Reflection on Leaving AA and the Steps behind.

Reflection on leaving AA and the 12 steps behind.

I was thinking about leaving AA and the 12 steps again today, and other related issues. Since I have started blogging again in the last few weeks, I have spent a fair amount of time looking at different web sites and really thinking about the things I went through in my early days of recovery. I seem to have a different viewpoint to many on the web, possibly because I walked away from meetings and distanced myself from the Anti AA brigade. There are those who hate AA, and bash it at every opportunity and those who swear by it, and cannot understand why anyone would want to criticise Bill Wilson, the Steps or anything to do with the fellowship. They remind me of the meetings when hardcore old timers used to shuffle their feet whenever anything was said, that slightly contradicted the perceived AA view. If I did a chair now, they would probably explode!

I’m somewhere in the middle of all this. I thought the people were a bit weird, the Steps were simply religious indoctrination dressed up as recovery and I had a lack of trust. I can see the cult aspect and went to many of the meetings, that have been labelled in that way. I saw through them after a while and lost faith in the whole process. Even though, I did not like it, and saw people damaged, I am still a little uneasy calling it a cult.

The reason for this, is that there is some truth and good things in the program. It is unfortunate, that in many areas the dogma, takes precedent in meetings, but the human fellowship, amongst those who are fighting a common problem, as well as the benefit of being able to help others is a major plus for me. I feel AA would have been much better, if the old-fashioned steps and the Big Book had been allowed to fade, and people just concentrated on sharing experiences and were empathic towards each other. I did get help from certain people and when I look back at it objectively, it was those people who were not going on about Higher Powers or step four who had the best things to say.

There is always something, that makes you think in a meeting. Sometimes, it is just hearing that somebody, is struggling more than you, that helps You are told to listen to the similarities rather than the differences. I was never a fan of this as it is easy to start to identify, with every type of dysfunctional problem, when you are in a group like AA. I think it is worth looking at the differences. I don’t believe substance abuse is caused by any disease and so anybody who banged on about that got ignored by me. They can believe what they want, but that was not a similarity for me. I listened for people who were taking responsibility for their lives. They were the ones to emulate and they were the members with strong recovery.

I could not sit in a meeting, listening to all the old higher power crap any more, and I would not make many friends by telling the faithful, what I thought of it. I do get something out of helping other people and that does happen. People know I have changed over time and have managed the addiction thing. It is in the past for me. If I get in a situation now, where somebody asks for help I tell them about the different options, and about books, I have read, or sites that have helped. I tell them what I feel about AA. I tell them it was not for me, but point out it is somewhere to go and meet other people who are in a similar position. I make sure they know about the sleazy side of AA, with the 13 steppers or people who are there, to try to control others.

Sometimes I feel it is a shame, I can’t be more constructive and give them another option. Smart seems to have good ideas, and I used many of the techniques they recommend myself. They do not have nearly enough meetings, to offer a full alternative at the moment. They are almost a victim of their own success as people are given the tools, to move on, and live life and this results in them leaving the program. AA seems to get some lifers, probably because it is religious, but also because many get locked in by sponsoring and become obsessed by spreading the word to anybody who will listen.

Anyway, the most important thing about recovery is commitment. Do whatever works. Maybe praying to a doorknob, is the answer for some, while spitting venom on a sleazy internet site is the answer for others. I think the answer is somewhere between the two. I feel it is best to learn from those who are relaxed about life, who have sorted their problems out and who have moved on. The sad thing is, that a lot of those people leave the recovery movement completely, due to the craziness of those self righteous bigots, who wave the Big Book around and point their fingers at anyone that offers an alternative or those who simply want to shout about being in a cult and who sound insane, to the vast majority.

Here are some links to other related posts on leaving AA

You can leave comments if you scroll down the page.



Commenting area

  1. The lack of anger in this blog and others on this site make it more appealing than others. If I remain angry and continue to have an axe to grind…”they” win. I am still consumed by AA, NA and the negativity that drove me away from them. This will not lead to any real solutions to the deeper causes for the addiction in the first place. I have not been a quick study in getting out of the “rooms.” This is simply one more thing to accept about myself. Deep down my subconscious probably still fears going off the deep end, but since I know better and my life has gotten compelling enough to gain momentum for my escape from the tyranny of their watered-down Christianity….I am fine.

  2. Thanks for posting on here. The site is very new and so it will take a long time to build so there is nowhere near as much information as others at the moment. AA certainly gets under people’s skin, but it will fade if you let it. I think the fact that you have really throw yourself into it has that effect. People who just go to a few meetings are not so affected. It is such a different way of living, to anything I had experienced before. It took me a while to leave, but life soon got better and I developed a wide range of interests.
    I’m hoping the stinkin Thinkin site will be good when they put it back up. The people that run that, know what they are doing.

    • 30+ years in and out of NA and AA … not a quick study … have been harshly… and subtly .. judged for who I am and what I feel .., I must get get to know myself and those folks have been mostly hurtful to me … still processing as you can tell I’m sure

  3. I was only there for a couple of years, but it was not a straight forward decision for me to leave. I had my privacy breached, which was something that really annoyed me at the time. I also went into depression and the steps did not help. I think a lot of people do this due to making changes, regardless of if they are in AA but the feelings can be amplified when you do something like step 4 in an uncontrolled environment.
    I found Stanton Peele was a good author to read on the subject and there are links to him on the links page.
    Good luck with everything, it must be really hard after so many years to change lifestyle.

  4. Lovinglife52- I can relate to some of what you wrote as far as some of what AA or NA says is not 100% crap. The way I see it is AA took some good principles from OTHERS called there own, and then took it to the extreme. For example making amends. I think there is a time and a place for seeing your part in something and also making amends. AA does not own that concept nor do they get credit for those principles. They took something that has value and made it into an emotionally abusing practice and sickening dogma.

    Like blaming people for being abused as a child or telling people to look at their part in other abuses done upon them and told to make amends. They just perverted the whole initial meaning of certain things.

    If you talk to many anti AA people that so much as hints at looking at their part in something- you get criticized for using AA dogma.

    Having said this, from what I have read and heard from XA members AA has so much damaging messages,It would be best if they could just be what most people think they are from the outside- just a support group and not a Big Book religious thumping cult.

  5. The looking at your part in it thing is one of the parts where a one size fits all solution fails. Some people need to be changed and their ego broken, while others will suffer further damage by this process. The steps are quite crude, and although there are some good underlying principles, common sense should tell people they are not suitable for everyone. AA people often ignore the fact that parts of the program are triggers for relapse.
    Most of the people who get damaged by the program are sensitive people or those who have suffered abuse in the past. Those who respond to being ordered around, tend to do quite well. People in the middle seem to just move on after a bit, and often laugh at some of things that went on. The size of AA gives the illusion that it works, but few stay for over a year.

    • the 12 steps are not designed to free one from anything… they create a loop of guilt and shame presenting the Stepper with the alternatives of AA or death…. it’s 2014 … we can do better than this….

  6. Hi Rowland- you are right, AA is in the market I think to just create lifetime memberships. They even go after our youth and tell our teens that they are addicts for life. Or in Alanon tell them they have the gene and will become an addict even before they do. This in itself can create teens to become addicts because they have been labeled before they even tried drugs or started drinking.

    I hope to see some changes in 2014 to stop the 12 step madness!

    • Rowland Cheatham January 28, 2014 at 12:10 am · · Reply

      AntiDenial hopefully the whole deal is on it’s way out. It may take awhile, but it seems inevitable that people will smell the rat and see that the emperor has no clothes.

      • I hope you are right Rowland. If 95% leave AA anyway, that just leaves 5% to realize what an unsafe outdated failure that it is. Websites like this does help let people know they are not alone and that there are other options other than the 12 steps.

        • Rowland Cheatham January 28, 2014 at 1:31 am · · Reply

          I have found the best alternative to AA/NA and the rest of the poison cults is my heart, gut, intellect and intuition.

  7. lovinglife52-Great new look to your blog. Great idea. You are filling another void. That is fantastic. Im away for a few days up north relaxing with family. Talk on Skype soon I hope. 🙂

  8. Glad you like it! I’m getting some interesting emails as a result. Have a good break then send an email so we can arrange some time to chat I would love to chat.

  9. SoberInSeattle January 27, 2014 at 8:48 pm · · Reply

    Coming across web-sites like yours have really opened my eyes.
    Seeing the real AA is kind of like the movie “The Wizard of Oz” where they finally see the man behind the curtain; it just kind of takes your faith away.
    I have been on and off with AA for about 13 years and, although I do find it (AA) useful, there are many areas of the program which I have a great deal of disagreement with.
    Although I still attend AA meetings I do not blindly “fall on my knees’ whenever someone comes up with some ridiculous statement. I find that, rather than having a spiritual experience as is expected/demanded I am moving more and more towards an agnostic/atheist point of view, which invalidates most of what AA is supposedly about. Part of that, I sense, is my rebellion against any organization which attempts to dictate to me how to think.
    Why do I stay? Mostly for the social networking. I also find that I need to do some self-reflection on my past in order to grow as a human; some of the steps are amenable to that.
    Thanks, and keep up the good work. There are more like us out there than you think.

  10. Thanks for commenting. I agree self reflection is a good thing to do and then learn from mistakes or good experience. I think that the Aa approach often holds back development for many. I do think fellowship is a good thing in recovery and very important in the early days. I did meet some good people in AA but ther ewere also many I would have been better off avoiding. There was also a lot of gossip at many meetings and a lot of people treating AA as a religion rather than a support group.
    If you find it helps ther is no reason to stop going, but the closest I have come to relapse was after reacting badly to the actions of two AA members who had no regard for the traditions or privacy of other members. For me it was a huge weight off my shoulders to leave. Good luck and I hope you come back here sometime.

    • Rowland Cheatham January 28, 2014 at 12:08 am · · Reply

      I certainly won’t be so arrogant as to tell someone what to do. But I fooled myself for years concerning how AA was “helping” me because of the social aspect. What I discovered, for me, was the fact that they were all in some way infected with the hurtful, shame creating, guilt producing nature of the whole deal.

    • Rowland Cheatham January 28, 2014 at 12:12 am · · Reply

      Very glad you are taking the time and trouble to do this site.

  11. Hi Sober in Seattle, I could see where you have some issues being in AA at times when you state you have a problem with any organization that dictates how to think. AA is the cornerstone of not only dictating on how to think but outright telling people not to think. AA is very anti- intellectual.

    Also considering you are leaning more to agnostic/atheist point of view, I would think it would be very uncomfortable hearing all of the religious references in AA.

    I am glad you are reading blogs like this one and learning about different insights about AA. Educating oneself about the organization you are involved in is a wise thing to do. Most AA sponsors have a fit when they find out an sponsee is reading any criticism about 12 step programs.

    I think you are right that there are many like you in the rooms of AA that feel the way you do and are reaching out and reading and learning more about how others view AA.

  12. Hi! I really can relate to the posts I see here. Enough so that I wanted to tell you folks a little about me that another might be motivated to look a little at alternative recovery routes. You see I spent four years in and out of ICU’s rehabs, all centered around 12 step philosophies. I am sober today not because of AA but because of the combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, moral reconation therapy, faith-based, indigenous teaching of native Americans, With what I have learned from these and others like transitional living, anger management skills and the like I am a new person from the inside out. I do not want a drink or a drug. I feel good. I am doing the next right thing in everything I do. I am spiritually (inner self) fit. I have seen many fall and my wish for you is that you find your way. When you do take action! Live!

    • Thanks for dropping by. I think it is important to highlight the things that have and have not worked for us, so others can make their own minds up. Recovery does mean taking action, but the route taken really does need to be one that reflects our beliefs and if people are pushed towards a method that conflicts with them we can end up in trouble. Although some people find the 12 step method helpful, it was not for me and I was glad to find alternatives.

  13. Mike, you are very good at this and I sometimes wonder if you should do this professionally. Working with people who have left the 12 step model. I mean it, I have read about everything you have written here and it is so spot on…..:)

    This post you wrote above is an example of what I am talking about:
    ” The looking at your part in it thing is one of the parts where a one size fits all solution fails. Some people need to be changed and their ego broken, while others will suffer further damage by this process. The steps are quite crude, and although there are some good underlying principles, common sense should tell people they are not suitable for everyone. AA people often ignore the fact that parts of the program are triggers for relapse.
    Most of the people who get damaged by the program are sensitive people or those who have suffered abuse in the past. Those who respond to being ordered around, tend to do quite well. People in the middle seem to just move on after a bit, and often laugh at some of things that went on. The size of AA gives the illusion that it works, but few stay for over a year.”

    • Thanks so much for the compliment. I am very busy with two other lines of work at the moment and am not really qualified in anything, other than having read a lot of books on the subject and formed my own opinions after looking at conflicting ideas. I was helped a lot by a friend who left AA about 15 years ago and had done a similar thing. When I had looked at what the books said I was able to talk much more easily with medical professionals and made a huge break through, a couple of years into being alcohol free. At the moment I am just happy to put this site up as I can build it when I am travelling or have work down time. I think it is really important that people tell the truth, both good and bad about recovery so others can read about them and make descisions based on other’s experience. I think many people just disappear quietly from AA and people don’t get to seee how well they are doing. AA people only base what they see as evidence of recovery on a small self selecting group, which really does not represent all the people who pass through it.

      Anyway I am glad you have found the site useful. I will try and move the subject matter away from AA and onto otehr recovery methods in the future, and talk about life without a program. I’m reading a couple of books by Lance Dodes who wrote the sober truth book at the moment and they look really good. They really compliment the Kenneth Anderson and Stanton Peele books.

      Anyway thanks again for the comments.

  14. I am one those overly sensitive people who just couldn’t hold up to the overbearing demands AA placed on me.

  15. I am in recovery and there are things that I gained from AA and NA but there were a lot of concerns that I have and I find comfort in knowing that I am not the only one. I am currently taking addiction counseling classes and the department head and professor of the school that I am attending is a die hard AA/Na. We have to do a blog every week over a chapter out of the big book and I voiced my concern about how the amends process was how it was taught and I was treated as I if spoke blasphemy and I should be hanged for my opinion. It sucked but I had to censor myself because of my views. The thing is I never really blasted the program but I feel recovery is a road with many lanes and you need constantly change, evolve and be open minded to truly have serenity. I am a Christian and I remember when I picked my year chip at an AA meeting and was asked how did I do it and I said with the help of Jesus Christ, well when the meeting was over I was informed that I should not said what I have said, I should have used my higher power. Censorship in recovery just does not work, you have to be respectful of what works one person may not work for the next.

    • I think you have the right idea questioning things. There are quite a few books on this site that put forward alternative methods to the steps that many report to be successful. There is also the handbook for alternative treatment techniques which is a real eye opener and makes a strong case about who would do best with different approaches. I saw similar treatment to a man I knew who found support in the church, but was attacked in AA for saying he was stopping meetings and spending time in normal church activities. He was told that he would relapse but this is not the case at all – he is doing very well indeed and now has a good job 6 years later. It was stuff like this that made me realise that many in AA were crazy and had stated to treat AA as a type of religion. Lance Dodes makes a case in the sober truth that any new recovery movement should offer support but keep the religious side out of it, and I think this is sensible. Religion is up to an individual, but AA confuses the matter. I am not a believer but realise many do get great comfort from religion, and that is a good thing if it works for you. I think the people who wrote the steps have confused the issue by trying to make religious ideas appeal to non religious people. I also think that the steps moralise addiction, and that does not fit well in a world that promotes alcohol in advertising. I have found different methods have worked for me at different times in recovery. I do not believe any one method is a universal solution.

  16. @LGDTBS: I hope it’s o.k. if I pop in here with a reply to your post:

    One of the first things people hear is they can use any ‘higher power’ they wish, and ‘the God of YOUR understanding’- and it’s also one of the first things people find is not true. Seems your experience underscores that.

  17. Love this site. I have been doing the same thing..getting a life. My only part in trauma in my life is that i happened to be in the worst place at the wrong time. End of story. The only amend i owed was to heal myself as best i could.. AA taught me that. The funny thing, however, is that most of the regulars in meetings perpetuate trauma in the way they bully people who really are visibly different from most. We get ostracised from the group becauase we look different. So, i stopped using the tool of meeting attendance some years avo. Interestinly, these spiritual folks assumed i drank…ha ha. I have been living! I got a masters degree, lost a lot of weight, have a garden, go to the gym, write, use meditation and my own spiritual commitments. I have been repairing my body physically. Recovering from cancer is hard. I have been getting physical therapy so i can use my hands and legs again and therpy to deal with the people who ostracise folks who are physically different. That is hard also. And i sing, i have a family, i have a life. When i see someone strugging with an addiction, yes i reach out….but meetings….bah humbug. AA lingo….yuck. i have friends who dont know the way i used to be . Why should they. I am living the life that people stuck in the rooms are still dreaming of.

    • Thanks for your comment, it got caught in the spam filter! It is always great to see people getting on with life and beating addiction and other issues. I think getting on with life and forming new interests is so important. Well done getting the degree and beating cancer. I also have many people in my life that have no idea of what I used to be like. I don’t like publicly labeling myself as an ex substance abuser but will reach out to people when they need help. Good luck with the future.

  18. I am really happy to read all these comments. I’ve been having a hard time with the guilt of leaving AA after many many years. I used to party some as a teenager, and after taking LSD quite a few times, I had some sort of anxiety-ridden mental breakdown. A shrink directed me to a treatment center, which in turn directede to AA. Even though I was very rebellious growing up, I was very mentally vulnerable at the time, so I accepted what the old timers in AA said, even though I never really considered myself an alcoholic. Like I mentioned above, I stayed in AA for many years. Over time, as I grew, I seemed to get less and less out of it. I sponsored guys and all that. I’ve now not been going to meetings for a couple of years, but only in the last 6 months have been having a beer now and again. My long-time wife recently said she can’t see how I could be an alcoholic, since she’s never seen me drunk, or even drink more than a couple of beers at a time. One of you had mentioned how AA gets into your subconscious after a while – and it did with me. It seems so insidious. Those damn slogans and everything else seem to haunt me, and even though I truly don’t believe I’m an alcoholic, I feel the guilt, and my mind is telling me that maybe I’d be happier if I just went back. But I don’t want to go back. Any feedback anyone could offer would be awesome. Thanks!

  19. Hi Cristoph and thanks for your comment. It seems quite common that people seem to end up in AA when they really do not need to be there, although it does of course offer a sober community which people who are not full blown alcoholics can benefit from.

    I remember going through a phase when the slogans and AA ideas were rather intrusive even though I had left and this was something I talked about in therapy. I was willing to attempt to take on certain beliefs due my desperation, which the rational part of me would have probably ignored and it took a while for me to adjust to a non AA life. I found that going and joining in a wide range of activities that were healthy with people who were not struggling with addiction really helped me move forward. Slowly the religious side of AA faded away for me and I realised that it was being in a sober community that had helped me get well, with the support of others, rather than higher powers or the slogans. I realised AA had helped me but was not a place I wanted to stay forever.

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