Friday, May 28, 2010


Today is not my birthday. Not sobriety, not bellybutton, no, today is just another day for me. But it is that time of the month where a lot of birthday meetings are happening. I went to one on Wednesday, a young people’s. Tonight, I’ll be going to two others. Some meetings celebrate birthdays every week.

I imagine newcomers might get a little confused by the whole birthday concept. When I was new, I remember needing it explained to me exactly what a ‘bellybutton’ birthday is. I was told it’s the day you were born, as opposed to your sobriety anniversary, which is what we celebrate in meetings.

The young people’s meeting was very cool. A lot of people came forward to receive their chips. Each of them was asked the question of how they did it. I found myself smiling as the same answers were given over and over again. “I went to meetings.” “ I got a sponsor and worked the steps.” “I was of service.”

These are, of course, the cornerstones of the program, the suggestions that are passed down from one addict/alcoholic to another, just as they were passed down to them. They are passed because we have found that they work. To someone new, who can’t imagine getting thirty days clean and sober let alone five years or more, these statements are invaluable.

The big book of AA is careful to mention that we don’t have ‘the way’, only ‘a way’. My sponsor cautions me about this when dealing with newcomers. He reminds me not to tell them that the program is the one and only true answer. I do know people who suffer from this disease who have found other ways. For some, they achieve peace through intensive religious study. I’ve even heard a story about someone who uses exercise to find his serenity. If that is your path, then follow it. For myself and countless others, we have found that the Program is what works where nothing else does.

Sobriety milestones aren’t celebrated at incidental times, either. 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, a year, eighteen months, and each year thereafter, these are not arbitrary. Many of us in Recovery are familiar with the birthday dip. For whatever reason, the level of insanity seems to find a resurgence at these times. Cravings can be particularly bad. Around the time of my one-year anniversary, I was absolutely miserable. An old-timer friend of mine is quick to let others know that she still gets squirrelly around her birthday, even after decades of being in the program.

The chips and keychains we receive are symbolic rewards of our struggle. It’s a struggle that we take largely out of view of the larger society. No one outside the rooms cares if we have 30 days or thirty years. But the program is not easy. Staying clean and sober is not easy. Sometimes, it’s really fuckin’ hard. In fact, it just might be the most difficult thing people like us ever do.

For those of us with this disease, continuing to stay clean and sober is a miraculous achievement. Birthday nights recognize the struggle, be it for someone finally putting together their first 30 days, or an old-timer who is still working the program after decades.

If you’re celebrating a birthday this month, go to a meeting. Stand up and claim your time. Show others that the Program works.

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