What they don’t tell you in AA

You make fast friends in AA the moment you walk in the door for the first time. What they don’t tell you is that not all of those friends will maintain their sobriety. However, there is no way to communicate that to you. It wouldn’t be fair, and there’s no real way to figure out who will “go back out” as they say.

They don’t tell you that “coming back” means you are “coming back” from “going back out” and drinking. No one will tell you this. You have to figure it out on your own. They often ask at meetings, “Who’s coming back, and wants to acknowledge it?” You raise your hand for quite a few meetings there in the beginning as you take the question literally. You think to yourself, “Well, sure I’m back. Aren’t we all coming back?” No wonder you had all sorts of attention from the old timers. They must have thought you were picking up a drink very regularly after meetings. One day you realize your mistake when another man raises his hand when you do, and starts talking about drinking the night before.

They don’t tell you that not every meeting will be inspiring or even useful, but you still keep coming back because you’ll miss out when it is useful or inspiring if you are not there.

They don’t tell you that some sponsors are megalomaniacs, and see themselves as bigger and more important than your doctor or clinician. No one tells that that there may be a time when you have to reach down into your judgement circle deep down inside of you to see if your sponsor is right, or if they are, indeed, a megalomaniac. You are afraid because you know that you are not known for your best judgement. After all, you don’t even have 90 days sober. But, after deeply considering the situation you decide that your sponsor is fucked in her thinking. You land here … taking Trazodone is not equivalent to picking up a drink. You do not have to change your sobriety date. No one will tell you that you will have this crisis.

No one will tell you that mentioning taking psychotropic drugs during an AA meeting will divide the room in half, and render the meeting a Girl Interrupted version of The McLaughlin Group. Without even realizing it, you unveiled one of the biggest controversies within AA, the role of psychotropic drugs in sobriety.

No one will tell you that when you tell your sponsor that she is fired that you will want a drink, and you will only have yourself to rely on during that crisis. You will have that moment when you envision yourself picking up the drink, and you will desperately want the taste of that Crown Royal. There will be no one there to talk you out of it, or help you. You will see the clarity in the midst of it with the realization that taking that drink could get you back to that very bad place you were in when you put down the drink. All you know in that moment is that you want a better life, and you are not going to pick up a drink because of a sponsor with flawed and mistaken ideas. In the end, it will only be your fault if you take a drink.

No one will tell you that people who occasionally come to AA are considered to be “around the program”  and not “in the program.” Sponsorless people and people without a step meeting in their repertoire are also considered to be “around the program.” There’s countless criteria for being “around” instead of “in.” No one will outline the rules for you. You have to observe and watch in order to figure it out. In fact, if you ask what the rules are someone is likely to say it’s a program of “suggestion.” Perhaps that’s the case to some people, to others it is a program of rules.

No one will tell you that there will be a day when you will miss the camaraderie, the terrible basement rooms, and the hope in the air. You will go back to the program in those times of wanting to return, but you will always return to that same place in your heart where you realize that AA is not for you. Sobriety is for you though. Sobriety is a heavenly gift, but the program of AA was not meant for you. You wish it was. You will spend the rest of your life explaining to people that you are indeed sober without AA. You cherish your sobriety, and “people in the program” will look at you suspiciously.

No one will tell you that years later you will run into that sponsor with the wrong-headed ideas about psychotropic drugs. All the statements that you had swirling around in your head for a long time after your parting will come to you in that moment when you see her. Instead, you will smile and hug her because you realize that she was only doing what she thought was right. She will walk away after a brief conversation with you, and in that moment, you will realize that this is sobriety.

6 thoughts on “What they don’t tell you in AA

  1. This is awesomely written Beatrice. I am sorry for your pain and struggles. I have never gone to AA but I do live with alcoholism in my day to day life so I know a little about it. Thinking of you hugs xx

  2. You are correct about some of your observations. Yet there are all sorts of groups. And AA is filled with sick people trying to get better. As my friend Al used to say, AA is not the hotbed of mental health. We are all trying to stay sober by helping others stay sober. It is suggested you get lots of numbers, in case you don’t click with your sponsor or you can’t reach your sponsor. I went to my first AA meeting when I was 17 years old. It was 1980 and very different. Not many young people. It took over 10 years of being in, out, and around AA to get sober. I got sober when I was 27 years old. I am now 51(hate’ sayin that,feel a little old.) but I am sober and active in my group. I keep it simple. I have done a lot in AA. I got married in AA, I went back to school in AA, I got a Masters degree in AA. It helps to help others. Did ‘you’ try to help another newcomer? Did you share your experience? Did you share what you wrote here?
    It really sounds like you didn’t find the right group. I stopped going to meetings for a while too, after I had my first child. I stayed sober just fine. I started going regularly to meetings 2 years ago. I see a big difference. You neglected to mention spirituality. I feel much better now, with a Higher Power in my life, and a program with steps to take on a daily basis. I try to practice the principles of AA. We are all sick people trying to get well. I have a wonderful fellowship of friends, have a wonderful supportive husband and 3 beautiful kids. It works… If you work it.
    I wish you well. If you ever decide to return to AA, we will be here. Take Care, Pamela C.

    • Yes, I have shared my experience. I have helped a newcomer. Yes, I have tried to like … no, let me clarify, I have tried to love AA. I want to like and love AA. I wish I felt differently.

      But, alas, it is not for me in the here and now. That could change, but for now that is how it is. That being said, I would tell anyone that thinks they may have a drinking problem to try it for at least 90 days. I believe AA works for some folks, and that makes me very happy. Alcohol dependence is a serious health condition that our society does not give enough resources, so I am always happy to hear that someone is sober however they get there.

      I didn’t mention spirituality because it was not relevant to the piece I wrote. That does not mean I do not value it in my life as I certainly do. AA is not the only venue for spirituality.

      I would say that it “works if you work it” because it works for you, and for that I am very glad. But, it does not work for me right now. I believe that for some people it does not work. I believe there is more than one path to sobriety.

      I appreciate the healthy debate on this though.

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