Leaving AA and staying Sober.
Leaving AA and staying Sober.
Although I have credited AA with giving me a place to go in my early days, which was helpful, I also feel it held me back in my recovery after a while. At the start it was alright, I think that if you spend a lot of time going to meetings in your early days, it can take you away from the people you hung around with in pubs, and give yourself a different sense of responsibility. Nobody wants to go back to AA pissed, although many end up doing that. You want to be part of the group, and to be seen as a successful part of the group, rather than the person, “who does not get it”. This bit had an effect on me and I became competitive with other newcomers which helped.
However, with reflection, I can see that I had really just replaced an alcohol addiction with an addiction to AA. You may say that is a positive thing, but it can have problems. I am convinced that you have to grow as a person and really deal with the issues you face in life if you are going to have a successful recovery. I think that AA can actually stunt this growth. Although the first stage brought me a bit of time, I then felt I had become reliant on the program. That is not a good thing as it makes you different, to people in the outside world. Many in AA talk in a certain way, and are only really comfortable with others in recovery. I wanted more than this. I wanted to emulate those who lived life without emotional difficulties. Not be somebody who had to live a life centred around meetings and who could fall apart when life became hard.
I would say you have to be pretty stable to walk away from your support group in recovery. I am not trying to paint a picture, where all you have to do is leave AA to have a great sober life. That is the impression some try to give on forums such as the anti AA Orange Papers forum, and I think this could lead to disaster for some, who need people around them. You have to be honest to yourself about how things are going and why. Some people need more support than others. Some may feel AA is like a cult and should do something about that, while others will just find it irrelevant and boring.
You may well have stayed in the program through fear. I was told I would relapse if I left and this kept me there for a few extra months, which were not much fun. However, I could see it was not working and I did something about it, and that was the important thing. I did not just sit there, getting angry and hating people, I made a positive move. I got some counselling, and went through a transition period and discussed what I felt, with somebody who was trained to take a step back from the situation and give informed guidance. This was important, to counteract what was being said by those who were indoctrinated by the 12 step method. It was fear that kept them going to the meetings and faith in a higher power. I had no faith and was left with a certain amount of fear and a lack of trust.
Thankfully, after cutting down meetings a bit and trying other activities, I felt better. I work a lot on fitness and this has the benefits, of bringing me into contact with positive people who care about their bodies. They are unlikely to be drinkers, and are good people to be friends with. I got into meditation and again this brought me into new circles that were full of people who were interested in general well being, rather than just talking about recovery. I became serious about cooking food. I started running and swimming and also brought my music playing skills back up to the standard they had been in the past. I also worked the whole way through my recovery, so I was always mixing with normal people. This made me regard those, who spent a lot of time at meetings as strange. I really did not want, what they had. I did not want to waste my life in the rooms. I wanted to try new opportunities and move forward. In some ways this is harder than just staying in the rooms, doing the same things week after week, but once you have established a new lifestyle, it is so much more fulfilling.
I was also told not to forget that AA would be there if I needed it in the future. I have no intention of going back now after about six years of AA free recovery, but that was a good thought to have, when I was transitioning from meetings. I did feel a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders when I left, but I still had bits of self-doubt.
I think the worst thing to do is simply leave AA and then sit around doing nothing. This is the sort of lifestyle that will lead you back to trouble. AA may not be the most normal of lifestyles, but the time investment in going to meetings does make a difference to many. It certainly disrupts your drinking, if you have a commitment several times a week. You will also spend time travelling to meetings and may well have a coffee afterwards. If you are going to leave, you are going to have to fill that time. Try to do some thing worthwhile!
The other thing that you will leave behind is the support of other members. Now, I am straight about not liking the God squad, big book thumpers, but there were some decent people about, when I went to AA. I still say hello to quite a few and wish them well, if I see them. There are others who dislike me, because I did what they could not do and left, but many are just pleased to see you are doing well. If you walk away from the 12 step world, you may find you do not have many people to talk to if things happen, so think about that. I can see some people who go on the anti AA forums are looking for some kind of fellowship. They have rejected and hate the 12 step world and spend a huge amount of time running it down and arguing about it. Some get quite stressed by somebody with differing views posting on a site. I feel they have not managed to break away from the 12 step world. They don’t agree with it, and hate it but cannot make the transition to a more normal lifestyle. This is better than not drinking, but they are still stuck on the bridge to normal living. I wanted to cross.
I do not regret leaving AA. It was the right decision for me. I worked at other methods similar to those used by the people who go to Smart recovery and I feel I have grown up. I am have not had any therapy for over 5 years and have not had any depression since leaving AA. I have less feelings of guilt and certainly don’t fear alcohol. Many of the things that I used to hear people sharing about in meetings, now seem trivial but were not at the time. There have been challenges, but when I have problems it is very rare for me to think about drinking. It has faded away.
This seems different to people who are still in AA. They are still obsessed by alcohol. They talk about it now rather than consume it, but it is still the centre of their life. That is not something, I would do normally, although I am using some spare time to write this blog, generally when I am travelling, so I am thinking about it more than usual. I’m not obsessing about it or fearful, or in need of spiritual guidance or any need of support. I just want to tell a few people who find this site, how I’m doing without AA, because many stay in the rooms when it is not the best place for them. There are other options.
I’m happy that some do succeed with the 12 steps and admit it does seem to suit them. However, I have also seen people go on really dreadful binges, when things go wrong. The learnt behaviour of powerlessness, that has been reinforced by countless meetings and readings of chapter 5, kicks into the subconsciousness and off they go. One of my contemporaries from the rooms smashed himself up after jumping off a bridge during a relapse. He still goes to meetings even though he has relapsed many times. That is the path he has chosen. I hope he finds a solution, but I fear more trouble to come. I hope I am wrong.
For me, recovery was about taking responsibility. I do not need the excuse of a disease. I am sure my brain changed over time and welcomed the reward of alcohol, which made me feel I needed it, but this is not what I call a disease. There were cultural influences such as the Irish side of the family, and the wish to avoid certain feelings and self medicate but I’m not going to use that excuse either. It was always a choice. I knew I was doing wrong, but it took me a long time to change. I started recovery when I was forty and time was running out. If I had started in my twenties, things may have been different, although I don’t feel would have reacted well to the religious side of AA at all when I was young. I think harm reduction, would have been a better choice for me then, but I had not heard of it. I also think combining methods could have been a good idea, such as Smart for the tools to recover and AA for a place to sit and some fellowship. I am pleased to see quite a few people suggesting this approach. I feel this method could be the start of a balanced recovery.
I now have enough time away from drinking and away from AA, to feel the real advantages of my life today. I have grown up at last and don’t need to get drunk. Some people ask me if I could moderate drinking now and I think I probably could, but the truth is, I have had enough. I went through too much trouble and as a result of having to turn my life around, I view alcohol in a totally different way. I simply don’t want it. I have a new set of friends, a partner who has never seen me drink and the trust of my family. I have dealt with the issues of the past and have moved on. I’m not on the recovery treadmill and have no wish to be in a support group or to try drinking again. I feel like a different person.
It is up to you if you want to leave. There are other methods of staying sober and lots of on-line resources and books that you can read. It is down to you how you recover and is your responsibility. It can be hard work and frustrating at times. Many in AA look down at other methods. Those type of people have got well in AA so they wish to push that method on others. They ignore the fact that many fail. The fact that many go on to work in rehabs using the Hazelden type approach has meant that the 12 step method is viewed as a treatment by many, but I always simply looked at it as a support group. If you have had problems staying sober in AA then maybe try something else. Just because AA is the biggest group, does not make it the most successful, which was something that surprised me, when I read about the failure rate.
I did not like living my life based around recovery. I wanted more, I wanted to cross that bridge to normal living. Most in AA seem to get stuck on the bridge, and other people jump off.
Good luck with whichever route you take. Find something to do with your spare time. Learning how to make a website like this, was something I did, that made use of time spent on trains or other wasted time. I have enjoyed doing this so far, and the blog is nearly a month old now. It is my second attempt at a recovery based site, and I learnt quite a lot from the mistakes I made with the first one and have changed things. As a result of starting up again, I have been motivated to read about new methods and reach out to other people on other blogs. I am enjoying it so far and will hopefully build it up over the next year into a site with some good searchable resources for people who want to have a more independent form of recovery. The numbers of different people coming to the site seem to be far higher than when I had my first site, and I hope that this can continue. I feel there is a need for a site that is not focussing on 12 steps as a solution, but is not simply a place to bash those methods.
Here are some links to other related posts on leaving AA
Here is a link to a piece about alternative methods of recovery