I was in my third year of sobriety when my husband and I decided to move to France. It was an easy choice, one we had always talked about since he is a French Citizen and we had hope that a life together there would be as memorable as his childhood had been. I took some foreign language courses in high school and college, as most Americans do, but I never mastered any of them. When people asked if I spoke French I liked to tease them and say, “I’m fluent in superficial conversation.”
A frequent topic my sponsor and I discussed in the months leading up to the move was my program abroad. “Be prepared” was a motto she helped install into my program early on. Be prepared when entering situations that have the potential to be sobriety-threatening. Be prepared to let someone in the program know my plans to attend an engagement where alcohol was being served. Be prepared to make myself accountable. Take some phone numbers. Be prepared to receive a signal when it’s time to leave. Be prepared to move to France and watch all these things change.
Meeting schedule: check. Online meeting schedule: check. Weekly phone date with sponsor: check. Accountability: check. It was through having a plan that I discovered the few meetings near to where I was going to be living were only French-speaking. I prepared myself to step up online English-speaking meetings while attending face-to-face meetings in French. “Your program is strong,” my sponsor would say.
I tried not to get carried away thinking about the “What-ifs.” It was easy to worry after nearly relapsing while visiting France during my first year of sobriety. The first year nearly killed me and the French really do drink as much wine as you imagine they do. It was during that visit that I broke my anonymity with my in-laws after an alcoholic tantrum had me head-to-head with my father-in-law and forced my mother-in-law to her bedroom in tears. “I don’t remember ever seeing my mother cry,” my husband said to me. Hiding in the upstairs bathroom of their home while everyone waited for me to start dinner, I met my Higher Power, begging for direction. A storm outside raged, eerily matching the rage I felt inside and I knew it was time to tell the truth. To make Amends. To be honest with myself and with the others that I wanted so badly to love and be loved by, but alcohol had kept me far from it. The vulnerability felt paralyzing. My husband beside me in support, I again admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. I was blessed that night to share tears over dinner with a group of compassionate, supportive people who respected my honesty and asked how they could help. It was a collective sigh of relief. For me; having admitted my disease with nothing left to hide and for them; having an explanation for my less-than-gracious behavior.
When the Going Gets Tough, Get Going.
After we made the move I made all kinds of excuses why I couldn’t get to meetings. The kids are sick, I’m sick, there are no meetings on weekends, I have no childcare, my husband works late, the meetings are too late in the evening and I am too tired to go, and on and on. When it happened, that yucky thing that happens when we get away from our program, I needed a meeting so badly that I couldn’t wait another day. I drove 45 minutes, late at night, to an unfamiliar inner city and paid 6 euros just to drive there. It takes what it takes, right? I couldn’t find the location and prayed that my higher power would help me find the meeting or at least get me back home safely.
I honestly can’t explain how I ended up at the back of a unlit parking lot and down an alley to the back of a building. There was a tiny light above an open door with a little sign hanging from the handle that translated to “AA MEETING.” My prayers answered.
I may not have been able to understand everything at that meeting. Nor was I able to share much about myself beyond how long I had been in the country, where I was coming from, that I was so grateful to be there and of course, that my name is Amy and I’m an alcoholic.
The same disease that we all fight one day at a time. Therefore, they knew me. I knew them. On a level beyond being able to speak the same language. I was home. I was reminded of who I was. I filled my leaky bucket. I started believing I could make it through another day sober. The meeting fulfilled in me all the things that I needed that day and restored hope that my program is never far away.
It’s good to know that it doesn’t matter where in the world we are, our program of recovery travels with us. As of 2015 it was estimated that the fellowship of AA is accessible in 181 countries, 64 of which are autonomous G.S.O.s in other lands. There’s over two million active members and over 117,000 registered groups. See http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-132_en.pdf. With those statistics, we truly are NEVER ALONE AGAIN.