As someone who has watched people try to get and stay sober for over 20 years, I have formed strong opinions about Alcoholics Anonymous. I am going to share some of them here.
Phone Never Stops Ringing
When you are known for successfully working a program of recovery and successfully guiding others to get sober, your phone never stops ringing. But there’s a pattern that has become very common with regard to the direction these phone calls go, and I want to share it here:
“Is he willing to get help?” I ask.
(If things have gotten bad enough) “Yes, he’s ready to get help.”
“I can either take him to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, or find someone to take him -”
(Cutting me off) “Oh he won’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous, he’s tried that before.”
Countless phone calls from the distressed relatives have stalled when the subject is brought up.
It’s Not Perfect, But What is the “Perfect” Alternative?
It’s amazing the level of crisis people are willing to tolerate rather than give Alcoholics Anonymous a wholehearted try. It’s so widely recommended by the addiction specialists of the world, so if you want to work with legitimate providers who have achieved good success rates of helping people achieve recovery milestones, it will be hard to escape participating in AA meetings. I have a hard time imagining a reputable addiction professional creating a regimen for recovery and not including participation in 12-Step meetings (likely Alcoholics Anonymous itself – but there are many other types).
Some Good News
These meetings can take some getting used to but for the majority of people, they are cathartic and healing.
The 12-Step process was initially written with the help of a Doctor (Bob Smith) who had devoted his life to caring for and trying to help the most dire cases of alcoholism and addiction. The founders of alcoholics anonymous created a design for recovery that is “simple but not easy.” Chapter 5 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous starts out by saying:
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program…. (read the rest courtesy of aa.org)
The fact that the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has been so widely adopted by the medical community and the legal system (as part of any penalty for a drug or alcohol related crime there will be required participation in 12-Step meetings) should be very telling about how effective it has been for many happily recovering people.
Denial Is Rearing it’s Ugly Head
I will write a bit more about the potential alternatives to AA – which can be just as effective as Alcoholics Anonymous. But I’m going to share something that I’ve learned after 2 decades of helping hundreds get and stay sober: the addicted person who rejects AA because it’s “not right for them” is most likely in denial.
An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be somewhat intimidating, but at the same time, there’s almost always eager individuals who want to meet the newcomer and be of assistance.
Objection to The Spiritual Solution
I often hear that the person who is need of Alcoholics Anonymous will resist this “spiritual” solution. It can be daunting to hear the word “God” mentioned so many times. Meetings often end with the Lord’s Prayer (or similar prayer). For a variety of reasons, the meeting might be awkward for the newcomer, particularly one who has no religious affiliation. There is an entire chapter in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous entitled “We Agnostics” that was written to reinforce that it is not necessary to adhere to a Christian belief system (or any belief system whatsoever) to be welcomed into and a successful member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
When I hear objections like the above, I usually ask the question: how does attending that 12-step meeting and being sober for that hour while building a foundation for sobriety compare to the alternative: actively participating in your addiction and continuing the life threatening cycle of destruction? It’s very simple for the average person to see the contrast in these activities, but the addicted individual who is in denial or otherwise not ready for treatment will su prefer the drug or alcohol use albeit maybe only on a subconscious level.
Online Meetings Surge During COVID-19 Lockdown
In many places, people are practicing social distancing and observing shelter in place recommendations by staying at home.
Because of this, 12-step meetings have begun to adapt to the changes and offer a virtual experience instead.
AA also has hosted online meetings for years to reach people who suffer from a disability or chronic illness. So there are a lot of online and nontraditional 12-step meeting formats available. California meetings have been moving to video chat, so, first of all, contact your local 12-step hotline to learn more about how to participate or visit their local website. You can find your local AA information by searching here, or NA meetings here. Also, ask your therapist or other support groups how you can gather online.
There are also meetings 12-step meetings that meet online for various reasons, but the focus is on recovery no matter who you are and where you live. Here is some more information scheduled for online AA meetings. If you need an alternative format, there are also email and forum-based “meetings” here as well as phone-based meetings available here.
Staying in touch and in recovery mode is something you’ll want to work on doing on a daily basis. Isolation is always dangerous when you’re in recovery, and right now you’re going to need to rely on others and trust recovery to help you get through the tough time. You WILL and you CAN if you continue to follow suggestions and be open to the process.
No, AA Is Not the Only Way (But is Worth Investigating)
There are alternatives to AA like Rational Recovery, which as I’m writing this seems to have disappeared. Some recovering people try a heavily therapy based regimen of treatment using therapeutic processes like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and EMDR. These are absolutely great processes to integrate into a program of recovery – let’s face it, it’s a great time to get sober.
Anyone who is actively attempting to get better and taking steps to create a sober life should be applauded for taking these steps. Also, if the person believes that the treatment will work for them, then the activity is especially great. Disclaimer: We are very wary of processes or treatment programs that promise a cure for addiction. We feel this kind of promise is damaging and unethical. Long term abstinence is strongly correlated with an ongoing participation in a program of recovery.
Myself and the addiction professionals whom I’ve worked with find the widespread availability of the Alcoholics Anonymous community to be the mothership of long term care. Alcoholics Anonymous is filled with happily recovering people – the majority of which initially rejected the community as “not right for them.” Eventually, the downward spiral took them to a “bottom” from which they realized that a solution was available through the program of AA.
So there are many ways to get sober, but there is a reason that the treatment industry almost universally recommends participation in a 12-Step program for the individual who has a substance addiction.