Leaving AA

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June 24, 2021

By Andy F

Categories: AA meetings

I arrived at my first AA meeting in May 1984, after twenty years of self-destructive drinking. I saw the slogan “Keep it Simple” on the wall of every meeting. Members shared that AA is a ‘simple program for complicated people.’

I took that to mean going to meetings and not picking up the first drink. My love for all my brothers and sisters in AA was there from day one. I knew that I was home. There was never any question of my leaving AA. I went to meetings every day, sometimes twice a day.

The suggestions of the program

I soon learned that getting a sponsor and taking suggestions was seen as a requirement. The idea was to work through the first nine steps. As a newcomer, I wasn’t interested in the program and only paid lip service to the idea of having a sponsor. It was all about looking good in front of my AA buddies.

People would ask me, “What step are you on”? To get people off my back, I would declare: – “I’m not working the steps, I’m living the steps”! In truth, I didn’t even have step one. Sponsorship and steps may have worked for them, but mine was a special case. I decided to hand my will and life over to the care of a therapist, not a sponsor.

Sponsoring myself

I continued to sponsor myself for years in AA. The result was frequent relapses. Fortunately for me, I kept coming back. However, my mental and emotional state got worse and worse. I became increasingly angry and resentful. Fear and self-pity would sometimes overwhelm me and drive me back to drinking.

People in AA were talking about “rigorous honesty” (BB 58). I had no idea what that even meant. I continued to be dishonest in every area of my life. My financial affairs were shady. I also continued to be manipulative and inauthentic in my relationships. My integrity as a human being was completely missing.

In meetings, I shared what I thought people wanted to hear. Sharing honestly in AA is known as ‘The language of the heart.’ All I knew was the language of the head. Sharing in meetings was always rehearsed and insincere.

GOD: The Gift Of Desperation

I was without a sponsor for more than a decade. At the end of this time, I got suicidal. Drunk or sober, I failed in every area of my life, especially romance and finance. Blame, resentment, and self-pity about the past made staying soberly impossible! I was plagued with jealousy when I saw my peers in AA creating worthwhile lives. They all had sponsors and were working the steps.

I would wake up in the morning full of inner turmoil. It continued like this all day until I fell into bed, exhausted from overthinking. I had no way of turning down the volume in my head. The only way I knew how to stop my ‘washing machine head’ was to drink. The time came when alcohol didn’t work anymore.

One day, I was sitting in a meeting after another relapse, and I suddenly got a moment of clarity. I realized I was not long for this world unless I started doing something differently. My ego collapsed, and I got the Gift Of Desperation. (Acronym for GOD). There was nothing left for me to do but ask for help.

Obedience: the key to freedom

Generally speaking, most alcoholics resent authority figures. Many are defiant and don’t like being told what to do. I no longer had that luxury. Faced with self-destruction, I had to embrace the idea of surrendering to a sponsor’s suggestions.

Taking any direction was very difficult for a defiant alcoholic like me. I had to surrender to and become obedient to a sponsor’s suggestions. Although the word obedience may sound extreme, that’s the attitude I had to adopt to survive. I’m pretty sure that sponsoring myself in AA would have eventually killed me.

Once I became teachable, it was in my best interests to take Good Orderly Direction. (a helpful acronym for GOD). Initially, taking suggestions from a sponsor struck me as a ridiculous necessity. What did they have to do with my complex problems? The plain truth was that these silly suggestions saved my life. They not only saved my life but began giving me a life free from the madness in my head.

Learning to live in the solution, not the problem

I had to write a daily gratitude list and call my sponsor every morning. Then, I had to make at least two outreach calls to newcomers and ask how they were doing. Another suggestion was reading a chapter from the Big Book or the Twelve Steps and Traditions daily. The next instruction was to get two home groups and two weekly service commitments at meetings.

After taking these actions for thirty days, the step work began. Each step was a written assignment. I was not too fond of school, so I wouldn’t say I liked the idea of any written work. I saw it as homework.

In meetings, I was encouraged to share a message of hope for the newcomer. It was okay to share my problems, provided I also shared the solutions. My sponsor discouraged me from sharing about any step unless I had worked on it. I then received the “Just for today” card. It was offered as a positive tool to get through the day without picking up the first drink.

The “Just for today” card

“Just for today, I will try to live through this day only and not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today, I will be happy. Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Just for today, I will adjust myself to what is and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my ‘luck’ as it comes and fit myself to it.

Just for today, I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study, learn something useful, and avoid being a mental loafer. Today, I will read something that requires effort, thought, and concentration.

Just for today, I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do —just for exercise. I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

Just for today, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, talk low, act courteously, criticize not one bit, not find fault with anything, and not try to improve or regulate anybody except myself.

Just for today, I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today, I will have a quiet half-hour all by myself and relax. During this half-hour, I will try to get a better perspective of my life.

Just for today, I will be unafraid. Especially, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe that as I give to the world, the world will give to me”.

He would let me go if I didn’t take these suggestions. After so many years of relapse, I no longer had the luxury of sponsoring myself.

We are all different.

None of us are affected by alcoholism in the same ways and to the same degree. Some are sicker than others. When I first got sober, I was very disturbed. Physically, I wasn’t too bad. Mentally, however, I was significantly impaired. My head was a rollercoaster of overwhelming emotions and dramatic mood swings.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but untreated alcoholism was a living nightmare. After years of relapse, I needed to embrace a style of recovery that involved a strong sponsorship ethic. Agreeing to follow directions is the only therapy that has ever worked to keep me on the right recovery path. I have remained sober since becoming teachable.

Leaving AA

In my home groups, I noticed that members began to practice a much-diluted version of the program. “Half measures” (BB p. 59) never worked for me. I needed a much more dynamic approach to recovery from alcoholism. I fully acknowledge that we are all different. How other alcoholics get well is none of my business. My experience with untreated alcoholism has taught me that I need to use my sponsor and listen to his advice.

My experience has been that recovery from alcoholism is dependent on remaining in a daily solution. I have to surround myself with like-minded people. Like them, I know that there are specific actions that I need to take. Just going to meetings isn’t enough. My sponsor has become my eyes and ears. I would not risk dealing with this illness without his support.

I came close to walking away from AA because no one had a sponsor. They appeared to be using meetings like a social club. The message I needed to hear just wasn’t there. I begin sliding backward without a strong message. I need daily reinforcement and commitment to truth and honesty. The members I need to surround myself with have a sincere desire to grow spiritually.

Online AA meetings

Recently, a friend invited me to online meetings established during the COVID-19 pandemic. I logged on and was pleasantly surprised. Everyone had sponsors and was taking suggestions and doing the step work—the honesty and sincerity were plain to see.

Everyone seemed committed to the spiritual program of action. At that moment, I realized that for an alcoholic of my type, leaving AA is not an option. The members in the online meetings were working their recoveries in a way that had always worked for me. I immediately felt nurtured and supported. Here was the message that I needed to hear.

In conclusion, there was never any question of leaving AA. The answer was to find like-minded people in the fellowship. Have you ever considered leaving AA but are committed to remaining sober? What alternatives may be available for alcoholics to stay happy and stable in their sobriety?

In fellowship,

Andy F

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