Leaving AA can be a really daunting prospect for many people. I was desperate like most, when I joined and I assumed that because it was so well-known, it would be the best solution for me. I knew very little about what goes on in a meeting, or the methods used in the 12 steps, which are the basis for recovery within Alcoholics anonymous. I had not been to rehab, and had not really explored other options, and to be honest there did not seem much point, as I was aware of AA from various books and the fact that lots of musicians and other celebrities had used it as away to stop active alcoholism made it attractive for me.
I had really had enough of drinking by the time I joined and it is this that has kept me stopped, not any program. I was not looking for a program to do the work for me, I had made up my mind. I think this is the case for most people, but AA members will generally credit the fellowship and a higher power, rather than say they have sorted their life out and stopped, which really is the case. I did throw all my effort into recovery. I was determined to succeed and I went along with the suggestions.
Looking back on this, I realise how desperate I was, as following the steps and subjugating myself to God is not something I would do, if I was thinking rationally. I got caught up in the ways of the group and went along with it all. I think it is the fact that AA is so different from the real world, is the thing that makes it hard to leave for many, even when they don’t like it, and it does not keep them from the drink. There is a lot of repetitive reading. such as chapter 5. When something is repeated over and over again, it is really hard not to accept it , especially when you are in a group. Many of those who seem to believe what is being said, have been a member of the group for some time and therefore have credibility in the eyes of a new member. You then have countless little phrases, which are also repeated, which get in your mind. You are told from the start, that if you stop going to meetings, or working the program, you will fail, and the countless stories of relapse seem to add some conviction to this. I feel the reality is somewhat different. The stories of relapse, mean that the program does not work for many and is seriously flawed.
If you read chapter 5 to somebody who has not encountered AA, they are often surprised by the content. It is simply a slight reworking of the methods of the Oxford Christian group. It is not an effective method for dealing with addiction at all. In fact, you could quite easily argue that its main function, is to make you pray to God. If you carry out these steps on a daily basis it will alter your belief system and that is what makes it difficult to walk away from even if you start to question the steps, which is what I did.
I have included Chapter 5 from the Big Book, for anyone who is not familiar with the religious side of AA and the 12 step world.
Most people are quite surprised at what the steps actually are, especially if they have spent thousands of pounds on some 12 step rehab, expecting to get some treatment.
The 12 Steps of AA
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Another thing that makes it hard to leave, is peer pressure within the group. You will be told not to doubt any part of the program by most old timers, and voicing opinions like mine, will be met with ridicule. No vulnerable person wants that, especially when they are trying to escape the clutches of the illness of addiction, which can be very powerful. Another problem is that you are told you are powerless and have an incurable disease that can only be cured by a spiritual solution. This will demoralise anybody and will decrease a member’s self-worth. This can be catastrophic and many will go on a binge when things become unbearable, especially after branding themselves with the negative self-image of the alcoholic on a daily basis. As time goes on, somebody really working the program will start sponsoring another and taking them through the steps. This normally locks them further into the fellowship as they become responsible for another’s spiritual guidance.
It was as this point that I gave up, as I could see that it was no good for me to tell another person things, I did not believe in myself. I actually went the other way, and lost faith in AA as a solution, but this is rare, although there were some major trust issues and a breach of my anonymity to add to the reasons that compelled me to get out. It is still hard to go against many of the things you have been told. It is a bit like brainwashing, because you are vulnerable and confused when you first arrive and are ripe to be manipulated. To be fair, many are in such a state when they arrive, that it probably does them some good to be told what to do, and be controlled, but for others, it can lead to a life that is dominated by AA and recovery when there is no need for that to be the case.
It is hard to leave something when you are told you will die as a consequence. I can see why some people call it a cult. I was not there long enough to be totally taken in, and I also had friends,who had left, who were much saner than the Big Book thumping old timers who dominate meetings. I feel it is a shame that the religion has taken over the fellowship and the support side of AA, although most will deny it. I did speak with a therapist about leaving, and she agreed that I was not suited to the 12 step way. She pointed out I could always go back, if I wanted to, and that was actually quite comforting in a way, to know that AA will be there, should I change my mind.
On reflection, leaving Alcoholics Anonymous was the best thing for me. It felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders. I no longer needed to sit in a room, with those judgemental 12 steppers, who I ruin meetings and drown out more rational shares from more rational members. I no longer was told to pray, and I could do more positive things with my life. I was able to move on and cross the bridge, to normal living, which is an old AA phrase. AA had given me a place to go where there would be people who would not be drinking and where some of the more moderate members, offered some support which was great. I met a lot of new people in a similar situation to myself and we struggled together for a while. Many did not succeed. Comradeship was the good thing that AA did for me and is why I don’t want to see it destroyed like many on certain websites. However, I also met some cranks and lot a lot of seedy characters who were there to manipulate, and my overall impression was that AA keeps many sick, and they would do better with other less faith-based methods.