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.