Lost and Miserable After Attending Alcoholics Anonymous

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on May 26th, 2013 - Last updated: April 13th, 2023
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Dear Dr.Peele,

I sincerely want to change my habits, I am totally aware that what I am doing is self destructive.

However as a person who has survived severe emotional and physical childhood abuse by my mother, I cannot or will not ever admit I am powerless again. In spite of it all I am a medical professional who devotes each day to ensuring my quad patient’s enjoy the highest quality of life, while respecting their right to choose what is the best course for them.

I have failed A.A, because I am unable to confess I am powerless.

Veteran participants have told me I am hopeless, which may be true as I’ve bought and consumed a bottle of wine after this “meeting”.

I have been told that since I am unwilling to surrender I may as well give up on being sober. In all honesty I feel bad enough about myself as is, if I give up on me who is left to carry on?  I am scared as have been informed this is denial.

Am I in denial? I know I drink too much, that is why I went to the meeting, but does that mean I have no worth? If I won’t admit powerlessness and go to a meeting every day for 90 days so I can reinforce what a failure I’ve become?

Maybe it is my addicted brain talking, I don’t know with certainty. I do know when I am happy and doing meaningful work I don’t care about drinking at all, and I know that telling myself how rotten I am another 90 days won’t change anything for me. I got that.

I eagerly await your reply. I am lost, and just now miserable,



Dear C.L.,


You tell me: “I am lost, and just now miserable” as a result of attending AA.  But, actually, you are the sane one in the room, the one whose life-affirming instincts the rest should follow.

Your letter hits the nail on the head.  AA and the 12 steps are based on convincing you that you are powerless.  Their message to you is that “I have no worth,” while their meetings seek to “reinforce what a failure I’ve become.”  When you refuse to accept this message, you are “in denial” and it is your “addicted brain talking.”  Meanwhile, “Veteran participants have told me I am hopeless.”

Yet, what you have learned of life as someone who has survived abuse is never to “admit I am powerless again.”  This is the power that has allowed you to survive, and which you seek to convey to your patients who face severe disabilities by “respecting their right to choose what is the best course for them.”  You know that is the most successful message for the patients you work with – and you realize, inwardly, that this is actually the best message for you in facing your addiction!

As a result of this denigrating experience, you end up with the feeling that “I have failed A.A. because I am unable to confess I am powerless” and “to surrender.” Is it any wonder that you bought and consumed a bottle of wine after the meeting?  This is far from unique to you!  Ken Anderson wrote this in The Fix recently: ““I have also seen many people whose drinking got worse while attending AA. I am one such person: During my time in AA, I nearly died of alcohol withdrawal.”

How in the world did a group – did America – decide that this was the best approach to helping people, and that when people reject this message that they need to be doubly put down?

You also know this: “I do know when I am happy and doing meaningful work I don’t care about drinking at all, and I know that telling myself how rotten I am another 90 days won’t change anything for me. I got that.”

No, C.L., you are the sane one in this situation.  And the Life Process Program is exactly where you are at – empowering you by building on your own strength and helping you to engage in the positive meaning of your life.


Dr. Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Eve says:

    I am so glad to hear this, I seriously thought there was something wrong with me. I have just left a meeting and told them all that if I had to sit and listen to these stories week in and out I would probably kill myself. I came to get better not worse. I hear the same people tell the same stories and they don’t offer any solutions except keep coming to meetings, surrender to a higher power. I felt really good the first couple of meetings, that there was hope but now I can’t stand the thought of hearing another sad story about how someones life was ruined by alcohol, maybe because I’ve never been black out drunk and I haven’t hit rock bottom but alot of these people need therapy and something outside of AA to socialise because they are keeping themselves stuck in this victim mentally and it honestly sickens me, I left really angry and they all knew it after I told them this program isn’t for me, I want to get better not worse which I surely will constantly taking on that negative energy.

  • hg8 says:

    I just attended my 4th AA meeting in as many days, and am also 4 days sober. During and after this meeting I feel worse about myself than ever before. I’m more confused than ever before. If AA’s steps are so flawless then why are so many people in the meetings relapsing after years of following the program? I’ve been told that if I really wanted to be sober then I would continue going to daily meetings. I feel like there’s a real carrot dangling in front of the donkey situation here. All in all, I just have a really bad gut instinct about continuing attending AA. It reminds me so much of the toxic guilt environment I grew up in in the Christian/baptist church. Leaving this last meeting felt like breaking out of a prison.

  • Patrick M says:

    What a great response. As someone working in the rehab field, I wish that more people were rational in this way.

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