How to solve a problem like AA

Day 121: I’ve been reading a lot about sobriety over the last few weeks along with listening to a new podcast called ‘Sober Dave – One for the Road’. Dave is a recovering alcoholic but doesn’t use and has never used AA for what it’s worth. What I have observed from the various people’s sharing is that AA really splits opinions in the Sober community. When I was in hospital receiving treatment for my mental health breakdown and my dependency on alcohol I saw Alcoholics Anonymous as the only support group you could really turn to if you wanted help back in the community beyond the NHS. I spoke to a very inspirational man called Paul a few days before I was discharged from hospital and he shared the benefits of joining AA – whether that be a fully fledged participant and to live my life with the community central to my recovery or as a ‘drop by’ member where I’d just join online or face to face meetings ad-hoc when I needed that little bit of extra help. I dialled into a couple of online AA meetings in the early days of leaving hospital but I got very little from these meetings largely because I felt I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be engaging with others about my issues or hearing other people’s struggles and subsequent sobriety. I was on the crest of a wave after leaving hospital and I was determined following my detox and plentiful time to think that my future life would be booze free and would be focused primarily on living a good, honest and happy life with my family and friends.

I also understood AA (from a quick google) to be described as followed;

“Alcoholic Anonymous started in the USA over seventy years ago. AA teaches an abstinence-focused approach. Attendees are required to admit ‘powerlessness’ over their addiction to alcohol and that their lives have become ‘unmanageable’ as a result. Attendees are then told to look to a ‘power greater than themselves’ to restore ‘sanity’ in their life. This greater power invariably means God”

May I add at this point I’m very much a fully fledged atheist.

In the early weeks I was walking, running, eating better and most importantly not drinking. The feelings towards alcohol were still there but they were behind a locked door in my mind so it was quite easy to distract myself from those thoughts when they crept in by simply reminding myself of the recent mental health episode and hospital stay before heading off to do something positive like read a book, head outside or pop some music on. By no way was it a walk in the park but I certainly didn’t feel like I needed to be attending AA meetings whilst I was using my own resources. As a long time sufferer of anxiety it was more of a worry for me thinking about going into an unknown environment with people I didn’t know than to keep working on my recovery on my own. I am also fortunate that when I was discharged I went immediately under the care of a community Mental Health team so I was (and still am) engaging and attending sessions to work on my mental health.

So what are the pros and cons of AA based on what I have heard, read and seen so far?

PRO 1: Structured Meetings. A set timetable is presented and followed by the book.

PRO 2: You get to see your disease in an ‘open forum’ when others will talk openly about their addiction. New members learn to drop their natural defences. This environment allows addicts the opportunity to learn from one another in a low pressured environment. Peer learning is very effective in promoting long-term recovery.

PRO 3: Many people in AA gain a powerful motivation to avoid relapse. Many members may not have family and friends to call on if relapse becomes a legitimate threat. AA fills this void and provides members without family and friends a powerful support network if the urge to relapse arises.

PRO 4: Not everybody can afford private alcohol treatment costs. AA gives many people their only real accessible lifeline beyond their GP.

PRO 5: AA meetings are global. This means people are able to access groups when travelling or when on holiday. Being abroad may act as a relapse trigger so the availability of AA in the addict’s country of destination may help him or she avoid relapse.

CON 1: The anonymity of AA has led some members to abuse other members. Many women have come forward to speak of sexual abuse and harassment suffered during of after AA meetings. AA’s policy of anonymity has protected those committing these crimes. Striking up a sexual relationship with others in the groups has been termed the ‘thirteenth step’. ‘Sponsors’ are those who’ve been in recovery for more than a year. Unscrupulous male sponsors have been known to prey on vulnerable female members who are new to the group.

CON 2: Those who’ve committed drink driving offences may attend AA in order to avoid prison. These people therefore may not attend AA for the primary reason of getting into recovery but rather to avoid prison. These people may distract the group due to a lack of motivation to participate.

CON 3: AA meetings may be frequented by ‘bad influences’. This could be addicts who attend infrequently. Young or vulnerable addicts may be taken advantage of by those with bad intentions. Vulnerable addicts may also be introduced to drugs by mixing with these people. If vulnerable group members socially mix with these people outside AA they risk developing an addiction to other substances. Some AA centres may even attract active drug pushers hoping to turn a profit from attending the group.

CON 4: AA meetings take place in addicts’ local communities. This means addicts are not removed from bad influences such as certain places and people whilst help is supplied. This means relapse is more likely than for treatment carried out in residential alcohol rehab centre.

CON 5: AA is educational in it’s approach. Sessions are conducted by AA people. AA is not to be seen as an alternative to treatment provided by a residential rehabilitation clinic. Clinics provide medical treatment supervised by doctors, nurses and therapist. AA does not provide for this level of expertise.

CON 6: AA attendees could memorise the 12 steps in as little as two to three hours. However, AA recommends members ‘work the steps’ and ‘get a sponsor’. This takes considerable commitment on behalf of individual addicts. AA recommends ’90 sessions in 90 days’ where addicts must attend AA sessions every single day for three months. AA members warn newcomers not to get ‘overconfident’ and to ‘work the steps’ by attending AA meeting several times a week over several years. However, some may struggle to invest this amount of time in the process.

CON 7: Those who relapse have reported a lack of support from the rest of the group. Members who relapse have been reprimanded for their relapse rather than supported.

CON 8: AA has non-secular origins. This background very much exists in modern-day AA meetings. Those who identify themselves as agnostic or atheist may struggle to adapt to AA’s religious atmosphere.

So how do you solve a problem like AA? We probably need to take a step back and experience it for ourselves. The organisation is global and the above cons will of course exist in some groups but there will be many more which have never had these issues. I have never ruled out using AA in the longer term but will also be unsurprised if I never use the service. I am open minded and will make my own opinions on things. AA was not right for me so soon after coming out of a very dark place and a clinical environment. I have found my own way to stay sober for 121 days so far which I appreciate is a fantastic achievement for somebody who has never attempted this before. I can’t predict the future, nobody can – I continue to focus on things a day at a time and that is good enough for me.

Author: Happy Daddy

A married thirtysomething Dad of two young daughters navigating my way through life a day at a time

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