I Grew Out of AA – One Woman’s Story of Leaving AA
This is a remarkable inside story of a woman who grew from leaving AA to a position it would hate, but which seems psychologically superior, and yet gives credit to AA for help (as well as to a sensitive therapist, and to my book, The Truth About Addiction and Recovery). This woman’s story and ultimate outcome are remarkable and inspiring.
I began attending AA meetings in 1997, encouraged by some people I worked with at the time. That year had been quite hard for me. I checked myself into an inpatient eating disorder treatment program (modeled after the 12 steps) that previous winter. I was severely depressed, felt suicidal, and had run out of all of the coping skills I had. My stay at that program was the first time in my life I experienced an unconditional caring and supportive atmosphere. Although at the time unable to look at my drinking and pot use, I took the disease model lock stock and barrel. For the first time in my life, I was eating properly and felt alive and clear.
Meeting the folks in AA at my job, got me wondering about my drinking (I drank a lot in college to get drunk and out of myself). Most of my family has trouble with alcohol, and I experienced a miserable childhood as a result. I was impressed by their “coolness”, and was sexually attracted to one of the guys. I decided to go to a meeting. At first I didn’t know if I belonged there, but I really liked the guy who took me, and I was taken in by the instant support and concern they gave me.
At that point in my life I was really winging it on my own, with little to no emotional support from my family. I began a sexual relationship with that guy, and became involved in AA. Once my fear began to subside, I felt I had found the missing link in my life. I was an alcoholic with a disease, and this program was my cure and key to finding happiness.
My story was not at all the “hard bottom” many others experienced, and when I shared about my experiences, I constantly felt like I didn’t fit in (although I was convinced I had the disease). But I was happy for the first time in my life, and I felt so much better not drinking. Months into my recovery the guy I was involved with (a chaotic relationship) relapsed on his drug of choice and died of an overdose. I felt it was a suicide, and he did it in the surest way he knew he would die. I was devastated.
Again the AA community gave me endless support. I was determined to stay sober and work the 12 steps. I became deeply involved in my AA community–constantly going to meetings, up to the organizational levels in my state. I had a group of friends I loved, and learned to socialize and enjoy many experiences in life without partying. My core group and the AA literature was my complete identity. I never fabricated my “story”, but 2 years into it I was able to talk about the suffering of my experiences in such a way that I and the community around me, were completely convinced I had the deadly disease.
Again I was happy. I felt protected by endless support like a child needs from her mother. In my third year my core group of friends fell apart–some relapsed, some paired off and went their separate ways within the community. I felt lonely and unsatisfied. It wasn’t the literature that allowed my good feelings for life to evolve–it was the bond and relationships I had with my friends.
And my head was clearer, I had other things that gave me some pleasure other than alcohol. But, when I went into AA, I left behind the artistic community I was involved with (I’m a classical musician) prior to “falling apart.” I felt I couldn’t relate to anyone who wasn’t speaking the AA language. And it took me just about those three years to simply learn to hold a regular job, and take care of my basic needs as an adult living on her own.
In my 3rd year I began seeing a clinical psychologist who is also a body psychotherapist. Working with this person, my desire to get back to the music part of my life and performing began to surface strongly. I began lessons with a music teacher, but still wasn’t involved with the community I left behind. My spiritual views also began to change. I found your book, The Truth About Addiction and Recovery, and began to question whether or not I had an incurable disease.
Plus my therapist was encouraging me to develop a life outside of AA, because I would often complain of the lack of fulfillment I felt since my core group of friends broke up. I brought this stuff up at meetings, and was met with fear, and intolerance. I felt people were looking at me as “sick” rather than the spiritually recovering person I was months before. I was met with a lot of blank stares and tangents about what the disease did to them, how the 12 steps were the way.
I became angry and eventually dwindled out of the program. Most of the people who had supported me in the past turned their backs on me. Some said I was going to die. The friends that did stick around were afraid and kept their distance. My therapist was surprised to learn I had left, and was concerned, but supported my decision. I chose to leave but continued to stay sober. I was scared shitless!! I didn’t know what I believed–did I have a fatal disease, will I make it on my own, could I ever be “normal” and drink again…. I felt continual fear and doubt for just about the rest of that year.
It was a slow process integrating into the outside world. I was so used to relating to people with the AA language, I often felt awkward. But I branched out. Got involved with a martial arts group, reconnected with a relative with whom I had a loving relationship as a kid, began working as a musician and reconnecting with that community, and was deeply committed to my therapy, the goal of which is to help reconnect me to my body, and learn to tolerate all of my feelings, and then go out and live my life as I choose.
My life is full now, but it took a while. It was a long bumpy road to find the strength and awareness to be independent. For me, the support from my therapist and my music teacher was crucial to leaving AA. Because of their support and trust in me, I flourished. This fall I’m going back to college to earn a degree in a field that feels meaningful.
About a year after I left, I did drink. I was conscious and cautious. I do find that getting really drunk doesn’t make me feel good or function well. But because I “branched out,” there are so many things that bring me pleasure, fulfillment, and challenge, that going out and drinking in excess doesn’t interest me. I like hanging out and being social in environments without it most of the time. And then sometimes it’s nice to go out and socially have a drink or two. I have to be honest and say that I’ve come to my conclusions by trial and error. And there are times when I still error, but rarely in a harmful and overly destructive way.
As to the question: Do I have a fatal disease? Is alcoholism inherited? I do feel a sensitivity to alcohol and sugar if consumed in high amounts, and I will feel very depressed as a result. Perhaps I’m not as much of an alcoholic so much as a person who lacked a true sense of contact with myself and reality. The more I’m in touch with my body and my feelings, the more I have a natural response to taking good care of myself. I don’t feel cured by any means. There are times when I do eat, smoke and once in a while drink in an excessive way (although it’s mostly eating these days).
I feel AA is a valuable part in out society, even though I personally disagree with its view. There are many people who are suffering with a physical and/or an emotional connection with alcohol who have no other resources except the 12 steps. Not everyone can afford or is willing to make the sacrifices to pay for therapy or some other kind of support. I do feel that the program should be completely separate from institutions and government programs though. I’m thankful to have a therapist who has allowed me to find my own world view, and take the risk of becoming the woman I want to be. The removal (well continuing removal) of the tensions in my body, and the integration of my feelings — developing an independent sense of self, had dwindled my compulsive and destructive behaviors considerably.
But it wasn’t without hard, consistent work. Today, my feelings are more genuine, and I take more and more responsibility for myself and how I relate to others. There are many aspects of AA that are a part of my life. I reach out to the world the best I can, and when I’m compassionate and loving it’s from my heart, not from a doctrine. Today, I feel I embrace and am a part of life by choice, with all of its ups and downs, and I’m grateful. Your book, was and is a good grounding tool to refer to. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.