The other day I had lunch with a friend I met in AA when we were both wobbly and unsteady in sobriety. She always looked perfectly put together, but when I first heard her speak, she sounded tiny and scared and I instantly identified. She is one day shy of one month behind me in sober time, so we’re both closing in on two years. If you believe the statistics on the success rate of AA, or any program of recovery for that matter, you’d think that’s really something. The statistics don’t explain why nearly everyone I still keep in touch with from AA is also still sober. Most of the bloggers I’ve followed here for the last year are still sober too. I know sobriety is never guaranteed and that we must work to keep it, but I’m not sure why fear seems to rule the roost.
My lunch friend still attends almost daily AA meetings. I haven’t been to a meeting since September. While I got a lot out of meetings and believe they saved me in a way I couldn’t have saved myself that first sober summer, I had started to feel more put upon than helped. I would go back if I felt the need to, but for now meetings are not for me.
It was mostly an issue of not enough time for meetings and not feeling ready to give back through sponsoring others and chairing meetings. Each time my youngest kid saw I had left the car parked in the driveway at night, she would ask “mommy, do you have a meeting tonight?” If I answered yes she would say “oh” in her sad voice. If I told her no, that I wasn’t going to a meeting, she would say “yay!” In a dual-income home with tricky schedules and no easy childcare, giving up precious family time to go to meetings caused more strain than support. My family is my number one priority right now.
One thing I kept hearing at meetings, though, is that my sobriety should always come first. The idea behind this is that if I don’t stay sober, I don’t get to keep all the good things in my life, like my family, my job and that elusive peace of mind. I just don’t see regular attendance at meetings as something I need in order to stay sober anymore.
In the months after I stopped going, I watched my moods with hypervigilance for signs that sobriety was slipping away. When I found I felt more peaceful and stronger than I had before (likely a result of continued, strengthened sobriety more than anything else), I started to relax and worry less about relapse.
Just like it took a leap of faith to go into AA in the first place, it took a leap to step out. The thing about AA is that when you stop going to meetings but stay sober, there’s little distinction between you and someone who goes back out and starts drinking again. If you’ve seen the depressing statistic that less than 5% still attend AA meetings at the end of one year, you too might assume the remaining 95% percent relapse. It’s more likely that many of them took what they needed and went on to work sobriety in a way that suited them better.
I just finished reading a book called Sober for Good . I heard about it when I was still new to AA but purposely avoided it when I saw it dispelled the myth that AA is the only program that works. Even though intellectually I knew this was true, at the time AA was meeting my needs and I already felt baffled by the animosity I saw directed at the program – often by people who have never been to a meeting. I just wasn’t ready to hear about other approaches at the time. Now I’m in a place where I’m not only ready but maybe need to know there are others out there finding and maintaining their sobriety in non-traditional ways.
Sober for Good tells the stories of 222 “masters” who quit drinking for at least five years, many for much longer (note: a very small percentage continued drinking moderately, but the book’s focus is on abstinence). More than half of those interviewed got or stayed sober through non-traditional methods, ie not AA. Many of them used other programs, such as SMART recovery , Women for Sobriety , or Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Incidentally, none of these organizations hold meetings in my immediate area, yet there are about 15 AA meetings within a 15 mile radius every single day. There’s something to be said for convenient face-to-face contact with other people going through the same thing as you.
Sober for Good mentions that most problem drinkers are pushed towards traditional 12-step meetings, while little information is given or even known about other treatment options. It’s much harder to find alternate help and almost easier to try it completely on your own. This is what a lot of people do. Successfully. Is their sobriety any less real than someone who went to rehab and then AA?
Yet it does seem that we make up separate, almost warring, factions in sobriety. Those in AA often speak the language and take flak for doing so. It doesn’t seem to bother them, except maybe when they have to defend their beloved program against accusations that it’s really a religious cult.
If you’re doing it on your own, you might bristle at the term dry drunk. I first heard it from a counselor and later by random individuals to describe someone who gives up alcohol but doesn’t participate in a formal program of recovery. It’s equally insulting.
At lunch with my old AA friend, I brought up the isolation I sometimes feel because I stopped going to meetings. I was quick to add that I hadn’t felt that from her or any of the small handful of people I still keep in touch with from AA.
My friend said “I think we’re all just afraid we’re not doing it right.”
I think she nailed it. I used to feel more threatened when I heard about someone’s markedly different approach to sobriety because I was too new to my own. My life was still in a fairly constant state of chaos and upset. I was still relearning how to cope and celebrate and frankly just live without alcohol. Maybe I was struggling too because I hadn’t found the right program of recovery for me personally. Maybe I haven’t found it even now because it keeps changing as it needs to.
Right now I follow a pretty satisfying routine of family time, work, running, writing, reading and seeking harmony in the world around me. I’m not going to list all of the substance-free vices I still indulge in, but I’m pretty sure they’re part of my recovery right now too. The most important part of my recovery are the principles I learned in AA and still use to stay centered and healthy. If I were a different sort of person, I might have learned them from another program or from a book or a blog. To each his own.
One more statistic I want to highlight from Sober for Good is this: of the estimated 7% of Americans with serious drinking problems, only 10% will pursue treatment. (I know the blogging community is diverse, and imagine this number applies to other nationalities as well.) It would seem then that if you’re reading this and you’re sober or working towards sobriety, you’re already part of something remarkable. The blogging community offers a unique view of the many ways to get and stay sober. I’m proud to be a part of it and I hope one day we all find more tolerance and support and that even more people come to know the joys of sobriety.