“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I didn’t want to join a support community. I didn’t think I needed one. I was a strong individual. I’d always worked better and accomplished more on my own.
I thought I could solve my drinking problem on my own, too. And, I tried. And tried. And tried. For thirty years. And, I got nowhere but deeper into my problem.
Why? Why can’t we manage to manage our drinking on our own?
The reasons are too numbered to cover here, but I think one reason is because our society, our main “village”, has become so “drinking is necessary to enjoy life” oriented that it attaches a stigma of disgrace and failure to those who openly try to improve their drinking habits. Seeking support from our fellow drinking villagers can result in censor and isolation. In fact, we often experience a surge in opposition to our defection toward healthier drinking.
It’s hard to mount a successful defense when the rest of the world is against you. And, that is exactly how it feels when we decide to either quit or reduce our drinking.
No matter how it feels, you are not alone.
According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (the NIAAA), about 16.3 million adults in the U.S. suffered from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in 2014 and about 1.5 million sought help.
1.5 million people sought a new village, and that’s just in the U.S. There are people worldwide who are looking for villages of people like them. People who want to take back control of their drinking. People who want to take back their lives.
Every day, new online support communities populated by people who are struggling with drinking problems or addiction are cropping up. Unlike the traditional methods of recovery, these online communities allow members to reach out for support from the comfort of their own home. These communities offer 24/7 support from members who are either facing the same struggles or have faced them in the past. Finally, there is help and support for people, like me, who could not get past the obstacles of face-to-face meetings or rehab or therapy to reach out for help. While some members of traditional organizations may argue that it is impossible to be as accountable to a community that is only linked through the internet, not flesh and blood, members of online support communities report an enhanced security in sharing their experiences. As one member put it, “I had a hard time entrusting my anonymity and secrets with people who were court ordered to attend meetings.”
Why do members of these villages succeed more often and more easily than those that go it alone?
Again, the reasons are too many and varied to discuss all of them here, but I’ll attempt to cover a few of the strongest.
Validation: In our support village, or community, our goals for a better life are recognized and validated. Sometimes we need a chorus of voices to drown out that one loud inner voice, you know it, the one that keeps telling us we’re making a bigger deal out of our drinking then we need to. The one that rushes to reassure us we’re not nearly as bad as so-and-so or so-and-so. That voice to which we so easily concede after a couple of drinks, until the next morning when we remind ourselves, it doesn’t matter how bad so-and-so is, all that matters is that our drinking is causing us misery and we don’t want to feel miserable anymore.
When I joined MM, my new villagers didn’t wag their fingers at me and say, “Don’t you remember the last time?” or “Haven’t you done the same thing over and over enough times to learn your lesson yet?”
Instead, they said things like:
“I remember what that’s like.”
“Don’t give up.”
“Here’s what I did.”
“If I made it, so will you.”
I could count on the members of my support community to recognize the efforts I was making when members of my other villages, my friends and family, could only see that I hadn’t succeeded yet.
Strength and Comfort in Numbers: When we finally accept that we, alone, are not an adequate defense against our habit and when we realize our inability to conquer it alone is not our fault and nothing to be ashamed of-statistics don’t lie-we, once again, feel empowered instead of defeated. The act of seeking help, of joining an online support community, will be the first pro-active action many of us have taken against our drinking. We begin to feel like we are taking charge and taking back a small piece of our lives. If we can do this-because it is a monumental step that many are too afraid to take-what else are we capable of?
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others is not only our best defense, but we once again feel that we belong. We are not outsiders. We are fighting on the side of right for us and our other support village members. Together we can accomplish what we could not accomplish on our own. The proof is there in every victory, our own and those of our fellow villagers. It’s there in every message board or forum post, and there are many, that proclaims, “I could not have done it without the rest of you.”
The Nobleness of it All:
I have been a member of various support villages for six years and I can’t count the times I have witnessed nobleness emerge among each village’s members. For many of us, we come to these support communities when we are at the lowest point in our life. When feeling noble is a faint memory. Many of us who join online support communities lurk for a time before we feel ready to introduce ourselves. We’re just too afraid and too ashamed. For no good reason, but we are. Then we see someone step forward, someone who is also ashamed but not afraid to talk about that shame. They need help. They need to know that they aren’t as horrible as they think they are. They need to know they are not alone.
We are pulled forward, not for us, but for them. Because it is noble to tell someone else that we know what they are feeling, that they aren’t alone, and that we have been where they have been.
It feels good. It feels right. It feels noble and we want to feel more of that.
Ironically, I have also witnessed members who only interact with other members when they, themselves, need help. They don’t take part in daily care and feeding that goes on in the community. The encouragement of others, the gentle nudges when someone is sliding off track, and the checking on the health and welfare of others. I don’t think it is an accident that these members struggle far longer than others. They haven’t accepted the burden of nobleness and reaped the benefits of making themselves accountable for others. Often we will do for others what we won’t do for ourselves. That is what makes these communities work, our need to do our best to help the other members of our community. The need to get stronger to help others and ourselves achieve our common goals.
It is impossible to put into words all that my own community, Moderation Management, has helped me accomplish, as a matter of fact, I’m sure there are far-reaching effects that I will never know. But I do know that I would never have found my way to where I am without my fellow villagers there, the ones that went before me, raising a torch and showing me the way, and those that fought alongside of me, held me up and kept me from surrendering, and, now, the new members who encourage me to keep fighting for them.
Thank you, mi amigos. I love you one and all.