MY COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH AA

I haven’t been going to in person meetings lately. I hesitate to put this post down on paper. Not because I feel badly or guilty about not going to meetings but because I worry that it will be perceived as advocating against AA or any other group assembly for recovery. That’s not it AT ALL. I know how crucial meetings are for so many people with this disease. And I’m not at all discounting them or insinuating that perhaps I don’t belong in them because I’m some special kind of magical addict that isn’t like YOU. No, no, no no.

I’ve wanted meetings to be crucial to me, too. I love the idea of being in a room with other people like me and feeling connected to them. But try as I may, I just can’t seem to get there. I just don’t feel that connection like I do with the wonderful people I’ve met and chat with online. And if we are going to be together in person and stand in solidarity together off of the computer, I want it to be in a normal situation like sitting in my living room sipping coffee, eating cookies, and talking about sobriety while occasionally yelling at the television which maybe plays in the background on very low volume. Or I want to meet a group of you at a diner and share a plate of fries and laugh hysterically and get SHUSHED for being too loud by Rhoda, the bitchy but charming waitress that has a giant mole on her cheek and a serious 2 pack a day smoking habit. Or maybe we can make a pitcher of something refreshing and non-alcoholic and go to the park with our dogs and lay in the grass and talk about how amazing it is to be sober and free. Finally.

I want to incorporate recovery in my NORMAL LIFE. And I find there to be something very inauthentic about having to congregate in a makeshift room to take in information and stories in an organized and scheduled format. Inauthentic isn’t the right word. Scratch that. I just have a hard time reconciling the clinical nature of the whole thing with my spirit. Going to meetings feels like training for a marathon on a treadmill in a non-descript gym rather than running around outside in the gorgeous open air. I’m sure it progressively works, but I long for a way that is more alive and beautiful and kinetic and engaging. I’m not sure I can listen to HOW IT WORKS read inaudibly and robotically one more time. I’m not sure any of the people around me want to hear it read one more time, either, because it seems that no one is listening but instead are anxiously awaiting their own opportunity to speak. I know the structure is partially in place to help new people but if you really want to help new people, make sure they can hear what you are reading off of the laminated index card. And maybe inject a little positive enthusiasm into your voice so they don’t assume that you are carrying out some god awful chore and would rather be doing something else.

I’ve been told that I just haven’t found the right meetings or the right people. I’ve been told that those things that I want and those connections with people that continue to live and breathe outside of meetings are FOUND in meetings. I can totally see that. You go to some meetings, meet some nice people, and BAM. We’re eating fries at the diner and Rhoda is being an asshole and telling us to shut the fuck up. Heaven. So I kept going to meetings as suggested but felt like I was being somewhat deceitful. I didn’t really WANT to be at the meeting. I wanted to meet cool sober people so we could then go have our OWN meetings with GOOD coffee and BEAUTIFUL ART on the walls instead of crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary crying blood or some shit.

During the first month of recovery, I heard a lot about the people who seemed to resist meetings. Am I one of those unreachable souls? They thought they were different. They thought they didn’t need it. But for me, it isn’t that. I do need what recovery programs offer. It isn’t what is in the cup that bothers me. It’s the cup itself. The cup is, like, plastic. And a weird olive green color. And it has a messed up lip on it so when you take a drink, you dribble down your shirt. And it smells like no one ever washes it. I WANT A CRYSTAL WATER GOBLET THAT SPARKLES IN THE SUN AND TEMPORARILY BLINDS OLD LADIES WHEN I TAKE A SIP FROM IT. Institutionalized anything has always created in me a feeling of being stifled or unable to be who I am. I sort of wonder if the same thing is going on here.

I have also had a very hard time finding my safe place in recovery meetings. I noticed early on that women were slipping away into their own female only meetings and then men were doing the same. I tried an all men’s meeting and felt very uncomfortable. Sure, we were all together with our shared issue BUT as a gay man, it’s very hard for me to feel connected, understood, and embraced in a room of mostly heterosexual men. Minorities will understand. Women will understand.

I suppose the next step is to try out some of these LGBT meetings which I haven’t done yet. Maybe that will be the thing that makes this all start to click. Because I do want it to click. I do want a place to go and connect and grow and share. But I’m not sure that the right people in the right room will be enough to overcome my distaste for the structure and oftentimes robotic container that the message comes in.

I’ll keep trying, though. Because while my ego is still a little bit out of control, over three months of sobriety has at least brought me to a place where I am willing to accept the fact that maybe I could be totally wrong about the whole thing. NOT LIKELY. But maybe….

63 comments

  1. Ohmygod, John. How can you get inside my mind and describe my feelings on a subject with words I could never have articulated. You captured EXACTLY how I’ve felt about the meetings I’ve tried. EXACTLY.

  2. I’m struggling with AA right now as well. My primary issue is not being able to make time for meetings. With my job, training for an Ironman triathlon, trying to see my son, and the other priorities in life that pull a person one way or another, it’s hard to find the time. Not only that, like you, I have several months sober and I feel like that as long as I’m maintaining that, I’m doing what I need to do. However, triathlon season will be over soon, and my time will be considerably less taxed by extracurricular activities. I figure that’s when I’ll try to throw myself into AA, because I’ll need additional outlets to keep my accountable and preoccupied. I’m curious to know how it goes for you, keep us posted in the future. I’ve only been to 4 meetings in my 3 months of sobriety, although it took me a month and a half to attend my first one.

  3. I’ve been sober 5 years without AA. I went for many years during my earlier multi-year sober stint and knew that it wasn’t for me this time around. Also don’t want to bash it – it’s amazing for a lot of people. But not for me for many many reasons. I do believe that in-person connections with sober people are important – for those of us who don’t do AA, we need to work harder at that and it doesn’t come as easily (thank goodness for the internets!). This reminds me that I need to try to make more coffee dates and other opportunities to see people IRL. I went to an atheist AA meeting recently just out of curiosity (the atheist thing is a big reason I don’t do AA) and was interested to see that there were way many more queer folks than any regular meeting (other than LGBT ones) than I’ve been to and much much less heavy on the dogma. Not sure its enough to get me there again, but interesting nonetheless.

    1. I’m two years sober without AA. Went to 2 meetings at the beginning but wasn’t for me / I’m agnostic and the one I went to was mostly older/blue collars. They all seemed like great people who I really respected since they were there – and they helped me when I needed it, for those two hours. A lady told me I should go to another one with younger professionals, but I never did b/c it was too close to home and I was afraid to run into someone I knew (I know dumb). Instead I went to the one with older people in a bad part of town! But I found the online blogs, and they were enough for me. I was a high bottom though so I wasn’t fiending for alcohol – well at least not physically – mentally of course yes I was when out socializing (so of course I just didn’t go out for 6 or so months :)). But, had I gone to a meeting, I’m sure I’d have a lot more (SOBER) friends – so you should try a few more just for that! If I lived in NY, I’d love to hang out with you :).

    2. Hm. Yeah, the God part is difficult for me. I’ve never made the declaration of calling myself an atheist. I usually just say that I don’t know what is going on theologically, if anything. Agnostic is probably the better label if I must choose one. But maybe one of those meetings might be interesting to try?

  4. I tried AA back in 2008-2009…it was a scary bunch of weirdos in my group. Then, I have the case of my sister’s husband who goes to AA (and I believe he does not take a drink ever), but was caught buying BATH SALTS on the internet and will do any other kind of drug… I have a suspicion that he uses AA as a market for dealing…but that is not confirmed, YET.

    I’m doing fine with online support. I don’t feel the need for AA support as well.

    1. I think as long as we pay very close attention to what is going on inside, we’ll know when and if our current course becomes not enough. It requires vigilant and constant self-inventory and checking in with how we are to know. I’d gladly walk down the street to a meeting if something feels not right. AA meetings can’t hurt, I guess. But I don’t know if I find them necessary at this point.

  5. And yes, LGBT meetings are generally much more welcoming and comfortable to those of us of the non-hetero persuasion. And I have a cute gay shrink. 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I think many of us feel this way. There are alternatives, including a very logical way to recover called ‘Rational Recovery’ (book online at any bookstore). I gave this book to a friend who refused to go to meetings because of exactly what you wrote, and we spend time together hiking and hanging out and just being friends who support each other’s sobriety. We laugh, we eat healthy and we encourage one another. She loves the book and it resonates with her more so than AA. I would love to look at art with you, or eat a plate of French fries! I wonder where you live? I live in the Bay Area of CA. Anyway, for me, meetings have been like the place I go to as a reminder of where I came from, but the whole world awaits my exploration and I can’t do that when I’m sitting in meetings all the time. Three years sober and going strong, and I have spent most of my time learning about myself, rather than being told what I am as an alcoholic.

    1. I’m in New York City! But I love the bay area so maybe we can get fries one day if I make it that way. You are the third person to suggest that book so I guess I need to pick it up!

  7. AA is working for me. I didn’t go until I was almost 3 months sober. Up until that time I used online support, then I needed some real humans to back it up. Yes, it would be nice to meet in a coffee shop or at Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt, but that isn’t they way it goes.
    I have to agree about the readings in the beginning. They didn’t do them at any of the meetings I went to in NY. It was kind of refreshing to not hear that, as we all know it. But that is how it is done.
    I guess it isn’t important HOW you get sober, it is that you STAY sober.
    Do whatever works for you. 🙂

    1. Exactly. I get two reactions when I question AA for ME. Either they respond like you did (sanely, empathetically, and understanding that one size does not fit all) OR they basically tell me I’m being elitist and that I am no different than they are and that I won’t make it without meetings. It’s a very weird and polarizing subject. But it seems to be changing and opening up a bit.

    2. I have been to meetings in many areas now and always interesting the differences. I know I prefer when they don’t spend so much time with the readings and I prefer the Serenity prayer, which I think can cross all religions, rather than the Christian-focused Lord’s Prayer. Some places, the meetings time the speakers and other meetings it seems people go on and on and on and I get lost. Sometimes it seems the same people speak every time and it is like they just want to hear their voices or want attention. There are some meetings I do like and I have gotten something from most meetings. But I get how it is not for everyone.

  8. I think anything sober that connects us is positive.I think with the internet and technology today we don’t have to drive 100 miles and sit in a folding chair to be sober.Today you can go to college on line, why can’t we be sober on line.Times change options are wide open.

  9. I agree. I am 47 days in, but have experience with AA from the past. I, like you, will remain open, should I need additional support. For now, the 100 day challenge, online support, blogging, recovery research/books and my supportive family/friend circle are enough. But, I am on high alert should I need more help. For me, (this will sound silly) but going to a AA meeting causes me extreme anxiety and I find I am not as honest with myself or others in the meetings as I am online. Also, I work from home and have 2 small kids and getting ready and driving across town stresses me out just thinking about it. I think eventually AA will be apart of my toolbox, but 90 meetings in 90 days would drive me bonkers.

    1. If it’s only about distance, I know there are online AA meetings where you can hear the voices of everyone. They talk into the mice on their computers. I did one once. It was… weird.

  10. I have some of the same feelings that you do at AA. I feel like I get most of the benefit from the before/after conversations. I go once a week more as a concrete action supporting sobriety. And I like the chips.
    My husband goes with me, so we do get an opportunity to talk more about the ideas brought up. I think I would seriously miss that if I went alone.

    Having lunch with sober ladies was much more uplifting and supportive.

    1. I’m glad to hear your perspective on 90 meetings in 90 days. I had to ask my therapist about this and he said most people don’t do 90 meetings in 90 days. I think once a week sounds about right, I like that pace.

  11. I have tried AA in, out and between my many relapses and yet I have found the most connection with people through online sober communities. I have been reading your blog over the last few days and I feel like we could be old friends! You are making my laugh and I can relate to most everything you are saying. I have been sober nearly 300 days now and I just love reading your blog – you are a refreshing new twist to recovery. Thank you!

  12. Hey John you are so right about this one…I’m the very same way & I was so afraid to NOT go that first & second try at it cuz I really thought that you couldn’t stay sober without it, but I think thats bd..I’ve been sober 3 yrs this time & have genuinely known that I respect it at a distance & know some truly need it….just using my own techniques & support that has been working great ! GO US!

    1. Yeah. I think a lot of people hear someone say they don’t like AA (for them and their recovery) and feel attacked. I’m sure it’s difficult to hear people not connecting to a program that did so much to help you. But it’s just a personal preference. No one needs to feel the need to defend or discredit any program.

  13. John,
    You could google ‘orange papers’ he does excellent research into aa. I don’t think it matters if it’s gay/straight because they all run on the same principals. Best to you and Rhoda.

  14. No insightful comment just had to say… This cracked me the f*dge up:

    “I wanted to meet cool sober people so we could then go have our OWN meetings with GOOD coffee and BEAUTIFUL ART on the walls instead of crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary crying blood or some shit.”

    Thanks yet again for sharing truthfully and hilariously.

    1. Thanks. Someone got really mad and sent a message decrying my desire to know “cool” sober people. I suppose, according to her, I should aspire to meet uncool, awful, sober people.

  15. Yes, yes, yes, yes! I feel exactly the same way. I’m new to sobriety and actually visualize some of us on-line sober people getting together for gatherings just as you describe:) Fun reunions…a cool nice tradition. Gatherings around the world, take your pick, jump on a plane or a train and meet up with the sober community that has been supporting you:)

  16. I wish we could meet up for a coffee and take the piss out of grumpy Rhoda together 🙂 but thank you so much for this post. I was thinking that I was the weird one because AA meetings just aren’t it for me either. Just the thought of them makes me feel like drinking. I don’t want to bash it because I know that it works for some but not for me. If you feel like reading a good book try “Rational Recovery” by Jack Trimpey, I enjoyed it. Rock on and if you want we could always start a Facebook group that is private and we could all meet in there, that might be a way to do it.

  17. Reblogged this on functioningguzzler and commented:
    This brilliant blog expresses so much of how I feel about AA, I wasn’t even feeling normal because I felt like the odd man/woman out knowing that AA just wasn’t for me. If you are looking for a great blog to follow “The Six Year Hangover” is awesome.

  18. I’ve been sober for 57 days and online support has been such a huge help. There are AA meetings in my area but they are not really that close and I don’t have a car. One meets in a hospital and that is not happening. I just don’t like hospitals. I’m also into free thought and expression and hearing about the format from some of you – I’m not sure it would be a right fit for me.

    Still, I feel the same way many of you feel about meeting other “cool” sober people to do things with.

    Sobriety can feel very isolating at times and especially at first. Having spent 7 of the 12 drunk years isolating so I could drink more, I’m now realizing that I need companionship, I crave it. I used to dread it because it meant more planning on my part so I could be drinking.

    I never wanted to do things that were not drinking related in the evenings. So, now, I have all these things on my sober to do list but no one to do them with. I’m cool with doing some of them by myself but it would be nice to have a group of sober friends to do them with. My small group of close friends live all around the country (FL, NC, PA, etc) – none are close so it makes it harder.

    Online support has been fantastic. I’ve not tried AA for the reason above. But I’m open. I agree that whatever works to keep you sober, keep doing.

    1. Right. The human in person connection would be great. But so far, the people I have met just aren’t the sort that I would particularly want to go hang out with. It may sound judgmental but we all have natural attractions to certain people who share our sensibilities. Chemistry is chemistry.

  19. Many of your comments are exactly how I feel about AA, too. I have been in and out. There are pros and cons. I hate hearing the same lingo over and over (“It was time for me to live life on life’s terms…I had to get on my knees…if it weren’t for this program…”) and believe me, my Dad has 32 years sobriety due to AA so I know it does work for some people. But I have many times also wished there was an alternative type meeting…like you mentioned…a relaxed meeting where we chat about recovery, and, sure, eat yummy foods or whatever…but not have to hear the same things over and over. It makes me feel like it’s robotic or cultish and I know it isn’t…but yeah…it is always the getting together with hilarious friends BEFORE or AFTER the meeting where outrageous comments are made and shushing occurs….(“Famous AMOS! Not ANUS!!”) I love hilarious ex drunkies get togethers and also sometimes the one-on-one weepy I-need-a-grip talks.

  20. Timing is everything isn’t it? This morning I’m spending my quiet time with recovery blogs instead of going to one of my regular AA meetings because the reading today is just too religious for me. That said, my recovery started through my health provider and they stress AA in their program. I started going to AA at first because it took up time and usually put me in a healthy mind frame of recovery. Meeting people who have struggled with sobriety and those with long term recovery has been helpful for my own journey. Its not my thing 100% but after years and years of fooling myself into thinking that I had figured out how to expertly hide my alcohol and drink all day every day, its time for me to listen to those who have made honest changes in their lives.

    1. Right. I want to like AA. But I’d rather just talk to people who have done sobriety and done it well. I want to meet people with long terms sobriety but I don’t want to go sit in a place that feels contrived and formulaic. Starting to think it isn’t the right way for ME.

  21. I started going to AA to meet other sober people. When I tried it 7 years ago, people would invite me out for dinner or coffee after. But my local meetings here never do that. And I tried women’s meeting but found women bitching about their husbands and kids and I had nothing in common with them. I did go to LGBT meetings years ago that I enjoyed more. At least in NYC you have a lot of meetings even if you just want to find people for coffee.

    I get most annoyed by the lines about those that fail are not willing to have what they have. I have heard people say you must put meetings before everything else. Work. Family. I thought “oh, is AA gonna pay my rent if I miss work for a meeting?” I do not like when members follow AA without any question. That is when people claim they are a cult. Blind faith.

  22. I’m new to sobriety, and have often thought about going to AA meetings, but just can’t imagine myself there at all. To be frank, when ever I think about it, I imagine myself freezing my ass off in a old church hall (its mid winter where I am). The religious thing freaks me out too. I’d love to have a few sober friends in my life though, like you describe – cool people to connect with and have coffee with – who maybe you can call when its feeling really tough.

  23. None of this is one size fits all. I like reading your thoughts and everyone else’s about AA. I went to an LGBT AA meeting (all men) last week and they were so nice. I left feeling stronger. I think I am someone who needs the online community but also to see and speak face to face. I don’t feel connection to a higher power, know nothing about the Big Book or really even the 12 steps…trying to decide if I need to go into all of that or if I’m good just going to an open meeting from time to time. Good luck.

  24. It took me YEARS to warm up to AA. At first it felt like a cult and then it felt like a lot of work that I just couldn’t keep up with. I’m kinda on the fence at the moment. I go to meetings so I don’t feel so alone in this booze filled world but I don’t know where I fit in to it, if I even do. Thanks for sharing how you feel cause I thought maybe it was just me. ❤

  25. Awesome post. Really touched something in me. The visuals in your writing about your sobriety (the crystal water goblet sparkling in the sun) are phenomenal. Please stay sober…and please keep writing about it–don’t deny us amateur bloggers and readers the clarity of your words!
    Love and Light~Britt

  26. So I noted that I replied to you July 2014. I had not yet gone to AA. But what a difference time and patience makes. I go to a regular woman’s group on Saturdays. In fact I am the secretary. I try to make it nice. Someone came to me last week and said she really appreciates that I really try to make it nice. It’s like a ladies tea. Yes I use my own money. But what I have gotten from AA and the people is priceless. I could never pay enough money. It took a while to gel. But it’s what you put into it. You are the one that has to make the difference. But the best is that we all have one thing in common. We are alcoholics and that binds us in ways that are amazing! Try a gay mans group. See if you can connect.

    Irishgirl.

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