The other day I had lunch with a friend I met in recovery meetings 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 12-step programs, 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 meetings 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 recovery 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 to meetings in the first place, it took a leap to step out. The thing about this particular program 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.

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34 thoughts on “we are the 10%

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  1. i love this, thanks for writing this … i’m part of the blogging community only, i’ve hardly pursued anything except a very little bit of sober reading. and i’m always amazed at the diverse group we are, how we manage to hold ourselves together in different and unique ways. but overall we’re united in being the 10% who are looking for solutions. and that becomes our glue. happy to read this today 🙂

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  2. “Dry drunk.” I’ve never heard that before. Somewhat disparaging but, hey, we can handle everything, right? I’ve done it on my own, and I don’t find it exceptionally tough anymore. That said, I find I gain strength and sustenance in this community right here and in brave bloggers like you. So thanks. Really, what it comes down to whatever works for you; just do the work and make it work.

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    1. I believe the very first time I heard ‘dry drunk’ it was used to describe George W. But yeah, we can handle it.

      It wasn’t until I found all the sober bloggers that I realized people even could stop drinking on their own. Agreed this is a wonderful community for support.

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      1. I agree with all of this, especially with the part About people thinking they did not have it right. I also went to meetings for a while, And I really liked them. The problem for me was, I somewhat got adopted by this group of five women who all that were really really nice, and especially one who really reached out on a daily basis, they had such different lives. And I know in these meetings they say that were all the same, and an addiction we are. But these women didn’t have husbands or families, had all been in rehab, one had even quit her job to focus on recovery. I could barely Get out of the house without that guilty feeling as well, being a full-time double income busy family. This blogging, sober penpals, reading books and well, talking to myself ! so far has been the most authentic way to return to myself that I found so far. But my father used AA and has stayed sober since he was 45 and he’s now 83. Whatever works, right? I love the ideas behind AA for many parts, and clearly it works- but not fir all. This blogging thing is a revolution I feel grateful to be a part of!!!! Ellen

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  3. Five Year Master title sounds cool. Does that come with a wall plaque or gift certificate or Yucatan cruise or something? Because mastering something is quite something, isn’t it. Do they take your word for it or does it have to be authenticated? Periodic urine samples I suppose. Other than the Master title and cool swag what else happens after five years sober? I kind of like the idea of a parade (Wall Street ticker tape/Key to the City thing). Lifetime supply of Junior Mints? Ambassadorship? No gray hair or hearing loss? Surely there is something that happens at the five year sober mark. Other than just sobriety. I mean why else would we be doing this? I for one am not going to settle for just being sober after five years. You have got to be kidding me. There has to be more to it. If I had known all of this I would have given this stuff a little more consideration before diving in. Five years is a long time! In dog years that’s almost half a lifetime. And sober! What will you expect from me next? 🙂

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    1. I’ll take the no gray hair thing, but you can have my junior mints.

      Let’s not forget the grand prize of no more hangovers plus the renewed adoration of family members 🙂 (actually, that comes way before 5 years)

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      1. The sober benefit list is long and growing. At the top of my list is the renewal of constructive family relationships. I had no idea life could be this worthwhile, this rewarding, this pleasing, this gratifying, this consequential. I have come to trust in and depend on my on-line family. The down side to you is my becoming so comfortable speaking that I think sobriety has also made me amusing. Obviously it has not. Ask my wife. However your Junior Mints are in the mail.

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  4. What a wonderful post. I always thought the term “dry drunk” referred to someone who was sober, but hated being that way. Someone who hadn’t really looked at themselves closely enough to determine why they drank in the first place. Someone that had gotten sober, but couldn’t get to the peace of mind part.

    You could say that it applies to those who have not used a formal program to get and stay sober but then I would point you to a number of people I know that are in the program and have been for a long time who lack that peace of mind.

    All I know is that I work at what’s best for me. I did AA for a brief period but this blogging world has done more for my actually recover and peace of mind then any 12 step program ever could. And I don’t have to leave home to do it.

    Personally – what ever works…works.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Sherry

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    1. I think it does usually mean the first description you used, Sherry. I think it is sometimes used derogatorily to describe someone not following the rules of recovery except for the not-drinking part.

      I remember that you mentioned before you went to AA for awhile and found blogging more helpful. I’m grateful to have found you here.

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  5. Fantastic post.

    Firstly – cards on the table, I have consistently gone to meetings throughout my 9 years (nearly less than a month to go now!) of sobriety. It works for me and given it works I just don’t want to risk breaking it. However I was and am extremely lucky in that my family have supported me throughout – I love them dearly for it and am so grateful they gave me the second chance I probably didn’t really deserve.

    Your friend did nail it – there are factions within AA. The “I get on my knees first thing ever morning” brigade can make me bristle with resentment and anger. I’ve never knelt to pray in AA as that form of religion is totally alien to me and to tell newcomers that is the only way again… I get resentful… I’m not an atheist but I do not have a conventional view of “God” at all. So I hate the religious angel.

    at the back of the big book on page 164 it states again that the book is suggestive only – so the first guys didn’t claim to be the only solution so the “If it ain’t in the book I don’t listen to it” annoys me – I once said to one guy early on “You clearly don’t understand the meaning of suggestive do you”… not very sober 🙂

    I have a friend I sat with one day as she sweated and shook gently sipping her tea. She listened to my story and my offer to AA. She stopped drinking that day and hasn’t drunk since several years later, never once set foot inside an AA room – I take my hat off to her. I couldn’t do that on my own.

    Good for you – and I wish you a long and particularly family filled sober life.

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  6. Great post…. thought provoking. I didn’t know you’d stopped meetings… I don’t like the feeling that we’re not going to be ‘ok’ if we don’t go to meetings.. the blogging community has done a huge amount to cement my sobriety and even though I’ve just had a big flip flop about that I’m not going to say goodbye to it – ever! However my main problem is that I don’t have any face-to-face sober friends.. and the only way I can think of meeting some is to go to AA .. but I’m really nervous about it and actually maybe just don’t want to go..??!! I don’t know! I’m a bit stuck right now….

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    1. Before I went to a meeting, I was so nervous! I went with a friend to my first one, but I would’ve been fine on my own. You could sit in the back and keep to yourself if you’d rather just observe. I was surprised how friendly and welcoming everyone was. It really is a great place for support (giving and receiving). You have to go in with an open mind, but there are no commitments if you find it’s not for you.

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    2. Hey Mrs D, like BBB said, give meetings a chance. They’re a great way to meet sober friends! That was the main reason I went–we had just moved and I didn’t know ANYONE here. I too was nervous before my first meeting too, but this site does a great job explaining what to expect at your first AA meeting (I have it listed on my resources page):
      http://www.bma-wellness.com/papers/First_AA_Meeting.html
      (Glad you’re still blogging! YAY! I haven’t made it over to Blogger to comment, but I will… xx, C)

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  7. Incredible reading. All the way through the comments too. I love the title. We are the few that have managed to make it work. It’s interesting to me (as a product of a 12-step program) to see so many that actually don’t prefer it. I’ve never had a problem with 12-step meetings, but I’ve known and worked with many that do. As a recovered alcoholic on the outskirts of a traditional 12-step program I can safely say that I do not require, nor do I miss, the “daily” meeting. I do not consider myself a dry drunk as some “friends” in meetings have eluded to. I am simply a woman who has found another path. Many (most) do not. The subconscious mind is too powerful.

    Every few months I’ll hit a meeting to remember, be grateful, support a new comer. But I feel I have spread my wings and can now fly in my life. For me the most important thing to remember is that I will drink again if I do not evolve. So I work on evolving everyday (yes, everyday I make this a conscious choice.) I never want to go back to that old life. I never want to feel scared for my sobriety.

    I am grateful for all the tools I use to keep me sober. I am especially grateful for learning to blog because I found all of you and you are staying sober too. I hope I continue to find things to keep me sober. I hope I continue to grow.

    You wrote a beautiful piece, Thank you. Lisa

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    1. It’s so comforting to hear you describe feeling the same way I feel much of the time about recovery. How silly to think there’s a one-size approach to sobriety when there certainly isn’t one for anything else in life. Maybe as long as key components are in place, the rest we can tinker with over time. In the beginning, I needed all that structure. Now it feels more comfortable to branch out. Guess it’s more mid-journey stuff. Thanks so much for your kind words, Lisa.

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  8. Love all of your thoughts and comments here. I think the sober blogging community is an excellent tool in our sobriety toolboxes! While I haven’t attended any meetings in a while either, I am so grateful I had them as a resource (and all of the people I met through the program) when I first got sober. I’m not sure I could have done it by myself, at least not as easily (not that it was easy). The face to face support really helps.
    I thought “Sober For Good” was an excellent book.
    Thanks for the honest and courageous post. I agree, find something, anything, that works for you, and work it!

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  9. I have similar thoughts and feelings about AA. I started out sober and gung ho about AA but realized, like you, it was taking time and effort away from other areas of my life that could help me stay sober. I will definitely check out the book you recommend — it sounds great and pertinent to my situation. Great post!

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    1. The book is good and I did not feel it was anti-AA, but more eye opening as to all the other resources available. I maybe should have read it sooner, but oh well. I’ve gone back and forth on meetings depending on my mood, but I heard so much helpful information and met many lovely, truly caring people there.

      I hope you find a way that works for you and gives you the support you deserve. Thanks for your comment.

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      1. Me too!!! I’m not totally anti – AA; in fact I am meeting a wonderful woman I met in AA for coffee before we go to a woman’s AA meeting tonight.

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  10. That was a pretty damn fine piece of work there, BBB. I will tell you why. Like furtheron there, I am an AA dude. Nowhere near his time, but I know what he means by the idea of not breaking the streak, so to speak. And the one thing I have learned in my short time in recovery and on recovery sites and blogs is that not everyone goes to AA. Many people don’t like AA. Many hate AA. Many people get sober on their own (my old therapist did). Many people never touch a program, and never touch booze ever again. Some use other programs that aren’t 12-step based. Some just pray once and the thought of drinking goes bye-bye. So you can imagine that there are a lot of opinions about recovery, and AA. And it’s very easy to get caught up in the emotion of what works, what doesn’t, what one’s experience is, what isn’t one’s experience, what is fact, what is opinion, etc. And you pull all these threads together and knit together a post that is winning, not whining. You have such a balanced, cool, laid back approach to this, and it’s full of integrity and dignity. No wonder everyone loves it – it is kind and fair to all. No doubt a lot like the author!

    Like Lisa said, the comments are fantastic too – you have really put together a mini-forum here where everyone is welcome and heard, in the spirit of your post. Bravo on doing that. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to match it anywhere nearly as good as you. i would have fumbled the ball. I would have kept it unbalanced. Work for me to do, no doubt. But I have grown a lot in this department, and now I really don’t care how someone gets and remains sober / recovered…as long as they are happy, joyous and free.

    Fantastic, wicked piece. Love it to bitty bits.

    Paul

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    1. I choked up reading your comment, Paul. This means a lot. I certainly never wanted to diss anyone else’s approach, yet it’s very tough to write about my view and not feel like I’m doing just that. Acceptance is the answer to all my problems, and I’m pretty sure you know where I heard that first. Thanks again, friend.

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  11. Nutshell, right here. All the things I wanted to say about my reasons for not choosing AA as my means of sobriety even though I greatly respect the organization and what it has done for so many. I will admit that at times I have yearned for the f2f contact of a live person who was going through what I was going through, but I found the support of my blogosphere friends (I like that you referred to us as a nationality. Our own little sober nation and growing by leaps and bounds.) and my friends on the Moderation Management lists adequate. One reason I stuck with MM, both the mainlist, which supports moderation, and the mmabsers list, which is a group that tried moderation but then chose permanent abstinence, is because it doesn’t support any one means of recovery, it just supports recovery. “Freestyling” it is what one member of mmabsers, who is also a die-hard, by-the-book, hard-line AA’er, accused me of.
    I can live with that.
    You done good, girl!

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    1. Freestyling! Love it. I do think free spirits have a hard time flying with a lot of rules. I prefer a mix of rules for structure and then the ability to improvise as it suits me. (drives my husband nuts!)

      The only rule I know I need to follow is the no drinking part.

      Thanks for your comment, Mary. Love your wisdom and insight.

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  12. Wonderful post! One reason for the fear of leaving AA is that the basic message of many, if not most, groups these days is a message of fear—“While I’m here at the meeting, my disease is out in the parking lot doing push-ups;” “I relapsed because I stopped going to meetings;” “We are never recovered, always recovering;” and on and on. This has always seemed odd to me, given the Big Book’s emphasis on fear as “an evil and corroding thread” that touches every aspect of our lives, and even assigning it to a separate inventory sheet. For myself, fear was the motivating emotion behind all of my defects. The fear of “not doing it right” stems from this same group-fear.

    For what it’s worth, I haven’t been to a meeting in over two years, and I’ve only been to a handful in the last six or seven years. Meetings have become irrelevant to me as there is nothing I can get there that I cannot get elsewhere. As you wrote, my family (and the living amends I’m making to them) is my priority. I do my best to live the principles of the program and stay true to my values.

    It sounds to me like you are well along on this journey. Know that the only “right” way is what works for you. Regardless of how sincere and well-meaning they may be, don’t ever let the turkeys hold you down.

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  13. So many great comments on such a heartfelt post. i agree with you 100%…tolerance is they key. Just as you point out in your stats, we the sober ones are the minority and we should be sticking together, no matter what method we use to stay sober. We need to have each other’s backs instead of criticizing. Like i always say, the best answer to sobriety is the one that works for you!

    PS We use “dry drunk” in the AA meetings here, but not in terms of someone in or out of the program. The way i’ve heard it used is someone who doesn’t drink but still has all the issues (anger, fear, resentment…) that caused them to drink in the first place. There are dry drunks in AA just as there are many who don’t come to AA who have beautiful recoveries…at least that’s how i was raised! Keep on rocking, my friend.

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