If You Feel Stuck Going to Meetings, You’re Still Addicted
It was a warm late September day. I had Fleetwood Mac blasting on my car stereo, windows down, speeding along the highway toward home as the sun was setting. This day was different than so many had been before — I wasn’t racing home to go to an AA meeting. I was racing home to see my toddler and my husband, to make a nice dinner for us, and to enjoy our evening together relaxing like I envisioned normal people do. It was the first day I remember feeling true freedom. I went to AA daily for several years. Long after I knew it wasn’t helping me, or anyone else for that matter, I kept going. Even long after I had seen the damage AA does in people’s lives, I kept going. I finally realized that going to meetings when I didn’t want to any longer was no different than continuing my heavy substance use had been years before.
Like so many things in my life I had become “addicted” to meetings. I kept going to meetings for much the same reason I kept drinking and drugging after I knew it no longer served me well. I kept going to meetings because I didn’t believe I could be happier not going to meetings. I feared that I would be lonely, bored, restless, and yes, I worried, ‘what if they’re right’ — all those people that say, if you stop going to meetings it’s only a matter of time before you’re back to drinking and drugging and your life goes to shit.
It was true that my life had become better than I ever thought it would, but was that because of AA or in spite of it? I couldn’t be sure, so I kept going to those damn meetings. I kept sponsoring women though most didn’t stick around or stay sober, and ultimately my participation in AA kept me tied to a past life I had long since abandoned.
Intellectually, I knew that much of what I’d learned in AA was absurd. I recognized the cult like properties of the anonymous group, and I could clearly see the misogynistic culture of the fellowship, but none of that seemed to matter when put up against the fear and guilt I felt when I thought of leaving AA. That’s how cults work. They are designed to make you believe you can’t live without them. Eventually though, some time before that gorgeous September day, I began testing the waters.
After having my son I dropped down to just a few meetings per week. People talked as they have a way of doing. I could hear the whispers — oooh, she’s getting too big for britches…she needs meetings now more than ever…she thinks she’s got this licked...her husband doesn’t go to meetings anymore either, it’s only a matter of time for them. I had been taught that the meetings had to come first, and that I wasn’t going to be a good wife or mother if I didn’t put myself, my meetings, and other alcoholics first. Then one night I met this very nice young mother of 3 at a meeting and offered her a ride home. It was only her third meeting and she wasn’t sure if AA was for her yet. She had quit drinking several weeks earlier, but was advised by a friend that she needed AA to stay sober.
At her very first meeting she was told she had to commit to doing 90 meetings in 90 days and this stressed her out. She burst into tears in my car and explained she had quit drinking for her children but she certainly couldn’t be a better mother leaving them home every night to go to a meeting. She said if that’s what it takes to stay sober, then she might as well go back to drinking. And there it was, basic logic. I thought of my husband and newborn at home and I knew she was absolutely right, and I told her as much. Then I said, “What if you just stayed home with your kids and didn’t drink? Weren’t you doing that before you came to meetings?” She thought for a minute and said, “Yes, I was.” I told her it was clear she didn’t need meetings and she could be fine. She thanked me, and quite literally got out of my car and moved on with her life. It was as if I had given her permission to be ok.
That 10 minute conversation with a total stranger was a turning point for me. The AA gurus would complain that I asked too many questions, but now a million more flooded through my mind; was AA actually helpful or was it harmful? Does anyone actually need meetings or steps to get and stay sober? Should I be going to meetings and serving strangers, or should I be home serving my young family? About 15 years earlier, my father had taken the path of serving strangers in AA over his family. It cost him his marriage and relationships with his children. He was taught the same crap; you have to put yourself and your sobriety first. Now looking back it’s clear that much like he used alcohol and drugs to avoid the hard work of being a good husband and father, he used AA for the exact same thing, only in AA he had permission to be neglectful. He had a ready-made excuse for avoiding the things he found most difficult in life.
That was the day I made up my mind that I, too, would leave the meetings and move on with my life. And I vowed I would dedicate my life to helping others to do the same. You see feeling trapped in AA or NA or perpetual recovery is not much different than feeling trapped drinking or drugging. You might say, well heavy substance use is more dangerous and damaging — and physically this may be true, but mentally and emotionally, not so much. Anything that makes you question your own abilities, thinking and innate power of choice is a serious problem. Your mental health and sense of self efficacy are just as important as your physical health. AA breaks you down needlessly and makes you feel broken, damaged and incapable of managing your own life. It’s all right there in the steps. And based on my extensive research over the past 30 years, it turns out not only are the steps and the fellowship completely unnecessary to quitting drinking or drugging, they may actually do more harm than good.
When I left AA completely I had some residual fear and guilt as nearly everyone does when they leave a cult or an abusive relationship, but I pushed through it by getting out and living my life. It turns out I manage my own life better pretty well! And I’ve realized many dreams including raising 3 sons and helping thousands of people to move fully past addiction and recovery with a book I helped to write, The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap. If you’re ready to leave AA and you’re fearful and guilt-laden, please know it was designed to make you feel that way. You can push through it and you can deprogram from it with our book. Finally breaking free from addiction fully is well worth any temporary discomfort.
For more information about learning how to deprogram from the 12 steps, go to www.leaveaddictionbehind.com or call 888-973-9596.