I want to start by saying that I am grateful for AA. I am grateful that it exists as a place. The idea that alcoholics should meet to share a message of positivity and life beyond alcohol has been fundamental in my sobriety. Unfortunately, the simplicity of connecting is lost in a lot of ideology, that I found off-putting at the start of my recovery and still find off-putting now. My main problem is that I find it hard to connect to others, even in the big city and AA offers a solution but it comes at a price. Is it worth it?
“The quickest way to relapse is to stop going to AA meetings.” is what I was told. Strange really that I have seen numerous people within the “rooms” relapse. These relapses are, of course, down to them just not “getting it!” Getting what? Who knows. I never got it. I never had a personal deity. Yet, I didn’t drink and have achieved things beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t get what there is to get. Maybe the spiritual awakening that each follower of the twelve-step program is promised as a reward. Although I often found it difficult to get any form of spirituality from meetings when they were merely a darkest day competition. I left many meetings feeling worse. I know wrong meetings right? Yeah, they all say that. Maybe the people who relapse accept that they are “powerless” and give up trying to quit. I was left feeling a bit put down the first time I attended a meeting.
After years of self-destructive behaviour fuelled by self-hatred and lack of self-worth, I went to AA to be told I was powerless and had an incurable disease. That did nothing to restore my self-respect. How could I overcome anything by surrendering? I was prepared to change but I was not prepared to turn my life over to a “God” of my understanding. I wanted control of my life after turning control over to alcohol. More importantly, I wanted control of my thoughts, as for a long time the focus was on drinking. The problems started when the AA steps asked me to accept I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. Then to turn my life over to a God of my understanding. Now here is the problem; I wasn’t in control of my life because I was powerless to alcohol. My life was being dictated by my addiction. At first I focused on not drinking.
After the urge to drink had left me, I decided to try something; manage my life sober!
It was tricky but fuck man I got a lot of things done and my self-esteem grew as I achieved goals. There was no divine intervention. Just a pencil and paper for my goals. And some determination to see them through.
I have been liberated from the ideology that made me believe a cessation of meetings would first result in me drinking and then in me dying from said drink. I had to stop attending AA meetings because I wanted to progress into the future. I wanted to go on an adventure that would mean AA wouldn’t be an option. I had to do it to achieve a dream of embracing the freedom afforded to me due to quitting drinking. The freedom that allowed me to look beyond the drink at the end of the day and create plans for a bright future. In AA meetings I relived my darkest days three times a week. Always looking backwards. Digging through the dirt of the past and never letting it settle to clear calm water. I couldn’t see how I could progress in those conditions. Constantly identifying as diseased. A disease that is waiting for me to slip up. A disease that is trying to get me to drink. A disease that conspiring against me. It’s a little bit paranoid.
If I’m honest the urge to drink left a long time ago. What lingers is the need for connectivity. I sometimes feel like being a nondrinker in Britain is much like being an atheist in Saudi Arabia; there isn’t much to do on a Friday. So due to this need to connect I would make my way to AA meetings. I have met some great people through AA but they are the ones who don’t preach the program. They also don’t want to drink either but they not talking about how their “HP (higher power) has a plan.” To make these friends came at a cost. I had to sit through meetings, picking at the scab, never letting it heal.
It is said that there is no cure for alcoholism. Surely not drinking is the cure. By not drinking I regained my power over alcohol. For me, after a certain amount of time, the cravings ceased and was replaced with temptation. Thankfully, by not drinking I had the choice to drink or not. Once, I chose to and couldn’t stop. Through my life, I have abused alcohol to escape and also rewarded myself with it. As such, I created a negative connection with alcohol. I can’t drink again. Just like if I start smoking again I’ll end up hooked again. It’s the same mechanism. I accept that and move on.
In sobriety, I have been surrounded by drink and drinkers. I’ve partied and had romantic meals. At no point did I think I needed to drink but I could have had a drink. I chose not to. And at no point did I think I need a meeting but the need to connect never goes away. Partying and sitting in the pub are just increasing the temptation.
So what did I do? Really simple; exercised, ate well and reflected on the positives in my life. I also meditated. Not to get closer to my “higher power” but to get closer to the thing I was most afraid of… my mind. No higher power. No praying. No daily calls to a sponsor. Just living life as a non-drinker. There has been no fire and brimstone. No “white-knuckling it.” The last six months have been the best six months of my life.
I get that people need to believe what they believe to stay sober. I understand that many people in the “rooms” had nothing and thanks to AA now have a life. But even that doesn’t make it so. The cracks started showing when I read the book “Mistakes were made but not by me,” which highlights the lies we tell ourselves to get through life. Not only that but how we contort the world to fit with our beliefs. I could see in AA meetings how people would dress up everyday occurrences as some sort of higher power message. Or how some perfectly explainable behaviour was met with the line “this alcoholic…” It’s not an alcoholic brain, it’s a human brain.
I am starting to believe that AA enables the continuation of the victim mentality ie “I am this way because I am an alcoholic!” or “I think this way because I’m an alcoholic!” Nonsense in my humble opinion. You are who you want to be. I stopped drinking because I didn’t want my future to be like my past. I am free. The day I chose to put down the bottle was the day I said no more. No more misery. No more fucking excuses. No more shirking responsibility and shifting the blame. It was time to take action. I am sure if I went to one of my local AA meetings there would be the same people moaning about the same shit they were moaning about six months ago. I get that life is hard. I understand but the nature of the meetings means the people in need have the floor. This leads to an almost group therapy feel where people spew their problems on one another in the hope for respite. I have left many meetings having not spoken a word as I felt what I would have said would have lightened the mood. I know “wrong meetings,” I get it.
AA helps some people but for me it made me feel inferior. Weak even. That I was incapable of controlling my own life, even though I had never tried to manage my life whilst sober. Now I was being told I had to outsource the management of it to a deity of my choosing… ” it doesn’t have to be a deity! It’s a spiritual program!” Again nonsense. It’s a religious program the steps don’t work without the word god.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God./Him”
Okay, so I can choose anything.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a lamp!”
I mean who the fuck turns the management of their life over to a lamp or any other inanimate object?
I was called egotistical by an AA member because I wanted to claim the praise for turning my life around. Even though I always talked about the people who had helped me. The person then proceeded to talk about their “higher power,” having a plan for them. Like they had their very own personal Jesus. Then claimed to not “be special or different!” If believing that you have your very own God who looks out for you isn’t egotistical then I don’t know what is.
At its very core AA is a fear-based religious program. The fear is that to drink again is to die and to stop going to meetings is definitely going to lead to drinking. Fear dictated my life when I used to drink. Fear isn’t going to dictate my future. AA stopped me from drowning but I had to try life to learn to swim. I am grateful for that and I want to share my message to help other people who are struggling. Which is why I write these blogs but I’m not sure I can spend my time in an environment that makes me feel bad. I have heard people in meetings who require professional help. Who are desperate but surrounded by an army of armchair psychologists dismissing their problems as a symptom of that “alcoholic brain.” Quitting drinking isn’t an honorary doctorate!
My main problem with AA is its dominance in the world of recovery. I haven’t touched alcohol for six years. Out of those six years, I attended AA for about two years; three months at the start of my sobriety, after six weeks without drinking. And for eighteen months after I had walked the El Camino de Santiago. I had achieved my goal and needed something to do. With nowhere to go, I would sit in the pub with friends. I knew it was only a matter of time until I drank out of boredom. I had to find something to do. Somewhere with nondrinkers… AA was my only option. Although that may be changing as a recent court case allowed people to choose alternative practices because AA is a religious program. Hopefully, this encourages employers to allow other treatments and expands them in the market. In my area, there is a lack of alternatives and as such, I am left with a choice; to stop attending AA or attend. To stop attending would be the easy option but would result in me isolating myself. A desire to not only meet people but also, a desire to help others in need draws me back. Connectivity is important to maintaining my well-being as somebody in recovery and also as a human. There are many online forums to discuss sobriety (This being one of my favourites) which I think are a great tool but not a substitution for actual human connection.
I will have to voice my concerns in meetings like the other nonbelievers I have heard before. Very rarely I would hear the voices of the disenfranchised at meetings. The ones marked outcasts. The nonbelievers. Their words not critical, just honest. Their remarks would bring rolled eyes and tuts. Those rare voices are the voices that made me believe. They made me realise sobriety was possible without the need to find a god whilst I sat silently, hoping to “get it.” I always thought it showed strength to say “Hey, I don’t believe in this but there is nowhere else to go on a cold Friday night and I don’t want to drink!” without those voices there is nothing but a theist meeting all comparing imaginary friends and war stories. Neither is what I would call healthy nor encouraging for people looking to quit drinking. Maybe it’s time to say so. I mean, it is an honest program after all and I guess it will have to do until an alternative arrives. Or maybe the dissenting voices can open up the meetings to a broader audience.