I Tried Everything Except AA

By Martina 05/18/17

My initial resistance to AA came from a deathly place of doubt: the doubt that I couldn’t ever stop using. 


When they say addiction is progressive they’re not kidding. Towards the end of my using career, even though I was using and drinking a lot less frequently, things got exponentially worse. Like overdosing, suicide attempts, jail and mental institutions. 

When the addiction got out of hand, my modus operandi was to go to rehab. Once I stayed in rehab so long (six months, yikes!) I lost my taste for alcohol. I became unequivocally positive I was done drinking. So the next logical thought was: Why would I need ongoing recovery? Time to move on and close that horrid chapter of my life

I didn’t drink for six years, navigating sobriety alone. Gradually, the memories of how bad things got faded—and with no one watching my back—I picked up.  

My last relapse ended in an inexorably sad state of affairs: bottles strewn everywhere, passed out 23 hours a day, my dear husband beyond weary saying: “I can’t do this anymore ... I’m afraid we’re not going to make it.”  

Oh no! Had things progressed to the point where the love of my life wanted out? So far, it seemed like the only good thing in my life was him, this beautiful normie and I couldn’t lose him.  

So, I went to rehab one last time, but this time headed straight to an AA meeting upon release.  

I still couldn’t figure out what the steps had to do with not drinking. I felt strongly that I had genetic depression, a paralyzing anxiety disorder, and was an alcoholic for sure, but weren’t these problems most suited for doctors and therapists? Only thing was, I’d been to plenty and they had been unable to help me stop drinking. 

Sure I’d extrapolated through meetings (I’d frivolously gone to for the sole purpose of socializing) that the steps were all about becoming a better person. We learn to apologize and make amends when we are wrong; we clear up the wreckage of our past; we work on our defects of character; and we help others. All that sounded great to me, but what did it have to do with curing my alcoholism?  

I thought in purely secular terms: I wouldn’t embrace a Higher Power, and certainly would never concede that admitting the “exact nature of my wrongs” to another person (step 5), was essential to sobriety. And you know what? I turned my contrary attitude and questioning of AA into an unmitigated debate.  

Now, I realize that this intransigent resistance to AA came from a deathly place of doubt: the doubt that I couldn’t ever stop using.  

This last time, I got lucky. First of all, I “stuck with the winners.” Before, I contemptuously looked down at this platitude, bemoaning it as an “elitist statement.” Now I realize that was simply a diversionary tactic; I was always looking for something bad in AA, so I’d have an excuse not to have to go, so I could go out and use again.  

Since I’ve stuck around this time and am learning to listen with less judgment, I’ve gained a lot more understanding. So now when I hear “stick with the winners,” I know it means surrounding myself with the type of people that have good information to convey, stuff that can save my life, or at the very least, substantively improve it. The winners know how to listen and when they speak, something thoughtful and germane comes out of their mouths.  

I was lucky to get a sponsor this time around that really did the program. I’d never had this before. And why? Because I surrounded myself with losers--only because I was one. And I don’t mean it in that chillingly contemptuous way either; I mean loser as in the type of person that stubbornly clings to ways that are physically and emotionally killing him/her. Ironically, the losers are the ones who don’t think they’ve lost—they will not surrender.

At first my sponsor made me do a lot of things I didn’t want to do: like pray. I still don’t know if there is a God or not, but I have to tell you my life has markedly improved since I started praying. Relying on something other than my ego has made me more humble, which has improved relationships.

Another thing my sponsor taught me is spirituality is not just metaphysical stuff; it’s pragmatic stuff like having good habits, pausing when confused, and taking the “next indicated step.” Or, when I become agitated with someone, she reminds me our code is one “kindness and tolerance.” Just taking this last suggestion, I have avoided some incendiary situations that pre-AA, could have exploded into shattered relationships.  

And alas, I finally realize, I must take these suggestions. Because I’m a hot mess without them. I used to think I was a “complicated” person; now I know I was just chaotic. And there was no way I could fix myself; I tried way too many times.  

So much of AA can be found in other religions, spiritual practices, folklore wisdom, psychology etc. But what makes AA special is that it's the progenitor of all 12-step programs, the source. I tried replacing AA with other methods: Buddhism, SMART recovery, or just therapy, and while they were all wonderful, none were as effective as AA at tackling alcoholism.

My hopes in writing this article is to impart to those that are serious doubters of AA: take a closer look if you still have an addiction problem. Perhaps you were not hanging with the right people. Just like any organization, it’s made of humans, which means it will be flawed.

Personally, I had a couple of bad experiences with predatory males when I first got to AA, and boy, did I use this as an excuse to not go back. If I hadn’t been rationalizing, I’d have remembered guys like this are everywhere—especially in the places I used to hang in! And, ultimately how that excuse segued into the final excuse: to use once again.

In my homegroup, truly amazing things happen. There is much good cheer. I think one would have to be a hateful psychopath to not feel the love that flows through our group. And all I can say is, wow! I’m so glad I didn’t completely give up on AA. I hate to sound like a cliché-ridden automaton, but this time I waited, “for the miracle to happen.”  

The group that attracted me the most was not where all the hipsters went, or where the progressive liberals went, or where the bourgeois folks congregated, but a group where virtually any kind of person was openly accepted. You can see rich lawyer types laughing and high-fiving with tatted up ex-felons.   

And sometimes the meeting before the meeting, you know the informal camaraderie we share setting up, can be life-saving as well. Just yesterday, I was talking with a man who should be bedridden with his terrible disease—except for his willingness to stay active—that told me even though he’s tired all the time, he makes himself get out of the house and go to a meeting; that it saves his sanity. He tells me if he stays at home watching television for even one day, how mentally awful he feels. I respond and say, “Hey me too! Now, I’m like you: I, too, feel awful if I stay home for a day watching television. And ya know, I can’t believe how much time I used to spend on the couch watching the tube ... it was so easy to spend days on that couch when I was using and drinking... “

One of my pals jokes, “You mean years of lying on the couch, don’t you?”

I laugh, because I know it’s true. Then another pal says: “Hey, I get it. Changing old behaviors is not easy. I’ll bet you’re trudging right now. Like me.”

I feel a tremendous amount of pent-up tension released from my chest: it’s good to know others are working just as hard to change old behaviors, and sometimes having a hard time of it, we can only trudge on. And, to know I’m not the only one trudging makes my load oh so much lighter.  

Martina is from Bonita, California and is a student and dancer.

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