Megan / A Different Kind of Sober
I only recently began writing about my sobriety (from alcohol), and have come to learn that it’s actually an incredibly exciting time to be in recovery.
Or—as Jeff, Matt and Chris would say—“recovery is having a moment”. There are infinite resources and communities online that simply didn’t exist before the 1980s; additionally, we are exploring the science of mental health care in tandem with that of addiction, and this is revealing tremendous insight and promoting overall awareness and de-stigmatization for sufferers of the disease.
But lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Alcoholics Anonymous, and its place in modern recovery culture. I did not use the program to achieve my sobriety, but I certainly support those that do. For me—an anxiety-riddled introvert with clinical depression—I didn’t feel at ease in that environment. And the more people that I talk to, the more I am finding feel the same. One woman told me that she had been waiting 23 years to hear someone express what she had felt for so long— that A.A. made her feel uncomfortable. She was just too afraid to say so.
Quite honestly, it makes me pretty uncomfortable that those of us in recovery who don’t feel we ‘fit in’ with the A.A. culture sometimes feel afraid to speak up about it. We’re afraid of criticism, afraid of being told we will not succeed, and most importantly we’re afraid of offending our fellows in recovery which is not at all what we wish to do. I have unfortunately been on the receiving end of bigotry from certain A.A. members for sharing such thoughts; but, I have also experienced a tremendous amount of support from ones who are very quick to reject that sort of nonsense in favor of a ‘whatever works for the individual’ mentality.
This led me to start questioning why there was even such a clash in the first place, when ultimately we are all trying to achieve the same goal. And while I don’t have any concrete answers, I am noticing that there does appear to be a lot of confusion and conflict within the organization itself.
Don’t believe me? Just float a question out on social media asking if A.A. is a spiritual organization or not (it is, the Courts recognize it as such). If the responses you receive mirror mine, you will hear all sorts of reasons why it both is and is not.
“Many (but certainly not all) become outliers in our very own community, afraid to voice our opinions because it goes against the sober status quo.”
This is confusing.
If this is confusing to me, a college-educated and (relatively) intelligent person who had the benefit of cognitive therapy and medical psychiatric treatment, then how could it not also be confusing to someone struggling in the throes of their addiction? This is an incredibly vulnerable time for anyone to find themselves in, a time when fight-or-flight responses are on high alert. Your options for A.A. programs are limited by your geography, and most of us are walking in with a pretty stiff guard up. And what about the people like me who - at the time - didn’t even realize I had options and walked straight into meetings that were not at all suited for what I needed?
I’ll tell you what happens. Many (but certainly not all) become outliers in our very own community, afraid to voice our opinions because it goes against the sober status quo. Which makes it very hard for us to find each other, and we become isolated.
In addition to worrying that the inconsistency amongst A.A. chapters creates a confusing environment for individuals newly entering sobriety, I am beginning to suspect that our legal system might be (perhaps inadvertently) taking advantage of and ultimately causing long-term damage to the program.
I stumbled across this article the other day concerning how court-mandated Alcoholics Anonymous works. One of its paragraphs troubled me greatly, and I would like to share it with you:
If you have been convicted of an alcohol-related offense, the court will sometimes offer you an alternative to going to jail. Because of jail overcrowding and the costs of keeping an offender incarcerated, many jurisdictions offer some kind of alternate or diversion program, such as A.A.
Because of jail overcrowding A.A. is being offered as an alternative?
I reached out to some A.A. members to solicit their opinions on this.
Many people responded with personal testimony about how this “nudge from the judge” actually succeeded in helping them turn their lives around for the better, and in these instances I’m happy to see that our justice system is providing effective rehabilitation programs to citizens, as it should. I also received several friendly responses that their chapter welcomes any and everyone. Finally, I received some rather weary-sounding responses by those that feel their groups are becoming depositories for people who quite simply don’t want to be there.
Is that fair to the other people in the program? My gut tells me that it is not. Further, regardless of whether or not it works, best practices are usually not built upon crap shoots which is what throwing someone into a program they don’t want to be in and hoping it works essentially is.
You might think to yourself no one’s being forced to go, they’re being given a choice. Well certainly no, no one is being forced against their will to attend AA. But you must ask yourself how much of a choice is it, really, if it’s that or jail?
I don’t know about you, but if I were given the choice to go to jail or attend A.A. meetings, I know what I would choose. And I would make that choice regardless of whether or not I considered myself an alcoholic.
The next question I think that we as a community need to ask is what exactly is the legal system’s motivation for sending citizens into the program? Is it purely rehabilitation, or is it possible that some courts recognize that jails are overcrowded and expensive to taxpayers, whereas Alcoholics Anonymous is free?
I can’t help but suspect not only that this is in fact the case, but also that the program has suffered some pretty negative consequences as a result.
We’re all aware of the spiritual undertones of A.A. I was raised Catholic, and consider myself to be pretty spiritual. I also happen think we have a really cool Pope. But my point in telling you this is that I understand what it’s like to feel afraid to speak up about your religion, because you don’t necessarily agree with all of its institutionalized dogma. I get a similar sense when I talk to older members of A.A. that speak wistfully of the ‘old school’ of thought, which is spiritual and religious at its foundation. Quite honestly, it makes me sad that these guys now find themselves having to defend what they believe to be an incredibly powerful element (the spiritual) in their own recovery.
They shouldn’t have to.
So it is with a rather heavy heart that I must conclude that while it certainly is an exciting time to be in recovery, one of our most beloved and effective programs seems to be in a state of confusion and disrepair.
One of the reasons I love this website and the team behind it is that it is providing a forum for people currently in recovery to express our thoughts and ideas in a safe space guaranteed to be met with an open mind. For that, I’m incredibly grateful. I think it’s our ethical responsibility as individuals that have achieved sobriety to start tackling some of these issues that seem to be plaguing our community.
But I have no idea how to do this. I’ve only just started asking the questions.
A few things about Megan:
- I curse, a lot. I’m sorry if this offends you.
- I have a unique perspective on booze: I don’t miss it, and I still love learning about wine. Before I quit drinking and switched careers, I worked as a manager at some of the city’s best restaurants and became passionate about it. For someone who doesn’t drink it, I probably know more about it than most people who do.
- I don’t mind when people drink around me. In fact, it’s awkward and uncomfortable when someone refrains simply because of my presence. I usually end up encouraging those around me to imbibe.
- I suffer from depression and anxiety.
- I didn’t go to rehab or AA. I attended some meetings, and I would never reject an opportunity to go and listen. But it wasn’t for me. And I think there may be a lot of us out there who feel the same.