Peeling the Onion

Peeling the Onion

Oh drat

Here comes the knife again

I close my petals tightly

From exquisite pain.

Consider the onion as a metaphor, how does it apply to alcohol and addiction? Onions, like people come in all sizes and colors. An onion is usually round – a circle denoting wholeness but must be peeled to find the gold inside.

Thus peeling away my first layer caused tears of remorse and regret along with some relief. Everyone I meet gets to taste my onion.

I am a red onion. My top layer was thick and could not reveal what lay within. The red represents my love of deep red wine – – – the heavenly release from ½ glass at night, but what happened?  One glass became one bottle became four Martinis became four Manhattans became endless Rusty nails.

The theater brought more onions, sweet drinks turned a shy introvert into a party girl (whatever that means).

The onion is now nicely marinated ready for its first unveiling. Oops! . . . a black eye from a blackout. I call AA and offer myself for the first ritual peeling, the first step. I am an alcoholic, a young sad drunken woman whose life was tightly controlled by another angry onion.

The first peeling came from a kindly AA man who said to me, “Your husband treats you like a doormat.” The skin practically fell off as I had my first experience with heightened awareness and a bit of self-esteem.

I continued to learn from other onions mostly by the way they conducted their lives. I witnessed some female onions as they peeled down to the layer of knowledge. I have learned from the history of yoga that knowledge is one of the paths to Nirvana or wholeness.

Some people in our fellowship deny knowledge and intellect as being important; sometimes they have denounced and excluded me. That is a painful peeling. The lesson I learned from that excision was that I did not have to please other onions.

I roamed away from AA when religious dogma reared its ugly head. I elected getting an education as primary, not just any education but a study of depth psychology or the study of the human soul. I continued abstinence for 20 years without the AA program. But that’s me and it is not a recommendation. Those years were happy fruitful years. Purpose is a great motivator.

I studied the fathers of depth psychology, one of them being Carl Gustav Jung, MD, the very man Bill Wilson had consulted about alcoholism. My fellow students were on the same quest for my unnamed yearnings.

Meanwhile I had a personal guide of a Jungian analyst for 13 years. Much more peeling took place as I explored my own ethics, my own soulfulness, often at odds with social values. I learned from a dead psychiatrist who once told Wilson that alcoholism could only be cured by a religious experience. However unless one studies Jung, one would not know that Jung advised those who had a church to return IF it helped them, but to those who could not, they must find their wholeness from the inner Self or the psyche. Much peeling took place in the therapy room studying dreams, visions and shadow work (the 4th step).

Jung advocates confession (the 5th step) but thinks education, elucidation and transformation follow if one continues the work. I think these represent emotional sobriety.

After graduating with a PhD, emotional problems took over for the next five years. My son-in-law died unexpectedly, my daughter had surgery for ovarian and uterine cancer. Our four cats died within three months. My already diabetic husband developed bladder cancer and has had two surgeries. He also had several strokes and now he experiences a-fib. The unprocessed anger I have causes me chronic pain. I don’t think my experience is very different from others as far as life’s problems. People have their own brands of tragedy. I handled the death of my son-in-law by being present for him and my daughter. However when my daughter contracted cancer, I spent about a month alone, screaming on a daily basis. I cried when the cats died. But when my husband became ill, I doused any feelings. I was tired of feeling.

One night after sheer loneliness and isolation, I sought out an Al-Anon meeting and must have seemed crazed as I sobbed my story. I later returned to AA. To my surprise, the Christian concepts were still being followed; the idea of sin and redemption was long gone from my thinking. I became conflicted by the hard sell many members propounded. However, many people stepped up to help me when I needed it.

I later accepted the fact that everyone has his or her spiritual or nonspiritual beliefs and that their beliefs did not stop them from helping me when I asked.

However, I was very grateful when the “We Don’t Know” meeting (founded by Chris G.) flourished. I do not have to listen to long dogmatic religious oriented literature although these may (or may not) benefit newcomers. We are allowed a wider range of opinions, readings, topics and best of all; it is open to all and not restricted to agnostics or atheists. Alcoholics, addicts and other sufferers are invited.

Of course, any group can experience change by a group conscience. Our group has traveled the road of dogma creeping in through this process. This fragile fellowship needs strong members to sustain our desire for secular meetings, otherwise, we are forced to fracture and start new secular meetings. We are fortunate that AA can sustain some radical change of thought, bringing our program wider possibilities and offering new choices to the newcomer.

About the Author

I am a depth psychologist trained at Pacifica Graduate Institute. I have been sober for 50 years. I have been a “rebellious dog” for much of that time.

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Dan W.ERIKAErika SJoe Cjoseph guay Recent comment authors

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Dan W.
Dan W.

Thanks Ericka, I love Jung myself and his analysts there is some great documentaries out there! , I’m new too secular sobriety and in my 11 th year, it is lonely but I find programmed people tough to be around now, authenticity of newcomers in the new meeting we have started in my area of Zombie Zealots is all that sustains me some quiet time (letting go ) and my sober life. I long for old timer wisdom of the sages and gurus and I suppose my old timers when I was in my first years of recovery who I… Read more »

Joe C
Joe C

Dear Dr. Rebellion Dog ;-P First, great essay. Sobriety isn’t a get out of jail free card for avoiding loss and trauma. Let’s just say, I relate to long-term recovery bottoms. I appreciated how you tired of so much “feeling.” Thank you. Now to my own selfish End I’m doing some research about dogmatism in AA. In my case, I almost missed it as it was happening until it was the new normal. I’d welcome an opportunity to interview you about where you got sober, the attitude and meeting rituals of the day and what shifts you observed . I… Read more »


I will be happy to give you an interview, Joe C
We met when you came to Idyllwild,CA.

joseph guay
joseph guay

Peeling hurts real bad. Agonizing. And yet, after each peeling, I feel like a new man, the man I have always been. And I walk around, feeling like a miracle. Exquisite. And later, more peeling, a little less pain. And the same ecstasy when I look in the mirror. Thank you.

steve k
steve k

Thank you Erika for sharing your experience in recovery. I identify with the process of taking away layers and the ongoing growth towards emotional sobriety. I like the sound of your liberal AA home group – it’s how all groups would be if it were left upto me! 😊


“Onions, like people come in all sizes and colors. An onion is usually round – a circle denoting wholeness but must be peeled to find the gold inside.”