Many AA groups have a chip system to mark the time people have since their last drink. The chips are different colors to signify different milestones, and the very first chip you pick up (and often the most difficult chip to pick up) is the white chip.
Like a white flag, the white chip is an internationally recognized sign of surrender. It is a commitment to trying the sober way of life for 24 hours.
Some people will pick up one white chip and that’s it. They stick with the program and stay sober. I am not one of those people. That’s not my story.
I’ve probably picked up enough white chips to start tiling my bathroom floor. Each and every time I picked one up I was serious about not drinking, but each and every time (with the exception of this last time) I wasn’t ready to commit. I didn’t have the gift of desperation. And I wasn’t willing.
When I first started attending AA meetings, I was doing it for someone else. I wanted to make my husband happy. I wanted to show him that I was trying to stop drinking.
But battling something like alcoholism and addiction isn’t something that you can do for someone else. You’re fighting deep rooted psychological traumas and trying to make a total psychic change. If you don’t do that for yourself, you’re not going to be able to do it at all.
For years I tried to do it for my husband and my marriage. I thought that would be enough to push me through the cravings, the irritability, the frustrations and stress of daily sober life. But it wasn’t. Time after time I drank and used again. Time after time I picked up another white chip.
Every time I came back into the rooms after a binge, I was welcomed with open arms. There was never any judgment. Instead, people told me to “Keep coming back until the miracle happens.”
I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I kept coming back.
It turned into a miserable cycle. Binge. White chip. Sobriety for a week or two. Binge. Repeat. That cycle of defiance lasted for years. The people in the rooms got to know me pretty well as an angry, bitter woman. But they never rejected me. There was always a seat for me.
My last binge was one of the lowest, loneliest points in my life. I stayed up for three days and nights drinking. There were hours where I was blacked out, but what I remember during the periods I was awake, and especially the last night, is that I could not get drunk. I could not reach that “buzz.” That last night I couldn’t even black out or sleep.
The next morning, I picked up the phone, called my sponsor, and said two words: “I’m done.”
That day, I picked up what I pray will be my last white chip.
There is celebration every time someone picks up a white chip. The most important person at an AA or NA meeting is the newcomer, whether he or she is there for their first meeting ever or they’re picking up their 33rd white chip. Over and over again, I received support and welcoming words.
I believe this is because the people in AA and NA know the struggle. They have lived it, just like I have. They have their stories, just like I have mine. There is hope every time someone surrenders. Hope that one more person can rescue themselves from their misery and live in joy and freedom.
I still struggle with the regret and pain in my story, but I am learning to accept it. I hold on to the hope that someday my story will help another soul.
Since my desperate act of surrender, my life has changed completely. I still have symptoms of PAWS (post acute withdrawal syndrome), but I no longer obsess about alcohol and drugs. My day does not revolve around my next drink. I structure my day around taking care of myself – which includes attending an AA or NA meeting every day.
My road to sobriety was not an easy one. I gave in halfway dozens of times before I finally surrendered completely. And that’s what sobriety takes: Complete surrender to change.