Are you doomed to a relapse once you leave the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous? No. You are not. Trust me on this—I know of many people who have left and lived sober happily ever after, and I, myself, am a former member. But as it is with severing any long-term relationship, ending things with AA can be scary, and you might feel out of sorts and lost without your usual support. This is because AA is not just a place where people get sober—it is also a community, a form of healing, a spiritual relational escape, and so much more. It’s not an accident that AA asks its members to join “home” groups—for many people with addiction AA is home. And for many others the acronym “AA” is synonymous with “Life” as this is the place where they got their lives back, or where they’ve finally begun to feel alive.
I’m stressing the positive aspects of it because I want to emphasize how difficult of a step it is to leave the 12 steps behind. You will go through a period of adjustment and it can be a shock to the system. Suddenly, your evenings might free up, you’ll stop getting invitations to social functions you used to enjoy and you might lose a few friendships. You need to consider all of those things happening and you should prepare yourself. It’s always good to be prepared, especially if you’re someone with a substance use disorder—our emotions and how we react to rapid change can often get us in trouble. So I would suggest leaving smartly and having different supports in place, as well as some idea about what to do post-AA. I would also suggest leaving slowly—that’s what worked for me. It wasn’t exactly premeditated but it was gradual: I gradually started to remove myself from AA, first by secular meetings, later by attending meetings online and, finally, by allowing myself to feel fully recovered and owning it.
Leaving AA doesn’t mean that you need to never speak to your old friends who do recovery the 12-step way. I still keep some of my friendships just as I do with people I went to the same college with. It’s true that there are those who might no longer want to associate with me because of my departure, and that is fine too—those weren’t real friendship in the first place because they were conditional.
I’ve learned a lot from AA and I learned a lot from leaving it. The biggest lesson is the one that tells me I need to be kind with myself and that I need to stay as diligent about Reality as I’ve always been. I no longer live in the delusion that I can drink without some dire consequences and I don’t need meetings to tell me that. But just because I don’t go to meetings, it doesn’t mean that I’m off the hook from reminding myself every day and practicing what keeps me sober and happy.
And that’s my biggest suggestion to you: develop a practice that will keep you sober and happy, if you decide to leave. Surround yourself with healthy people who are supportive of your sobriety. Buy some literature, watch videos, educate yourself beyond what you’ve learned in AA. Stay interested in your condition whether you want to call yourself recovering or recovered. And if you need to be around people who have had similar experiences, look for alternatives to AA—there are many places out there that you can join, whether it’s online communities or in real life. There is a life after AA and it can be a great life that’s full of people, and good experiences, and that is filled with happiness and balance.
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