Goodbye To All That

By Hank Murphy 12/02/14

Is AA something to take with you after you get sober, or is it just a means to get over something?


There is a Buddhist parable about a raft. A man is trapped on one side of a fast moving river and he is beset by danger. There is no bridge to cross the river. So the man uses branches, logs, leaves and vines to make a raft and he is able to float across the river to safety.

The Buddha used this story as a teaching opportunity and asked, "What will the man do when he is safe on the other side of the river? Will he strap the raft to his back and carry it since it has served him well? Or will he leave it by the river and continue his journey?" He will leave it by the river is the most sensible answer.

The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.” 

I am not a Buddhist, but in the beginning of 2007 I definitely needed to cross over a threatening metaphorical river. For nine and half years, I had been getting drunk every night and I had finally reached the end of the line. 

It was at this point that I decided to go to AA for help. I did not realize how far into the woods I had progressed with addiction because it was a gradual process. As the lights went on with how badly alcohol had taken over my brain, I became scared. It took 16 months for me to finally quit altogether. The last time I drank, it was for four and a half months when I did not want to keep drinking, but I could not stop. 

When I reined this madness in, I was terrified and thought I would not be able to stay on the wagon. I did not write my sobriety date down for nine months and went along with many things in AA that filled me with an underlying contempt. 

I did the steps with someone after trying to do them with a couple guys that were short a few bricks of a full-load mentally. I only did the steps so I could say I did them in meetings and no one could mess with me. I was well aware of the constant snide comments people made when sharing against people that did not work the program as they saw fit.

I did believe in step one, becoming powerless over alcohol in active addiction, and also step two, needing power greater than my own brain to recover from addiction. At the time my brain was screaming for booze so step two made sense to me. I may have parroted some things over the years, but I did not believe in the rest of the steps. Except for perhaps step 12, being helpful to a still suffering alcoholic

Hindsight is 20/20 and I now know that I had run my brains dopamine system through the ringer with all the booze and I needed a few years to recover.

I was immersed in the AA community for over five years. But then the lights started to go on for me. My brain had recovered nicely from active addiction and it was not a struggle for me to stay abstinent. I had put up with much drama and outright abusive behavior I saw in meetings during those five years.

I was very aware of the phenomena of working the program to look good anonymously. Whereby people would talk about how good their lives were now that they worked the steps, all the while showing signs of being very troubled individuals. 

A major turning point in my journey was listening to a speaker who was part of a cult-like AA group in Los Angeles. He shared how his father had molested him and his sister for years during his childhood. 

If I remember correctly, he said he had not talked to his father for ten years. His sponsor told him he had to forgive his father and make amends to him. He did just that and I sat there listening to this supposed great path to healing, feeling sick to my stomach. 

Having done much trauma work in therapy myself, I know the worst thing you can do to someone that has been assaulted is to tell them they have to forgive the perpetrator. No one has the right to push forgiveness on someone else. My experience is that forgiveness is not necessary to heal yourself. 

To sit in a room with well over 100 people (and many young people that were bused in by rehabs) listening to this was...disturbing. I am sure there were many untreated incest survivors in that room who had been medicating themselves against the pain of their abuse.  

What I saw was a person pretending that their heart was not ripped apart and continuing to stuff the pain from the abuse he suffered. I will say in the speaker’s defense that another symptom of trauma is minimizing the impact on the self. But he was speaking to a group as if he had a great path to healing and he did not. Forgiveness does nothing to treat the symptoms from long-term abuse. 

Having someone whose only qualification is "they stopped drinking" tell me I needed to forgive the people that hurt me was not going to stop the nightmares I awoke from swinging my fists and screaming that tortured me as a young man. The nightmares were an after-effect from people that should have loved and protected me as a child but instead inflicted violence on me.

That was not the only issue I had with AA. I started to become very annoyed with the literature. At one meeting I attended, we would read four pages out of the "As Bill Sees it" book. 

The book was tremendously offensive because it contained numerous preachy diatribes on how to live a moral life. I know Bill spent the rest of his life cheating on his wife. I could not care less about that. What is offensive is a book that preaches at others how they should live written by a man who did not practice what he preached.

The final shift in my AA journey happened at the end of May this year. A man that I had seen around for over seven years killed himself. He was sober over eight years and he was a very angry, unhappy person. That was disturbing, even though I was not close to him. 

Then one month later a pretty, young girl, around 26 years old, hanged herself. She had attended the same meeting as suicide number one. Numerous times she mentioned being suicidal when she shared. But it sounded like it was something in the past.  Having two people die in that manner in a month is a very disturbing thing to be around even when you are not close friends with them.

I went to a few more meetings after that and at the last one people were crying about her and it was just too much for me. Actually, my breaking point was a mentally unstable woman saying that the young girl had died for her. That she was her Eskimo. In that moment, it hit me this was way too sick to listen to and I left.

Reflecting back on my journey to sobriety, I can see now that it was the kind people I met in AA that helped me get sober and stay there long enough for my brain to heal and stop screaming for booze. It was not Bill Wilson’s religion "the 12 steps" that did it. I also took a completely honest look at what drugs and alcohol were doing to me and decided I had to abstain to have a decent life.

Another important factor for my healing is the many years of work I had done with a kind therapist. This helped me to process the traumas I endured as a boy and I have now experienced deep healing. I do not wake up screaming from trauma-based nightmares anymore. 

Today, I have taken advantage of other wonderful treatments for depression. Depression, severe PTSD and all the repressed feelings from a violent childhood led me to medicate myself with drugs and alcohol. It was not because I was a selfish and self-centered person. 

I have not been to an AA meeting in three months. I keep meaning to stop in and say hello to the people I like, but I have not been very motivated. I am too busy building and redirecting my life. Also, I do not want to hear any lectures on the 12 steps. But the people I met that helped me through those early days of sobriety will have a place in my heart forever. 

came into AA in a tremendously sickened state from my drinking career and begrudgingly went through the 12 steps. But, as the smoke cleared from active addiction, I looked at them with a clear mind and knew Bill Wilson’s religion was not for me. I have crossed over my river of addiction and I am leaving the 12 steps on the opposite shore with my copy of the AA Big Book. I have not been drunk since August 30, 2008, and I have no plans to waste anymore of my life that way. 

Hank Murphy is a pseudonym for a former member of AA. He last wrote about his best ever sponsor

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