AA Meetings Versus The Twelve Steps

Solitary woman walking up twelve concrete steps

April 23, 2021

By Andy F

Categories: AA meetings

AA Suggestions to a newcomer

AA has many years of experience treating the disease of alcoholism. Suggestions offered to newcomers are practical and effective. The best possible suggestion to break the addictive cycle of drinking is to try to attend 90 meetings in 90 daysA psychological study has shown that breaking a bad habit takes about 90 days. This is achieved by replacing the bad habit with a good one. Initially, a meeting a day is an excellent habit to develop.

In early recovery, my peers frequently told me:

“Don’t worry about the twelve steps, for now, just get into the middle of the AA bed’ and make the meetings your higher power! You are working the first three steps just by showing up.” 

I took that to mean that I was working the AA program just by going to meetings.

A new habit: Daily meetings

I also heard another slogan: ‘Meeting Makers, Make It.’ I took this far too literally. I convinced myself I could get well if I went to enough meetings. My thinking was very irrational at the time. I convinced myself the more meetings I attended, the faster I would recover. I was determined to get well as soon as possible. Therefore, I would often go to three meetings a day. I genuinely believed this was the way forward.

An addictive personality

My primary addictions were alcohol and drugs. However, I have such an addictive personality that it seems I can become addicted to practically anything. AA meetings were indeed no exception! They became a way of feeling whole, connected, and accepted.

Between relapses, I managed to stay clean and sober through reliance on the fellowship alone. In early recovery, that was undoubtedly a good thing. I needed the fellowship and support of other alcoholics. As an agnostic, GOD became a Group ODrunks.

The hole in the soul

My mental and emotional life was utterly chaotic and unmanageable. I frequently experienced dramatic mood swings, which completely overwhelmed me. It was a painful roller-coaster ride. For a long time in recovery, my daily companions were feelings of hopelessness, fear, resentment, and self-pity.

There was a hole inside me that nothing could fill. I found that these feelings would rapidly vanish as soon as I arrived at a meeting. There is no question that initially, going to plenty of meetings was a wise decision. For most newcomers, meetings are the recovery tool that keeps them sober.

A meetings junkie

Daily attendance at meetings certainly helped to alleviate inner emptiness and loneliness. Being an alcoholic and an addict, I would always go for the instant fix. I avoided solutions that required any effort to change. Over the next 25 years, I went to meetings regularly. Whenever I faced a crisis, I would increase my attendance. It was usually because of a relationship breakup or some other big disappointment.

As bizarre and excessive as this may sound, I have sometimes been through periods of attending five meetings on a Saturday and six on a Sunday. As extreme as that sounds, attending so many meetings would help me overcome failed relationships. In those days, I was very unstable and insecure. Looking back, I needed every meeting I ever attended.

The spiritual program of action

Although I became utterly addicted to meetings, I kept relapsing with alcohol and drugs. In my first 13 years in the fellowship, I have had multiple relapses. My chosen path was therapy rather than the twelve steps. After years of going to meetings, it became clear that mentally and emotionally, I was getting worse, not better.

By this point, I became aware that I was heading towards self-destruction. Fear, negativity, and darkness were my daily companions; I gradually changed my attitude to the spiritual solution. Members frequently encouraged me to follow a sponsor’s suggestions: – “Your recovery will take off if you ask someone to take you through the program.”

I had to become open-minded about spirituality if I wanted to survive. People in AA were insistent that it was the only way to find happiness and serenity. As I didn’t believe in God, I was naturally cynical about the spiritual solution. My mistake then was to believe it was necessary to believe in God to pursue a spiritual path. Up to then, my higher powers had been the selfish pursuit of sex, power, and money. Eventually, the pursuit of these things brought me to my knees stone-cold sober!

“You may be suffering from an illness which ONLY a spiritual experience will conquer.”

(BB p.44)

My present sponsor

I met my current sponsor 12 years ago. He is from Poland. His name is Witek (pronounced Vitek). He is the wisest and most experienced sponsor I have ever had. Witek convinced me that if I wanted to get well, I had to get used to the idea that, as an alcoholic, I was “condemned” to seek spiritual solutions to get well..

 It sounded like an extreme prescription, but nothing else had worked! Witek completely understands the nature of the “spiritual malady.”  (BB p. 64) He reassured me that, in my case, it need not be a belief in God but a non-God-centred spiritual awakening.

He knows which actions are necessary to recover. Amazingly, excessive dependence on AA meetings is not one of them! My sponsor told me, “Andy, you are going to too many meetings.” He reminded me how long I had been in the program. Simply attending meetings and not working the program would never treat the three-fold nature of the illness. (Physical, mental, and spiritual).

I might achieve physical abstinence from alcohol, but the mental and spiritual symptoms of the illness would remain untreated. Only a committed effort to work the steps with a sponsor could do that. I trusted his opinion and applied myself to the steps. He suggested I attend one meeting a week, two at most!

A bridge to normal living

In essence, my sponsor taught me that AA is not a social club. I had to be careful about relying too much on meetings for fellowship and friendship. Going to daily meetings was undoubtedly helpful in early recovery. However, after so many years, attending too many was holding me back. He was right!

Recovery began when I surrendered to the first and second parts of Step One. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol” (and all my other addictions) and “that our lives had become unmanageable” (Drunk or sober). I finally became teachable and willing to do whatever it took to get well.

(BB p.59)

I had been in AA for twenty-five years when I met Witek. One failed relationship after another, and once again, I was desperate. GOD can also serve as an acronym for the Gift ODesperation. This gift gave me the willingness to follow directions. Witek’s humility made him worthy of my trust. With his help, I started to follow Good Orderly Direction. (Another helpful acronym for God).

My sponsor’s view on the nature of AA meetings.

AA meetings are neither normal nor a necessarily healthy environment. He compared meetings to a psychiatric hospital. You don’t get well by spending too much time on the ward. You get well by taking the medicine (The Twelve Steps). He suggested that I only come to the AA hospital for limited aftercare and to help others.

An essential suggestion was for me to reintegrate into normal society. With my sponsors’ help, I suddenly found myself halfway through step nine. I discovered contentment and serenity that I had never known. Bill’s statement in Chapter Six of the Big Book explains what began to happen to me after the ninth Step:

“For by this time, sanity will have returned.”

(BB p.84)

Sanity comes from the Latin root ‘sanos,’ It means ‘sound, health, sane.’

After the first nine steps, my emotional and psychological health was gradually restored. I have spent half a lifetime in AA with untreated alcoholism. Just going to meetings was like waiting in a medical emergency room and not going in to see the doctor. In fact, concerning my mental and emotional healing, the result of just going to meetings was nil.

“Some of us tried to hang onto our old ideas, and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.” 

(BB p. 58)

Witek showed me the vast difference between simply attending meetings and working the steps with a sponsor. After my work with him, I am finally experiencing serenity and happiness as I cross the ‘bridge to normal living.’

In fellowship

Andy F

Please Share

Facebook Twitter WhatsApp