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!).

alcohol- drinker

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.


Commenting area

  1. “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.”

    Seeing NLP in that list made me cringe. It also inspired me to transition from lurker to commenter. I have found mindfulness meditation, CBT techniques, nutrition, and exercise to be critical components of my recovery. They allow me to continue to move on with my life.

    Like you I made the transition from drunkard to sober while attending AA meetings. It helped me break some bad habits and break contact with some old companions who I needed to move on from. Some things were helpful; some things weren’t. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and find your approach to recovery a breath of fresh air. I won’t argue with anyone who loves AA, still attends, and thinks it’s the be-all and end-all when it comes to recovery from alcohol dependence. I won’t argue with anyone who hates AA and thinks it ought to be banned. I have tried to adopt a “whatever works for you is just fine with me” attitude.

    Which brings me to the point of my reply. If by NLP, you mean neuro-linguistic programming, my reading on it has led me to conclude it is snake oil. Bill Wilson came up with pseudo-religious voodoo in the 1930’s. I don’t see much difference in pseudo-scientific voodoo dreamed up in the 1970’s and wrapped in ‘modern’ terminology in an attempt at legitimacy. The Wikipedia article on NLP ( links to a fairly comprehensive bibliography of articles that debunk it.

    IF NLP is helping people get and stay sober … great, whatever works is fine by me. On the other hand … science it ain’t.

    • Thanks for your comment. I can see why some people hate NLP, as like many self help methods, it is taught by some people who are pretty useless and who think it is a solution to everything. However there are some really good books on the subject that have many of the techniques that are used in CBT such as reframing ideas and looking at goals. I found the books by Paul Mckenna were really helpful and I actually gave up smoking using his methods. The hypnotic recordings can be really calming and it was one of the places that I heard about mindfulness.
      I would not class it the same as therapy with a Dr by any means, but i do think that there are some useful techniques which are easy to learn and help people deal with stress etc. It can certainly help people learn about empathy and also help them gain confidence. I will try and write something about the things I got from it that were useful sometime soon. I have a recording of Richard Bandler who is pretty controversial talking about addiction, and he puts forward some great ideas about viewing addiction as the opposite of a phobia etc.
      I doubt it would cure people of addiction on its own and that is not what people are doing with it, but it certainly seems to help some people in general lifestyle issues. A lot of the ideas struck me as common sense rather than scientific, but the way they were presented actually made me think about using some of them. I don’t think much of the tapping stuff but some of the other things probably help people relax during a normal stressful day, especially the things that are based on mindfulness and are easier for some people to understand.
      Glad you like the rest of the blog!

  2. My story is different from the norm of what I have read and heard in most stories of stopping abusive drinking. I had two separate experiences. I drank from the age of 15-21. Between the ages of 16-20, I drank abusively. From 20-21 I drank in moderation and then I decided to just quit. I held no concept in the ’70’s and early ’80s of what Alcoholics Anonymous was or what they taught. When I switched from drinking abusively to moderation it was not easy at first, but I was determined, asked God for some help, succeeded and thought very little about the subject over time and eventually quit. I celebrated no sober date, forgot when it was and really didn’t care, didn’t sit in meetings being reminded of alcohol everyday, didn’t get a sponsor or work any steps. Now based on what I just wrote I’m certain most in AA will accuse me of one of two things, 1) I was not an alcoholic, or 2) For the next 30 years before I would pick up alcohol again, I was living life as a “Dry Drunk.” My reply, BS! The problem I see with AA is it is dependent on the “Disease Theory of Alcoholism” and while I very much agree with your article, I do disagree in one respect, I do believe AA is a cult and while it may work for a few, I find it is more harmful than helpful to most. I realize that many will disagree with me on that statement, but I would suggest you do a very thorough research into the Founders of AA and the men they built their philosophies on and you will discover that the word, “cult,” is something they all have in common. Here are just a few of the men Bill Wilson looked to in forming his beliefs, 1) Carl Jung, 2) Emmet Fox, 3) Frank Buchman, 4) Emmanuel Swedenborg, and author, William James, who wrote the book Ebby Thatcher brought to Bill when he stated he had found religion. The book was titled, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and I would also encourage you to take a closer look at the teachings found in his writing. I’m a Christian and I can tell you as soon as I recovered from the alcoholic fog I had descended into when I battled alcoholism a second time at age 50-51 and this time with the help of AA, as soon as I started actually reading the Big Book and comprehending what people in meetings were saying in addition to my counselor and sponsor, an alarming number of red flags were raised. I would not stay in AA any longer until I did some research and what I discovered was very disturbing to say the least and I was out of there. The reason so many people stay in AA and don’t move forward boils down to fear. I don’t know what meetings are like in your country, but I can tell you sit in any AA meeting here in the US and you will here the scare tactic, a common technique among cults, “stop attending AA meeting and working the program and your future is, “Jails, Institutions, and Death.” This brings me to my second experience with alcohol. Due to severe withdrawals I was sent to a rehab to detox and receive help. I didn’t realize I had just been indoctrinated into the world of AA. Within weeks they had me temporarily believing this whole disease concept and that I was powerless over alcohol. I was brainwashed, another common tactic of a cult and no, to anyone reading from AA, for $25,000, the last thing I needed was to have my brain washed. I was there to get help, not to be screwed out of my money. After I left rehab, I did my 90/90 days of AA meetings. I was severely depressed as the reason I had picked up abusing alcohol again is I was having difficulty dealing with several serious losses in my life recently including the death of my father and a failed marriage after 30 years. These issues were not dealt with in rehab or any AA meeting and would not be till I got a Non-12-Step counselor and real healing finally took place. Until then I sat in AA meetings everyday, left wanting to drink because alcohol was all we discussed, was told I was powerless, treated like a 5 year old by a sponsor the age of my oldest son, listened to all the sad stories, just what a depressed individual needs. I was told I had to work steps to get well, I was encouraged to put the program before what was left of my family, and it turns out I was reading a book whose author was a womanizing nutcase who only partly wrote the Big Book, but took full credit so he could receive the financial rewards. Here is an interesting link orange-Sue_Smith.pdf. On this link you can read that Sue Smith Windows, the daughter of Dr. Bob, has evidence that Mr. Bill Wilson cheated her father and the 30 some other contributors of the book out of their money. This is the kind of man I’m supposed to have help guide me to sobriety with hope and strength found in his program, “I think not!” When I tried to discuss the serious problems I was having in overcoming my recent losses I was accused of being on my, “Pity Pot.” I was asked if I was working the steps, attending enough meetings, or keeping secrets. What nonsense and such actions only took me lower into my depression. As a matter of fact for the first time in my life I ended up in an Institution, I thought that was something I was now supposed to avoid, but I can tell you for certain it was the program of AA that led me there as I started having suicidal thoughts. I’m here to tell you I experienced recovery once without AA and once with. The first was no big deal, the second almost killed me and today I am finally a recovered alcoholic, not an alcoholic, because I don’t believe it’s a disease with no cure. I will admit I drink in moderation once a week with a very small limit, but today I am both happy and free again.

    • Thanks so much for such a detailed response. I think AA can affect people pretty badly especially if they go to the wrong type of group that is dominated by a very strong personality, who has made the Bill Wilson teachings their religion. these people often manage to persuade people to follow them and do influence neighbouring groups.
      I can only really go with my own experience of AA to say if it is a cult or not because there are very conflicting opinions on the net which tend to be polarised with nothing in the middle. I have read a fair bit about the AA history in the past and this was one of the things that helped me leave it. I was amused that Bill Wilson left royalties from the Bigbook to his mistress fro example.
      I found some meetings to be very cultlike such as the notorious Joys group in London and I went to many meetings that we are now warned about by the Uk site AA cultwatch . However I travelled a lot in the time I was in AA and found that meetings varied a lot depending on the area and how influential the big city meetings were on them. I went to some quiet out of town meetings that were about helping people rather than reciting the steps and pushing the higher power concept so I prefer to view AA as more of a religious group, due to the church affiliation rather than an out and out cult. I do concede there are many cult like meetings and if you get caught up too much in them, you can get in trouble. i was 40 when I went to AA and do not have a religious background. I think that people who are young are vulnerable in AA.
      I don’t think AA will change much in spite of some people trying to make a difference. Massive from LeavingAA tried to make local meetings safer without much success and is now making a film to highlight the problems. i think if we all share our experiences in recovery (both good and bad) people will become aware of the alternatives that may be of more use to them when they are in their early days. People that simply move on from AA tend not to say too much about it and newcomers tend to just get the biased opinion of old timers in the rooms. i hope this changes over time, and that people from different backgrounds can find suitable solutions for them, especially if they are young and have their whole life ahead of them.

  3. Yes I am very concerned about the young people in AA, you are right they are very vulnerable and do not need a program that tells them they are hopeless and need meetings for the rest of their lives.

  4. “To thy own self be true”. This is what my AA coin says and I live by that. I am truly grateful for AA, although I don’t believe in everything and I’m clear about that in meetings. Though AA has done me wonders, way beyond the alcohol. I have never got a sponsor, it just isn’t for me. I have had a hard time listening to my own voice and trusting myself and co-dependence. So I never got a sponsor. I went to counseling for a while, and really looked at some deep stuff, and of course swept my side of the street only…take responsibility for my own work. I now take no responsibility for other peoples’ stuff, if someone is having a bad day or doesn’t like me, then it’s really not about me and I have self-respect and boundaries!! Wow!! I can walk away!

    I have stopped going to meeting so regularly. I’m ready to move on from the “recovery” stage, let go of my story, and really focus on the positive. Re-living my story again and again is not going to help me move forward. Though, I did need to finally talk about my story and process things I hadn’t processed. AA gave me my voice back. I feel finally some freedom that I’ve never felt before. I go to meetings, just not as often, I’m weaning off. When I introduce myself I say “Hi, I’m Flora and I’m Flora”. I no longer identify as a person, that I AM an alcoholic. When you ARE, that is your identity. There is always something wrong with you, you are forever sick and you need fixing. Well I don’t. I am human and have dealt with alcoholism. Alcoholism is NOT my identity.

    Also, through the abuse and codependent relationships I had put myself in. I guess, too, I never want to depend on anyone or anything. I want to be able to fully depend on myself and validate myself and my inner work, and ALSO for me my relationship with God. It’s like there is a codependency consciousness in AA.

    I guess, my thing is I don’t have to believe in everything AA and the “group conscience” says, but it has helped me come out of my shell emotionally, given me my voice and the importance in what I have to say back, it has helped with accepting people just how they are and knowing I have nothing to do with changing them, and the self-respect and self-love I am gaining more and more each day. I am also discovering my artistic side again by going to free studio and meeting people that way, going to yoga, hiking and camping. Self affirmations have been powerful in gaining my power, self respect, love and confidence back. Reprogramming the lies I had believed as truth was essential. No one will love me better, treat me better, accept me the way I am, honor and respect me better than me.

    Love and light,

    • Thanks for your comments,you make some great points. I really agree about the identity stuff and I was not happy having a sponsor myself. AA gave me a place to go and I am grateful for that, and I will be true to myself, but after a while it was time to move on.

  5. I’ve read a couple of your posts and really relate to what you’re saying. I’ve been sober for 5 months and have drawn many of these conclusions myself. Where I live there is an agnostic version of AA meetings that I attend once per week. I’ve only attended one traditional AA meeting, but already knew that I was not interested in the higher power and religious doctrine. The group I go to does not advocate a higher power, does not follow the steps and is mainly a fellowship gathering. We talk, we share, and we have coffee afterwards. I found it to be excellent in the first few months because even though not all of my friends drank heavily most people in my life didn’t understand why I needed to go sober and weren’t really that helpful. The ones who knew how bad I was were fellow alcoholics and tried to convince me I didn’t need to stop. In the beginning I needed to see what is was like on the “other side” for those of us who’ve been drinking to excess for so many years. I found a few long term members inspirational in that they seemed fairly well adjusted and living normal lives. I also saw that I had enough in common with everyone’s stories that I’d made the right decision to stop drinking. I have noticed however that even though we do not have the cult like problems or indoctrination occurring I am mindful of choosing them as part of my long term social network. I began to feel uncomfortable about the prospect of being someone who attends for 15 years etc… Although there is something comforting in their presence and they are certainly not preachy, something makes me uneasy about it. Unfortunately when I expressed this to my therapist she got very uncomfortable as if not attending these meetings would make me drink again. I feel a have a very good handle on why I drank too much and have been doing a lot of research and reading to address the underlying issues that brought me here. I thankfully have many non-addictive and emotionally healthy friends, a good job and hobbies that I’m deeply engaged with. So thanks for laying out your experience and these alternatives. I do feel that the reason I stopped drinking was to get healthy and eliminate that distraction from my life. I don’t want to continually discuss alcohol/recovery forever. However, I also don’t need to hide it and was influenced by knowing that people I admired had gotten sober also. In the end sobriety has been much easier than I thought it would be, so I’m grateful for that.

    • Thanks for commenting Anaise, I’m actually going to post something about the way I left AA and how it was related to the therapy I was having at the time in the nest week or so which may be of use.
      I think it is important to have some boundaries in recovery and have a balance of friends. I tend not to hang out with people in recovery these days (although I do have a few close friends in recovery, and have met others through having this site). It can get a bit much if you see recovery type people the whole time.
      I would continue to talk to the therapist about how you feel over time as they may change their view – mine did. Your therapist is probably concerned that it is a bit early to leave, but that can vary from person to person. There are some good books that helped me mentioned on the site here I like the ones that Lance Dodes has written. I think there is a fair bit of trial and error in recovery and it is worth looking at various things that can help. Smart recovery is a good group for example and you are not expected to go for life.
      Good luck with the future, and I hope you come back here from time to time!

      • Thank you! I read the SMART recovery handbook and found a meeting near me that I’m going to try. I’m happy to have choices, and since I’ve felt from day 1 that my recovery is a choice that I made and am fully responsible for, I’m excited to explore options that make the most sense for me. I’ll continue to check out your blog. Such an important topic!

  6. Love my sister May 6, 2015 at 6:45 am · · Reply

    My sister is addicted to AA. She’s been going to multiple meeting per week for over 25 years. She is quite overweight and “exercises” under the observation of a physical trainer once a week. She eat poorly and still possesses all the traits that made her a very functioning, secret alcoholic. She has for that same 25 years been addicted to MANY prescription drugs, to the point she is often too disturbed to drive. She has noticeable physical behaviors like pacing and grinding her teeth caused by the latest prescription(s). Her sponsor avoids our family and is nasty and domineering. She manipulates to the point she has invaded my sister’s once very successful business. She is the “bookkeeper”, but in fact runs the business just as she run my sister’s life. The sponsor is a very poor businessperson and gives very bad advice which my dear sister follows without question.

    The sponsor convinced my sister that her family is bad for her and has nearly severed her relationship with us… our mom, siblings, nieces and nephews. My sister is single and has no children… only AA, legal drugs and her “Sainted” sponsor.

    AA, prescription drugs and a selfish sponsor have ruined my sister’s life. Not alcohol. I feel helpless to help. The answers are obvious to most anyone who is not drinking the AA KoolAid (ugly reference for an ugly circumstance). Things like exercise, proper eating habits, friends of all kinds (not just pity-party AA members), family, music, reflection on her very productive life are what she needs. She is a respected expert in her profession. Yet, she is convinced she is powerless and is dependent on a selfish person who controls her life. She no doubt “loves” her sponsor.

    I’ve been to NA meetings. It was good. It helped me change course and then I got out. I was terrified by the notion of powerlessness and lifetime commitment to the club. The lifers were either pathetic or users (of other people). I brought a cocaine (free-base) addicted friend to his first few meetings. It saved his life. He ultimately ran from the meetings also. He now leads a drug-free, meeting-free, productive life.

    I searched using google. That’s what we do these days. I came across this page. Wow! All my notions about long-term AA are keenly are documented! My sister must not be the only one!

    I love my sister and hold her in high regard for excellence in her profession, yet I am watching her deteriorate.

    How do I help her? Where do I even start?

    • I am sorry to read these problems and it must be really difficult for you. Some sponsors do go over the top especially if they feel threatened by the family of the sponcee. I have seen this myself and for me it does not reflect what AA should be about. I suppose you just have to be as supportive as possible and then try and talk to her, with other members of the family and see what happens. It is difficult to do this as some people can get really defensive about AA and their sponsor and move further away from the rational family members trying to help them. It may be worth talking to a good counselling service yourself and see if they have any ideas, before going further. Good luck!

  7. Love my sister May 6, 2015 at 6:51 am · · Reply

    I wrote the previous comment, but overlooked the “Notify Me” check box. Please reply to this one so I don’t risk missing it.

  8. Hello. Thank you so much for the insights containing in these writings you have put together. Allow me to share some of my thoughts with you. I have spent the last few years of my life utterly enclosed in the world of recovery. As your writings illustrate, this proved helpful in earlier times, because I truly did have a problem with substance abuse, and AA was perfectly suited for me..for a while. In the last year I got a job working in a treatment center. I was still living in a recovery house, the circuit of which I had been using to get myself back on my feet after homelessness and such. I was also still going to a fair amount of meetings per week, and my social life somewhat dwindled to include no more than recovery friends. Here’s where I’m at. I finally got my own apartment. I have distanced myself from the rooms, because I feel as you do. There is more to it, but basically I relate, and I find a life that stands or falls on the basis of “sobriety” is a somewhat cheapened way of perceiving everything. I have come up against the mentality which declares that not going to meetings anymore and retreating from the 12 step fellowship is asking for another drink or drug. I believe that this is bullshit. I had to work through a lot of feelings of resistance to reconceptualizing what it means for me to improve the quality of my life. I’m still trying to figure that out, but I’m sure that more meetings a week, more commitments, and a good relationship with my sponsor (who I’m not speaking with right now) is not exactly the answer. I need to expand my life. I’m not sure I’d like to move on from AA entirely, as I do think it of merit to be a apart of something which has become a solution of sorts to those with addiction. I would like to help, but I do understand what you mean when you cite the ego boosting that can occur as someone becomes a sponsor. Believe me, I’ve encountered that in more than a few, and have had some pretty devastating experiences with people who simply do not possess the insight to see beyond the box of their AA constructed heads. I’m not smarter than them, at least I don’t think so. But I do not want to be years into my sobriety and have little more going on than meetings, meetings, meetings. I’m working at living a more personal life. I would appreciate any “suggestions.” haha, I still use language familiar to AA ideology. Forgive me.

    • Thanks for your comment, it got stuck in th spam for some reason. I do think most people gently transition out of AA after a while once they have stabalised themselves. Recovery is tough at the start, and it can be helpful to be part of a sober community, but I found that it limited my life in the long term. A few choose to remain and they can be quite domineering in meetings or as sponsors while others sty to help newcomers but are not fanatics. Good luck with the future, I found it helpful after I first left to remember AA will always be there if I need it, but have so far chosen not to return.

      • Love my sister May 12, 2015 at 7:12 pm · · Reply

        Thank you and see my previous “reply to comment” as every word applies to you. Thank you.

    • Love my sister May 12, 2015 at 7:10 pm · · Reply

      Thank you very much for your replies and insights. I know there is not one single answer, but it is comforting to know that my sister and my family are not the only ones. NA (so close to AA) was good for me and saved a friend’s life. It is the “lifer syndrome” that troubles me. Again, thank you. It is easy for users, formers users and family members to fall into a real condition called terminal uniqueness. Although this link is from a rehab site, the condition is not at all limited to addition.

      Thank you again. I appreciate the support as I work to help my sister.

      • Thanks and I hope things go well for all of you. The link about terminal uniqueness is interesting and was certainly true for me as I put off getting help for so long as I felt I was the only one facing certain issues and that drinking was the only solution. I really wanted to avoid a lot of reality back then, and was not at all worried about the health implications until it got really bad.

  9. Great article

  10. I thought I’d share an incident that occurred this morning at the treatment center I’m still working at. I was mentioning to a co worker a story of how I had been “smoking a bowl” with a cousin of mine while listening to The Grateful Dead. Some clients overheard me and seemed to think I was illustrating a “war story” of sorts (I wasn’t..just telling an anecdote) and laughed and commented somewhat derisively. “Oh, you were smoking weed, Matt? Woah, don’t make me relapse, Matt!” I winced a little bit at this, and thought about it actually a lot throughout the rest of the day..I analyzed my own reaction to it. I actually felt quite hurt, and I wonder if anyone can relate. Somehow it becomes a source of pride within one’s tenure in recovery to relate how extensive one’s substance abuse was. There’s a feeling of inadequacy which comes up when this is challenged or when someone thinks of your using or drinking as not quite as bad as theirs. I’ve been able to perceive and truly appreciate the absurd hilarity of this. I can’t believe how much I’ve allowed my own ego to get wrapped up in the false importance of something to do with the extent of my using, and how many times I was afraid that someone else wouldn’t appreciate the damage I did to my own life, or think that it measured up to theirs. The truth is though, I don’t see how this sense of something so ridiculous being important is likely to diminish as one remains continuous in the 12 step fellowship world. It seems like, if anything, the false importance of this becomes even more solidified, even more apart of the recovery identity of the one who is fully invested in the sub culture. I understand why I winced a little bit when I was laughed at today. It’s because there’s still an aspect of my psyche that isn’t fully convinced of how utterly stupid, fake, childish, and worthless the importance attached to the level of one’s previous use truly is. I don’t see how the rooms do a great job at preventing a belief in this importance from continuing to develop. If a philosophy centers itself around one’s sobriety from alcohol and/or drugs, well then of course there’s an allure and power given to one’s past and using, so as to more fully enrich with meaning the so called “miraculous transformation” from active addiction to sobriety. In order for it to retain its dramatic appeal, the life previous to it must be just as gloriously decrepit as the life following it is supposedly gloriously transformed. God forbid one’s life of using and drinking was what it often amounts to..quite trivial, quite mundane, and perhaps even not quite as horrible as one remembers it to be with the aid of imagination and the mythologizing of the rooms. I can’t say my using and drinking were trivial necessarily, but I wouldn’t be ashamed at all to admit that there were others around me and in the rooms who I’m sure were much more entrenched (according to them anyway..) in using and drinking than I. And if there is any shame in me at all over the comparison..then the rooms and their ego expanding ways over the subject definitely are not the answer. I hope that someone out there can relate to this.

    • I think the idea that you have to hit rock bottom to recover is quite dangerous at times, especially for young people who often do not remain abstinant and then go on a binge. Amy winehouse is a tragic example. Certainly some AA meetings are full of people trying to outdo each other. I must admit that I used to think that some people had not done enough drinking to be there when I attended, but I also went to some pretty hard meetings where there were a lot of low bottom drunks that may have thought that about me.
      I suppose the main thing is to work out the rreasons we were driven to drink and do something about that, and come to terms with our personal issues. I dd not like keep bringing the past up the whole time, and I felt I managed to break free of the past when I moved on.
      Sobriety is not a competition, and ther are many paths to get there.

  11. I really got a lot out of your blog. I also left the meetings after 20 years of sobriety. I couldn’t take the same old slogans and rhetoric anymore. It was actually hurting my recovery. I am not anti AA, and do not wish to bash a program that put me back on track with life. Like everyone else that got sober, I was completely out of control and drunk most of the time. I agree with the “I never had just one drink” thing. One drink, and I was off to the races every single friggin’ time. Blackouts were common. I had a hard time getting sober, but AA helped me stay away from drinking and getting myself into dubious situations. I held onto the “One Day At A Time” thing, because it made sense to me. I will always say that AA helped me immeasurably in the beginning, because I simply didn’t know how to stop drinking on my own.
    After about 5 years I was totally into the program, sponsoring, leading meetings, GSR stuff etc… Then after about 10 years, I started seeing through things. The steps weren’t about stopping drinking anymore. I was never comfortable with the overt religious theme that was put forward, and was feeling almost hostile toward the process. Then I became cynical every time the meetings started doing the steps for the newcomer. I started to stop going to meetings where the steps were the focus, and eventually went to meetings where the focus was just on the beginners. I then saw people with time either drift away, or stay on to become dogmatic, slogan pushing zealots and know it all’s when it came to getting sober. I was embarrassed by my time after awhile. I thought it sent a bad message not only to me, but to the newcomer. Then there was the final thing that made me really stop coming to meetings: How It Works (Chapter 5). I saw it as demeaning and condescending to the person who identified themselves as an alcoholic. I can say a lot of things about this, but I have already seen a lot of people online pick this apart. This was read at the beginning of every meeting I went to, and I got cynical every time I heard it.
    AA was becoming harmful to my long term sobriety because I woke up and wanted to stretch my sobriety into more positive things. The meetings weren’t helping me anymore. I gave enough of my time in the program, and now I wanted to feel good doing other things than sitting around the rooms.
    Things I got from AA:
    One Day At A Time, Take what you need and leave the rest, One drink was never enough, Help others.
    Things I disliked about AA:
    Powerlessness, Alcoholism is a disease, and Chapter 5.
    Powerlessness and the disease theory are excuses for the bad behavior I’ve seen in the rooms. I truly believe you are responsible for your actions.
    Chapter 5 is just plain condescending. I felt put down and worthless every time I heard it. I never read it because of that. I “Passed It On” to a more unworthy alcoholic in the rooms lol…
    I honestly think the program wants to hold onto the membership by saying you know not what you do because of these things. I am not diseased, powerless, or constitutionally incapable of being honest with myself. I wish I knew there were other alternatives to AA in the beginning, but like so many, that was all I knew. I understand now that I needed to be beaten down and open to the suggestions that were given to me, but after awhile I made sense of it. I am in the process of Recovering from Recovery now. Maybe I’m just upset that I wasted the second 10 years in the program. I won’t cry over spilled milk. Maybe it took every bit of bullshit for me to finally leave.

  12. matthew i can relate very much to your post.

  13. and your post jane swim .i also recovered when younger without AA.later age 42 i went there and it didn’t help me it made my life and mental health worse.i was criticized on anti AA web sites for having at one time when young been in the mormon church. around women who go to cults yet the person who criticized me was saying AA was a cult that they had been in.i was also told on anti AA sites its young women that are targeted in AA for sex.i was also told in AA its young women that get harassed. I was told in AA i did not have, had not taken the steps i had nothing to give…i was accused on anti AA of being a stepper out to harm anti AA. i was never a sponsor never took no one through the steps..i was taken through all the steps in AA later my posts in anti AA were AA i rarely talked ..i refuse to feel guilty about haveing been in AA or haveing tried to do the steps..i was trying to help myself at the time. my later posts in anti AA were ignored.i refuse to feel guilty about leaving AA or any of my past harms .guilt trips in AA made me suicidal. and the guilt wasn’t even mine in the first place. i am for anti AA exposing the abuse in glad they have. i am not for shutting AA down and no longer talk about AA off line or go on anti AA web sites.i was sexually harassed at age 42 in AA by old timer first weeks in i was targeted throughout 19yr also was targeted by an AA 20yr sober man after i had been out of AA for 3 yr and was out when he targeted me.i was targeted in NA just pre my leaving there and at age 59yr.the steps didnt help me they harmed anger has gone around AA and things that i had did to me there at the hands of those i was to trust.memories are fadeing now and im thinking of nicer positive things.i missed a few in NA when i first left but since i didnt know them or see them that much not missing them now.think im over it all .if not soon will be.none of it is getting me down anymore or angry.they did it the harms done to me .my part was i went there and answered them when they spoke to me or took a call or called them as directed to.answered my door when it knocked tryed to be of help and support .at times.gave of my time and money So what i learnt from it is dont go to AA talk to them try and help them be alone with them or to give to rapes pre AA my part i was infornt of a rapeists and didnt know they were they were stronger than me and i couldnt get part in domestic violence i was good to my partners didnt hit them first didn’t destroy there homes belongings wasn’t unfaithful to them payed my way and theres at times. and tryed my best to get away from them when they punched kicked cut or strangled me what i have learnt from it is dont talk to men try go out with them give them or be good to them..i no longer trust anyone anywhere.i am isolated. however im going to change that.i will mix with and talk to new people i meet now but i will be extra extra wary of all i meet..i think AA is a horrible place full of horrible people not all but most.glad its behind 3 days time i will be leaveing where i live and going to the coast to live where no one knows me or my back ground and i won’t feel i have to sit and share all my background with anyone i meet there.or feel i have to give them anything or be of service to them if they do anything wrong to me i will feel ok to be angry about it and not blame myself or try to stay friends with them and be forgiving no matter what they did. I’m starting a new life at age 60yr also a new way of making a living and im looking forward to it.AA they can keep it from what i saw not one of them really had found happiness or peace in there.some got a stayed sober thats all they got and anyone can get that without AA.

  14. AA NA has a very bad record now in the real world the general public where i live have a very bad opinion of it and its members.people know its full of abusers and users now.i don’t want to be associated with it.its not safe.there are some that just go once a week or sometimes .some of those go for the social side some i have found out dont like aa but call in to wind members up and tell them how great their lifes are and how they are happy in a hope it will wind some up make them jealouse some go for the men or women sex, or the material thigs they get off vunrable or ill people who struggle with it .and then theres the ones that go to try and get well or to give help back.whatever they go for they know ! i went for help round get away from abusers in my pre AA life to make up to my kids for harm i did them to try and have a better life than i had pre-AA.i also went through fear of death jails institutions. and i also liked to help helped more in na than aa. i liked making tea .tho i didn’t want to do service at every meeting .and hoped i could get IT and then help other people.but i never got life isn’t at an end i no longer think my life will be hell just because i didn’t get it.the truth is i have been ok since i left it not drinking much at all.most days i dont its like once in a blue moon i had 1 can of beer then left it alone for 12 days had 1 can of beer..a few months ago i had 4 beers.i have laughed a lot since i left it all.i have cried .i have had a calm mind many a day since i left .nothing no one says bothers me now.i think better of myself now.i have much more time to focus on my own getting back into things i lost in AA NA such as creativity.lots of things are ok with me and my life now.i no longer feel guilty remorse.i no longer feel ashamed.i dont think i have to do things for people just because i have to be giving .i say what i want to think what i want do what i want .i feel more grown up.i answer to no one i was lonely at first and isolated but i have been makeing friends around where i live and i shall make more friends at coast because pre AA i made friends easily. i will find a great partner that i dont have to have AA ok. or pick for me. lots of things…mayby i didnt get IT in AA NA but i got a lot more now , than i got in there.sso for anyone thinking of leaving i would say WHY NOT LEAVE .

  15. This is such a great site honestly. I identify with most of the stories. I was 28 when i first attended meetings and extremely vulnerable, i thought it was all a bit mad but kept going. I think it really damaged me, i came into contact with so many really dysfunctional people. I come from a very dysfunctional family but was told by the rehab i had done really well to build the life i had with no help. Over the years and years of listening to negative stuff/ thinking working the steps again would help i developed PTSD. When i started being honest in meetings instead of people pleasing wow, i was shunned it was very similar to bulling. Very damaging, my life has now fallen apart…wish i had listened to my intuition in the beginning, unfortunately living in a big city and not having close family meant i was extremely vulnerable. I have to say i feel very sad about how i wasted the best years of my life going to meetings and meeting people who treated me badly and were worse than friends i had whilst in active addiction. Dreadful but like another person that has written here i am plagued by self doubt that i cant do it any other way, i am going to try because i cant keep my spirit intact and end up feeling despair as soon as go near meetings where i get criticised and people do not have empathy!

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