I don’t love AA, but I don’t hate it either.
Kind of a revolutionary statement to make considering the whole reason I started The Sobriety Collective was to have a place where people who found sobriety and recovery in any way, shape, or form, could congregate. With close to eight years of continuous sobriety, I have long-term recovery I never imagined possible--most of which I achieved outside of "the rooms." But I did learn from the program.
I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous not by choice, but by “force.”
The intensive outpatient rehab I checked myself into stipulated 15 hours of AA as a non-negotiable. So of course, besides feeling like I had crawled out of my skin and landed on a foreign planet—and I’m not talking about the meeting here, I’m talking about that “newly sober and not sure what the hell is happening” feeling—I also didn’t want to be there.
At the behest of my group counselor, I kept it up after I graduated from my five-week program and attempted, just attempted, to compare in instead of out (commonalities instead of differences). I went back for all my sober month-aversaries and tried the whole finding a sponsor thing. But it just wasn’t clicking. Even though these people intimately understood what I had been through, I still felt so alien, so less than. The underlying current in treatment was that 12-step programs were the only way to get/stay sober.
So I stopped going. And before I knew it, I was coming up on three years sober.
I was already well into therapy for the underlying issues that I was self-medicating with alcohol (anxiety, OCD, panic attacks) and had cut ties with toxic people I was friends with in my drinking days. I exercised more and had better relationships with my family. But still, according to many of the very people I had met in the rooms, though, I wasn’t sober. I was a “dry drunk” and “white knuckling” my way through life because I was one of those “unfortunates” who just didn’t get the program (words in quotations heard, verbatim, from people in meetings). Maybe I should just pray on it, they said. Call my sponsor.
yeah, about that.
As proud as I felt of my sobriety, I still felt a chasm in my life. I didn’t have a sober network and to say I was spiritual was a blatant overstatement. So I went back…and found what would become my home group for the next 18 months.
Here are the top three lessons I learned from AA that I still apply to my life:
1) Be of service.
(To my fellow human—alcoholics, addicts, alcohol abusers, heavy drinkers, anyone who seeks help, family, friends, the homeless, coworkers; hell, everyone.)
YES, I was an (imposter) AA-er! I opened my mind. I found a sponsor who I worked all 12 steps with, I called at least one woman a day, and I became a “meeting maker.” I volunteered for service positions and really immersed myself into the meat of the program. And for a while, it really was wonderful. Because I finally had a sober network and was feeding myself spiritual nuggets in the form of eastern philosophies, books from the likes of Don Miguel Ruiz, and going on retreats with other women in AA.
With The Sobriety Collective, I feel like I’m continuing that strong belief in serving others. Having this community helps me, and in helping myself, I help others. In helping others, I help myself.
2) Do my part, let go of the outcome, and check my ego at the door.
When I think back on my time in the program, the key takeaway I always return to is letting go of the outcome. Learning to let go brought me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.
Ruiz advocates not taking things personally. Hello ego! We’re not talking the whole “Woe is me, I’m so sensitive” way—ensue waterfall of tears. It’s more about people doing things because of THEM, not because of YOU. We all have our own interpretations of the world, but we should be careful not to impose our world on someone else’s world. Easier said than done; trust me. It takes constant practice. For what it’s worth, I’m way over-sensitive [which I craftily call COMPASSION and EMPATHY] and I have to remind myself that I can’t expect someone to experience life the way I do, because I have my own unique perspective. Yes, we may have shared experiences—but there is only one YOU. *Special snowflake dance*
3) Recovery is a process.
One day at a time. Progress, not perfection. It works if you work it. Let go and let God. They’re cheesy, but their roots are deep. Recovery is an ongoing journey and we’ll have roadblocks and detours and traffic cones to maneuver. I feel immense gratitude that I’ve been continuously sober for almost 8 years—to me, sobriety means a) no relapses and b) a constant quest for self-betterment. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had hiccups and done things that I wouldn’t categorize as “sober” behavior (old habits die hard—I’m talking about selfish behavior, not boozing). But I keep reminding myself that I’m human, I make mistakes, I own up to my mistakes, and I keep moving. Not to mention that my therapist is a godsend.
As long as we’re making progress, that’s all we can ask for, right?
After 18 months, I quietly said my goodbyes to AA. It just wasn’t for me anymore. It played its part, just like it taught me to always own my part and let go of the rest.
I always heard I could take what I want and leave the rest, so I did. And it brought me to where I am today.
 This is a separate manifesto—which, thankfully, has been written numerous times (for example, here and here). I’m not the only one who believes that inpatient/outpatient programs need to incorporate a variety of treatment options, to give patients exposure to more than just the twelve steps. SMART recovery, Women in Recovery, yoga, mental health treatment (therapy, medication for conditions, and so on), animal/music/dance/art therapy, etc.