Guilt after Leaving Alcoholics Anonymous
I decided to write this post after an email I got through the contact form. It is about guilt after leaving AA and I did respond, but I think this subject could be explored further. I am not a therapist and do not want to get into a situation where I am seen as some type of sponsor. These are just my thoughts….
Here is a section from the email:
I was in AA for 10 long years, I tolerated it,and did not believe I had a choice. I knew there was something odd about the place but I didn’t say anything. Then I said to myself “this is it” I am tired of the same stories and bible thumping bunk they were giving us. I left and immediately found “rational recovery” that was my salvation. But to this DAY, I still feel “guilt” about not being in AA and working the 12 steps. Why is that? Can you RECOMMEND anything that will shake the guilt..
My thoughts on guilt feelings after leaving AA…
I did not actually have a great deal of guilt feelings after leaving AA, which was good for me, but other people are often affected. My decision to leave, was taken at time, when I was seeing a therapist and we were looking at things which were holding me back. I think this helped me validate my reasons for turning my back, on the 12 step solution, which was causing me as many problems as it was solving. I will try and look at reasons the 12 step method can lead to feeling guilt and other negative emotions.
The only real way to succeed at recovery is to really throw yourself into it. No program or therapist will do it for you. The more work you put in, the higher the chance of a good result. If you do this in AA ,this will probably mean really working the steps and going to many meetings. To be accepted in the group requires this, and not many want to not have the endorsement of others. You will be starting a new way of life, with values that may be very different from those that you have formed through experience, from being a child, to growing up. Your opinions will be challenged, you will have to change to fit in. A dramatic change may help people in the short term, but I feel that relying on something like a higher power, long term, can have a detrimental effect. It can stunt your recovery, in the same way that many who have grown up with a strict religious background, will also be emotionally stunted, and reject any other point of view, without investigation. They will attack anyone who has alternative view because they feel their faith is under threat. They will try to make you feel ungrateful and guilty to help their own self image.
I can see why people do have guilt. AA is a type of religion for many, which really affects how a member will deal with life. It asks you to live life by the 12 steps and allow recovery and the program to be the central thing in your life. This can take over somebody so much, that they start to view people, who are not living life by the steps, as different, in a way that they are not comfortable with.
AA meetings contain lots of readings ,such as Chapter 5 which are repeated over and over again. There are lots of phrases that are key to the beliefs, and the general group view is that the steps are the answer to everything. If you hear the same thing over and over again, most will start to believe it. It will get into your subconscious and intrudes into your daily life. Many AA members, speak in a certain type of way, using the phrases from the meetings continuously. They really believe it is the answer to life, and have complete faith in the program even though most evidence would point out that many do not succeed,in spite of the claims in the Big Book. It is never the fault of the program. If you question it, many will dismiss your views in quite a condescending fashion, and guilt can be a result.
The real problems occur after a while when you have got some sober time and you start to question what the group is saying. You have been guided by a sponsor who would have been a key figure in your life and you would have reinforced the group values. They have entered your subconscious, but now you question them. If you mention this in meetings, they will quite often mock you, and repeat more stock phrases. I was lucky, because I was in contact with people who had left and I was able to see, how much more emotionally mature these people were. They had worked hard in the early days of their recovery, used AA as a place to go and moved on. This is what I did, and I had the endorsement of a therapist. I felt a huge weight had been lifted from my life. I was able to dump the 12 step ideas that were not working for me and so, although I was no longer living in a 12 step fashion, I had no guilt about doing this as my subconscious had rejected AA.
Others stay for much longer, than is good for them. When they do leave, they feel like they have been in a cult and are furious. Certainly, some meetings are pretty cult like, but overall I would not class AA as a cult as many leave quite early on, and are free to do so. The few people that feel they have been in a cult, often tend to attempt to fight back and can become obsessed with bashing AA. It seems that AA still plays a major part in their lives, but they are now angry about it. Their subconscious keeps bringing the subject up, and they can end up reinforcing the cult values, by constantly repeating their views on forums with like minded individuals. I did this for a bit, but realised they were quite negative places full of conflict, and I was simply reinforcing my anger towards elements of AA rather than moving on. I was still under the influence of the 12 step world even though I had rejected it.
This was brought home to me by an incident, when I had a forum on this site, which I closed, because I felt that it was dangerous to have some people looking for a recovery solution mixing with people who simply wanted to argue about AA. This had turned in to a childish game for many, who again look a group to validate their views and end up becoming quite fanatical as a result. I did not want to see vulnerable people get dragged into these types of situations. Other people have the opposite view to me on this! I prefer to move on and show people that it is possible to move on.
Stress, guilt and steps was not what I wanted. I was more interested in emulating people who could manage their lives without all this unwanted negative feeling. I read lots of books on the subject, such as those by Stanton Peele. He validated a lot of the thoughts I was having, by questioning the 12 step world and it was great to see this. It helped me move on with techniques, to do with self esteem and I look forward to his new book which talks about mindfulness.
I have mentioned Mindfulness in other posts and will come back to it a lo,t as the site develops. I have made a category for it on the blog. Practising mindfulness has allowed me to take a step back from myself and look at my emotions and see how they are affecting me. It is not about suppressing feelings, but acknowledging them. After a while, you can form a different perspective on things. I can imagine looking at myself worrying about something from the past. This produces a different reaction for me than doing the worrying. It is much less harmful and I can see the futility of sitting around being engulfed by anger etc and simply do something about the problems, to solve them.
With time, I have become used to quickly taking a pause, to examine issues that are causing stress and as a result I respond in a different way. For instance, In the 12 step world you are told not to be angry. This is stupid, anger is a natural reaction in certain circumstances. It is much better when I feel my emotions boiling up, to take a step back and look at them. I can feel where they are in my body such as in my stomach or subconscious and acknowledge them, then move on. I am not crippled with emotion, and I do not have the constant reminder of certain things from my subconscious. I am able to move on.
AA is like a religion such as the Catholic faith, as it uses fear and confession. These can bring up powerful emotions that help some but crush others. Most people who grow up in a religion do not leave it, despite lots of evidence that many traditions are wrong. Few change religions when they are an adult, but in a sense, that is what you are being asked to do when you join AA. You are also very vulnerable when you do so, as most will not want to go to a 12 step group at the start, and so you may not question, some of the things you are asked to do. By repeating these things you will change your subconscious, in the same way that regular drinking will affect it, in that you develop a compulsion to reward yourself in some way. Changing your subconscious in such a dramatic way may be helpful at first,but things like the belief of powerlessness can hurt you if you relapse further down the line.
I don’t like aspects of AA, so I left and have moved on. The fellowship was helpful but the spiritual side less so. AA ideas do not bother me any more, but I feel it is important that people do write down that they have left, and moved on, to help those who are still struggling, yet still being told it is the only solution. There are many other methods and you can find alternative points of view from the links section on this site and other places on the web.
Guilt is a powerful negative emotion, especially when it has come about and been reinforced by a group like AA. It can produce bad relapses. If you are feeling like that get some help. If you have moved on, but are still bothered from time to time, then perhaps try looking at ways of re framing problems and look at your reactions to situations to get things in perspective.
I found some of the self help books by people such as Paul Mckenna to be really useful. They have discs which are hypnotic, which can help ,but come with a warning for people suffering from mental issues, so if you have any doubt check with a Doctor. The discs are like a quick way to meditate, and are very relaxing. He talks a lot about solutions to problems and has some very practical advice. I have not gone deep into NLP which is part of his background but have taken on some of their ideas where I have found them helpful. I also found the NLP bunch to be rather self obsessed and it can attract crazy people but some of the ideas are good and are similar to CBT.
The subconscious can be a real problem for people in recovery. Trying to escape intrusive thoughts or issues is one of the reasons we drank. It them appears to amplify problems, when we put the drink down, as we can no longer self medicate and then it can stunt our development by bringing up old ideas from the 12 step world that we would rather discard.
I think developing a suitable response to our emotions is really important if we are to continue, to succeed. Otherwise you are left vulnerable and at the mercy of ideas that have become habitual over time, but in reality may be quite harmful.
I would be good to have a few responses about guilt here as it is an important issue, and you can comment at the bottom of this page. I hope to come back to this subject that has been brought up as the site develops.
I am no real authority on these matters, just somebody who put down the drink a few years ago and then who moved on from the 12 step world after finding it detrimental to himself. I went to AA with the impression that it provided a great solution, but I have seen otherwise and questioned it’s methods. Most people who are dissatisfied, simply walk away and get on with life,but others may need some help and I feel it is important to say that there is the possibility of a great life without an unwanted religion taking over every thought.
Here are some links to other related posts on leaving AA