Spiritual Fitness

Throughout my recovery, one of the ways I have measured my spiritual fitness has been whether I am able to have fun without drinking, especially in situations where other people are having drinks. In the past two weekends I had two very different experiences at drinking parties. Nothing drastic had changed in my life in that week, all circumstances were basically equal. And yet, one week I had a great time and the next week I was miserable. What, if anything, changed in my “fitness” in that short time?

The first party I attended was my sister’s 50th birthday– her partner rented her a “party bus” and filled it with 30 of my sister’s friends and family members, most of whom seemed committed to getting as hammered as possible. I knew when I got the invitation that this might not be the most fun situation for me – basically riding a bar on wheels between four breweries – but it was important to me to show up for my sister on her big day. I figured if it became too much, I could get an Uber home at any time. What I quickly learned after we got rolling was that the bus was taking us to breweries well outside the metro area, so getting an Uber was not going to be an easy (read: cheap) prospect, and I was pretty well committed for the whole journey. Alas, one of my sisters and my niece were not drinking very much at all, so I had allies. Also, I was fortunate that the city I was in had an Agnostic AA meeting, which I attended earlier in the day. After four hours of the party bus and brewery visits, the party dispersed. Back at my sister’s house, my niece and I pillaged the ice cream while laughing wildly about the drunken antics we had just witnessed.

On its face, the following weekend’s party should have been a much easier situation. A good friend was turning 40 and having a low-key gathering in his backyard around a fire. My partner was with me, and it was easy to leave whenever I wanted. But as my partner and friends got wasted, my mood soured. They were having a ball and I felt the odd one out. To be fair, I was actually having fun for quite a while, and suddenly I took a sharp left turn and I had to leave right away. My partner and I made a polite exit, but I couldn’t hold back the emotion on the way home. I felt so jealous, so pitiful and weak, and I wanted to drink. I reluctantly cried but I did not share the true depth of my despair with my partner. I felt like a complete loser.

Thankfully because of what the program has taught me, I did not drink, and I did not even give the dark feelings a lot of space to fester. The saying “feelings are not facts” came to my mind, and I told myself that this feeling would pass soon. I realized that I was in a depressive state, so dwelling on these thoughts and feelings was not going to do any good. I just needed to get myself to bed and get a fresh perspective tomorrow. Sure enough, that is what happened. In the morning, while my partner was hungover and tired, I felt just fine. I felt a little rattled though, because it was so uncommon for me to experience such a negative feeling about my sobriety as I had the night before. I was anxious to figure out where I had gotten out of balance.

The most obvious difference between the two evenings was the lack of a meeting in the latter. Having sworn off non-secular meetings, my diet of meetings is sparse. I tend to downplay the importance of meetings in my life, if only as a coping mechanism because I lack access to meetings (in addition to being committed to non-secular meetings, I live out in the middle of nowhere four days a week). But I can’t deny that going to a meeting the day of the first party seems to have made a difference in my experience. Another difference is that at the second party, I did not have a sober (or even a sober-ish) ally. Feeling alone is intimately linked with my alcoholism, and the hubris of thinking I can (and must) do anything and everything on my own is one of my character defects. As I have before, I humbly remind myself that I am not invincible.

Another thing I like to do to get myself out of a depressive state is to reconnect with friends in the program. One of the strategies AA has taught me is to get out of my own head by thinking about others. So, I decided to text a handful of people in the program – three old friends and one new friend – to share my struggle and see how they were getting along. Depressive thoughts abounded. “They don’t care about me anymore, they won’t respond.” All four did respond. As it turned out, one of them was really struggling with their sobriety and wanted to talk on the phone. The other three were doing great but were happy to hear from me and give me some advice on my situation. Two of them told me that they still stay away from heavy drinking parties, despite long-term sobriety. This helped me realize that maybe I had been asking too much of myself by expecting I be completely unphased at the parties. Maybe I could try being more compassionate and patient with myself. After talking to my friends, I didn’t feel alone anymore.

So maybe my spiritual fitness isn’t in such a horrid state after all – maybe going to drinking parties and feeling unaffected will never be in the cards for me. Or maybe I just need to not overdo it with several weekends in a row of exposure to those situations. I have an addiction that is dangerous to underestimate. Being fully rid of the desire to drink may still be years away, or maybe it will not ever completely go away. Can I make room for the possibility that dangling alcohol right in front of my face may trigger my addiction, even if I am spiritually fit?

Still, I see there are ways I could better balance my life and improve my fitness. This is the ongoing task of life for every human being, not just alcoholics. I see the need for more creative expression in my life, and more service. Writing this article is one way that I can meet both of those goals. I also decided to rejoin the community choir for the coming semester, and I just joined the board of the local library. Maybe my next task should be to come up with some different, more realistic measures of my spiritual fitness.

About the Author

Sam is a native Kansan who first got sober with the help of AA in 2014. Since then she has changed careers to become a teacher and is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Education. She lives in rural Kansas with her cat, and spends her free time gardening, reading, and spending time with friends, family, and Agnostic A.A. cohorts.

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Ram M.
Ram M.

Sam, Thanks for your article. I usually approach testimonials with an eye of meh and as I read through this I deeply appreciated your identifying the tactics and spiritual fitness context that correlates with one’s ability to be resilient in the heavy drinking events you describe. I also wanted to share that I attend a women’s non secular meeting weekly and it has been my anchor base. The women know who I am, they know and hear my beliefs and while they may not agree with me, they accept me because we are all on the same journey together. Perhaps… Read more »

Bob K
Bob K

Thanks for the essay — interesting subject matter. As an atheist, I suppose many AA members would feel compelled to judge my “spiritual condition” as wanting. The term “spiritual” has such diversity in the modern world, that it can mean almost anything. What I can assess quite easily is my emotional condition. I really like how the essays first line expresses that: “Throughout my recovery, one of the ways I have measured my spiritual fitness has been whether I am able to have fun without drinking, especially in situations where other people are having drinks.” Boom. My only point of… Read more »

John S

There truly are bad AA meetings. I actually wanted to run out of one that I myself was chairing! Fortunately, the good meetings far outweigh the number of bad ones. The thing about it though is that it seems when a person comes to a meeting or group for the first time, their first impression is how they judge that group. This is especially true for people who haven’t been to an AA meeting before. They don’t understand how the tone of a meeting can differ from one group to the next and one day to the next.

Pat N.
Pat N.

Thanks for the article, Megan, and congratulations on surviving both parties. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, and you’re sure staying on top of yours. I went to a party w/ 12 or so other seasoned citizens last night at which wine was served, and no one drank too much. I’m glad, because I can’t stand drunks. Sounds hypocritical in a way, except I couldn’t stand myself when I was a drunk. I just don’t like being around people, including myself, who deliberately sabotage their own brains, language, and behavior. The hostess told me belatedly that the… Read more »

Bob K
Bob K

A woman I know well was two years sober when her boyfriend broke up with her. The neighbor heard the ex-beau’s car screeching away, found her crying and asked what was wrong. He then fetched her a wine cooler, and said “Drink this, you’ll feel better.” Twenty-five years later, she still blames the neighbor for her relapse.

Marty Nieski
Marty Nieski

My AA wife always says if you want to have fun hang around with people under five. Unless it is a really serious drinking event, there usually are children about. Spend time with them. You will enjoy it and the parents will be glad to have a little time to themselves. I’ve been doing it for many years [11 grand kids]. Try it, you’ll like it!

Bobby Freaken Beach
Bobby Freaken Beach

The great W.C. Fields was asked “How do you like children?”

He replied, “Barbecued.”


good job, capturing an experience, Sam. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotional responses to these events, as well. I don’t go to many. Not because I need to hide from booze, but simply because I have little in common with folks that drink heavily. I do remember an old saying a friend gave years ago: don’t give fire a place to start. this old idea.. so often heard in AA, “Spiritual Condition”. it’s pretty silly. I made a meme for social media a few years ago.. it says [“Spiritual Condition “what we really have is a daily reprieve contingent… Read more »