that “I’m probably “ne, I can probably drink normally again.” That’s crazy, because I live such a lovely life today…why would I try it? Only an insane person would take that risk.
I’m not in charge of the crazy things that my into my brain, but I’m totally the boss of my responses. This wasn’t always the case. My brain used to think I should drink a bottle of champagne on the way to the gym, then drive to pick my kids up from school with a giant stuffed animal sticking out of my sunroof. Today I know my actions have a ripple effect. I must treat my recovery every day so that I can be an asset and not a liability in my own life. When I first realized that, the major question became how could I support my recovery each day by working the other two sides of the triangle: unity and service.
“Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday we will control and enjoy our drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity, or death. We learned that we had to concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery.”
(Chapter 3, page 30 in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “More About Alcoholism.”)
Unity treats the body. I believe this means both my physical body and the body of members of the 12-step group. I had to get my body into treatment and dry out. I had to get my ass into a chair regularly at 12-step meetings. I had to feel raw and broken and speak it out in order to heal. I had to listen with my ears to those who had started down this path before me to hear how they did it. My body had to feel uncomfortable and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As a result, I had the privilege of seeing with my own eyes how people recovered. I also felt the power of the group’s individual and shared experiences. Eventually I developed with my brain a belief that I could too, and now I have a desire with my heart to practice a sober lifestyle.
“Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends–this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and work with each other is the bright spot of our lives.” (Chapter 7, page 89 in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “Working With Others.”)
Service treats the spirit. To me, this means getting out of my own head and assisting someone else, another one of God’s kids. It’s developing empathy for others. It’s becoming a helper and working shoulder to shoulder with others, without judging and thinking I’m better than or worse than someone else. It’s becoming a seeker of a Higher Power, a God of my own under‐ standing and letting that Higher Power pry open my hands which I have gripped so tightly around my life, which is simply in an illusion of control. It means letting go in order to gain everything. It means acceptance and knowing that if things were meant to be different, they would be. It means prayer becomes less about talking to God and more about getting quiet so God can talk to me…through meetings, books, nature, readings, conversations or whatever else. It’s practicing humility and open-mindedness. It’s cultivating a teachable heart and a coachable inner tree.
“Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. May God bless you and keep you–until then.” (Chapter 11, page 64 in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “A Vision For You.”)
Essentially, I realized that these three legacies mirror three trimesters in a couple of ways: first, you have to get pregnant. Or get sober. That is the foundation of a pregnancy and child‐ birth that cannot be escaped. Let’s say you want to have a baby. I mean, physically give birth to a baby. Of course, there are other options if you want to build a family—adopt a child, find a surrogate or become a foster parent—but for the purpose of this example, assume “you” want to experience childbirth. First of all, you need to have the correct components: ovaries, sperm and womb. Second, there is a period of gestation. If your fetus doesn’t complete the period of gestation, you have a miscarriage or baby with some physical challenges and you’re facing possible NICU time. I have had two miscarriages, so I know from painful experience that gestation needs to happen in order for fetal viability. At the time of this writing, doctors say that is about 24 weeks. Without the proper parts and the necessary time, you cannot give birth to a baby.
All three of these concepts are dependent on each other. For those of you who want the brass tacks (my fellow members of the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” Club), I will elaborate.
The frst thing you need to do when you want to have a baby is get pregnant. Likewise, if you want to give birth to a whole new life, you cannot continue to live the same way you always have. In my case, that way of living included chugging wine, champagne and vodka to escape my thoughts and feelings. Every day. This is not particularly healthy for anybody, but as the mom of four small kids, responsible for endless carpools, class projects, doses of antibiotics and matching socks, it was insane. So what I’m trying to say is that I needed to get sober.
The next thing that must happen for a viable pregnancy is the regular pattern of growth. You need to take care of yourself, take your vitamins, get regular checkups, listen to your doctor’s advice. In my most recent pregnancies, I routinely encountered those adorable fruit comparison lists to illustrate fetal growth. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m jealous. Just kidding. Let me break it down. There are tons of different versions, but basically your baby is the size of a fig at 10 weeks, a lemon at 14 weeks, an eggplant at 22 weeks and so on until you get to the watermelon. To grow in recovery you also need to take care of yourself. Regular meetings, following directions from a sponsor and working through the steps.
The third trimester is when you deliver the baby, the miracle of childbirth.
It’s exciting, terrifying and unpredictable. Once that tiny human exits your body, you’re stuck with it. No return policy, no cancellations. We’re “talking final sale, my friend.” Of course, motherhood is the most amazing gift I have ever been given, and I’m ridiculously grateful. I know there are many people who don’t have the privilege to experience parenthood. But, the delivery is just the beginning. This is how I personally experienced a new life, had a spiritual awakening as a result of the step work, and continue to watch the promises come true in my life: by carrying the message of hope to those who are still suffering, and attempting to practice these principles in all my affairs.
After one gives birth, there is a feeling of overwhelm. That’s the best way I can describe it. Just overwhelming joy, overwhelming pride, overwhelming unknowingness of what to do. Getting sober and giving birth are equally overwhelming. Both feel like your goal is to make one trip from your car to your apartment after grocery shopping. Your wrists nearly breaking off you load 84 bags of groceries onto your forearms and begin the journey up four flights of stairs. When you reach the top, you’re thrilled with yourself. You feel electrified and exhausted but overjoyed. But only after you’ve endured all that pain.
“We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which he had not even dreamed.” (Chapter 2, page 25 in The Big Book of Alco‐ holics Anonymous, “There is a Solution.”)
Pain is the price of admission. Is it worth it? You bet your belly it is. (Pregnant belly or your beer belly, whichever applies.)