If you’re new to recovery, you might be under the impression that the only way to it is via a 12-step program. Whether you search on Google, reach out to medical professionals, look to movies or TV shows for clues, you will most likely come across Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) first, before anything else.  Furthermore, 12-step principles are prevalent in rehabilitation facilities—it is a challenge to find a place that doesn’t rely on 12 steps.

This is because AA is considered an effective program that claims to have gotten millions sober.  But AA doesn’t have a monopoly on recovery, no matter what the world is trying to tell you. And you can get sober without it if the program doesn’t agree with you. I was a member for many years but found myself constrained by its teachings and, in the end, realized that it was doing me more harm than good to be a part of the program that didn’t align with my beliefs. I’ve left the mainstream AA and joined the agnostic one. I still go to meetings occasionally, but today I know for sure that recovery can be a holistic, all-encompassing process that can involve several approaches. There are many, many different paths to recovery.

In my own experience, I’ve found early on that 12-steps on its own was not enough. Sure, there were people who swore by it, for whom the meetings were a lifeline, but I know there were also a lot of dissatisfied people who have found the meetings alone were not enough. Some of those people searched for additional tools (such as meditation, yoga, church, therapy), but many felt it would be akin to blasphemous were they to admit that AA was not everything.

Why would they feel that way? From The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.”

No! You are not an “unfortunate “if you seek another way. Whether you stay in AA or leave it, you absolutely have the right to customize your recovery so that it suits your needs. Read the literature, search the Internet, ask questions. There’s nothing wrong with exploring all of your options—it is your life and your recovery. You might need a good therapist, a recovery coach, or another kind of an experienced mentor to guide and help you discover the path to healing that is unique to you.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

In our recovery, we need to find places that feel safe and approaches that nourish us. It’s perfectly okay to leave behind something that doesn’t make us thrive—contrary to popular belief leaving AA doesn’t equate a relapse. Joining SMART recovery, Refuge recovery, or relying solely on therapy doesn’t mean a relapse either—if it works for you, then stick to it. If it doesn’t work, continue searching. Because that is the beauty of recovery—there are many different ways to get there.


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