First Post (the start of “RecoveryfromRecovery”)
The start of the site.
As I doubt google has spotted this site and there are probably not any humans reading this yet I thought I would just write a few things down about why I decided to walk away from AA and do my own thing, to remind myself about how I felt a few years ago, and my reasoning behind this.
Stopping going to meetings and never contacting a sponsor is exactly what they tell you not to do in a 12 step group. They say relapse is inevitable, they say you will suffer from untreated alcoholism and this is given the condescending term of “dry drunk” . Most members of 12 step groups consider themselves powerless for life and that they need to work the steps continuously. They suggest (in very strong terms) that you use a higher power which is referred to as God in much of the literature as a means of getting well. They claim you have a “spiritual disease” that only God can cure.
I went along with the philosophy of the 12 steps for a while. I was desperate for them to work! I actually wanted some kind of God to save me from the way I felt. I did follow the suggestions (most of the time) and have not had a drink since a few days before my first meeting. I would have gone to a meeting earlier when I decided to stop but I could not find the one I was looking for on day one as I had not thought to look in the church’s basement where the meeting took place. I nearly joined a yoga group instead.
I am an Atheist and so it is easy for me find fault with the God side of the programme. Even so, I still went along with it along with working the steps and doing AA service work. I went to a lot of meetings. I listened to what people had to say about how they were staying sober and tried to follow things that seemed to work. When I look back now I feel it was making the decision to stop and reach out to others for help, that was most beneficial to me. The first few months of recovery are extremely confusing, as your crutch for many areas of your life, has been taken away. When you put down the drink life can become rather complicated. You cannot escape to oblivion any more and so the support of a group can really help. I think it is important to talk to people during these early days and I also found it inspiring that many claimed to have been sober for many years. They always gave the programme credit for their achievement but I firmly believe that sobriety is a choice that only you can make. Stopping is hard and probably pretty much impossible if you have suffered through years of abuse without having any form of support from friends, family or a group.
The other thing that was good about meetings is that they give you somewhere to go and break the usual routine of going down the pub after work. There are also those who have ended up as street drinkers with no home, and in my area there are not many alternative places that will accept them.
I live in a big city and it was comforting to know that I could go to a meeting at most times of the day and this was a device I used if I felt depressed and needed a drink. In my case, if I went to any meeting I would normally hear from somebody who had far more shit in their lives than I did and that would make me man up and get on with things for a bit.
After a while I started to notice things that were not so good. I tended to go to large trendy meetings in the city and these had become quite cult like in some cases. Instead of being a support group for a bunch of ex drunks, quite a few were treating it like a religion. Much of the talk was about God or Higher Powers and many loved to quote from the Big Book. There was pretty much total resistance to change and any reading material that was not AA approved was shunned. I think this is a result of certain members who treat the Big Book as a Bible wanting to be evangelical. They try to sponsor as many people as possible and can only really function in an AA group. They speak in a certain way, using AA phrases at any opportunity. In my opinion they have swapped their alcohol addiction for an AA addiction. This can lead to problems as some of these people truly believe that the steps and God can fix anything . Many have an anti medication stance (one of my sponsors did) which was based on the out of date ideas of the Big Book. You cannot compare 1930’s medication with what is on offer today. I did take an anti depressant for a short period in my recovery which certainly gave me short-term help, but it was having counselling that really helped me.
In spite of my reservations I still carried on. I was told that if I did not follow the programme, relapse was inevitable and in my time in the rooms I saw many battered people return with horror stories about what had happened when they had “gone out”. I wanted to remain in the 3% that never touch a drink.
A few things made me changed my mind. There are going to be idiots in any group of people in most situations but AA has a very high percentage in its membership. I was a victim of gossip, which is quite common and had my anonymity broken which caused me a lot of problems. Some people have little going on in their lives other that AA and they are often the most judgemental and worst gossips. As a result of this I lost trust in the group and realised that some of these people were the opposite of serene and were actually quite insane. This goes with the territory to a certain extent. A lot of substance abusers are mentally ill to start off with, and some damage their brains in the process. You can add a few criminals, prostitutes along with the homeless and you have quite a colourful bunch. Some change their ways but other’s do not and so sociopaths can often be found in the more cult like meetings.
Another important thing is that I was in contact with a couple of people who had left the rooms many years ago and they seemed to be much more full of life and more normal that the “12 Steppers” I was mixing with. I was starting to feel stupid about doing the things that were being offered as a solution. For instance, I was told to pray for the person who was causing me grief in the rooms. I tried it,but felt stupid as I was simply talking to my self while kneeling on the floor. that image makes me laugh today but at the time it made me more angry. I have never said another prayer since then! I was suffering depression and working step 4 had dragged up stuff,that would have been better dealt with in the presence of somebody with a bit of training and the ability to take a step back from my problems and help me reframe them rather than simply say, “go to a meeting or pray”.
Thankfully I was able to afford to have some counselling for a while and this really helped. Alternatives to AA were mentioned but what really helped was being able to discuss things from the past in a safe way without the worry of it being passed on to half of AA. I also found myself trying to explain to a newcomer about the powerless stuff and the Higher Power concept and I found that I simply did not believe what I was saying any more. I was simply spouting the same nonsensical rubbish as any other in the group. I spoke to my counsellor and started reading lots of different books on the subject which offered different views on the subject. I think the best books were written by Stanton Peele and I realised that it would be a good idea for me to change approach.
I took the approach, that it was up to me, if I wanted to succeed. Nobody was going to do my recovery for me. I read and listened to some of Paul Mckennas’s books and started to involve myself with people who had a healthy outlook. I took up activities which included swimming, pilates and running which I still do. This brought me into contact with a different type of person that were a lot more positive in outlook and who would not spend every night getting drunk. I took up cooking seriously again and developed creative interests such as music and photography. I did some meditation and this helped a lot in keeping me less stressed along with the exercise. Many in AA had the view that a fellow alcoholic is the best person to ask for help. I am not sure this is true at all. I think it is better to emulate those who have been successful without needing the crutch of alcohol, rather than those who are living the recovery lifestyle. I do not think endless meetings are good for people and that it actually stunts their recovery after a while.
I began to think in a completely different way and things calmed down. Being in AA was taking part in a religious group in my opinion. The 12 steps were destroying my self-confidence and labelling myself as an alcoholic every time I spoke in a meeting was leaving me with a very low self-image. I do not accept that I am powerless, as I have fought back at my addiction and beaten it. I view myself as a worker, somebody who takes part in sport, someone who is interested in the world, someone who can deal with most situations. I think I would be doing myself a disservice to simply label myself as an alcoholic day after day. I think doing this can be very harmful. I think the negative self-image that most AA members get from doing this can lead to major problems when they relapse. I saw too many people go out and binge heavily and do themselves some real damage. There was a lady who joined just before me,who was considered to be working the programme well by members of my group who did not like it if I questioned anything. She would come out with all the old phrases and clichés and spout the rhetoric the old timers loved to hear. She relapsed and had a massive stroke as a result, within a couple of days. Another person I still keep in contact with jumped off a bridge and broke his back. These are tragic events that perhaps could have been avoided if a method that involves building self-esteem had been used. Many will say that it was a case of not working the programme and that they were victims of the disease of alcoholism. I hate the disease theory and used to regard those who went on about it as fools. I view it as an illness that is self-inflicted, although of course many be self medicating for a reason. It is not a disease, spiritual or otherwise. It is not like cancer. If you put someone with cancer and an alcoholic with no booze on a desert island the cancer sufferer will die, not the AA member!
For a time I used to feel quite angry about AA. I felt that I had been lied to and that a lot the powerless stuff had made me closer to going out and drinking again,rather than helping me. I am less angry now,as it simply does not really affect me except when one of my friends goes downhill. I have moved on.
I was a member of an online blogging community called stinkin thinkin for a while and I got to talk with some good intelligent people who had also abandoned faith-based solutions for more rational approaches. Most of them did quite well in terms of staying sober. Some of them are much more anti AA than myself. Although some of my experience was not good, I accept that it helped for a while and many would not have access to much else. I think the way that people go there for years does not lead to a well-balanced lifestyle,but lets live and let live. The thing that does worry me is that a minority can operate in a predatory fashion which can be a problem, especially for some young people who are now getting involved. AA was designed for hard-drinking middle-aged men but all kinds are joining or being sent to 12 step groups via the courts or by 12 step rehabs without much attention being given to the fact that you will find some young vulnerable good-looking people are mixing with people who have come from prison and who have a different set of values to the norm in society. It is wrong to assume that everyone is there to be spiritual.
Stinkin Thinkin had a lot of humour involved and was well written. I think humour is a great thing to use. People were also confronted by 12 step purists who would go to any lengths to defend anything that questioned AA. This showed the cult type side up for what they were. Many people in AA are great and are there to help or at least try. It is the few that try to dominate in certain areas that cause problems. I found another site by AA members called AAcultwatch that was concerned about certain meetings including the one that I went to regularly. They also talk about the anti medication stuff. AA is not anti medication and states this but this idea is rejected in certain meetings despite this and I saw the disastrous effects of this a couple of times.
I think the anti AA movement have to be a bit careful what they say. Many sites come across as hate filled chaos,without any realistic aim other than to destroy the 12 step movement. Many contributors blame AA for every problem they had in recovery. Whilst I am the first to agree it is not suitable for all and that I personally would not go back, it is all some people have. I am not interested in conspiracy theories or the fact that one of the Oxford group which is what AA evolved from met Hitler. I am concerned that it is considered a solution for all when it clearly is not. For all the problems that it has, and all the crazy members, I am glad that there is somewhere for people to go at almost any time for a cup of coffee and somebody to talk to. If you don’t like the God stuff ignore it and when you have a bit of sober time then try a few alternatives and see what works. That is what I did. It worked for me!