Time for recovery methods to work together

Time for recovery methods to work together

I find a lot of people become evangelical about their approach to recovery and often consider it the best way for everyone else to recover regardless of circumstance. People are obviously relieved to find a solution to their addiction problems and it is natural to want to help others, but the help offered is sometimes not suitable and can actually cause harm. Some become rather obsessed about recovery, to the degree that it completely takes over their life. I feel that some people actually lose sight of what recovery is and are not really sure what they want to achieve. They seem to view being part of a recovery group as the most important thing about recovery, and have a false idea of what sober means. I think the disease model and ideas about being an alcoholic from birth, that are sometimes popular in “hardcore” AA groups, make people decide that they are different from everyone else, and that they have to spend the rest of their life following the rituals of their recovery program or die. They really do not like it if somebody they know tries a different approach. They become locked into the AA, 12 step way of life. Some in the Anti AA movement are equally closed minded and refuse to believe anyone can be helped by going to a meeting. This is clearly not the case.

I think this leads to followers of a certain solution, being closed-minded about other approaches, that may help themselves or other people. I think you sometimes need to try different solutions at different times in recovery. Sometimes this is because you get stuck in a rut and are not progressing, or it is because the method you use is no longer helping you. Often AA type sponsors, can be over zealous in pushing the steps on people who are not really responding well to them. I recently saw someone in an “ I survived step 4” T shirt, which is the step about moral inventory, originally aimed at low bottom male drunks, which often causes problems and leads to relapse. It certainly does not help everyone, contrary to the claims of the “Big Book”. There is certainly a large element of trial and error in recovery. Most people have heard of AA through the media and it has a large infrastructure that is accessible to most people. I found going to meetings most nights after work, or on days off was a good thing, at the start of my recovery, even though I was not a fan of the “spiritual solution” I did find the ritual of making meetings important, helped me. I tried before to stop, but had not really done much other than simply stop drinking alcohol. I had still hung out with the same people and although I would feel physically better, I did not feel great overall. Going to meetings actually gave a bit of purpose. I was able to ignore some of the more stupid advice that a significant minority of members give out, parrot fashion. I was not some young impressionable person, who had been sent to rehab by their concerned parents. I do not think AA and its lifelong disease model is suitable for immature youngsters and can actually set them up for problems down the line. They often go on a big binge, partly driven by the powerless idea.

funeral cartoon from Stinkin Thinkin site

After a while my reaction to meetings changed. I did not feel comfortable in AA any more. I had tried hard, done all the service, spoken at a convention and worked the steps, but I did not feel good. I went to a variety of meetings, as I travel a lot, and I realised that some of the London meetings were quite cult like and dominated by narcissists. There were similar meetings in New York and LA. I had lost faith in the program and its spiritual, religious approach. I felt self-conscious when I attempted a prayer, which I just rationalised as talking to myself, and saw as pointless and ridiculous. I was suffering from depression and was going down hill. There had been problems with my privacy, which had been caused by a small number of idiots, and I was not feeling confident. I really wanted to block everything out. I was told by people in AA to go to more meetings and pray more but this actually made things worse. I was told that it was the addictive voices in my head, or my disease, that was trying to make me drink. I rejected these arguments because I felt that the real problem was that I was depressed. When you are depressed you want to blot out the problems in life. In that situation the desire to take drugs or drink is actually rational, as your brain does not want you to suffer and resorts to past experience to find a solution.

A problem in recovery, is that you know that intoxication will make things even worse but the feelings still become powerful and overwhelming. I was lucky to find another way to deal with this. I had a good friend who had moved on from AA and who had told me about the type of counselling he had received and how it had helped him. I was actually quite surprised that somebody who had performed in bands for about 35 years all over the world in front of thousands of people would have self-esteem issues, but then I thought about my doubts about my creativity, and insecurity, despite having success in my field and began to understand that I needed more than the crude approach, AA was going to give me. I needed a self-esteem rebuild and the ability to stand back from certain situations so that I would not let my emotions take over. I needed to recognise triggers in life, not so much about drinking any more as those cravings were something that was fading, but I needed to have different reactions to things that annoyed me in life. CBT therapy and other techniques that I learnt such as re framing methods from NLP, self-hypnosis and meditation have all played a major part for me. I found being away from a recovery group helped me move on.

After a while the moralistic approach of AA began to fade and I embraced a new lifestyle that has really helped me. I concentrate on basic things such as fitness and food, but still work in an amazingly high pressured environment. My creativity has changed, I do work in a new way and it is being well received. The last couple of years have resulted in me getting a lot of attention in the industry and a major software company has used my work as an example of what their products can do. It took a lot of work to reinvent myself and be confident in what I am doing. Now that I have done this, I find life is much easier. And much more rewarding. I don\’t think things would have been the same for me if I had carried on in the 12 step world. I think that telling myself that I was the powerless victim of a disease, and that the only solution was a spiritual one would not have helped me. I also think I needed to move away from the people in AA, some of which were rather strange. I needed to support myself more and become more independent to grow. The support of the group was good to start with and I almost view my time in AA as a transference of my addiction from alcohol to AA, but transferring addictions does not really lead to healthy lifestyle long-term.

Some people in the anti-AA movement who have been more badly affected by AA than myself, often seem to think that nobody should go to AA as it simply a cult. I think some of them would not have responded well to any recovery method, but did not look for another solution when they struggled with AA. I do not think AA is a cult as 90% of people simply walk away when they have had enough. Some say that AA has no more effect, than no treatment statistically, but I think it helps certain people, especially those who want to be told what to do. Although most people leave AA after a while, I think that being part of a recovery group for a while can be really helpful. I think it is the religious side as well as the “Big Book” thumpers that really put people off, which is unfortunate as fellowship and helping others is something that has a positive effect on many people. I do not feel that simple statistics really show what is going on. People change and have different needs in recovery at different stages. Some people are successful with just one method and cannot see why anyone would choose or need anything else. Other people evolve over time and need to change approach depending on circumstances. If I was starting all over again and had bothered to do some research this time, I would probably go for a harm reduction method at first and combine that with CBT. I would also probably use AA meetings at times when I felt I was going to drink, but not get too involved with the 12 step solution. I would probably have some counselling a different times with somebody who is able to step back from the recovery world. In my experience, those who have an addiction do not always make the best counsellors. Some of course are good and have knowledge of a wide range of solutions, but others are narrow-minded and tend to favour what has worked for them.

I like what people such as Bill White have to say about the recovery movement needing to come together and embrace a wide range of methods, and keep an open mind about modern techniques and not simply send everyone to the spiritual 12 step world. I am glad that sites such as soberistas exist which bring a lot of different people together. I do not have much time for those who simply wish to divide the recovery community and sling mud at methods that they may not like. I think that AA needs to have a look at what goes on in some of its meetings and realise that some in the fellowship, are promoting ideas that are holding people back. Many in AA, make it hard for people to leave, as they instantly treat anybody who has moved on from the fellowship as some kind of leper. This does not help those who are struggling and not suited to a religious program, and does not represent the reality, that some people do better after moving on from the 12 step world. Some people, see those leaving AA as a threat, as it has become more than a support group to them and is now their religion. This leads to the view held by some that AA is a cult, and the way that some meetings are run does lead to predatory behaviour.

12 step groups have their numbers boosted by court ordering and by people who have been sent from treatment centers. Many enter a rehab expecting a much more “medical” approach, but are simply given step work by people with really low qualifications, who are often no more than enthusiastic sponsor types from AA. They will try to push the steps on everyone and offer little in the way of psychiatric help which is what people really need. Alcoholics and addicts are not all the same and do need an individual approach most of the time. Those that respond well to AA are a minority, just the same as those that recover spontaneously, but are probably different types of people. Many more would benefit from CBT treatment but do not get it as AA has become part of our culture. If you criticise AA, which many have problems with, and has such a low overall success rate, you are looked upon as somebody who is not taking recovery seriously, and that is not fair.

My approach will not suit everyone, but I can say that I have spent a lot of time looking at different solutions and now have a clearer idea of what to do if problems occur for my own recovery. Even writing this blog has had some really beneficial sides to it. I get a number of emails from people in the recovery industry and also from people who have moved on from AA. Often these people have no interest in commenting endlessly on forums about recovery, but have some good ideas. I am building up a new list of contacts of people who I feel would help me if my circumstances change. This is really important to me, as we never know what is round the corner. I am not like the anti AA people who want AA removed. People have a right to go to these groups and some people really do find them helpful. I do have a problem with the so-called treatment industry pushing this solution the whole time and stifling others, because it is apparent that it does not work for a lot of people. Many in 12 step groups are more interested in converting people than being part of a fellowship that is there to help people suffering. In my opinion this is because of the religious side of the program, which I do not think is going to change much. It is therefore important that new groups such as the soberistas community continue to grow to offer support, without the religious approach.

Simply attacking AA on a web forum or causing arguments with AA members online in the way that some do, achieves very little, as the people doing it are seen as confrontational and are generally ignored. Providing a better solution will have an effect and will reach a different type of person to those who enjoy AA, and that is something that is really worthwhile. However, there is nothing that is nearly as big as AA at the moment. Many people do need a group to go to especially if they have lost everything, and there is not much on offer for them. A cup of tea and a bit of contact with some people who have put the booze down will probably do many of these people good regardless of the 12 step dogma. Society has created the problem of drug abuse and alcoholism by collectively changing its views on drinking and creating a booze culture. It has done little for people who get into problems as a result and has left groups such as AA to pick up the pieces and largely ignored the problems. Drinking and drugging is still seen as a moral failing despite all the advertising for alcohol and the supermarkets overflowing with cheap booze which gives a temporary relief from the pressure of life. The problems caused by changes in society need to be looked at and a suitable solution found. That probably will not happen soon, given the economic situation in the west and the problems will probably grow.


Commenting area

  1. I understand the point that some say AA works for no one. But this is something people need to think about. At what cost is it to the person? For example there is The church of Scientology. They are against drug use, and have cult programs to help people with their addictions. I do not doubt some people have stopped using drugs because of their involvement with this cult. But at what cost? Does the end justify the means? Scientology is well known for splitting up families from those family members and friends that are not part of the church. There are many accounts of AA, NA and Alanon doing this as well. Many people are being literally brained washed in Scientology and 12 step programs to believe ridiculous and harmful dogma.

    So maybe the person stopped drinking or drugging, but who are they now? What are their beliefs? What are their relationships like? Then even though a small % is helped many more are emotionally harmed by 12 step practices and some even go on to commit suicide or excessively binge drink destroying their body. I see much more harm than any good from what 12 steps teaches or what Scientology teaches.

    It is a form of propaganda to control peoples minds. When they do succeed in stopping one’s abuse of substances, in doing so it is often to the detriment of the person’s true self before they walked into the doors of AA or Scientology.

  2. Well I think that a lot of the problem is that people do not look at any alternatives. If people in AA looked at people who continually struggle after some time attending, then they should gently nudge people towards another method that will help them. This does not happen. People in Smart groups could maybe point out that Aa is available fro people who feel desperate and are loosing the battle against cravings, and that sitting down in a meeting for an hour may break them.

    I agree that the 12 steps is not a good solution but I feel fellowship and the sense of helping others is important to people in recovery. As far as I can see there is not much else available, to a lot of people that want to stop. Not everyone in AA is out to control others and trying to push the steps the whole time, (some people are and do cause problems). I was not inspired at all by the rich people, parroting the steps, in my local meetings or the hangers on, desperate to meet a “celebrity” but I did find the people in the rough meetings I went to inspiring when they told of stories of living on the streets with no friends, and how they managed to get better. These people are less interested in the steps, and more interested in providing fellowship. I never felt judged by them, i think they rather liked me, the opposite of some fashionable meetings.

    AA has evolved in a strange way, out of a religious group aimed at low bottom drunks in the 1930’s. It was never designed as a treatment. It suffers from many of the problems of any religion such as the moralising and the abuse. People have to make the choice that they want to be part of it or not, and look at what is happening to their family if they have one. For me, long term AA membership would not have been appropriate, but I always try to be honest about my own experiences, and when I look back, I can see some good points about my time in AA at the start of my recovery. I may have done better elsewhere, but i did not bother to really research alternatives and have to take responsibility for that.

    I think it is important to highlight potential dangers and pitfalls in places like AA as the media often paints a different picture to the reality. There has hardly been any criticism of AA in the past but this is starting to change and may have a good effect over time. People are being attracted to online solutions and using more up to date methods such as CBT methods. Those sort of methods are great for those that use them but if I take a walk up the Kings Road and wander towards Buckingham palace, I will probably see about 100 people sleeping rough in one of the richest parts of the world tonight and they won’t be offered much except a seat in an AA meeting. I’m glad there is somewhere for these people to go. If they get a foothold on recovery then perhaps they can develop a new life. I am also happy that there is an online group like soberistas that provides a safe environment for housewives to meet online and support eachother in a safe way. The more options people find the better the chances of them getting well. There can be really bad problems when the wrong person ends up in the wrong group, but hopefully people stand more of a chance if they can find information that will help them easily, which they can today.

    The scientology thing is a real cult and it is really hard to leave. I have seen quite a few people get caught up in that. I do think Scientology is different to the 12 step world as it only really wants people with money, rather than tramps. People have to be wary in recovery, there are some really sick groups, but there are also those who are dedicated to helping other in a selfless fashion. If someone in London feels like drinking tonight, they can actually go and sit at the back of a meeting and feel that they are with people who understand, maybe get a coffee afterwards with someone who won’t judge them. There are no shrinks available on a Sunday night, and some people do need to be propped up by others at difficult times. No other group has the infrastructure to do this appart from AA. It is far from perfect, has massive faults, but at least it offers something. Some people have to exist on handouts from foodbanks in the UK thanks to the bankers and the government and I really don’t see much in the way of effective treatment being provided to those that really need it.

  3. Actually Scientology will take “tramps” if they sign a billion year contract and work for the church. We read many stories of how difficult it is for people to leave AA and NA. Sponsors hounding them and coming to their house. Contacting their loved ones as well.

    You seem to base some of your logic on the notion of take what you want and leave the rest ,mentality. In that respects for some if they can dodge the 13 stepping and other dangers of AA- it could be helpful to some. But AA uses doublespeak, on one hand they say the steps and book are merely suggestions, but then are told by others if you do not do the steps you will die, and that AA is the only way. It is a pretty risky step to walk into a meeting not knowing where the landmines are, because everyone always says AA is the #1 go to place.

    I wish AA was just a bunch of drunks trying to help each other out and left out the big book entirely. Ya know- be an actual support group! That is what most people are seeking, not to be converted to a Bill W.’s friend for life and have to pick a HP.

    • I certainly don’t think AA is for everyone and most people come that conclusion after a while. About 90% of people leave. That does leave a few that find it useful and base their recovery on it. They may not do so well else where and depend on AA. There are a few crank members and those who do not respect others, and the lack of organisation can lead to this, but it is still a place that a large number of people enjoy being part of due to the size of the organisation. It was not for me and so I left. Nobody tried to force me back, some said I would relapse but I decided to prove them wrong.

  4. I get so tired of hearing just one interpretation of who addicts are. I just heard someone say any decision is an unnatural thing for an addict to do. Huh? I guess I’m just stick of all the cliches about addicts. Some resonate but most of the time i find myself thinking, ohhhhhkkkkk…..

  5. im not out to shut AA down anymore at one time i was.MY experience of AA and sponsors and steps left me with rage and i raged on anit AA websites.i no longer feel angry about it.There are good and bad everywhere in life.i did find it cult-like and or religious.however do not know for sure it is a cult..however it has been deemed as Religous by the law of the land.and it stems from a religion.i cant say that it helped me at the beginning as in my first 11 days there i was verbally abused sexually harassed and did not find friends.and it remained that way for me for 19yrs being verbally abused sexually harassed and financially used and ridiucled.and in all my years there and in na i found no friendships.the few who gave a little support abused me, used me one sexually harassed me and played head games with me one also dished out threats of violence.i was also threatened by some members and went to police.the steps harmed me in the making of amends i was sent to make them to people that tried to murder me.im not powerless i can now moderate alcohol.in my years there i met a few very few who seemed to be ok people who gave me a few minutes of there time and didn’t harm me.i was helped by a treatment centre at one time who sent me to 12 stp meetings and said we must do the steps..apart from there promotion of meetings and steps they did help me and i have no complaints towards them.if aa/na and steps help some people then good i have been homeless and penniless and if it helps people like that good. though i have been down and out i got myself out of that years before i went to aa.i was housed when i went there.the one thing it did for me was it gave me a place to go and sit when i first went and when i was sitting there my x partner that i was in a battered wifes home from his viollnce ,did not know where i was ,it helped me get out of domestic violnce..thats all it helped me with and then later it turned on me and blamed me for the donestic violnce and sent me to make ammends to the same man it helepd me get away from ..he then began stalking me again and went around the city blameing me for his violnce and showing people an ammends letter i had gave him.i was in 3 battered wifes homes courts and injuctions ploiace and hideing to get away from him prior to my going to AA.the male sponsr i had since no women would sponsor or support me in my years in AA he decided that when i had relapsed and was heavily drugged up and also on stroids for a spinal cancer tumour that he would come my door and ask me for sex.my opinion of AA and most of its mebers is NOT GOOD..i no longer go on anti aa web sites as i found the people on them kept me in a rage..they also igonered my comments.that rage led me to comiit violnce myself tho the person i lashed out at was lashing out at me so it was defence and tho the person was not an inocent i still ended up lashing out.im not angry any more i had a lot of counselling and time to get over that abuses and confusion AA gave me.however i wouldnt say it cant help anyone it helps some.and i wouldnt try to have it shut down .i prefer my life and myself as i am now than to how i was and the life i had both pre AA/NA and while going to AA/NA.i am not perfect and glad i don’t have to try to be anymore.my life is not perfect but i prfer it.as for the peace of mind thing wonderfull life happy joyus and free..i never did get that in AA/NA or by working steps..i also dont belive any one can get that anywhere.thers some in AA/NA pretend to have that but i find out later they dont have that at all.there are some i found out even go to meetings and say thigs like im happy i got a great life..just in oder to wind people up and make them jelaouse..it dont make me jealouse or wind me up or make me jealouse ..i know they are lieing.and even if they weren’t it still doesn’t as i no longer feel the need to find peace of mind and great happiness and wonderful life thing.i got fed up hearing those ones shares when i was there .it was that bait that was part of the reason i tried to do the steps ..thinking at the time it would be good to get this joyus free thing as my life at the time of going there was not good being in domestics. my life’s ok as it is now , real life isn’t wonderful and my life isn’t always good, now, but its better than what i had pre aa and in aa.and im ok with myself and my life as it is,when i want to change anything in it i just change it.without any of the aa/na members or meetings or steps.

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