The Key(tag) to Change

Four years ago today I went to my first-ever 12-step meeting. It was an NA meeting in a church around the corner from where I lived in college. I drank four beers to get the courage to go, hopped in my car and drove to the meeting (smart, I know.) I was dressed in an old sweatshirt, ripped jeans and beat up sneakers. I didn’t know what addicts looked like and I wanted to blend in. I sat down in this circle of chairs in a small meeting hall next to the church and the guy next to me introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Christian. Are you here for class?”

“Class?” I asked.

“Yeah, sometimes nursing students from the college come to sit in on our meetings an observe for their psychology course,” He explained.

 “Um, no. I’m pretty sure I’m here for me.”

“Oh, okay. Welcome!”

Great, I didn’t even wear the right clothes! I’ve learned over the years that addicts/alcoholics come in all different shapes, sizes, and clothes with different childhoods, jobs, social statuses, etc. If you saw me on the street today you wouldn’t think I am what I am. For the most part, recovering addicts look the same as everyone else.

I cried through the whole meeting and people talked about themselves and I think people were welcoming me since I was a “newcomer.” I don’t remember much about that night, but I do remember people telling me to Keep Coming Back. And that is just what I did….
 The skinny on addiction for the “normies” (a.k.a. non-addict/non-alcoholic “normal” people):

I’ll try to put in terms that everyone can understand. I’ve noticed over the past decade that it’s become very trendy for people give up sugar, sweets, meat, dairy, gluten or whatever else they no longer want in their diet. (I’m pretty sure the list of “things to give up” is endless in the food category) Sometimes women people swear off dating or relationships. Or…I don’t know, did you ever experience Lent as a child? For all the normies out there: try to deprive yourself of something you love for 40 days and you’ll experience a small fraction of what it’s like to be a recovering addict.

Except in recovery, instead of just 40 days, you basically give up the most important thing in your life…one day at a time…forever. Forever. Yeah, I know, that seems crazy right? I thought it was crazy too which is why I didn’t quite make it to “forever” in my first few attempts at getting clean. In fact I didn’t truly get clean until 4-5 months after my first meeting – July 2007.

All the normies are reading this and saying, “Wait, drugs and alcohol were the most important things in your life?” To them I say: Yes, isn’t that sad? It’s very sad. But that’s the way it was for me years ago and that’s what it was like for everyone I’ve ever met in the program. In the darkest stages of addiction, chemically altering the way you feel is literally the only thing you care about. Your life boils down to this: getting and using and finding ways and means to get more.

Addiction has many more elements than simply the way I’m describing it here (it’s a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual malady) but believe me it’s extremely hard to stop using/drinking when you are an addict. One of the dumb reasons I relapsed in my first few months was the thought that I would never have a class of champagne on my wedding day. In all honesty, my life four years ago was devastating and in the end I didn’t expect to live past the age of 21 much less get married. Reminder: For a recovering alcoholic/addict, there is never a good reason to drink/use.

Getting Clean:

So besides the whole “not wanting to die” thing, what helped me get clean? Meetings, program literature, fellow recovering addicts and a great sponsor! And you know what really helped me stay clean for the first year? These:

Yes, keytags! In NA (AA has chips I think, but I didn’t start AA until year 2 so I don’t have any to share with you) you get a different colored keytag for the different mile stones you make! How cool is that? They are small pieces of plastic and for the first two years of my recovery they were my favorite things in the world.

1. White: the international sign of surrender. You can get it just for the desire to get clean.

2. Orange: 30 days clean! (I spotted this one on Teen Mom 2 last week – yay!)

3. Green: 60 days!

4. Red: 90 Days!

5. Blue: 6 months!

6. Yellow: 9 months!

7. Glow-in-the-dark: 1 year! (so your sponsor can find you)

8. Duct-tape gray: 18 months! (for sticking around)

9. Black: Multiple years of recovery.

10. [Purple]: the world is still voting on this but I think it will represent 1 decade if it gets made.

When you give up unhealthy eating habits, the reward is usually that you physically feel better. For me, physically feeling better was not enough to keep me clean. Mainly because I didn’t yet know how to feel better emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Things don’t get better right away and in early recovery I often forgot the reasons why I was staying clean. But the thought of picking up a new keytag in 5, 10, or 15 days kept me from picking up a drink or a drug.

When you pick up a new keytag at a meeting you get a huge round of applause and lots of hugs. When I picked up my 1 year glow-in-the-dark keytag at a meeting in London in front of 200 people I didn’t know, I received the biggest round of applause I had ever experienced. Tears were streaming down my face as I went up to hug the woman who was presenting the keytag to me. That night I was incredibly proud to be a part of such an amazing group of people.

Now every year on my anniversary I get an AA coin. Today the coins are special to me, but they will never hold the same value as the keytags I got in early recovery. Four years ago today, in utter desperation, I took a suggestion from a doctor to go to a meeting. My life hasn’t been the same since. I cannot believe it’s been four years since my journey began.

***Since one of the 12 traditions states that the program’s public relations policy is “attraction, not promotion” I realize I shouldn’t technically be promoting the program via this blog (do I count as the press? probably not). I am simply writing about my experience, hoping it seems attractive to you and you will get the help you need if you want it! ***

What motivates you to change / continue to change your life?



Filed under Recovery

2 responses to “The Key(tag) to Change

  1. Lindsey

    I’m so proud of you. Congratulations!

    I wish I had been there for you more in high school knowing what I know now. I was just so oblivious and naive and clueless as to how to help.

    I’m so glad you found NA when you did!

    Love you!

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