What Then, If Not A.A.?

If you found your way to this blog, you probably have a reason… And if the reason is that you’re having a problem with alcohol, I want to make sure that we can offer you something beside our obsession with tearing the ass out of A.A. We make fun of A.A., but we don’t trivialize the need to get sober or the despair that drives the need.

There are some links to alternative communities in the right sidebar of this page, which may be of help to you. But I also want to give you some more ideas about taking control of this, based on my experience and the experiences of others who have done this without A.A.

Now, I quit drinking without A.A., and so did the co-author of this blog. And so did many people that we know. We all had it bad, too – if you want to do something about it, it’s bad. The idea that, because we were able to do this on our own, we are not really alcoholics, is gobsmacking. No one can tell you what your experience is. You know if you have a problem. And you can quit drinking. You can.

The insidious thing about belief systems is that they are founded on fractions of truth, and A.A. doesn’t get everything wrong, despite the fact that it is seriously wrong. Not just flawed, but wrong. For instance, one of their slogans, “It will work if you want it to work” is right on.  What that means is that your intention to quit has got to be fixed. The fact that A.A. has the same success rate as nothing bears this out: The people who make the decision on their own to quit and the A.A.s who “want it to” have exactly the same success rate. What that demonstrates to me is that it’s about the decision you make and not about the program you work.

However, we have all had the experience of being determined to quit when we’re morbidly hungover, only to lose that resolve by midday as we get our legs back under us – vaguely wondering where the resolve went, but more desperately focused on the important task of getting back in the bag. I remember waking up seething with hatred for myself, incapacitated with hangover, skanky taste in my mouth, knowing that this was just another in an eternal string of daily promises I had broken to myself – and I’d surely break another one today. I felt utterly defeated by the knowledge that however badly I wanted it at that moment, I still didn’t want it bad enough that this would be the last day I woke up like this. It’s a nightmare.

So, what was the difference between one of those horrible mornings and the one horrible morning that it clicked? I’m not sure, but that was the day I asked for help. I joined an amazing non-denominational online community of quitters – some A.A.s, but most not. I journaled, played, argued, supported others, read a lot, and white-knucked it on this message board. I believe A.A. is a scam and a half, but that doesn’t mean that I am against asking for help.

Asking for help quitting is an enormous step toward committing to it, and I believe that the commitment is success itself.  If A.A. has a 5% success rate, which is equal to the success rate among people who choose to quit on their own, the only common element is the decision. If you’ve made up your mind, what difference does it make how you go about reinforcing and actualizing it? How you reinforce and actualize is your business. Committing to quit drinking is a commitment to honor your life, to move away from mediating every facet of your experience on this earth through an alcohol-induced stupor. 

A.A. doesn’t want you to commit to quitting drinking; it wants you to commit to working the program, so that you can quit. I really believe that this is completely backwards and inside-out. This makes quitting incidental to working the program: “It will work if you work it.” Remember, the stated goal of A.A. is to perpetuate the program.

I do hope that the distinction I’m making here is clear. In one scenario, you decide to quit drinking, then go about reinforcing that decision in ways that make sense to you. In the other scenario, quitting drinking reinforces the program, which is paramount. In the first case, “self-will” is your friend; in the second, it is your enemy. In the first, sobriety is something you take control of; in the second, it is a gift, given to you by the program.

Do you think it is more likely that you will achieve your goal of living without alcohol if it is a choice you have made for yourself, or if it is an elusive reward you have to negate and debase yourself to humbly receive on a daily basis, like a crust of stale bread you must be grateful to Someone Else for?

OK, enough of A.A.

I think the toughest thing about quitting alcohol is wanting to want it – wanting to be able to make the decision, but not being able to move beyond that point of desire and into energy. This is the foundation for any permanent change you make in your life. And since what we want from moment to moment changes, and since the addiction is a stronger muscle than your will – like your dominant hand: it’s the one that you use automatically – fixing and maintaining our intention to quit is not easy.

So, get some help. Get after it. There are many communities of sober people, who got that way, or are getting that way, without A.A. – join them and stay close. Plunk yourself right down and build your community. Find a counselor who is knowledgeable about addiction, but who is not invested in 12-step – seek and ye shall find. Make a list of your priorities (your children, your dreams, your health…) and keep it close. Write vividly about how you feel when you are hungover, and keep it close. Step out into the world, sober, and really celebrate your successes (not by crying through your drunkalog for the hojillionth time), by actually celebrating, reveling in and honoring your accomplishments, sharing it with your community. Set goals for yourself that are important to you, but that you could not do if you were drinking, like making your kids pancakes on Saturday morning… you know, life kinds of things. Watch movies that will make you laugh your head off. Learn to meditate. Get hypnotized. Volunteer at the co-op. Whatever floats your boat. Remember that even if you’re crawling out of your skin or sobbing in a corner, you will not die of it. Read a lot. Keep exercising your self-will until it becomes your dominant hand, until the desire becomes a decision, and you can finally say, “I don’t drink” and move on to the next case.

The biggest job you have ahead of you is turning that desire into a decision, once you make that decision, there’s nothing more powerful. That is how it’s done – and even A.A. bears this out. They’re right: you can quit drinking by praying to your Chia Pet, but you have to want to quit. You can put any nonsense before “but you have to want to quit,” and it will work, because that’s the key. Getting to the place where you want to is imperative, and can be a process – and it’s different from wanting to want to, or wishing you could — but this can be done. It’s hard, as is evidenced by the low recovery rate. But, there’s no such thing as your “last hope” or the “last house on the block.” You are not powerless; you’re just not used to being powerful, yet. Don’t turn it over, or let go – take it back. Don’t trade alcohol for aphorisms.  If you believe in a higher power, then believe this, too: there is no supremely enlightened being that wants you to debase yourself and throw away your uniquely human potential to create your life by being drunk or by living the rest of your life on your knees.

–ftg

  • speedy0314

    bravo!

  • Z

    Fascinating analysis. I'm in the process of reading this whole blog because I've had the 12 steps unleashed on me from a few angles at different times, for problems other than addiction. It really seemed to me that the 12 steps were pushed as a *substitute* for getting to the matter actually at hand.

  • sean

    Cannabis therapy has proved 100% effective in overcoming alcoholism, according to one study here.
    http://newmexicoindependent.com/52915/marijuana-c
    100 million Americans have the legal option of trying this route.

    • MA

      Cannabis therapy has proved 100% effective in overcoming alcoholism, according to one study here. http://newmexicoindependent.com/52915/marijuana-c
      100 million Americans have the legal option of trying this route.

      Hi, Sean.

      That is not a scientific survey. I'm not sure whether or not marijuana helps in getting people to stop drinking, but this survey is very poor, and doesn't prove its effectiveness one way or the other. My suspicion is that it could help some people. Here is a link a study of patients who used marijuana in conjunction with naltrexone in drug treatment, and it shows that it's beneficial in helping people stay on their naltrexone regimen. Alcohol works on the same pathways, so it is likely that it would help alcoholics taking naltrexone.

  • Z

    OK, I've now read up on a lot of the alternative treatments. I knew some existed but I hadn't actually read up on them before.

    It struck me how different they were, and how different their views of addiction were. Reading a little bit in the academic literature, it really struck me how unscientific and victim blaming the AA paradigm really is. I mean, I knew that already, but it becomes even more obvious when you see what it feels like to look at another view.

    The other important thing that struck me was how much of what I "know" about addiction, things I "knew" before I was ever presented to ACOA/Alanon/12 stepping in general, was in fact based on AA's model of the self and the world.

    That is what alarms me. It's a very limiting view, and it is highly unscientific, and it really has been promoted as science based and is promoted by people who one expects to be science based.

    This is a really serious problem and it has to be addressed. It's important not just for addicts but for anyone who has to do with any addicts (and large numbers of us have addicts around us either in the family or at work).

    It's also important because 12 stepping ideology has seeped into so many other areas of life: psychotherapy, management styles and strategies in corporations, etc.

    The promotion of the 12 steps in so many different areas of life is extremely problematic. I mean, if the 12 steps don't work for most addicts, and only depresses them, confuses them, and drives them to despair, then that must apply to everyone else too, right?

    Seriously, I think the 12 steps *may* help some serious narcissists manage themselves and keep themselves away from "jail, institutions, or death." But to treat everyone who has an addiction issue, or any other issue, as though they had the personality traits and worldview Bill W. ascribes to himself is vile, and also ridiculous.

    In the Stanton Peele site, I read through the letters he'd received from people involved with addicts, or with addicts in the family. What he had to say was *so* much simpler, and so much less victim blaming, than what they say in Alanon (which, of course, goes on about how you shouldn't "blame," and then blames you).

    I could summarize but might as well just refer people who may be looking to his site. What he has to say is strengthening and practical. He keeps teling people to decide what they want and stand up for themselves — as opposed to sit around and figure out how they may be "sick," or how to stay in a bad situation but detach from it somehow.

  • tintop

    The toughest thing about quitting is taking the decision – that is, drawing a line under it.  "wanting to quit" is the key.   That means that you will do whatever you need to do to make that so.  "Whatever happens, do not drink.".   ftg, in this essay, go it right.

  • Primrose

    Tintop

    I would add to your last post,

    'but if you do have a drink, do not feel that all is lost and you might as well drink the whole bottle of spirits'.

  • poetwomyn

    Sean and MA:

    Smoking dope helped me get through some serious alcohol withdrawal.  I no longer touch it and am abstinent, but there is, based on my experience, some therapeutic value to it.

  • William Casey

    Interesting essay.  My perspective on quitting drinking is, perhaps, a little different.  I, too reached the decision to stop drinking without any help from AA or even a good attitude toward it.  I made it through a couple of weeks after detox without AA.  Then, as I sobered up, I realized that stopping drinking wasn't all that hard but "staying stopped" would be the trick.  The solution did not have to be AA.  But, AA was free and easily accessible, so why not?

    I say that I have a little different perspective for a specific reason:  I'm 60 years old and didn't come close to abusing alcohol until I was 50.  For 9 long years I increasingly used alcohol, going from one 1.75 liter bottle of Jack Daniels every two weeks to five bottles per week.  Serious problem.  I know one thing for sure:  my thinking "under the influence" was significantly different than it had been for the first 50 years of my life.  I went from not giving alcohol a second thought to being totally focused on it.  Nine years of heavy drinking have had an effect.  I have something to compare it to.  Hence, my mistrust of "going it alone" (for me only) in staying sober.  I'm reading many non AA on-line sources as well as Chris Prentiss' non-12-step book, "The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure" as a supplement to AA.  Seems like a reasonable plan to me.

  • William, I know it probably doesn't seem like it, but we don't have any interest here in talking AA members out of AA. But, seeing as you are the heretic of your meeting, and also that you object to certain things that seem fundamental to AA, I wonder if you've ever explored SMART Recovery.

    Just based on the little I'm learning about you here, it seems that the things about AA that you like — the fellowship, the touchstone, the focus on daily sobriety — are not exclusive to AA, but the elements that you object to ("your best thinking got you here") are exclusive to AA.

    Sorry if I'm misreading you…

    Anyway, I haven't read that book yet. I'm curious about it.

  • Commonsense

    William – I can relate.  I didn't melt down until age 52, when I went on a two week 24/7 every waking moment drunk and landed in detox.  I quit drinking while having one last cigarette before voluntarily getting locked down in the hospital.  As drunk as I was, I remember my "I quit" moment well as I was in a "pour it all down the drain – get all of it out of my body forever" frame of mind (and haven't had anything to drink in over five years since that time).  I had to wait a month after detox to get in a hospital outpatient program (which was mostly AA with training wheels).  And yes, I did find AA initially helpful in sustaining my focus and motivation.  However, from my first AA meeting in detox and many meetings thereafter, I always had the gut feeling that something just wasn't quite right with AA. Since that time I have come to the conclusion that there are lots of things not right about AA, but especially how it has compromised the courts and medical science.

  • I love this post. Thanks again , FTG. 🙂 If there were FTG tee shirts, well, I would buy one. And I would wear it.

  • Thank you 🙂

    Oh, friendthegirl t-shirts would be cool. Wanna see where I got the handle?

    You can see the original Friend the Girl at the bottom of the page, between Richard Dirt and Wax Wolf.

  • FriendOfDaishonin

    Friendthegirl, I know I am brand new here and new to denouncing AA(actually been a week free of the meetings and sober over a year and three months), but how you said when people make a statement such asb"my best thinking got me here" is actually not part of their literature, it is part of the mindset of those that I call the religiously elite of AA who dramatically proclaim to follow the Big Book yet seamlessly and blatantly contradict it every meeting. According to their own literature it is not there best thinking that got them there it was there inability to combat the first drink by using there mind. So they demonic the mind to brain wash people into there pseudo Christian religion. Just thought I would be a smart ass and point that out lol.

  • FriendOfDaishonin

    Sorry for mistyping a few words, typing this on my Droid incredible. I left AA cause I am a Nichiren Buddhist and by the theology I follow I am my higher power. They don't like that(even though there are issues that most even at 7 or I have seen up to 15 years sober that they deal with that at six months I fixed in my own life by chanting like Buddhist do) and I came to the conclusion that those people can't teach me anything that I don't already know. Besides that I get my fellowship from the Sokka Gakkai meetings. At least there I don't hear this defeated nihilistic nonsensical attitude about my brain might as well be the Christian concept of Satan and also people not merely just surviving but thriving. I am not powerless over anything in my life according to my world view so I got tired of lying in meetings and knew it was time to leave them behind.

  • flannigan

    The ONLY way to stop drinking/drugging is to stop drinking/drugging. All else is just window dressing.

  • buttercup

    Just found this website and love it. thank you so much ftg. everything you wrote is the honest truth. I plan to print it and keep it nearby…

  • Hello buttercup. There is some interesting stuff in essential reading. Especially the one about the falling numbers in AA. (‘AA’s slow demise’) There is a hardcore of true believers and the rest is (largely court-mandated) churn. Primrose.

  • humanspirit

    Hi Buttercup. So glad you found this site. Yes, ftg’s and MA’s lead posts are always excellent when to comes to cutting through all the mystification, obfuscation, and pure nonsense generated by AA and its domination of the “recovery industry”. I hope you’ll stick around and add your voice and your experiences here.

    On a different note, I’ve only just seen the post by FriendOfDaishonin, above, from November (not sure what’s happened here, because there have definitely been posts on this thread since then.) I always wondered how AA and the 12-step program deals with people whose basic beliefs are non-theistic, like Buddhism. Or even those who do believe in some sort of god, but do not believe this is a being who it is possible to have a personal connection with or who will personally intervene in their lives. (This is not to mention people who have no kind of spiritual or religious beliefs at all, for whom posing a “spiritual” solution to stopping drinking is less than helpful and likely to be counter-productive.) It is an absolute no-no in AA for your higher power to be within yourself, as denial of the self is the crux of the 12-step program. Yet this is the basis of many ancient and respected belief systems, followed by millions, if not billions, around the world. Anyway, just a random thought. Maybe we can talk about these ideas more in the community pages some time.

  • causeandeffect

    Hi buttercup. I’m glad you found this site too. It’s been a very valuable resource for me in deprogramming from AA. I feel it’s important so that AA dogma doesn’t eventually become a self fulfilling prophecy. There’s so much more to this site than just this page. At the top of the page is a link to Why I Left AA Stories you can read and if you want you can post there for others to read. Glad you’re here.

  • Most excellent story. We agree on every detail. Our group has a list of Asian modalities that can help people in recovery or who want to recover. We are a group of 13 former rehab patients intent upon proving to the world that AA/NA is a sad, deplorable joke.
    Best, 13AP

  • Fully inspired by this website; as I am in need of a support system other than going back to AA meetings; what got to me in this reading was quite simple; and elementary; and reminded me of a very special Pink Floyd song: Don’t turn it over, or let go; TAKE IT BACK. The song is supposed to be about heartbreak. Well, my heart can’t do anything right until I can feel good about myself again. Also, I am reminded of the whole idea of Dorothy’s quest to get back to “Kansas”. She always had the power. All she had to do was click her heels 3 times. With all due respect to AA; This BS about me having to sit in a meeting room being told over and over again how weak and powerless I am is just that. The answer is with me at all times. I don’t need an intermediary. I just need to stop. It’s the freaking easiest and hardest thing to do. I would really appreciate being a part of this room; I need the support. Anyone out there? Thanks.

  • gavo

    wow, thanks for a great essay. i have been waiting for three and a half years to hear someone else say this. my number one issue with AA is that they require a belief in a higher power. i would rather be living in the gutter than having someone else tell me what to believe in. luckily for me, at this point i’m doing neither of those things. it can be very isolating to choose to deal with this outside the umbrella of AA, and i’ve all but stopped discussing addiction issues with my other recovered friends, all of whom are in AA, and who also obsess over this or that self-help book. all of my self-help literature had nothing to do with addiction. we all need to find our own paths through life, even when we reach out. i avoid reductive methods for living. that’s not living!

  • SoberPJ

    Hi gavo .. glad you found this place..

    I wonder what happened to Carrie? I never even saw her post. There must have been a fire fight on another thread. I hope she comes back.

  • causeandeffect

    Hi gavo. If you think that’s good, it’s only just beginning. Stick around for soooo much more.

  • MikeAugustine

    @gavo, welcome.

  • Lucky

    I never set foot in an AA meeting because I had attended an NA meeting with my cousin years before and thought the people there were much like people in many churches — falsely cheery with a hidden agenda.

    They want your soul and they want to be in charge of it.

    They want to cover your experience with their own bromides so they can feel like going to five meetings a week constitutes ‘doing something with their lives.’

    They are looking for control and there’s a real Big Brother feel to the whole thing.

    Counseling worked for me.

    I was a heavy drinker. I was ruining my life and killing myself. I’ve been sober with no trouble for 6 and a half years now.

    Not interested in booze anymore, understand that one drink would open the doors to over-drinking. Don’t drink.

    Haven’t given up my power to a coffee klatch of un-individuated people who think their experience is just like mine.

    • Catherine

      I’m coming up on 90 days of sobriety. At first, AA felt like a godsend. “All these ppl who felt like I did!” But then meeting after meeting with the same old men telling the same old stories and everyone proudly rehashing “how drunk” they used to get started to become very, very sad. I started really looking at the ppl in the room and thinking, “Do I really want to be like these people five years from now?” What kind of life is it to spend every one of your evenings at AA instead of living life? Not once did anyone talk about goals or inspiration or accomplishments or moving on. Every single discussion was simply a brag session for how screwed up your life is. By the way, I have control over alcohol. I have the power. Why would I want to be associated with an organization that constantly tells you how weak you are? Makes it a source of pride to call yourself an alcoholic? I’m not proud of being an alcoholic. I’m proud of being a non-drinker. I’m moving on. The final straw was when my new sponsor told me I had to call her every day AND call another AA member every day. What the hell? I have better things to do.