Time To Get SMART and Leave AA?

by Dick on September 30, 2015 · 71 comments

in Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Recovery, Relapse, SMART Recovery

downloadAfter 4 years of Alcoholics Anonymous, and yet another relapse over this summer, I feel that I have very little to show for all my efforts. And I have made a gargatuan effort in my eyes. I have attended over 1,000 meetings of all different types. I attended Hazelden’s 30 day inpatient program which is 12 step based. I go to 5-7 meetings per week. I have a home group. I’ve made coffee, and swept floors. I have a sponsor. I’ve worked the 12 steps with a men’s Big Book step study group. I did a long and comprehensive 4th and 5th step with my group and sponsor. I also see a private therapist, and do boxing several times a week for exercise.

I’ve had over 1,000 days of sobriety, so it’s not as though I’ve been a total failure. But in the eyes of AA, I’m at day 1 and have to get a 24 hour coin.

Is it time to switch to SMART Recovery up and leave AA? Maybe.

As an atheist (and otherwise intelligent, educated, and logical human being), I have never bought into the dogmatic foundations of the AA program — that you need a Higher Power (preferably God) and have to pray everyday to get sober; that you have a multitude of “character defects;” that you are powerless and have to surrender your will to God, and that if you slip, you have to humiliate yourself, head down, shoulders sunk, in front of a roomful of people by getting a “24 hour” coin (which I’ve done several times much to my chagrin). I’ve written about these struggles here.

Indeed, at virtually every AA meeting, I often cringe at what I hear from people and read in the literature. I just cannot relate and buy in to AA’s fundamental principles. I feel that a lot of people, especially the old timers, lecture the newcomers or people who are struggling under the guise of “these are only suggestions” (which is total b.s.) And no, I’m not going to take the cotton out of my ears and stuff it into my mouth, as they say. I have a right to speak my mind and say what I want to say. I’m also not going to accept a Higher Power as a tree or “Group of Drunks.” That makes no sense to me.

If addiction is truly a mental disease (as it has proven to be) on par with any other mental disorder, why would someone need to accept God to recovery from it? Makes zero sense to me. Do people with bipolar or OCD need to accept God in order to get better. Show me a peer reviewed study which shows that. In fact, show me a real study which proves that AA has a higher success rate than spontaneous remission? On second thought, let’s not go there.

Often, I leave AA meetings feeling worse than when I came in. I often spend half my time at the meetings disputing what I’m hearing, and that’s not very productive. Granted, I often feel better too at certain meetings.

I consider myself a fairly educated and intelligent person, and truth be told, I believe in science over God. I believe in facts, research and data over the Big Book. I’ve always felt that over the last 4 years.

Now I’m not saying that AA does not work. In no way am I bashing AA. It definitely works for people. I’m just not sure it has worked for me. I’ve given it 4 years now.

It’s my program and my life. I want something that’s going to work, and yes, I’m willing to put the work in. I also take full responsibilty for my relapses. I’m not blaming AA. I’m simply looking for the best solution.

This past week I attended the local SMART Recovery meeting. I went to this same meeting a few years back when there was only a handful of attendees. At that time, I concluded that it was too small and could not replace AA. Well, to my delightful surprise, the meeting had grown to about 40 people. It was a fantastic meeting.

We did an actual whiteboard exercise (right up my analytical alley) about triggers and cost-benefit of drinking. I still have the image of the cost-benefit analysis in my head, several days later.

During “check-in” no one was forced to first “admit” they were an “alcoholic” or “addict” or other derogatory description. People just said, “I have a problem with alcohol and I’m here to get help.” (Ironically, I did identify myself as a alcoholic out of habit!). Where the meeting got interesting was during this discussion, where a certain level of cross talk is allowed. One woman fresh out of rehab had relapsed and people were asking her questions about it, what triggered it, etc. Anyways, after several back and forth’s, and peeling back of the onion, it turns out that the woman had been abused and that’s been the root cause of her drinking — she never really put one and one together. That could never happen at an AA meeting.

After the meeting, I was talking to another AA ex-patriot who has been transitioning out of AA from SMART. We both commiserated about the same issues we have with AA, and he said he has never felt so much relief now attending Smart.

All I know is that I felt great after the meeting. I didn’t spend half the time arguing in my head about how illogical the principles were (because…wait for it…they are based on actual science and research) and most importantly, I felt a huge sense of hope and relief, that I’ve found a program that will work for me.

I don’t know whether I’m going to quit AA cold turkey. I have so many friends there and there are some “liberal” meetings I attend where people aren’t so dogmatic–it’s almost like a SMART meeting without the whiteboard. But I’m going to start attending more SMART meetings and getting into their workshop materials, website, etc. Hey, maybe some day I can apply to be a facilitator. I think I would really enjoy and get a lot out of that!

Anyways, I would love to hear any of your thoughts and similar (or different) experiences.

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  • Rory O’Mara

    I’m sober 26 years. I don’t believe in God. My higher power comes from the collective energy of many many friends who are on a similar path. I don’t pray, but I do try and meditate as a mental exercise toward calm. I am forever grateful for AA. Maybe I’ve been lucky, finding AA in Greenwich Village, where AA is about as open-minded as it gets. Doing service and helping others seems to be the best way for me to live sober. It works for me, so far, but I know it’s not for everyone. I am for whatever works for each individual.

    • blimpalot

      That’s wonderful but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to hear about how a higher power can be anything ANYMORE! .

    • Quoneva Evans

      congradu-fucking-lations. did you read the article at all? rather self-centered of you… maybe you should work on these glaring character defects

      • umatique

        maybe you should look at your anger issues

    • unbubeebable

      Hi Rory,…I got to the bottom of the comments and found “The Sober Lawyer”‘s response to you. I couldn’t recall a “Rory” comment so I went back looking for who “The Sober Lawyer” was talking to, (it’s the very last comment). You probably saw his response a year ago but I thought I’d cut and paste it here for anyone else that comes across his reply to you and wonders who he’s talking to:

      “The Sober Lawyer – a year ago
      Rory thank you for the nice and sensible comment. I would feel the
      same way if I had your experience. I wish I did. Remember, Smart and
      other non-AA programs were not around 26 years ago so there was really
      no other choice but AA. I’m glad it worked for you.”

  • The Sober Lawyer

    Rory thank you for the nice and sensible comment. I would feel the same way if I had your experience. I wish I did. Remember, Smart and other non-AA programs were not around 26 years ago so there was really no other choice but AA. I’m glad it worked for you.

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/DAAD-Drug-Addicts-Against-DRUGS/827943680551991 Craig Dickinson

    Works if you work it is not saying that temptation wint overpower us . We all are only human .
    It’s REALY a you thing …don’t blame AA . Maybe time to REALY quit drinking ? Maybe time to REALY quit AA and go back to what brought you there in the first place … All YOU my friend. It’s called a support group for a reason. That’s all it is

    • The Sober Lawyer

      Craig, you are misreading my post and getting defensive on behalf of AA. I’m definitely not blaming AA or anyone but myself. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’m simply looking for the best and most effective program for me. Nothing more, nothing less.

      • https://www.facebook.com/pages/DAAD-Drug-Addicts-Against-DRUGS/827943680551991 Craig Dickinson

        No offense to those loyal steppers .. I run DRUG ADDICTS AGAINST DRUGS a support group for reality , hidden in plain sight my friend Sober Lawyer.. I don’t defend AA , because I don’t belong to it . I do defend alcoholics /addicts ( as you and I ) and possibly through the form of comprehension we both are misinterpreting each other’s efforts .
        Support groups are just support … We need to invest in our own recovery through whatever means are available .. There is no ONE WAY .. To be treated . I hope the best for all involved .
        Well wishes to you in yours .
        Sincerely Craig/Dad-2 https://www.facebook.com/pages/DAAD-Drug-Addicts-Against-DRUGS/827943680551991

      • https://www.facebook.com/pages/DAAD-Drug-Addicts-Against-DRUGS/827943680551991 Craig Dickinson

        No , I actually agree with you..
        AA is not the only way ,it works if you work it , though so does a stair stepper if that’s you way of exercise .

  • https://sheissobernow.wordpress.com she is sober now

    As another lawyerly type, I craved an analytical approach to quitting drinking and gravitated to SMART. Although I’m only a year and a half in, SMART has anchored my recovery. I no longer attend meetings, but refer back to the workbook if I need a bit of reinforcement. When I knew I needed to stop drinking, I looked into AA and could not find anything that appealed to me – I wanted answers and a rational approach to addressing my behavior. I don’t label myself an alcoholic; I’m a human being who likely has a genetic propensity for alcohol abuse. It probably didn’t help that I had a few AA relatives remark that I’d show up to a meeting eventually, despite my involvement in SMART. The underlying smugness of the comments didn’t seem very progressive in light of what we know about alcohol abuse and the various methods of recovery. It seems that AA works/appeals to some and not to others. Right now, I’m one of the others. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • The Sober Lawyer

      Thank you for the awesome comment. So great to hear success stories with SMART like yours!

  • http://www.mylifeintampa.blogspot.com Rocky

    I understand what you are feeling as I was once very much like you in your assessment of AA. I tried to go without AA for a year or two and found myself coming back. Personally, I do think everyone in the meetings is full of shit most of the time. Old timers are indeed the worse.

    In my view… the old guys at meetings that go to tons of meetings and talk all the time, its like… dude, is this your entire life? Maybe they needed AA all the time for 30 years to stay sober. I certainly don’t believe that is my case, nor is it everyone’s, but rest assured AA does help and has proven to help based on some of the studies I have read when compared to placebo AKA cold turkey.

    I’ve been sober for 9 years now and I stopped going to AA meetings about 5 years ago, just to clarify my position.

    Things in life got in the way, and yes I plan to go back when I move from this current city I live in. I always end up hearing something that helps me and I can identify with half of the shit people say. When I find myself judging I look at why it is I’m judging them and learn from it. Right now I just don’t have the time. Maybe I’m crazier because of it, maybe not. 4 years in AA did me a lot of good and my life is on a track I never imagined before. 5 years without it hasn’t really been hard, but I did have 4 years prior to leaving so…

    Anyhow, AA worked for me. As a doctor I would say that AA is probably your best bet if you can stomach it. Otherwise you could try Naltrexone which we offer all of our alcoholic patients. Most don’t take it because they are still in denial. If you actually want to stop and are looking for none religious solutions, then medications are your next bet, am I correct? Well, that and/or the SMART program. Tons of people will also say, hey I don’t believe in medicine… ok blah blah, yea your FOS and no I will not prescribe you xanax, get the hell out of my office. LOL. But honestly, I’ve never tried Naltrexone personally, but there is literature that says it works to reduce cravings and I would try it if other shit didn’t work.

    Ok, done with my soap box. Look forward to hearing about your experience with SMART.

    • http://www.mylifeintampa.blogspot.com Rocky

      You can check out my struggles from 9 years ago if you go to my website:

      http://www.mylifeintampa.blogspot.com – warning, i don’t really talk to much about alcohol anymore… lol

      Link is on my profile I believe…

      • The Sober Lawyer

        Thanks Rocky. I would rather talk about politics and the Middle East than recovery any day!

    • blimpalot

      “As a doctor I would say that AA is probably your best bet if you can stomach it.

  • DrOttoDix

    The AA dogma can be a problem for many. It’s a locus of control issue as much as a religion, shaming and anti-science problem. SMART is better, arguably a bit simplistic as well, and a cognitive focus for an emotional problem. The social fellowship from either is beneficial. Glad to hear you’re going well.

    • blimpalot

      The ONLY thing I will praise AA for is the fellowship. Make that a few non bat-shit crazy people that I met that I could hang out with which kept me sober. Besides that… yikes!

  • The Sober Lawyer

    Thank you Dr.OttoDix. I’m just trying to find something that works the best.

    • Luis

      Check this place: avantiwellness.net

  • I am fine

    Beautiful reprsentation of mental conflict. Whatever works is the best one.

  • nd

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences. I struggle with an eating addiction and have been looking into programs, but they all seem to be 12-step based. No matter how “non-denominational” they claim to be, they all force the idea of a higher-power, giving power to God (you can’t get any more denominational than that!), a “big book”, and accepting that I don’t have any power. I’m glad they work for some, but that definitely doesn’t fit into the idea of who I am and how I view the purpose of life. But, heaven forbid, (pun intended), you tell someone you aren’t interested in a religious aspects of recovery. All of a sudden they become so defensive – I just want physical and mental recovery without feeling forced to accept or participate in someone else’s spiritual journey and beliefs. SMART sounds like a good place to start. Thank you again!

  • Odalis Aiza

    Hi there! So happy to have found this blog. I left Al-Anon about a year ago because it wasn’t helping me. Like you, I was entirely willing to put time and energy into the program, only to find that after six years, it wasn’t fulfilling its promises. Like you, I’m an atheist. I really tried to operate on the basis of some vague Higher Power like “the Universe” but I came to see that it is all just so much b.s., and learning more about science and critical thinking certainly helped me to do that. Because one thing led to another in my reading and investigations. I don’t buy Bill Wilson’s false dichotomy that if you don’t worship the Higher Power of the 12 steps (which does not equate to Abraham’s god anyway – see Agent Orange on “The Heresy of the 12 steps”) that means you worship science. I do not worship science. I recognize the scientific method as the best bet for overcoming inevitable human faulty thinking in understanding how the world works, including how to treat disease.
    I think 12-step programs are harmful and make no apology for bashing them. In your post, you articulated the problems with, among other things, the emphasis on powerlessness, character defects and anti-intellectualism. My recommendation to someone wishing to quit a problem alcohol/drug problem habit would be to consult a doctor, and also to attend AA to get tips on getting through withdrawal from those who’ve done it themselves. Then I’d suggest they leave once they’re out the other side of the withdrawal symptoms, perhaps keeping in touch with the people they like. Because sober and abstinent are the same thing and people can help. I wouldn’t recommend Al-Anon at all. This is based on the nature of the groups where I live and not least on the lack of a face-to-face SMART meeting here. If it existed, I’d recommend that.
    Most encouraged by your positive experiences. It’s time to leave AA in the 1930s with the fascist cult it is closely based on. Let the 21st century be the dawn of a new era where SMART and other secular, science-based recovery programmes enter the mainstream and become the best-known solution.

    • Sober Lawyer

      Odalis, thanks for the comment. While I’m not as forcefully against AA as you, I don’t fully understand why people in recovery bash other programs.

      • Odalis Aiza

        Thanks for your reply.
        Did you mean that you don’t understand why people in 12-step programs bash other programs, or indeed the notion that some people get sober without a program? I can’t see why someone pursuing a secular, science-based program would bash another program of that type.
        In contrast, there are valid grounds for objecting to AA & co., as I outlined above.

        • Zip it up and Zip it out

          Do what works!

      • Zip it up and Zip it out

        I agree, if it works be happy, secure and help others. Bashing is not helping.

  • Martin Faulkner

    I’d like to say more than “yeah, SMART is great!”, but your post and several of the previous comments have summed up my more detailed feelings with greater eloquence than I could manage. I’m a natural sceptic and a natural cynic (i.e. I’m English), so it’s very much about the “logical brain” and self-empowerment thing for me, too. Anyway, thanks for a really good post that I’ll gladly point to when the whole “so wait, those meetings you go to *aren’t* AA?” conversation next rears its head.

    • Sober Lawyer

      Thank you for the nice words!

  • marion ryan

    Just wanted to see if this thing works.

  • blimpalot

    Exactly my experience. I have felt this way about AA for a long time. Unfortunately they have been the only game in town until recently. Now we have SMART meetings and I’m attending my first tonight! I can relate to everything you said. I might as well have wrote it myself. The worst part is when I would express my discontent in AA it was met with “that’s your disease”, “you are not willing enough”, “keep an open mind”, “your best thinking got you here” and other nonsense. Like you, I made coffee, went to meetings daily, had a sponsor, “worked the steps” (whatever that means), gave rides to meetings, shared often etc. However the whole time I knew deep down inside that it just wasn’t right for me. To tell me otherwise was actually damaging. I’m sure even your thoughtful article will be met with defensive steppers. Glad you and I found SMART!

    • Sober Lawyer

      Thank you…yes I don’t understand why AA people are so defensive when you bring up other programs. I thought they had “no opinion” on outside matters? :)

  • blimpalot

    24 hour chip. How humiliating.

    • umatique

      No one forces you to get up and collect anything or indeed, even say anything. In what insane meeting would that happen? I’ve yet to see one in my 6 years.

  • Doc

    I got sober quite young at 22 in Sept 2004….I hadn’t worked in a while cos of my drinking and using…I was a big part of AA first 3 years of sobriety…home group,service,sponsorship…etc…by the end of those first 3 years…I had 1 year left to qualify as an electrician…a well paid job as a trainee electrician…had got married…had a son…well to be fair my wife did the hard bit there!!…decent living space and a car…so I got all the external stuff…life was rosy for me…all of a sudden I didn’t want to do Service…I had a resentment with it …I didn’t want to be relied upon by so many people (those in the rooms and outside the rooms)…So I stopped doing service…still went to meetings..1 or 2 a week no more than that…Recovery took a backseat to all the other stuff in my life…(I had all the other stuff because of my recovery though, I can honestly say now in hindsight)…. Im a big believer in finding new hobbies, so like yourself I boxed and played football (Soccer for the American readers)…There was a lot of self seeking going on and finding a balance with Work Home and Social was a bit tricky….So any way did meetings for another 5 years…within this time I lost jobs and got new jobs..my daughter was born (who I named Serena after the Serenity prayer)…my brother died from an OD..which really shook me cos we didn’t know he used…and he was older than me by 15 years..he had died at the age of 44…6 months later I started smoking cigarettes again…I had been off cigarettes for 6 years….had small term home groups here and there but didn’t really do Service…some weeks I didn’t do meetings…I’d work loads of overtime when available …on good pay…especially after I qualified…In hindsight I can say my value system shifted throughout my recovery and I became more selfish….I was working and training away from home on a management course for a couple of days…I got home and found a letter from the wife taped to the kitchen table …she had left with the kids because we had been having arguments and disagreeing on a lot of child development strategies…I didn’t tell anyone for 9 months at work…didn’t do a lot of meetings or have a sponsor…one day had a big argument with the boss…I stormed out of work…got my suitcase and passport…got a taxi to the airport which was 30 miles away….got a flight to Spain…stayed there for 2 months relapsing on smoking dope in a hostel…might not have been a drink but I fucked my sobriety up…got back home I had problems with access to my kids…I went back to meetings with my tail between my legs…relapsing after 8 years…I relapsed on dope again one final time…I’ve been clean and sober just over 2 and a half years and yeah its been difficult…its been humbling…iv really had to practice the principles in all my affairs as best as I can…I don’t always get it right but I keep coming back…what I happily accept is that there is no quick fix to my addiction…its not like a college course or a degree or a PhD and then boom im set for life…over the years I have seen a lot of AAs fall by the wayside ….deaths…endless social and economic problems etc….i’ve also seen a lot of success stories…i’m inspired by a lot of the fellowship who have come in in the last 18 months …they are inspiring me to stay sober…its like a grizzled veteran taking a shine to the skillful rookie if you like…I know some people who do smart as well…don’t know a lot about it…but if it keeps you sober..more power to you….my mistakes were getting too cocky,not having enough humility and not enough gratitude…I don’t plan on making those mistakes again

    • Dick

      thanks for the share!

    • Sober Lawyer

      Thank you Doc. You have an interesting story. Best of luck.

  • Samwise

    thank you so much for your posts on this topic- my husband is struggling with alcohol addiction at the moment and people keep telling me that if he does not commit to AA he can’t really get better. He has tried AA and hated it – as an atheist with a post grad degree in philosophy of mind it goes against the grain for him in too many ways. I have been worrying that SMART – which he has tried in the past and is planning to go to again – might not be as helpful for him as AA so I found your objective assessment very reassuring. Good luck to everyone dealing with addiction- you all deserve to be happy and healthy.

    • DanL

      If there are any atheist/agnostic AA meetings in your area, your husband might find them helpful. Even if he has no interest in taking the steps, meeting some like-minded individuals and finding some support could be really helpful.

  • Trebor

    Hi I went to A.A for the 1st time 3 years ago in that time I have managed 3 months 6 months 7 months 4 months, in that time I have gone to a hell of a lot of meetings worked the steps done service etc… I have done this to the best of my ability and done a lot of things against my will like praying… I am currently looking at other ways of getting clean and sober because the thought of going back to another A.A meeting is making me want to jump off a bridge. I have many lovely friends in AA but the amount of B.S and hypocrites amazes me, I hear people do chairs claiming to be whiter then white and outside the meetings are the total opposite of what they say. Then you have the old-timers who most of them walk around like demi gods looking down on you. Then you are told (not suggested) if you don’t do this or that you will drink again some members put the fear of god in to you and the final thing is the amount of gossiping is unreal its worse then in the pub and chapter 5 makes me want to scream. I don’t think AA is for me I find it too controlling

  • Matison McCool

    As an avid 12 stepper and also a SMART Recovery facilitator. I get the appeal of both groups. I don’t prescribe to the totally powerless aspect either, as in if there is a God, he sure as hell didn’t make people powerless. I believe both these groups add great things to recovery and can easily compliment each other in a recovery plan. I can’t wait for the day thay SMART is no longer “AA ex-patriots” but more people use it first. So we no longer have to hear these comparisons. But accept them solely as their own program. In order to write an article such as this, I do believe there is at least a small sense of bashing present.

  • wiggity

    Interesting discussion I’ve stumbled upon. I agree with some of what I’ve read and disagree with other things. I am a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been sober 6 years. I was sober for a long time and relapsed, and then took a long time getting back to sobriety. I’ve been a very active member of AA and a not so active member. I think AA is a great program, and it certainly helped me. But that doesn’t mean I have loved everything about it. There’s actually a lot about it that I haven’t loved too much. When I was trying to find my way back to recovery, it was excrutiating for me. I absolutely LOATHED having to get up time and time again and say I had a day sober or two days or what have you. So humiliating, and did nothing to help me feel better about myself. The really healthy people in the program would be so great and helpful…..the AA Nazis would make you feel like you had some sort of communicable disease that maybe they would catch. The judgement and scorn I felt from many was palpable. I

    t took me a long time to get back to the place where I am now. And I know this is going to sound completely insane to some, but the thing that actually helped me quit drinking was using marijuana. I’m not advocating this to everyone, and I’m in no way in denial. I had suffered an accident…not because of drinking, as I was completely sober….and went through about 2 1/2 years of surgeries. Through all of it, I was prescribed narcotic pain medication. I hated it. It made me really sick. Not sure why anyone would find the effects enjoyable. I needed to find a way to deal with the massive amounts of pain I suffered without having to use those meds. A friend of mine suggested pot and provided me with some. Although I had smoked it some when I was younger, I hadn’t had any in years. It really saved my life. I was able to get through surgery after surgery and physical therapy without taking hard narcotics. At the same time, it helped me get off of alcohol. I had no desire to drink. Eventually, I didn’t need marijuana anymore. I was healed from my injuries, and had no desire to smoke it. It had definitely served it’s purpose, and I don’t care what anyone says. There are many who would say that I am not 6 years sober because I smoked some pot. I say bullshit to that. AA is for alcoholics. I am not a pot addict…I AM an alcoholic. I have proudly accepted sobriety chips because I HAVE been sober from alcohol for this time.

    I can honestly say that I have never felt more free from alcohol as I do now. I go to meetings once in awhile, but not every week. I read literature here and there, but not every day. I don’t have a sponsor….that never, ever worked for me. Maybe I was just unlucky in the people that I had, but I can honestly say that with the exception of one, they never really helped me. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but I do try to live a good life. Mostly, I just have peace of mind because I am free of the chains of what I view to be poison. I do service work, but not really with other alcoholics. I work with disabled children and elderly. I love it. I try to help people in need. If it’s another suffering alcoholic, sure, but I don’t put myself out there that much. I have practicing alkies in my life in the form of some friends and family members, but, honestly, I really have a low tolerance for it. I would never discourage anyone from finding what works for them. Even the Big Books says that AA isn’t for everyone, and I don’t think it is. I like it…don’t have a problem with it, really, but I can certainly understand if someone does. I say whatever works to help someone stop killing themselves with the booze, right on. The only thing that I do object to is the Rational Recovery b.s. If someone is a true alcoholic, no amount of moderation is ever going to work. Because we are not physically able to do that, and to suggest to people that they can is to really be putting them in harms way. If you’re a real alcoholic, the only way to not die from this disease is to not drink. Period. However you find a way to do that and be happy….so be it.

  • trc0012

    Thank you so much for this post…I have been in recovery for almost 8 months, and have been in AA the entire time. I do appreciate the support I have gotten from many of the people I have met (there are some amazing people in the program), but I have grown weary of hearing the same stories, and am also a bit tired of feeling belittled. I have now joined the SMART Recovery community online, and plan to attend a local meeting tonight. Fingers crossed!

  • i am jus’ naive china guy

    why do you want to stop drinking?

    is it affecting your health?

    cirrhosis, DTs, cardiomyopathy, cerebellar atrophy are all rare even for the worst drunks.

    much more likely is a heart attack as too much drink elevates triglycerides and cholesterol.

  • Jenn

    You have difficulty with it, because you sound intelligent, conscientious, and thoughtful, and AA is opposed to critical thinking of any kind. I am an attorney with over 12 years of sobriety. AA did help me get on my feet after a few rough years that contributed to me drinking problematically. I will give them that. However, it’s a troubling program. While I appreciate the help I got in there, I do believe it verges on a cult. On the one hand, I could never have gotten the kind of hands on support and friendship I had in there for years, anywhere else. I do believe that. On the other hand, if you don’t agree with all of the dogma, religion (and of course it is religion despite all protestations), and platitudes that are clearly flawed, defying all logic, then you will be ostracized and shut off from support. That’s manipulative and culty. Critical thinking is rebuked.

    AA’ers proudly exclaim “you can’t be too dumb to get sober, but you can be too smart.” When a program’s self-advertisement is “you must be dumb and shut down all critical thinking skills to join us,” maybe there is a problem. That in and of itself is a huge red flag. I left our profession for too long at the guidance of “oldtimers,” who I honestly think couldn’t help someone who had accomplished things in life or who had adult goals. The pinnacle of their ambition was to quit drinking, and then just sit around talking about not drinking. I’m not being snarky. I genuinely don’t think they had any experience on the topics of adult responsibilities or success beyond holding a mediocre hourly job and hoping their child that had refused to speak to them for 10 years would one day call them. It was sad.

    I would not run someone off from AA if they desperately wanted help. I don’t know of any system, AA or otherwise, that really guarantees success with alcoholism, but it’s probably better than the nothing I and other people had when we first went there. There were obvious problems with the structure from day one, but I stuck with it, because it was the lesser of two evils, and I was desperate. I have seen many people get sober in there, so at least someone may have a chance with AA. However, plenty of people don’t make it, so obviously, the program can’t guarantee the results it promises, and the blame-the-victim attitude it throws on people who relapse (the majority if we can go by the few statistics on the topic) is cruel. If it really worked, the statistics wouldn’t be so bad. A program that preaches accountability can’t be accountable with its own flaws.

    I do think it is deeply, deeply troubling. If there were other options that I knew worked, I would direct someone there instead. I just don’t know of any.

    I’ve rarely gone to meetings over the past few years. Despite all of the fear tactics, I have not relapsed, died, or ended up in an institution. I have kept in touch with people I knew from AA, so perhaps that has helped maintain some support without having to deal with culty meetings. I am happier than I was the last several years I attended meetings consistently. I have become more and more fed up with the falsehoods and general quackery of a lot of the meetings. I don’t like seeing newcomers misled with promises that are obviously over the top, and with people denying it is a religious program. It obviously is. Every meeting revolves around discussions of God. If that isn’t religious, I don’t know what is. I hope you don’t beat yourself up, and I hope you find an alternative that has less warts than AA.

    • Martin

      too true about they dont like critical thinking 😀 in fact they dont like any kind of thinking. be one of the herd and they will love you, stray………and you have few friends

  • Vinnie Faggio

    AA is a dangerous cult designed to keep you disempowered and dependent on the absolute belief in their harmful rhetoric. Get out now before this sick cult has a chance to further warp your mind.

    Drinking (or not drinking) is a behavior, and you have a choice as to whether you’re going to do so or not do so.

  • JSmith

    Do you know what they call 1000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?

    A Good Start! HaHa Seriously though, When i came into aa they did not have chips. When they started them, some of us, already sober because of AA, felt “the chips” were a way to embarrass people. Now they hand chips out in AA like doctors hand out anti depressant drugs. The most wrong thing in AA is not the chips or being em_bare assed. To me its people that don’t get the “correct” information simply because they’re not told by many, the way i was, to read approved AA literature. It seems sometimes read everything but AA approved literature “Hazelden” is not approved AA literature. There is nothing in any treatment center anywhere that is approved by AA. When i say read, i mean go to a weekly big book meeting where we read out of the first 164 pages. Including the Doctors opinion and when finished, start over again. Also go to a step meeting where they read out of the 12 step book, go once a week. Doing that is the right thing to do if you have a thirst for knowledge of how to be content and really want to learn how aa works. This is exactly what helped me and many others to diagnose myself as a real alcoholic, someone that has the disease of alcoholism. You can be an alcoholic and not have the disease. The disease is the physical compulsion, mental obsession and spiritual deterioration that comes from drinking. Some alcys only have the physical compulsion (addition) although “No alcoholic gets away with drinking” Therefore “the first drink” is my problem, always has been since my “first drink”. Once i put alcohol into my system, my body cries out for more. i also set into motion the mental obsession to drink more. At that point I am beyond human aid.

    I met this lawyer in an AA meeting down in Florida when i got sober. Jim had what i wanted. Easy going, good job, women loved him and he drove a new Porsche, which he let me drive to get ice cream after the meeting. He told me about himself and would LISTEN to me when i talked to him. He taught me how to listen! Now I listen to learn. He had 7 years sober which i could not image doing. He was a great new sober friend. A successful guy and me, a loser. 6 months after hanging out with him my sponsor told me he wasn’t answering his phone on the weekend. His secretary found him dead in his office chair with a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A bottle of Vodka almost empty on his desk. Crying through tears my sponsor said “what a mess he made”. I was shocked…Today, over 30 years later, still going to AA meetings, i know that being grateful is an action word. The action being, I continue going to meetings regardless of how i feel about them. I want the hand of AA, which is me and others, to be there for the newcomer. AA was and still is there for me and its the least i can do for the principles (the steps) that i was taught over a period of time that saved and keep saving my life. You know some of the sickest people walking free, walk into AA meetings. The few that stay and i mean few, really belong there. Principles before personalities. That means “the 12 steps before people”. Its more important “what” i am than “who” i am. AA is not a selfish program, It is a selfless program. Don’t leave AA bud, go to different meetings, land where your comfortable. Grow up in aa dont get a resentment on somebody or somebodies in AA, go off and prove to everyone that your a drunk and a fuckup. God knows ive felt the way you do many times. I know who to talk to and they make me feel like i belong in AA, because i do.

  • Ashley E Phillips

    Hi there and thank you for this thoughtful essay. I am a master SMART facilitator and a professional certified coach with a specialization in recovery coaching. I’m wondering if we could talk via FaceTime or Skype or simply by phone. I have a client who needed treatment. Her insurance company offered 5 programs, each of which is either 100% or 95% 12 step. She (and I on her behalf) was denied coverage for a non 13 step truly individualized/customized treatment modality that is data/evidence based and includes access to smart meetings. I’m
    Attempting to formally request coverage by the jnsurance company, make a formal complaint, or sue the company for “malpractice”. Is this something you might help with? It could be ground breaking. Thank you in advance. I am Ashley E Phillips on Facebook and my email is ashley@ashleyephillips.com

  • jeebus reavis

    I’m curious as to how the transition to Smart recovery has worked out for you.
    I’ve been a 29 year member of AA, but I recognize that it doesn’t work for everyone.
    As an atheist, I have little tolerance for the religious aspects, but it doesn’t keep me from attending.

  • Belial

    Try meditation and NLP. That is what I use and I have no trouble staying sober after leaving AA. I am a Luciferian/Satanist and I AM “God” in my life. I was in and out of AA for years, and leaving has done nothing but make me happier and a better person. Just be honest with yourself. You don’t sound happy. AA is probably holding you back. There are alternatives, even the literature says so, so why not use them. If I really believe there are alternatives, why would I not actually use them? I never have to apologize for my IQ ever again, 135-140. I never have to tap dance around calling the universe my “God” as opposed to myself to appease people I will never agree with, don’t even like in many cases, don’t want around me, etc. That is no way to live ones life. To thine own self be true as they would say…

  • Christopher Pejka

    almost a year later, I am curious…. are you still sober and are you still in SMART RECOVERY??

  • Dick

    Yes and yes

    • Christopher Pejka

      was this a reply to my question?

  • Jay C

    you know what the typical AA argument response to this article would be? they are either going to tell you that you either have a bad attitude or that you were not giving the program 100% honesty and thoroughness. As someone who also has much experience in 12 steps (including sponsoring others) and continues to relapse, it is extremely frustrating to be told time and time again that I was missing something. The main problem with AA is that because a book that was written almost a century ago says that “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path..” the fellowship literally believes that if the program isn’t working for someone, it is their fault. They cannot accept the fact that the program may not work for anyone (interesting enough because they recite the Serenity Prayer quite often and preach acceptance). I know my thoughts are scattered right now but I am very passionate on the subject. I think the 12 steps are amazing and have seen them change many people’s lives. Some of my former sponsies are still sober today. However, sometimes these old timers must admit their own inadequacy. Whether or not a person is at fault or not, if the steps are not keeping them sober, it is completely insane to try them over and over, after countless relapses. It makes no sense that the majority of rehabs are 12 step based as well, offering no introduction to other solutions (besides the fact that AA is free, rehabs need to provide their own money’s worth.) Any way sorry for rambling. If this was any other life threatening disease, the whole thing makes no sense. Lets say a type 1 diabetic habitually forgets to administer their insulin. Yes, it is their fault, but rather than stress the patient’s incompetence and have them continue to try to remember to take it (and fail) for another few years, the doctor will probably put the patient on the pump, which self-administers insulin. My point is that, with diseases, if a solution isn’t working, we try another. It’s painful to watch chronic relapsers continue to go back to the same rehabs or continue to jump back into AA after their 30th try. Isn’t that the definition of insanity???

    • umatique

      it’s not for everyone, so walk away….

  • Jay C

    29 years one day at a time…. sounds miserable honestly

    • Jay P

      Agreed. Pure torture. “if you want what we have…” Who would want to actively call themselves an alcoholic while abstaining and actively trying to move passed it. Who wants to obsess over their problems rather than find solutions. Not I.

  • Albert

    I do not agree with the 24 hour coin nor the ten year coin. Principles before personality I thought is what the tradition states. How do I remove the ego or practice humility when I am worshiped for my clean/sober time … and let’s face it; it might not be intended to be worshiping, but that is what goes on at many anniversary celebrations.

    • umatique

      Principles before personality is the 12th tradition of anonymity. I certainly don’t recall being “worshipped” for my years of sobriety. I’ve had people express happiness and general support. Some have even said they felt a little bit inspired, which was nice. But “worship”? lol!!

  • Martin

    i have been sober 34 years , almost 35.
    i started out in aa, and had trouble with the disease concept and other stuff i heard. i stayed because
    1: i knew before my first meeting that my drinking was over,2: for the first time in my life i came across a small handful of people who started talking about their feelings.
    after seven years in aa the feelings i drank to push down, started surfacing in a big way: guilt shame depression and anxiety.
    i made the decision to start doing work on these issues. “aa is all you need,’ i was told by an alpha male. He hung himself two years later.
    the next eighteen or so years were incredibly difficult as i relived a cold emotionless home life and being sent to a catholic boarding school aged 8.
    Today, the police would close that place down.
    during this period i did not attend aa. I have never thought of having a drink, even through issues like a brain tumor, melanoma scare and major depression..
    i am very grateful i found the local Buddhist monastery. they taught me how my mind works and i became a committed meditator.

    I read a lot, and i did a lot. i was lucky enough to find a really good psychiatrist, who had dealt with her own shit.
    as a result of committed Metta meditation, i no longer suffer from depression. I made friends with it 😀
    I am a big fan of neuro plasticity and my ability to rewire my brain and therefore the way i think.
    i am also very grateful to myself for hanging in there when change seemed impossible.
    i am grateful that aa was there in the beginning, however i am about to stop going. i can no longer sit in a room whilst people talk about their disease knowing i do not have one. never believed it from day one. i feel dishonest in the fact that i dont get up and say……….i used to have a drinking problem, that was thirty four years ago, but i do not have a disease.

    we all have to find our own way………….i do hope you find yours 😀

  • Gary Ockunzzi

    Great story. I consider myself to be a science person as well (I do believe in God also, and don’t feel that my belief’s conflict with science), I retired as a senior sales manager for two scientific publications. Please consider reading the Sept. 18th, 2012 article in Popular Science Magazine: “There’s No Such Thing As Time,” written by an anthrophyscist (someone on or about at your educational level. Remember the late Jim Croce’s song, “If I could save time in a bottle?” Well, fact is, we can’t (I had over 20 years of continuous, uninterrupted sobriety at one time. I don’t want a chip, a coin, and I don’t count days or try to “save time in a bottle,” either time gone by or time in the future that hasn’t arrived yet (and, may not) as there is only this moment-in-time. Right now. The rest is an illusion.

  • Gary Ockunzzi

    If you can do it through Smart Recovery or any other channel, my attitude is God Bless you and do it. I don’t judge anyone’s path to recovery. I can’t. But on the other hand, I don’t consider myself to be part of some of the mindset of old school A.A. establishment thinking, either. The 12 steps are working for me and I believe that they saved my life. But that doesn’t mean that this is the route for everyone. The proof of the pudding is simple: are/is, anyone “recovered” today, or, aren’t they. To me it’s that simple.

  • Larry Stricklin

    I came to AA for my drinking problem at 29 years of age. I was looked down on, maybe it was the hair. So my drinking got me a prison sentence for drunk driving with bodily harm. When I got out at age 40 they made me go to meetings. Parole officer checked my slip. Here’s the thing, I woke one morning after a five day blackout drunk and was ready to stop. I was done, beaten in every way and when I went to AA with this level of surrender they took me in. They took me to meetings and coffee. four guys told my at coffee if I was serious they would help, if I was not don;t waste there time. Well 26 years later I did not waste there time. After my six month chip they told me to take my drug a log to Narcotics Anonymous. This was home for 25 years clean time. I will forever be grateful for the NA family that welcomed me in Oregon.
    2016 was a big year. I left the program in February and have no regrets. It has been interesting to see how some have reacted. Not only did I leave I began using cannabis for my arthritis as a choice over narcotic pain pills and cortisone shots. For the most part this choice has lessened my pain to a very tolerable level. I am finding I less and less desire to ever attend a meeting again. It seemed like using the tools suggested, I transended the need to attend. I have my spiritual connection and its mine. I have great friends that stood by me thru thick and thin. And some people I thought were friends disappointed me.

  • umatique

    Having read the article, AA is definitely not for you….

    • Jay P

      …because he definitely doesn’t want what you have.

  • Yolanda

    I have read the post and comments with interest. I have been a AA member for about 3 years and I do feel that some of AA’s program does assist in obtaining sobriety, but I can’t do the dogmatic program over and over again. I am still and have questioned AA from the beginning, but I have also found amazing people on my road there. I have also been told that should I leave I will relapse, which in a way becomes a dilemma of do or die, but I just can’t see myself in 20 years time sitting in a meeting and doing I am …. and ain’t life a ball of sunshine.

    I have met many people that conquered their alcoholism through various other ways than the 12 Step program. At his stage I feel discontent and a fraud sitting with sponsees telling them this is a lifetime commitment when I don’t even feel that I can do this for my lifetime. This however does not mean I want to go and peruse the closest bottle store and stock up on a couple of bottles.

    I was basically looking around for alternatives that can assist in learning more on alternative ways. Unfortunately the Smart meetings in South Africa are far and few between I would have liked to attend one or two to see what it was all about.

  • Jay P

    Thank you for this post. I came upon this after digging a little deeper into smart recovery and how it compares to AA. I was trying to find the words for what I was seeing in the smart recovery meetings as apposed to what I have seen in the rooms of AA over the last 6 months
    I too found AA to be a sigh of relieve at first. The openness about personal problems with alcohol was very refreshing. The friendliness of everyone at the meetings, especially to a newcomer, was hard to see past. Not understanding the full weight of what I was jumping into, I quickly chose a sponsor and was ready to start the steps, but I was intent on being as honest and committed as I could possibly be.
    Its been 6 months now and I can not get past the 1st step, much less the 2nd. I just can not admit that powerlessness over something while maintaining determination to overcome it. I have gone ahead and done my best with steps 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10 on my own as my sponsor is unwilling to move on until I can get past step 1. I attend 4-5 meetings a week and they have become torture. I try hard to silence my contentious thoughts in hopes that some form of solid advice will slip out of these sheep’s mouth only to end up exhausted and frustrated from the endless sifting through bitching and complaining. Other than a small social benefit, I have not got a single thing from an AA meeting. All I hear are problems that can be solved with common sense and some will power. I don’t have my problems figured out fully, but the problems I do have are not in the least bit being addressed.
    I have been to two SA meetings so far and they have been constructive, thought provoking, and motivating. I have high hopes for the whats to come. I plan on quitting AA cold turkey, and letting firing my militant sponsor next time i talk to him. I have found him to be unsupportive and closed minded and will not miss anything about that relationship. I think AA is great for those who are alright with being sheep. It’s just not for me.

  • Soberdrunklawyer

    I don’t feel AA pressures me to label myself as an alcoholic. But, identifying as an alcoholic has helped me to come to terms with character defects that caused others and myself harm and heartache. If I relapsed, a few years beyond 4, I wouldn’t feel pressured to pick up a white chip… but I would, to confirm my recommitment to myself. The program has taught me to have tolerance, focus more on what I have in common with others than how we are different and to cultivate both the ego-deflated requirements and desire to be of service to others. I think one would have healthy skepticism when reading an article by someone who recently relapsed and professes to have discovered “IT.” Unfortunately, I don’t care to spend the time perusing 68 comments to find out how this fellow has fared since the article was originally published.

  • unbubeebable

    I came across this article in search of something else. I was actually looking for the statistics on the number of desire chips given out versus the number of 1 year chips and so on. I haven’t heard of SMART and will be looking online for more information.

    I’ve never had a problem with God but the gossip and backstabbing that goes on in AA is pervasive. It’s like the high school popularity game all over again. If you don’t play the game, you lose miserably,…again. :(

    Alcoholics turning away addicts because we don’t tolerate THOSE differences? “Dr. Alcoholic, Addict” was re-titled to “Acceptance Was The Answer” ironically because we don’t ACCEPT addicts in our meetings? And yet the doctor’s story is unchanged. The doctor had a huge problem with drugs. But HE wasn’t turned away from AA. What happened to looking for the similarities? Why is AA sending addicts to non-existent/few and far between Narcotics Anonymous meetings?

    I’ve been sober over twenty years and have had long periods of time without meetings. What I’ve found is that if you aren’t around to stand up for yourself,…stories are made up about you. Several years after high school I heard I’d been killed in a car accident from several classmates. Ten years after moving away from a club an oldtimer, (and once dear friend), is telling people I went back out. It seems like the more time sober you have,…the more people enjoy hearing you went back out. And nobody comes to me about it. They just accept the gossip as gospel and shun me for being a fraud. I see it as God’s way of choosing my friends. Good friends wouldn’t behave that way.

    AA has become too competitive and often combative. Oldtimers lay in wait at meetings for someone to say something they can correct. Shameful. It seems there are more people wanting to be right, (wisest guy in the room), than sincere, (honest about their struggles). Group conscience is a control freaks wet dream/nightmare. Jenn, (see below), is right about critical thinking,… definitely frowned upon. Most everyone claims to be spiritually fit in meetings, (children whistling in the dark?). To me that’s like claiming to be the most humble man in the world,… no,…the universe! And when members say you got to do this and you got to do that,..what they’re really saying is “If you and I are going to get along,…you have to agree with me,…and my big-book-thumpin’ friends ,….what step are you on?”

    Sobriety is a “gift”. Most say they’re sober “by the grace of God.” but then they proceed to tell you how they did it and how you have to do it,….all their hard work and service work is what got them sober. I’m grateful for my sobriety. I do see it as a gift and pray I never get so full of myself that I send others packing. Practicing alcoholics are an offensive lot. Sober horse thieves get better at stealing horses and sober alcoholics get better at being offensive. Gurus included. Being sober for a long time doesn’t magically make you a better person. It can actually make some people down right ornery. Some are the “hand” of AA and some are the “finger”.

    I get along with most everyone so it surprises me when a group of admitted “losers” says to
    “stick with the winners”. Once again,…they separate themselves from perceived “losers” in the program, (looking for the differences). I’m guessing those would be the chronic slippers and the “dry drunks”. “Dry drunks” are shunned. “Dry drunks” being anyone who hasn’t worked the
    steps,…yet. I worked the steps so the group would accept me. I don’t think God cared one way or another if I worked the steps. Confession and making amends are good for the soul. But that has more to do with me forgiving myself than being forgiven by others. Not only accepting myself but liking who I am today is one of the nicest perks of being sober.

    Anyway,…I hope you find what you’re looking for in or out of the rooms of AA. Peace and serenity are worthy goals and I hope you find both. Apologies for the rant.

  • squishything

    I stayed sober eight years and eight months, cleared away the wreckage of my past. I shared of my experiance taking the steps ‘change’ and living sober. Funny thing “no one wants to hear that in an AA meeting.((((((( My sobriety has been the lonlyest time in my life. )))))) I don’t suggest AA meetings, but I do suggest reading the book pertaining ‘ problem drinking.’ I drink today now and then, but I cannot grasp the thought of getting drunk and distroying my life that took so long and hard to achieve. Yes! I can hear the AA finatic say “bla bla bla” no thanks I’m good.

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