How I came to leave AA
How I came to leave AA!
I decided to leave AA after about 18 months of attendance. I had remained alcohol free or sober as AA members refer to abstinence in meetings throughout this time. It was not a decision I took lightly as I was wary of the common warning that you hear in AA, that you will drink again if you stop meetings. This was given some credibility by the fact that most people who came back to meetings had done exactly this! However there are many people who make use of AA for a while, and then quietly move on. I suppose I am one of these people, and I have got to know many others, some are people I knew in AA and others have got in touch with me via this blog. Those who have a successful recovery after leaving AA generally do not go back to tell those left behind how well they are doing, and this gives the impression to those who attend meetings, that AA is the only way. This is not true, people do recover without AA, and the steps do not suit everyone.
I have covered the subject of leaving AA in the blog already, but despite the posts on the subject being a couple of years old, they are read by many people on a daily basis. I think there are a lot of people looking to leave AA, after they have been helped by being in a sober fellowship. Here is a section from one of the many emails I get on the subject.
Thank you so much for your site! I’ve been clean and sober and in AA since March 2014 and I feel it’s time to find a different type of recovery. Not to bash AA because they definitely helped when I needed it, but let’s just say I feel I’ve outgrown AA. I am apprehensive and unsure how to go about leaving though. There’s the option of not telling anyone, stop going to meetings, and ditching everyone’s calls but I don’t want to do that. If so, how do I tell my sponsor and my other friends in AA? I feel Celebrate Recovery is what I’m called to do but I don’t know how to actually take the action to leave AA. Any advice you can give or areas in your site or others that could direct me would be appreciated! Thanks again!
It is difficult for me to give advice, as I do not know the people who are in contact, and I realise everyone has different circumstances. I am not a therapist, and do not want to make the mistakes of an over enthusiastic sponsor! All I generally say is that it is not a decision to take lightly, and that you may find it best to find another system of support first. It all depends on how long you were in meetings, how much you took part, and how the teachings of AA have influenced you. It also depends on if you wish to remain in a group for support or to support others or if you want to move on from Recovery groups and live a normal life where you no longer worry about addiction. It really is up to the individual and there are many variables. Of course staying in AA does not guarantee sobriety and if you are finding this difficult I would advise looking at other solutions which are listed elsewhere on the blog.
I think being in a sober fellowship really helped me initially and I was inspired to meet people who had many years of sobriety. This proved to me that it was possible stop drinking and it was an eye opener to see these people were really enjoying life. AA took up a lot of my free time which helped me break the habit, and I made use of the other members by phoning them up or going to a meeting when cravings were strong or I was not sure how to deal with certain problems. These are all good reasons to stay in AA, but at the same time I began to find it limiting in other ways. I also got fed up with some of the gossips and the really annoying “Big Book Thumpers”, and found that hearing people go on about “Higher Powers or God” was really off-putting. I had no interest in turning my day over to God, as I have never been a believer, and I found advice such as praying to a “Group of Drunks” equally pointless. Some people find comfort in the “Higher Power” concept, but I certainly did not.
I also started to suffer form a short spell of depression, after about 15 months and AA was not helping me with this at all.I think this is a common thing in recovery and sometimes AA members attempt to pray themselves well, with poor outcomes. I had become more open in AA, about discussing my problems and so I went to my family doctor and was given antidepressants and reintroduced to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which really helped me. I had been given the same type of help 10 years before, but had not been willing to open up to my therapist, or even confront certain issues myself. I was more open after being in AA, so in a strange way, the idea of personal powerlessness had helped me to ask for help, which was a major step on the way to self empowerment. I had also taken on board the idea of making recovery my priority, and so I was ready to do what was necessary to achieve that, and in my case that meant exploring other solutions. In my second AA meeting I asked how many people managed to stay sober from the start of their involvement in AA. I was told the figure was about 3% and this shocked me, but it made me realise that staying sober would be a difficult process and I needed to take it very seriously. I started to read as much as possible on the subject and found much of what I was reading conflicted with the 12 step ideas, but made sense to me.
CBT in Recovery.
Now that I was prepared to actually discuss my problems with a proper therapist, I made a lot of progress in a short space of time with CBT. I also think that having some CBT earlier on had made me a bit wary of some of the things that were said in AA meetings by members. Sometimes we need a couple of attempts, at a certain solution, before things fall into place, and I certainly don’t think CBT on its own is a magic solution for everyone in alcoholism recovery. However I would urge people to at least look at what it has to offer, and the easiest way to do this is via Smart Recovery, which is a support group based around CBT ideas. You could also look for a CBT therapist, for the type of one on one therapy that helped me.
Leaving AA is awkward.
Actually leaving AA is rather awkward for many, as you are going against the values of the group and risk loosing friendships and becoming and object of gossip. I have heard rumours that I am dead and that I have relapsed, neither of which are true, and as I was an object of gossip in AA, I am not too worried about what they said when I left. I quite like bumping into members of my old group from time to time and let them know that my life is good without AA. Most wish me well, but some are rather surprised by my success. My relationship with my sponsor broke down while I was doing CBT therapy and so we simply drifted apart. He did not want to take me any further through the steps, while I was taking prescribed anti depressant medication and I realised that AA was out of date and that I was not going to find a solution to all the issues that had led to me becoming a drunk, following the 12 step solution. I found telling him I was leaving rather difficult, but thanked him for his help and we have not spoken since in the last 7 years. I had already stopped phoning him regularly, or going to the same meetings as him, for a few months before leaving. I have kept in touch with a handful of people from AA, who I value, but have tended to avoid the people, who attended every meeting I went to and who just spouted slogans and “Big Book” quotes rather than really having anything worthwhile to say. They are the ones who always view me with suspicion if I bump into them.
Adjusting to life without AA.
I will do a full post on this soon as it is an important subject and the subject of many more emails to the site! I found myself with a lot more time on my hands and have developed a lot of new interests and activities to fill my life. I tend to surround myself with people who are not in recovery, and simply try to live a normal life. I no longer have any therapy and have not done so for several years. I have read a lot on the subject of recovery and have made use of things such as “Mindfulness” which I find calming and helps me keep my emotions in check, and life in perspective. I don’t live life “a day at a time” and have decided that I will remain alcohol free for good, as this is the easiest way for me. I view my addiction problems as in the past, but use this blog, which I write when I have spare time at work or am travelling, to keep me engaged in the recovery process.
At first it seemed odd not to go to meetings as I really left quite quickly after about 8 weeks of counselling, rather than gently cutting meetings down. I had been quite an active AA member and went to daily meetings, when I could. I was told that I could always return to AA or another support group, if I needed help, and that was a comforting thought. I was also told that, as I had proved to myself that I could stop already, I could do it again, and this was another helpful idea. I think some people tend to really go berserk during a relapse, if they believe they are powerless. I think the harm reduction style attitude, if you are actually going to drink has a lot of value! Harm reduction is a useful concept to explore if you are going to move on from recovery group, even if you do not wish to drink.
If I do relapse after leaving AA!
I do have a plan if this should happen and this has evolved over time. I think relapse is an important thing to consider! If it did happen, I probably won’t return to AA as I do not really want to listen to a religious or spiritual solution again. I would try the Sinclair Method first and see if I was one of the 80% of people that are helped by Naltrexone. In fact I wish I had tried this method when I was still drinking as it could have helped me much earlier on and I feel I would not have fallen so deep into alcoholism. It is a shame that more people do not find out about this approach until they are really in trouble or have exhausted every other solution. I would also make use of my own sober network, which is made up of people I trust, and look at why I had gone back to drinking. If I feel a support group is needed I would go to Smart, as there are now a growing number of meeting in my area. I would also go for one on one therapy and certainly have a lot of good people I can contact these days.
The bottom line is that I am not scared about relapse any more, in the way that many are who attend AA, and who only use the steps to stay sober. I am certainly not contemplating having a drink in the near future, and it is not something I wish to do, but it is an amazing feeling not to have to worry about it any more, and I know a lot of people who are not in this position.
Good luck to those leaving AA.
I wish those of you coming to this site looking for a way to leave AA the best of luck. I would urge caution, and again mention that you should still find a way of staying engaged in the recovery process, for at least a while. You can always go back to meetings, if things do not work out, as long as you do not burn all your bridges. For me it was the right decision, and only you can work out, if it will be the right thing for yourself and if you are ready to cross the bridge to normal living!