Moving on in Recovery. Is long-term AA membership a waste of time?
Moving on in Recovery. Is long-term AA membership a waste of time?
I think it is important to continually evolve when attempting to recover from addiction. It is easy to get stuck in a rut and do the same old thing for years on end. For me, the idea of recovery is all about living a worthwhile, productive and enjoyable life. It is not about spending all my time in narrow-minded group, talking about the spiritual side of recovery which is only focussing on a very narrow part of beating alcoholism, which is not appropriate for many. AA seems to concentrate on the Spiritual side and has not evolved, to mention lifestyle change benefits, or CBT in the solution it offers as the steps.
As I have said before on this site, I found being around others in recovery, in the early days of putting down the bottle very helpful. I am not going to claim AA is totally useless or a cult as that was not my experience. I went to AA and was inspired by coming into contact with people who had long-term sobriety, which was exactly what I was looking for. For about a year I went along with what they had to say, as I presumed that because the old timers had more sober time and therefore, more experience at living sober, then following their slightly quaint methods, seemed an appropriate course to take.
However, the longer I remained in the 12 step programme, the more people I saw fail. I realised that the claims in chapter five were simply ridiculous,so began to see the steps were more about moral issues and religious conduct, than recovery. I began to see that the few people who had actually remained in the program to become “old timers” were living a life, that was based around AA. This was often harmful to their family life and it was not uncommon to hear of relationships breaking down. I often heard that “normies” would not be able to understand the mind of an alcoholic. (it is also true that many relationships with an addicted person are not very healthy anyway and should end, having seen some alcoholic’s partners, I can see what drove them to drink, then AA!).
I also was lucky enough to know people in the music world who had left AA some years before and were living great lifestyles, that did not revolve around recovery. They were out and about and taking part in sports and other healthy activities. They had a lot of friends and were not awkward in social situations. They were actually helping me more by not going to meetings, as they provided me with an insight into the fact that a real recovery back to normal living, was in fact possible. They had much better lives than the people I was mixing with in AA. It struck me that these people had developed, partly because they had the time to devote to meaningful activities. Going to AA on a regular basis takes up a lot of time if you include travel time and the coffee afterwards. It can amount to the equivalent of a couple of days off, in a month, if you attend 3 or 4 meetings a week and you can also add-on the time taken for sponsorship or other AA related activities. It is not surprising that AA can dominate a member’s lifestyle, but unfortunately this does not often result in much growth in wellbeing for some as the program has such a narrow focus.
Going to a lot of meetings can help somebody break the habit of drinking in the first few weeks as it takes up some of the time you would be drinking. However, I am not sure that the same can be said for those still going every day after 20 years, or even 2 years for that matter. Surely somebody with that amount of time should be following a different path to those in early recovery, but many in AA simply do not do this and believe that they need to go to lots of AA meetings just to say sober. I think that if somebody believes that, then their recovery needs a certain amount of work! They have probably not dealt with the issues in life that were driving their addiction. They are often full of fear after believing that they are powerless.
People often say that the venting or sharing in meetings, is something that keeps them sober. While I would agree that going to meetings is probably better than getting drunk, I would again question the need to vent about alcoholism on a daily basis. Surely there is room for growth there as well, and something that should be aimed at. After a while you should just be able to accept things and deal with life. A lot of people are sharing to fit in at AA and not really progressing in any meaningful way.
Other people say that going to AA is the way to help others and that is why they go. Of course people want to help others with something like addiction because they realise how hard it is to change your way of life. AA is not the only way to help others and many who do stay and start to become sponsors, are often there simply to boost their own ego, by impressing newcomers with their knowledge of 12 step slogans. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that reciting the AA mantra is what recovery is all about and ignoring the reality of normal life. These people do often not function that well outside the realm of AA. Living a normal sane life and fitting in with society sends a strong message that addiction can be beaten to others. That is what the non AA friends of mine who were alcohol free did for me.
One of the things that worries me about AA attendance as opposed to other methods is that it concentrates purely on a spiritual solution and does not really mention anything else. For example, It is well-known that exercise often helps mental wellbeing, yet there is no mention of this in AA literature. This could be because the originators of AA actually led quite poor lifestyles and continued with smoking and drinking huge amounts of coffee. They did not do exercise and did not reap the benefits of it. Perhaps Bill Wilson would not have been so depressed if he tried a more active lifestyle and not the simple transferring of addictions from drinking to things such as womanizing, while preaching a guilt inducing moralistic lifestyle. There are many other things that help develop better ways of living in recovery such as learning to develop stronger self-esteem, or learning new skills which give people better opportunities in life. These things can fall by the wayside when people get wrapped up in the 12 step world. Spending some of the time getting fit and healthy that AA members spend in meetings, may well do more good for a lot of people.
I am not saying that everyone should walk away from the 12 step world, as a few people really seem to like it and do well, but I am concerned that its principles are being pushed on many people who will actually be held back by its dated methods. Young people often get sucked into the 12 step world after well-meaning parents have sent their drug experimenting teenagers, to rehab. Giving a young impressionable person the “powerless for life” message can result in a teenager who finds it hard to mature and who views themselves as different to normal members of society as a result of listening to some of the odd interpretations of the brain disease theory, which is popular in the faith-based 12 step treatment industry, that often offers little in the way of psychological care. A one size fits all solution is particularly dangerous when used with young people who are often confused by the process of adolescence. I feel it is wrong to try to encourage them to join a group such as AA which encourages a lifetime of meetings. Many people are quite badly affected by this and fell bitter after they feel they have wasted a lot of time going to pointless 12 step meetings and following the mantra of prayer to a “higher power”. They would be helped more by some advice about growing up and not 12 step indoctrination for life.
I like the formation of internet groups such as the soberistas group which is simply an open-minded group that encourages members to support each other. It certainly does not preach life long membership as a requirement and explores many different solutions. In a sense it has a similar makeup of members to other groups in that most people are new, but contains a few people with much longer sobriety. These long-term “alcohol free” members seem to wish to keep in touch with others in recovery without going to formal meetings. There are a few recovery enthusiasts from AA who have been alcohol free for sometime and I am sure that this inspires people even though they do not generally wish to follow the AA solution.It allows people to make their own mind up about which methods they should try. I have noticed a couple of people saying that maybe they should cut down their online time, while noting that being a member of the group has really helped them. I am not surprised by this and see it as a sign that people who are using the methods discussed on the site are getting well and wish to spend less time talking about recovery and more time living life and experiencing the healthy benefits of an alcohol free lifestyle. recovery should evolve into a balanced lifestyle. This is what these people who have worked hard are doing.
Members are using a combination of methods such as meditation, NLP, CBT, eating well, exercise as well as telling each other about what is working for them and how their life has changed. Those that make a genuine effort seem to thrive in this environment, while the less motivated tend to have some ups and downs. The ones who seem to have the biggest struggle are those that put the drink down, but do not really make any changes to their lifestyle, to make it better or sort out background problems. They tend to suffer from feeling the loss of alcohol, while those that find new activities to take the place of alcohol seem to do well. This happens in most recovery groups.
I kind of view my old drinking habits as an attempt at displacement. I had many feelings that were uncomfortable and that I wished to avoid. Drinking was not something that I enjoyed at the end and this seems to be the experience of most with addictions. Many on the Soberistas site are blogging about feeling awful about having gone drinking yet a few days earlier were saying that they missed the drink. This contradiction seems to be common and something that hinders recovery. Some people in recovery simply take up another addictive process such as gambling to make up for them stopping drinking. They may say they have an addictive personality, but in reality there is no such thing. They may say it is genetic, but although genes will affect our overall outlook to some extent, environmental stimulation is going to have a much bigger effect on us. There is no single gene that is responsible for alcoholism and that would not be the same gene responsible for smoking or gambling. this type of misinformation is common in 12 step groups who are sometimes anti medication as well, although this is not the official line.
Most people in the UK have stopped smoking as a result of it being banned in public places and the way that it is perceived as something that is simply bad for your health without any benefits. It is no longer seen as a “cool” thing to do and so people decide to stop. Those people who are using methods such as keeping fit in recovery do especially well at this. It is interesting to see how their attitudes change for the better. I see several people who write regular recovery blogs are cutting all kinds of things out of their diets, and are really attempting to make all aspects of their life better. This is a massive contrast to the way they were living life a year or so ago, when their lives revolved around getting out of their heads on booze and destroying their lungs with cigarettes. These people have really moved on and I am sure that they will continue to evolve over time. They seem to be making really rapid progress compared to what I saw take place and experienced myself, in the rooms of AA in my first year.
I have also been in contact with others who have recently moved on from AA in recent months, after many years of attendance. They seem to also be doing well, after trying new approaches and are changing many of the things they do. They have found that alternatives to AA are a better choice for them at the moment. They do not hate AA in the way that some do in the anti AA fraternity, but simply wish to move on and live a more independent lifestyle. We all develop at different rates and have different needs at different times. We can face a range of problems in recovery that need dealing with, which can be rather daunting and seemly impossible at first. However, after solving a few problems, it can be easier to solve others after a while.
Some people do well in a recovery group such as AA, compared to how they fared on their own. This seems to be true for people who have no family or friends and have lost everything and need to be told what to do for a bit. I did see people who had lived outside the realms on normal society regain their self-respect due to the regimental, structured approach of AA, probably because it gave them a focus in an otherwise totally chaotic lifestyle. These were often fairly old people who had spent years on the streets and had lost everything. I found their stories inspiring, and as I was what would be called a high functioning alcoholic, I decided that if they could do it then it would be possible for myself. I found them far more motivating than many of the middle class people spouting drivel, in my area of London, which had a lot people who were relatively well off in AA meetings.
I believe that alcoholism is pretty much driven by psychological factors, rather than anything else and as we evolve we should try different techniques. I actually spent a fair amount of time completely away from people in recovery and became more independent as a result. However, after deciding to do this site again I have been inspired to read some more up to date approaches about recovery and this has been helpful for me. The Stanton Peele and Ilse Thompson book “Recover”, certainly had some good techniques that have helped me. Making a subtle change in the way I was doing meditation after reading this book, and has had a really calming effect on me. I am reading another of Lance Dodes books at the moment after getting a good insight from “The sober Truth” book and this has made me look at a few things in my life. It is interesting that both of these books were attacked by the 12 step fraternity, both before and after they had come out, generally by people who will not read them! Any criticism of the 12 step world brings a certain amount of outraged comments, that are similar to the types of hysteria, when somebody criticises a religion. Most of the people complaining about these books have no interest in looking at any other approach, that may help them, or help them to help another person. They prefer to keep a closed mind. They refuse to change their approach to recovery, from the 1930’s solution written by people with no psychological training or understanding. The fact that there has been huge advances in psychological methods has partly passed the ” 12 step treatment” industry by, partly due to the influence of the close minded AA types that stay in meetings and often seek jobs in the recovery industry, which is sometimes the only place that will accept them as employer! It is this mind-set that makes change difficult in these environments and so I am very glad that other groups which are more open-minded are springing up and that people who have a more rational view of addiction are getting some help.
I want to get the most out of life these days. If I felt that spending the time going to AA, along with all the travelling and extra activities would be beneficial, then I would go. I now tend to try to make better use of that time by going for a run or cooking great food. I try to learn more about music and spend a lot of time with my family and work hard in a quite stressful environment, which I enjoy a fair amount of the time and can certainly cope with. It is these kinds of things that I view as important, not sitting in a meeting quoting the “Big Book” I tend not to spend too much time online these days. I do this blog in downtime at work or when travelling and do most of the reading of recovery books, at these times. I no longer wish to make recovery the main focus of my life or want to spend much time working on it and have not done so for several years. I simply wish to maintain it and live a healthy lifestyle. Having said that, I have no idea what is round the corner, so it is useful to keep in touch with people from a similar background. One of the advantages of doing this site is that it has made me aware of so many options which gives me a good plan B if things were to go wrong.
I do not think that being a long-term member of AA would be a healthy option for me and after exploring other options, it does not seem that rational to me. I view at as a modern religion rather than a simple recovery fellowship, because of the way it has evolved. I also find some in the anti AA movement are actually even more crazy and equally narrow-minded in viewpoint. I have no wish to spend any time in an environment where people do not respect each other and simply rant and insult others. That is not what recovery is about for me. I think building an acceptance of other approaches has been useful and finding the right approach, at the right time. We all have a responsibility for our own recovery, as no recovery treatment is going to do the work for us. I think it is important not to just get stuck in a rut and constantly look at new goals in life. I regret wasting many years being caught up in addiction but have no wish to spend the rest of my life dominated by a “recovery” solution.Google+