Something that I became aware of after passing the ten year mark--and that became a certainty after the twenty year mark --is the paradox of pain in recovery. It is this: there is much less pain and crisis in our lives after a good chunk of time in recovery.
That is a good thing, no doubt about that. But, and here's the paradox, we know that it was pain and regular crises that kept us regulars at 12-step meetings in the early years. It was pain and having to learn from scratch how to live that kept us coming back and that assured us daily contact with sponsors and other program folks. So after ten years many women are asking: So what does it mean now, when life really is getting better, that we seem to fall away from the program? We have less pain so we don't HAVE to go to a meeting every day just to survive. We don't feel like we need to crawl to the phone to call our sponsors every night. In many ways we have internalized the wisdom of the rooms and the voices of our sponsors and the program folks whom believe are wise or who have what we want.
This is also confusing to others in the rooms too. Sometimes I hear at meetings: Where are the people with more than ten years? We might imagine that they have fallen away, that they have "slipped", or "gone out" or relapsed. But more often the truth is that they are well, and happy and they are out living life. What we forget is that people who have been in recovery for ten-plus years and who have remained sober a long time have added PTA and the Rotary and volunteer work and sports and travel and more education and maybe even having a second family to lives that were once filled with four meetings a week.
Is this a bad thing? It's very tempting to say that it is. But really. We don't get sober to go to meetings and this may be heresy but--we don't get sober to not drink. We get sober to grow and change and to live and love and to serve God and our fellow man. We can do that in a lot of ways and a lot of places. Pain dragged us to AA and pain kept us in those folding chairs in church basements for years so that as recovery progressed the pain could lessen and we could be freed from addiction--and church basements--to give of our selves in the wider world.