I’ve realized that one of the components of keeping me sober for so long has been fear—in later years, the fear of leaving the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and relapsing because of that decision. After all, one of the underlying messages of AA is that if you don’t stay in the program you will eventually drink or use. I can’t help but think of organized religions and the similar logic they apply—if you question, or worse, leave the religion, you are surely on your way to hell or some other damnation.
However, I’ve found in my long experience as an addiction specialist—and someone who was once addicted to alcohol and nicotine—that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all. What works for one person might not be right for another; might, in fact, damage them and stunt them in their growth. Sitting in meetings sober and full of doubt but being terrified of leaving is a special kind of insanity.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in doubt and fear, which is why I’ve decided AA isn’t often for me anymore—I attend to my recovery in other ways. I read, I meditate, and I’m always diligent about staying in Reality (which I used to call my Higher Power if you’re new here). I am honest with myself and with others. I stay connected to other people who are sober, and others who are diligent about building resilience and self-awareness, and I have a strong sense of community through all of that. My family supports me. I know there are many people in my life I can count on if I ever get in trouble. But I doubt I will if I continue to adhere to my values as I have been, so far.
I have many friends who attend meetings and for whom AA is the only way to stay sober. They consider sobriety and AA to be the very foundation of their lives. Like me, in the past, they attend conferences and many are very proud of their AA membership and identities. And they should be. I’ve seen many happy people in AA, and I know that for many of them the 12 steps and “the rooms” were life-saving and remain life-saving. Many people with long-term sobriety also say they go to meetings because they want to help the newcomers – they say what keeps them sober is the ability to give back. That’s the beauty of AA—once you’re in it you’re welcome and you’ll always be needed. For people with substance use disorder, being a part of solid community is crucial and AA certainly provides that.
But I also have friends who doubt that AA is the only way to stay sober, and they torture themselves by feeling guilty about wanting to try other methods of recovery. They sit unhappily in their chairs, contorting themselves to a philosophy that doesn’t fit them, afraid of being true to themselves, afraid of taking a leap and seeing what else is out there. Leaving is believed to be almost synonymous with Relapse. It is a scary thought. And it’s one that kept me in my chair until I could no longer take it. I couldn’t be a proper AA member and be true to myself. And that feeling that I was experiencing while going through the motions of 12 steps and meetings? That was discomfort due to dishonesty—something that puts a person with addiction in danger zone and, ironically, something that is does not fit the notion in AA of “rigorous honesty.” I realized that my fear no longer served me, and that I had to conquer it or I would become slave to it.
I like making decisions. I like going forward and staying true to my values. I like having the courage to leave places or situations that don’t serve me. It’s a cliché that life is short, but it really is and we should cherish every moment and live according to our deepest values. We should align ourselves with courage – not fear – and trust the process of recovery as we grow in it.
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