Yes, It's Possible to Stay Sober Without AA

Yes, It’s Possible to Stay Sober Without AA


Behold the biggest myth you’ll ever hear in Alcoholics Anonymous: that you can’t stay sober without AA. If you leave, you’ll surely relapse, and if you relapse it means jails, institutions or death. If you somehow circumvent this triumvirate of misfortune, your entire life will be miserable. You certainly won’t be happy, joyous and free. Instead, you’ll be a dry, spiritually-vacant, self-centered asshole, teeming with restlessness, irritability and discontentment.


AA certainly helps people, and I’m not here to bash the program or say it’s wrong or doesn’t work. But it definitely isn’t for everyone. For those who want to leave, whether or not you’ll relapse—in my cocky opinion—depends on your motives for leaving and your determination to stay sober. If you really want to stay off the booze, you can do it whether you go to meetings or not. If you’re sort of indifferent about the matter, you may end up with Jack Daniels in your soda the very next day. But maybe that’s neither here nor there—not everyone who comes to AA is necessarily an alcoholic or someone who can’t ever drink safely again.

But for those of us with genuine drinking problems who don’t want to go near the liquor, the belief that we’ll relapse if we leave AA no matter what, is fear-based mumbo jumbo.

The power of suggestion really is powerful. If I convince myself that leaving AA is going to make my life unravel, it probably will. If I convince myself that I am capable of being a sober, well-adjusted adult on my own, making my own decisions without delegating every step I take to a sponsor or Higher Power, then I can probably learn to spread my wings and fly out of the nest that is Alcoholics Anonymous.

But wait! Don’t I have to spend the rest of my life being of service to other Alcoholics? That’s what AA teaches and giving back to the community is important, but there are many ways to do this. I don’t want my whole life to revolve around my past—I am so much more than that and I want to move forward.

This is one of the many reasons I have decided to pull away from AA. The constant suggestion that at my core I am nothing more than a defective alcoholic is not something I buy into. I abused alcohol for many reasons, and I might be extra susceptible to getting hooked to it, along with any drug on the planet (including Diet Coke) but am I somehow morally defective? Am I spiritually sick? Do I constantly suffer from “alcoholic” thinking?

Uh, no.

So leaving AA is very much possible for those who still want to stay sober. Once you push all that superstition out of the way, you can start championing some simple common sense approaches to keeping the plug in the jug. Depending on your personality and personal ideology, these might prove more beneficial than listing your character defects or chanting prayers.

For starters, you still have to be very committed to your sobriety. Many people leave AA because they’re on the fence about whether they even want to be sober, or they don’t think they’re an alcoholic, or they think they might be able to drink just fine without dire consequences. Some people can safely moderate, but you have to know your own limits. I, for many reasons including (but not limited to) my bipolar brain chemistry, am not interested in drinking in moderation. With this in mind, I still have the same commitment to my sobriety as I did in AA, which means drinking is not an option.

Personally, I don’t like to have heavy drinkers in my inner circle, and this isn’t out of judgement, it’s just an “out of sight out of mind” thing. I am fortunate that all the “normies” in my life, (and they are many and include my roommate and my boyfriend), not only rarely drink but they actually don’t enjoy drinking. This is extremely helpful and might be one of the key reasons I feel safe leaving AA. Of course, you can’t hide from drinkers and drinking, but you can certainly surround yourself with people who just don’t have booze on their radar.

When I go out for dinner with my boyfriend, drinking isn’t even on the table as a discussion—we always split a bottle of sparkling water. My roommate doesn’t stock booze in the house, so once again it’s out of sight and out of mind. She, like my boyfriend, never even thinks about booze. My other close friends will sip a cocktail at a comedy show or dinner, but they sip just one and seriously wouldn’t mind going without it if necessary.

When no one around me needs booze, either to have fun or to take the edge off a hard day’s work, it reinforces the idea that drinking isn’t a solution to stress and in no way enhances the experience of living on this planet. Alcohol isn’t bad or wrong of course, but like any substance—be it Nutella, bananas, Fruit Loops or thyme—it’s just not necessary for my survival.

It’s also great to have sober friends around too.

Being curious about the world is also super important, and I happen to want to learn about everything and anything, so I rarely get bored, even if I’m just looking up crap on Wikipedia. Having constructive interests and activities is a powerful aid to staying sober, and if AA is your thing this is one of the reasons it works. Boredom is just not a good thing. Think of all those small town kids who get into meth because they are bored out of their minds and they’ve got two choices for fun—hang out at the local Foster’s Freeze or score drugs. When you have stuff to learn, places to go, mountains to hike, things to knit, to cook, to read—even if it’s just staring at VICE all day, it makes it way easier not to drink.

If you need alcohol or drugs to be stimulated, it’s time to find something to geek out on. Even if it is NASA’s twitter feed or golf.

Lastly, it’s definitely important to stay on top of your mental (and spiritual, if you’re into that) health, and this goes for anyone on the planet. Just like I try to stay on top of my cholesterol by cutting out butter, (which is no easy task) I try to keep up with my mental and spiritual health through various activities. Including a SMART Recovery meeting here and there, dancing, meditation, positive hypnosis, or just taking a long and leisurely stroll.

By consciously choosing to stay well, to engage whatever support I need to keep my mind and emotions balanced—and this can also mean getting solid sleep, eating nourishing foods, taking an Uber instead of driving crosstown in ungodly traffic, taking vitamins, supplements and psych meds when needed—I protect myself from getting into a nutty emotional state where I might do something stupid.

And for me taking a drink or snorting a line of coke is a very dumb move.



  1. When I started trying to get sober, it seemed that AA was the only option. And I was truly glad that these strangers would accept me into their midst and care for me in such a way that I had never experienced before.

    With such kindness a certain amount of trust comes along immediately. And as they have been sober for x amount of years and are telling me this is the only way. And that if I walk back out those doors I’m as good as dead. Then they list the people who HAVE gone back out and ARE dead…

    Also being in such a vulnerable state having just stopped drinking, one is INDOCTRINATED… unintentionally perhaps, but you are hooked in all the same.

    Then you read that book. Well meaning and relevant for its time, but come on guys. Its not the word of God. It could do with updating to keep in line with current information. Treating it like some holy text is doing a disservice to the people you purport to be helping.

    And the point of the OP you need to stop once and for all this nonsense that AA the only way. For some poor souls it’s the opposite! They will never get sober in AA, even if they are “working the program” to the letter.

    As closed minded sheep AA folks will say this is not possible. To this I say STFU. you know not what you talk about.

    I spent 12 long years. Tedious years. Especially as a non smoker, sitting getting gassed at umpteen meetings a week, listening to the same shite over and over. A weekend of booze and back to it again, never getting more than 6 months sobriety.

    I left AA. And drank for a month or two then I decided to stop. That was 9 years ago on the 1st of February.

    No doubt the AA punters will be sitting back smugly saying “he’ll drink again”. And I can’t disprove that until I pop my clogs.

    But remember the door swings both ways on those meeting room doors as well…

    So is it possible to get sober without AA? YES! And for some of us it’s the thing that actually makes it possible! Getting your life back. Not sitting in brown rooms with sad men chanting irrelevant tales.

    I admit to being slightly bitter…

  2. I know this article is 2 years old, but it has really helped. I’ve been weaning off AA (I’m 2.5 years sober) and all I am getting from my old sponsor and hoime group is judgement. I’m ready to be my own person, and am proud of everything I have accomplished without a so-called ‘higher power’.

    Thanks Tracy

    • Andrew Barnes on

      ” I’m ready to be my own person, and am proud of everything I have accomplished without a so-called ‘higher power’.”
      You already are ‘your own person’, if you think you are not then you are still are bonded to self.
      Proud of= danger. False pride is not for us egomaniacs.

      • Oh shut up. Self-righteous prick. “Shame=Pride.” “Pride=Danger.” “Keep what you want and take the rest.” “Let go and let God.” “BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAAAAAAH.”

  3. Tesa Turner on

    I, too, found this article after googling can you stay sober without AA. Here’s my story…I was addicted to crack for years…tried AA and didn’t feel like I fit in. I had a good job, a nice car and all my teeth. It was almost like I wasn’t broken enough to my sponsors. Like do AA and nothing else…don’t run or work out because meetings are more important. Anyway, I finally woke up one day and never got high off crack again but I still smoke marijuana. Well I did AA a few months later and stayed sober for two years by doing all the things I was supposed to do. But what turned me off was the stupid stuff I would see my sponsor do…like how are you telling me about my situation and you are doing crap I wouldn’t do drunk? Anyway…needless to say I moved away from AA and start backing smoking weed and drinking. Now I will say thins…alcohol is not my main thing. I do drink socially and the marijuana just kind of got like the crack…it was no longer doing the trick and no longer fun and the people and places I had to deal with to get it started being beneath me. Well…I don’t hang around weed smokers anymore. I have no desire to go buy it or call folks to smoke theirs and when I do I remind myself of how I will no longer be in control of my thoughts and I don’t smoke weed. I’m not knocking AA at all and never will. I just believe there’s more than one way to get downtown. Just like their are numerous religions, I believe there are numerous ways to quit doing addictive substances. I do listening to AA speakers on YouTube and follow Recovery groups and people on social media. I’m just not interested in going to meetings and feeling like I’ve failed if I don’t. I don’t feel like continually saying I’m an alcoholic for the rest of my life either. I’m a wonderful person who’s had some traumatic experiences and I used alcohol and drugs to feel better. At this point, I’m learning that my thinking is janky and I need to fix it. AA has some quality pointers when it comes to that. I love how they explain that I had this train of thinking prior to my first drink. Now that I know what I know…I know now that all I have to do is clean up my thoughts, take inventory of my day and be helpful when I can. AA is great but just not for me today. I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or shot of something when I’m hanging out with my family and we’re toasting to Love, Life and Family. I even love the new orange beer…but it takes me a week to drink a tall can of it. Do I get tipsy on my birthday and have a great time? Yes, I do. I’ve learned to enjoy my life without being restless, irritable and discontent…and if I ever get like that I know I need to pray, meditate or get on YouTube and watch an AA speaker. Or I know a great Recovery blog that always lifts me up when I’m down. All and all I’ve learned to live my life on my own terms and to be comfortable in my own skin. This was a great talk and I respect everyone’s outlook…but I have no issues with AA. It’s just not mandatory for me.

  4. I absolutely could not agree more with this statement. I have been sober for 1.5 years and completely loathe AA.
    CAL… you also sound like a whiny victim and people like you definitely feel superior in a cult. Placing blame on people who go to AA and don’t choose to stay illuminates your narrow mind and your narcissism. Don’t throw stones from your glass house.

  5. One gal above said there are 2 million drunks and 1.7 million are drinking!! AA must suck!!!!


    Isn’t the better question if 3 million folks are doing great……what are most of them doing???? Duh!!!

    One gal said I am supposed to do what they suggest no questions asked!!!

    If I had terminal cancer and someone said do these 6 things everyday….it’s what we did and our cancer is in remission…..

    Where oh where is the wisdom in bucking what they are telling me what they did????

    Answer, there ain’t none!! No wisdom questioning the folks who are recovering from a hopeless state of mind body and soul and not listening!!!!!

    My favorite quote is in the back of the big book!!

    There is a principle bar none which is proof against all arguments that is guaranteed to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is contempt prior to investigation.

    The learning is after the doing.

    33 years sober and clean and follow of ya want!! You don’t have to!!!

    AA has spawned over depending who ya ask 50 to 200 other 12 Step Fellowships. Gamblers, sex addicts….you name it!!

    I decided early on to shut the hell up and do as I was told for one year!!!

    Best decision I ever made!!! Listening to my own counsel was part of the problem.

    Just think listening to folks who did not do the deal for their own reasons is not an accurate way to evaluate AA.

    In theory AA is perfect. Trust God, Clean House, Help Others!

    Which of those three suck????

    Folks not doing that saying IT sucks, suck!!! Lol

    Anyway if I had terminal cancer I want to talk to the survivors, do what they do!!!!!

    Not try to be smarter than them!!! What if I am wrong???

    Addiction is as deadly as cancer so I recommend growing up.

    Follow the suggestions long enough to see if it’s worth continuing!!

    Run into folks ya don’t like……don’t hang with them!!! Find folks you do who are doing the deal and get on with it!!!

    Or don’t!!! I am ridiculously happy sober and clean whether anyone reading this recovers or drinks themselves to death!!!!

    My way about got me dead and I was miserable! Taking a few suggestions from some well meaning wise people made sense and still does today.

    Rarely have we seen a person fail who thoroughly follows the path!

    So follow it!!!

    82 years of proof!! Duh!!!!


  6. Sober 33 years.

    It really does not take half a brain to figure this out.

    Go to page 83 and 84 of the big book.

    The Promises do not say if you do these things you won’t drink. DUH!

    They say do these things and these things will happen.

    What are they?? The reasons folks turned to sedation as a lifestyle.

    The problem is not the sedative, it is life choices that lead to feelings that require sedation.

    Any half wit that thinks they understand the human condition better than what the steps suggest…….ego driven complete idiots.

    Leave the AA part out……look at what the suggestions say……trust God, clean house, help others.

    So dingalings who THINK they are smarter than what AA suggests……which part would you say needs to go?? There are only 3 parts…which goes??? Cleaning house?? Helping others.

    My suggestion is folks get a first hand experience following the suggestions.

    Do not listen to idiots who did not and then they explain why.

    Are there other ways to get sedation out of ones life????

    Absolutely but hearing from people who do not like AA cause they chose not to follow through is hardly making a case to try an alternative.

    Sad thing is this article is a couple of years old.

    Like to see a snapshot of what happened to some of the folks who said they were having success whupping alcoholism on their own.

    Just for me AA is the greatest from an insider who has been at it 33 years.


  7. AA tips it’s hat to anyone staying sober without AA.This fact is in AA literature, and having no opinion on issues outside of AA is at the core of its traditions and principles.

  8. Pingback: 5 Ways I Stay Sober Without AA - PEER Recovery Indiana Recovery Stories

  9. I so enjoyed this website. When it asks what my website is, I don’t know what to put. I wanted to respond to a couple posts.

  10. Mike Romero on

    I’ve been sober 49 months without A.A and quit identifying as an Alcoholic probably in my 2nd months of sobrierty.

    Alcohol is Bad!
    you don’t need to spend hours criticized by people in A.A. to be sober
    and they are very forced strange things about A.A. that I definitely do not want to be a part of my life.
    you need to know in your core that “Alcohol is Bad”

    Now, I live a happy life and am repulsed by Alcohol and even seeing people waste their money on it at the Grocery Store.

    • You’re still as alcoholic. If a diabetic quits eating sugar and takes medicine, does that mean they’re no longer a diabetic? Of course not, they will always be one. I will have nine years sober in February and I’m an alcoholic. You will always be an alcoholic. Learn the program

  11. One of the major turn-offs for me in AA was a particular interaction I had with a lady in a (more religious based than some) meeting. First she questioned whether I was an alcoholic (like I needed to have been “bad” enough to decide to quit). Then she offered to be my sponsor on the spot (um, you just tried to get me to verbally “prove” that I had a problem… now you want to “support” my sobriety from my “possibly non-alcoholism”???) The final straw was when I explained that my father is an alcoholic that quit cold-turkey 30 years ago and her response was “if he didn’t go to AA he isn’t truly sober”. Excuse me??? He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol but you are telling me he didn’t do it right because he didn’t include your program. Eat it! I’ll go somewhere with a better grip on reality for assistance.

    • There are so many assholes in AA, and new people are expected to follow their advice – no questions asked. I left “the program” six months ago and I’ve never felt more relieved to be away from such a bunch morons.

    • C, if I decided not to follow what AA suggests based on one person I met I would have missed out on the most wonderful life I could have ever imagined.

      Not everyone in AA is someone I respect or like or would ask an opinion from.

      That in no way says anything about AA……it says something about me.

      One thing I have learned over the 33 years I have been sober is response-ability.

      Children and immature folks react! I still have to admit I still do from time to time!!

      However after being rocketed into the 4th Dimension I came to realize NO ONE has the power to influence me in any way shape or form.

      I choose my response, not others for me.

      I am living from the inside out!!!

      I had a guy with more time than me jump me once for spending too much time on my phone in a meeting!!!

      He tried pulling rank on me!! Old md would have freaked, I am no good no one likes me yada yada yada!!

      Instead of reacting I paused, thought and looked right at him and said, “sounds like something cool to talk to your sponsor about”.

      Stopped him dead in his tracks I must say!!

      Learning to pause and respond not react is one of the cool things I learned in AA over the years.

      Just saying there is potentially a lot there for you if you learn to get out of your own way.

      Maybe not. U will never know till u get to the root cause of all your troubles, you.

      Nothing personal I am the root cause of all my troubles too!! And the root cause of all my happiness too.

      Why?? Everything runs through my own head. That is screwy, not lots of good can be seen!!

      My head on straight nothing really bothers me.

      Good luck and take care


  12. Nobody is forcing you to go to AA meetings LOL. It doesn’t even say its a requirement in the Big Book. Meetings are a suggestion because what most alcoholics need are fellowship and an opportunity to practice their spirituality which in the program is helping another alcoholic. AA meetings are for people who can’t stay sober without them. If you think you can go off and do your own thing and stay sober then my hats off to you. I tried that and horribly failed. The point is the program is set up to make it easier for an addict to stay sober physically, mentally and emotionally. If you find other routes where you get both physical, emotional and mental sobriety that’s for free then great! But those who complain are people who still have resentments. And resentments are death to the alcoholic.

    • I really appreciate this comment. I almost question how far this woman’s addiction had progressed when she stopped. I’ve been in and out of court-ordered AA from the age of 17 until I was 31. I’m 32 and finally free — which is an absolutely wonderful feeling — and still I’m extremely depressed. I’ve known for a long, long time I was an alcoholic, probably since before I was 21, but it took a lot to get me to decide I actually wanted to quit more than I wanted to drink. And once that happened, I actually drank far more than ever, and started doing so by myself and hiding it pretty much every time. Blacking out every night I could. Finally starting to feel that my body depended on it even though my health has been in decline for awhile as a result. It’s very easy to say, “go be productive! Go out and be occupied!” For me, it’s destroyed me, steadily, and to such a degree that I now look and feel like absolute shit 100% of the time, which makes me embarrassed to be around even my friends because of the dark bags under my eyes. It’s made me gain weight when I had an absolutely god-like metabolism up until a few years ago. Alcohol has slowly taken everything I liked about myself and if I hadn’t gotten married last year to a woman who somehow still believes in me I am not sure how much longer I’d be around.

      A.A. meetings have been the only place I ever felt enough inspiration to even believe it’s possible I can stop one day, yet I’m so deeply entrenched now that I actually have found excuse after excuse to not attend meetings. What’s absolutely insane to me is that I feel like I’m digging my own grave at the age of 32, and I have met hundreds of people who are/were way worse than I am, and for a lot longer. It’s brought me to the point that I doubt everything I ever believed was good about myself, so how am I supposed to flip a switch and believe that I can do this? I realize the author simply stated it was ‘possible’ to do it alone, but maybe she should’ve qualified that with the fact that it’s subjective and isn’t going to work for very many people. Even though I was binge drinking before I turned 20 I know if I had seen the light and gone cold turkey back then, it would’ve been easy compared to what the prospect of quitting is like now that it’s gone on for so long. Maybe she didn’t attend enough AA meetings — she clearly doesn’t know it’s a progressive disease.

    • “Nobody is forcing you to go to AA meetings…” is what they say when they need to defend the horribly broken pile of garbage “the program” has turned out to be. There are approximately 2,000,000 members of AA and 17,000,000 people who suffer with alcoholism. So I ask you, does it really work?

    • The Author did not state that anyone was “forcing” her to go to AA meetings. She’s explaining why she doesn’t go to AA meetings anymore. And she sounds like she is in a great place after having left an organisation that is not for everyone. This is her story. She is expressing her views as a former member of AA in a measured, rational and interesting manner.

      I’ve been sober in AA for 18 years. There are parts to of AA which I both love and hate.
      The strength and support of good people has saved my life in the past and I haven’t touched alcohol in nearly two decades. I get a lot from doing service. I have a huge amount of gratitude for these aspects.

      However on the flip side, for starters, I’ve had a lot of members I thought were friends turn their backs on me when times got tough.

      I’ve seen a woman in her mid to late 30s with 17 years of sobriety prey on a early 20s guy in his very early days. He was visibly uncomfortable with her aggressive advances after meetings.
      I have also observed middle aged men prey on vulnerable young women in very early sobriety (I took one of these men on once but it was emotionally quite traumatic). I had a man try it on me when I arrived in AA in that same delicate state at the same age. Fortunately I got away from him with the help of my parents back then but it took some months. He flew into a rage when I finally spoke up for myself. I have witnessed much “loved” members be shunned by the majority of their home group when they slip and drink. I’ve seen one die as a result. Quite horrifying.

      These days the social aspect for me with healthy members (now friends) of many years is what keeps me around. I keep away from certain sober members in AA who look outwardly “healthy” but upon closer observation are anything but. I’ve very nearly left AA myself on many occasions due to serious concerns about parts of it. I keep away from those in AA with the evangelical gleam in their eye – those afflicted with The Messiah Complex getting high on power and control.

      I challenge the rusted-on AAThink concept that “resentments are death to the alcoholic”. This is a sentence from the AA Big Book that has been drilled into members of AA in hundreds and/or thousands of AA meetings. As a result, some members become highly suggestible / in real danger of no longer thinking originally for themselves. They then turn around and trot out the concept that has been repeatedly washed into their brains.

      The Author has concerns about AA which she voiced. You then respond that these concerns of hers are actually “resentments” which you then infer will lead to death for her as an alcoholic. She seems to be leading a happy and fulfilled life without AA right about now. So where does that leave your argument? What is your rationale for defining valid concerns and observations as “resentments”?

      Resentments are bad news for everyone. Alkies are not special unique snowflakes because they have/have had a serious problem with the booze and experience ongoing lingering sh.its with certain other human beings. That’s just the uglier side of one aspect of universal human nature in action.

  13. Tracy:

    Thank you so much for providing this discussion Tracy. I was 26 when I first started AA, and spent the next 13 years (without any relapse – I’m kind of anal about sticking to my decisions) going to meetings, big book studies, roundups, BBQ’s, chili cook-offs, skid row visits, keeping commitments, working the steps, being sponsored, sponsoring people, etc. I still have friends from back then, one in particular who is very near and dear to me. He has has about 30 years sober, and still goes to 5 meetings a week. But he is a very kind person, not dogmatic at all, and we have a long history based on non AA related experiences and friendship.

    By 13 years sober I was a licensed attorney, had my own practice, and was definitely tired of the same old AA speak and the same old people – they were suffocating me. Most importantly I wanted a wife and family. Spending so much time in AA, thinking AA thinking, speaking AA speak, spending lots of time with AA people, being the ‘person’ my AA ‘friends’ thought of me as, wasn’t cutting it. So I drifted off, and eventually met and married my Wife and we now have 2 beautiful sons, 9 and 10.

    Unfortunately I had some alcohol related problems with high blood pressure/heart disease a few months ago (I was drinking daily) so I’ve been referred to rehab through [facility name omitted]. I actually went to [facility name omitted] the year before voluntarily. At that time I asked and was told I wouldn’t be forced to deal with anything AA related. They lied. Not only were AA meetings mandatory, the counselor would get outright angry if I discussed my preference not to have anything to do with AA. Needless to say I left that program after a very short time. I came back a year later (blood pressure/heart attack scare during alcohol withdrawal). Nothing has changed at the clinic. 12 steps are prominently featured on the walls in meeting rooms, meeting discussions can revolve around subjects directly from the Big Book, ‘Powerlessness’ being a big one. They even require random drug testing (and I’m voluntary – what are they going to do if I fail a pee test, make me go drink a beer because I’ve been sober naughty?). My counselor was even telling me I have to get an AA sponsor, and that I have to have phone numbers of at least two sober AA people that I have to call every day. He also told me “Don’t you know you have to go to meetings for the rest of your life and live your life under the care of a Higher Power, God?”

    This is crazy, for what it’s worth, I have a great marriage (to a non-alcoholic/non-drinker), two wonderful kids, a house, property, plenty of money in the bank, a professional career going strong after 25 years, a huge amount of friends and family (some of whom drink, some of whom don’t, and all who could care a less about AA either way). Yet I’m being told by AA affiliated people that I have to go to meetings for life, and that missing meetings in order to meet work or family commitments ‘is no excuse’ (I can’t make it make it a priority to put a roof over my family’s head or spend time with my kids and tell them I love them? WTF?). My counselor even tried to refer me to ACA another 12 step group. For Christ sake I’m 50 years old, my parents have passed away, I did years of therapy many years ago, and the best this guy can do is try to recruit me to yet another 12 step group. The whole thing feels coercive, or like I’m a character in George Orwell’s novel 1984.

    As for AA meetings I’ve been to recently, there are the ‘know it all people’ who can’t wait to ‘sponsor’ any unsuspecting newcomer they can find, people eager to sell you the Big Book, people eager to meet ‘after the meeting’ to talk about ‘the program’, people offering phone numbers. (I can just see my Wife getting upset asking who are these weird people calling you? She’s very conservative Catholic and very family oriented.) There’s the repeated Big Book readings (Ch.3, Ch. 5, ‘Acceptance’), and of course the privileged ‘old timers’, who in one meeting I go to all seem to sit in the front row in an elite group of august elders (kind of like a Mormon Temple I imagine). One meeting I’ve gone to even makes everyone state their time sober up to the day when introducing themselves to the group, for what reasonable purpose I have no idea.

    [BTW In the first 13 years I was in A.A. I saw plenty of sexual and financial exploitation of vulnerable individuals, especially newcomers. Hopefully some clever attorney can figure out how to sue AA right up to New York and hit them with massive damages for their long documented and willful failure to address these issues.]

    As someone who walked away from 13 years sober because I (gasp) chose to spend all my time and effort to court and marry my Wife, and start a family, because it was more important to me than AA sobriety, I’m definitely viewed with suspicion at AA meetings. There seems to be definite pressure from individuals at meetings that I should feel remorse for ‘breaking my sober vows’. I don’t feel any remorse at all because I’m extremely proud of my Family, which I worked hard for and earned the privilege of being a husband and father. I actually I have everything I ever wanted in life and then some. Yet I’m told by AA types that ‘you’re sick’, ‘you seem depressed’, ‘you’ll go out unless you keep going to AA meetings’, and on and on. I am really out of patience with this, and am looking for alternatives. Smart Recovery seems worth checking out. A local parish is having a 4 week “History of the Catholic Church” seminar that just so happens to be on the same night as my AA rehab class. I’m thinking of attending the Catholic seminar and skipping AA class just to see if I ‘get in trouble’ with the AA rehab counselor for missing the AA rehab meeting. I’m betting that my going to see a Catholic Priest speak is ‘no excuse’ for missing AA rehab class! (For the record my Wife is a practicing Catholic, the kids go to Catholic school and had their first communions, and the kids are involved in alter service.) So if I want to explore my Family’s Catholic faith that good’s enough for me – who know some good may come from it. I don’t see why see why an AA rehab counselor should have an issue with it.

    Anyway, I had plenty of fun in AA all those years ago, I had plenty of fun with the booze these last few years. I also had plenty of sickness and misery from that last ‘party’ I threw myself, and admittedly that was nobody’s fault but mine. But I am sincerely interested in pursuing abstinence from alcohol and I doubt moderation is a viable option. I really like to drink till I get good and high. The fact of the matter is though I can’t drink even if I wanted to. I have high blood pressure/heart attack issues and my Wife needs me, her Husband, and my kids need me, their Father. I intend to be there for them.

    Interesting exchange with AA Rehab counselor –

    Him: Q: “What would be your motivation for a reason for you not to take that first drink?”

    Me: A: “Um, I have high blood pressure and a history of heart problems, so I don’t want to have a heart attack and die?”

    Him: Q: “No! You have a lifelong disease, you are powerless over alcohol, you have totally give your will and your life over to a higher power “GOD”, and you have to go to meetings for the rest of your life or die!”

    Me: A: “Um, okay…..”

    The only thing now bothering me is getting the rehab counselor/AA weirdos off my back. My wife by the way is in love with me, and I’m in love with her, so our 10+ years marriage is beyond the Moon at this point. She’ll support me no matter what (drinking excepted). I don’t mind the occasional AA meeting provided it’s attended by truly caring, non-judgmental people (yes I know some – oddly enough the one I like best is female-dominated – coincidence?). Other than that I’m about ready to tell my AA counselor to take his pee tests, and his AA bullying, and shove it. To be honest I would never use the words ‘shove it’, more likely a very diplomatic and polite conversation, the conclusion of which would be that I’m going to explore recovery options other than 12 step based treatment, like Smart Recovery, nothing personal.

    Thanks for letting me vent. John

      • I’ll take my Wife and Sons over staying around the program 1000 timess out of 1000, drinking or sober is less important – that may be beyond some people’s ability to understand or accept but I could care less about them

      • Hey LivingOn? Here’s a concept: How about some respect from you for John for the 13 continuous sober years he up in AA? Respect for all his service in AA helping people like you and I by keeping meetings running etc. Further, respect for his decisions to leave AA for his own reasons, respect for his complete honesty in telling us about his relapses. And, oh yes, how about some empathy LivingOn in your capacity as a fellow alcoholic who has also been through the hell that is active alcoholism. How about all that instead of your faintly patronising amused ten word LOL judgement? How about passing on some encouragement to John? How about offering your hand out for help next time with kind words instead of laughing at someone’s misfortune. After all, it could so easily be you again one day needing that hand …even when you’re still sober…”one alcoholic helping another”

    • Well, as one of those “Internet Trouble Makers” (and closer to 40 years continuously sober than 30), I like to point out how “straw man techniques” are used in on-line rhetoric. This article is a perfect example with the claim “AA says you can’t stay sober any other way.” Here’s an analysis of that technique.

      Take a set of old clothes and fill liberally with straw. Obtain a paper sack or pillow case and paint a face on it. Attach to the torso and douse liberally with gasoline or other inflammable.

      Apply a match, stand back and point to the predictable inferno, and loudly proclaim victory for the forces of reason and enlightenment.

      I’m wondering why, when I clicked on this link (while doing a Google search on a related subject) I was “subjected to a sales pitch” for a treatment program (probably “non-12 Step; that’s a marketing device these days).

      AA doesn’t claim any monopoly on God, sobriety, or any other outside issue, and is not affiliated with any organization or institution, period. Probably rude of me to remind people of that…

  14. Thank you for sharing! I am 18 years in recovery, in a 12 step fellowship. I also work on addiction policy and program development, and experience the truth that there are a variety of recovery experiences everyday. I lift up the variety, as I think it represents the reality that recovery vulnerabilities and supports vary as greatly as addiction vulnerabilities. As such, it makes sense to me that a menu of options, many with the capacity to be individualized, would be what would work best to impact “the problem” overall. Your truth is important, valuable and will save lives. Again, thank you for sharing it!

  15. Thank you so much, Tracy, for your article. I was googling “leaving AA and staying sober”, and it came up…what a relief! I have been in AA for almost 8 months now, and while I am thankful for the support I have gotten and for many genuinely kind people in the program, I have become disillusioned. I did the recommended “90 in 90”, signed up for a service position, got a sponsor, chaired meetings as soon as I could, yet I never feel like it’s good enough. My sponsor has given me unwanted advice about family issues and has told me to go to another “90 in 90”. I am over it…I am a 44-year-old professional woman who has a problem with alcohol and wants to remain sober, but not by being told how I should live my life. A lot of AA’s preach acceptance, but there is a lot of judgment passed in the rooms. I am going to be weaning off the program, and I now have much more hope for my continued recovery after reading your article. Thank you!!!

    • Tawana Yanez on

      I feel the exact same way Tina! What a total relief! Talk about brain washing… not to say AA isn’t a great tool because it is. But to need it to the extent that if we don’t do exactly as they say for life that we cannot stay sober is disheartening at best.

    • For the past 25+ yrs I’ve been in & out of AA and I’m weaning off of The Program as well. Your post is totally accurate: There are MANY kind, loving, helpful people in AA and, also, quite a few that seem to mess it up for others.
      The Program itself, is simply a practical & peaceful suggestion guide to a less chaotic and more satisfying life. However, I don’t agree with the myriad of ways it has been misinterpreted.
      Best of luck, love, and Life to you all!

        • Rochelle, I just did a Google on HAMS, and the article I saw that reviewed it noted that the founder, Kenneth Anderson, was “down to one 17 drinks per day” occasion per month after “drinking a fifth four times a week.”

          He is certainly following the AA Big Book advice and investigating “controlled drinking.” I wish him well…

          And if I might offer a suggestion for when you go back to AA (if you make it), please hook up with some sober ladies rather than “AA gurus” (I’m one myself, honest). And if you find their micro-management stuff too smothering, find some others (and tell them I recommend they attend a few Al-Anon meetings) who are a better fit.

  16. …Moreover, science has progressed a great deal since the 1930s when quasi-religious A.A. was concocted as a by product from the religious Oxford Group. Check out SMART Recovery for a non-religious program that uses modern proven scientific approach to sobriety.

    • Rochelle D Ramsey on

      Thank you for saying this! So true! Not to mention AA is a disaster for any free thinkers out there. It only helps if you have a dependent personality and need a paternalistic and authoritarian figure to control you

      • It CAN be a disaster with the wrong people who are not able to think outside the box. AA , in my opinion, you CAN use AA to “supplement” your recovery, but it doesn’t have to become your life.

  17. I found your article by doing a Google search on “staying sober without AA”. The reason for my search is that I have been an active member (or as they say, “a very good AAer in good standing”). What does that even mean? If I remain sober and stop participating in everything, am I not still ‘in good standing’? Anyway, I have become disillusioned with AA over recent months. I came into AA not to learn how to quit drinking, I came in to learn a new way of living. I have a new way of living now. I didn’t have a stopping problem, I had a starting problem (once I started I didn’t stop until I passed out or all the alcohol was gone). I didn’t know how to deal with life on life’s terms. I was never given those tools by my extremely dysfunctional family. I drank so I could be someone else, anyone other than me. Due to the 12 steps of AA I have learned how to be me and to be of help to others. I like me. I give thanks to AA (the book and a sponsor I call my tour guide) for opening up possibilities to me. I am happy, healthy (physically and emotionally), have a wonderful marriage and good friends.
    Now for the flip side: It’s been 5 years now of giving my all to AA. I am now exploring more. I am tired of the meetings where I here the same things over and over. I am bored with it. I want to expand my horizons now and walk a different path in sobriety. I don’t want to disrespect AA at all. I just need something more. I was on the fence (fear) about walking away from AA. I, too, have been told the reason others have relapsed was because they stopped doing what your suppose to in AA. I realized though that I can still practice what I’ve learned in AA, however I do not owe AA a lifetime of servitude. I can move on while maintaining my sobriety (both physically and emotionally). Once again Thank you all for your thoughts and opinions.

    • Tracy Chabala on

      Hi Michelle! So glad it was helpful! That’s the whole reason I think it’s important to share, “experience, strength, and hope” right? I agree with you that AA teaches some really great stuff, and the trick is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. This all gets tricky when *some* AA’s say if you just take and don’t give back it’s crappy, or whatever. We all need a little help to get through life with grace and dignity, even those “normies”. I know for me a spiritual way of life is still very important, and I am just now writing a piece on it for the site…about how leaving AA has actually helped me cultivate a genuine spiritual connection. I guess cuz I don’t feel forced. Glad you shared your journey! I have found it far easier to remain positive, open-hearted, and mentally healthy without adding negative labels like “alcoholic, selfish and self-centered” to my person.

  18. Tracy, thank you for your article. it was thoughtful and well written.
    Reading these comments, AA DOES seem like a dangerous cult. Let me be clear:I have never had addiction problems, nor have I attended AA/NA/any “anonymous” program. Having been a Probation and Parole Officer, I am thankful to these programs for helping many people/”offenders.” But reading the comments, the former AA/NA people are defending these programs with a RELIGIOUS fervor–and THAT is always dangerous.

  19. People like Norman are the very reason why so many detest AA. I’m about 7 years sober. Of those 7 years, I spent the first 3 fervently involved in the program. I’ve spent the last four either barely attending meetings, or not attending at all. The turn off? People that speak like Norman, and that’s the irony. It’s those who dogmatically champion the program in hopes of disseminating a message of “recovery” that most often drive people away. I have a full life, a loving partner, a good job, hobbies, sober friends, and steady therapy. AA has grown redundant, and frankly, I’m at a place now where the bullshit is so transparent it makes me cringe. AA was critical for me in the early-going, but now I find it stultifying. Tracy, thank you for honestly and openly sharing your experience.

    • Tracy Chabala on

      “Isolation precludes objectivity. It’s in the merging not simply of ways of seeing but also of modes of thought that a truly whole perception of reality may eventually emerge”.

      THis was from an op-ed “The Joy of Psyching Myself Out” by Maria Konnikova in NYT today.

      I quite like it. I think it can go for any number of recovery methods or ideologies. We can prove whatever we want if we isolate ourselves in one mode of black-and-white thinking, and this can go for Big Book thumpers or AA haters. The truth seems to always be far more nuanced and harder to swallow. As I stay sober, I get to grow up. Part of growing up is moving beyond black and white thinking, no matter how comforting it may be. And…at least in the AA literature, there’s a lot of black and white.

  20. Thank you for this article, Tracy, and thanks to other posters for the thoughtful comments. This is SO helpful to me, as I’m in the process of reducing my participation in AA after 15 months sober.

    I had never tried to quit before. When I realized that alcohol and pain pills were starting to get the better of me, I went to an AA meeting, as it’s the only thing I knew about. I found a sponsor right away, and diligently worked all the steps and took on a weekly service commitment. This must have “worked” in some way, because I haven’t had a drink or pill since that first AA meeting.

    But over the last few months, I’ve been trying to sort through exactly “what worked”. I don’t really believe in the way that AA views alcoholism or recovery … I really believe that inside of us, there’s a person who wants to be sober, alongside that person who wants a drink (or an entire bottle of wine, in my case). The biggest key to sobriety is making a decision to choose abstinence, despite having some ambivalence about it. Everything I do to strengthen that sober person, and nudge aside that crazy addict, works to keep me sober.

    AA can help to strengthen that sober person, just by being around others who are trying to stay sober. The stories remind my sober self of the downsides of drinking/using, and how much chaos it can cause in our lives. Also having a physical place to go each day where there’s no booze, particularly during that “witching hour” which was 6 pm for me, helped me break my daily habit, by choosing a meeting instead of choosing booze.

    But AA can have downsides too, as others have pointed out. The emphasis on powerlessness sends the wrong message to that sober person inside of me … as if it’s all magic somehow, and I never know when sobriety will be snatched away from me. I choose to believe that if I continue focusing on building my health and well being, and don’t drink/use no matter what, I can stay sober and happy in sobriety. I am concerned that keeping AA as a central focus in my life will continue to stir up fear and negativity in me … which doesn’t help my sobriety.

    It’s a confusing time for me. I’m very clear that sobriety rocks way better than drinking/using, and I want to stay sober. I’m clear that I need to try some alternatives for awhile, and reduce or perhaps end my participation in AA. I’ve resigned from being sponsored, which was a difficult move to make. I do wrestle with some guilt, as I appreciate that AA was there for me. I’m frustrated that the alternatives to AA are not as widely available as AA, so that people seeking sobriety would have a wealth of choices to help them.

    It’s so important to hear that there are other ways to stay sober, and that leaving is not signing my death warrant, so long as I’m firmly committed to sobriety and willing to keep taking action to support my sobriety.

  21. Tracy,

    Thank you SO much. What a well written article. Good balance too. Anyone who’s spent any time in AA has heard that no one will stay sober without AA from most folks.

    “The constant suggestion that at my core I am nothing more than a defective alcoholic is not something I buy into.” Amen (giggles). I didn’t leave evangelical Protestantism’s self-loathing only to get to a similar point with my habits.

    And, you handled the detractors well. (I resisted posting “Wow, looks like somebody needs a meeting”, after their remarks.)

    You Rock,
    James “Shoes” Walker

    • I’ve been in and out of AA for close to 15 years and can’t remember anyone EVER saying AA is the only way. Maybe you should’ve a different table after hearing that.

  22. I’m glad I read this. I’m three years sober. The first year was with AA. I think AA is a great program and I recommend it to anyone who wants to get and stay sober. I was apprehensive about leaving the program because in the meetings I was told with out any doubt that if I stopped going to meetings I would soon be using again or white knuckling it. I had been in and out of AA for over 20 years and in those 20+ years only managed to stay sober a week or two every now and then. I just wasn’t ready. Three years ago I was desperate and decided to try AA one more time I was willing to try anything. I worked the program for real this time after about 9 months I started to feel AA wasn’t for me. I found other positive avenues that I felt more comfortable with meditation and tai chi and some other areas of interest. Deep inside I knew I wanted to stay sober and I had found a spiritual path that filled the void that I spend a life time filling with booze and drugs. When I shared with others at meetings that I was concidering leaving the program I was told repeatedly that that was my addiction trying to trick me into thinking I have it beat the whole cunning, baffling and powerful thing. Two years after AA I feel better than ever in my life. With 20 years of AA rhetoric in my subconscious I sometimes wonder if I’m just imagining how good I’m doing and that my addiction is lulling me in to a false sense of confidence. Maybe who knows what will happen but I know I’m not using today, I feel great, I don’t dwell on shit that don’t matter, life is good and that’s good enough for me. I did run into someone from AA a couple of days ago and we talked he assumed like AAers do that because I wasn’t at meetings I was using again. I told him I was doing my own thing he replied that he’s been in AA 17 years and the reason he still goes is to “stay out of the self and help other alcoholics like someone did for him” almost making me feel selfish and ashamed just for a second. AA does great work I will tell anyone that it works for millions of people it’s awesome it’s just not for me. I have gotten to a place where I see we are all in this universe together I don’t see it as alcoholics and the rest of the world we must love and extend our hand to everyone.

    • Tracy Chabala on

      This is a great reply! It’s funny. I spent six weeks abroad and my whole world has opened up. This helped crack open my mind even more, especially given the crisis in Europe/Middle East. There are people in other parts of the world who are constantly facing death and starvation. There are ways to help. There are so many ways to give back in this life, and I do think this is something that brings many of us joy…at least me. I really genuinely want to contribute in this life. Life is short…why not be generous? Sometimes it’s helping someone with addiction or mental illness, other times its sending clothes to the refugees.

      Either way, life has gotten more positive and more warm and much bigger and I feel far LESS self-centered now that I’m gone from AA. I’m no longer doing constant inventories on myself, examining MY every thought and action and motive, praying for myself, focusing on MY recovery and my pain and my problems. I’m free to look outward, to learn about things, embrace new cultures, try new things, go to dance shows, listen to others’ stories and learn about new people and places. Read books! Etc.

      I have other communities in place. I am a member of a dance community and travel community, so that also is wonderful. I feel it’s more positive.

      But that’s just my experience. AA does help people, and I don’t want to discount that. But why do I feel more positive and even more spiritual/sane/centered now that I’ve left?

      Interesting, huh!

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  24. Thanks for this article Tracy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who appreciates the program but feels apprehensive about a few things I’ve heard in the rooms.

    AA helped me a lot in my early sobriety, but it had nothing to do with a spiritual awakening. The rooms gave me a place to go, quite literally, that wasn’t a pub (where I’d drink alone until I was human garbage). It was a place to plop my body down and feel safe for a couple hours. When the meeting was over, I never felt an urge to drink that day, so mission accomplished.
    When I passed two months, I mentioned to the room that I was proud of myself and the work that I’d done. Everyone smiled and offered encouragement except for one crusty old fart. He came over after the meeting and started lecturing me because, “I had nothing to do with my sobriety. It was ALL the program, so I should stop being egotistical and give credit to AA only.”

    I really didn’t appreciate having to defend my good mood to some grumpy old stranger. The program was with me each night, but the program wasn’t there to physically stop me from driving to the beer store. The program didn’t order Perrier water for me at the restaurant. The program didn’t show up to tackle everyone who offered me a drink in the early weeks. That was ALL me. I refuse to diminish what I’ve put into this process. If an old timer doesn’t like that, I don’t really give a shit.

    • HAAA Gord, that is great. Sadly some folks do have some really negative experiences with crusty old bullies “in the rooms.” I get a lot out of the meetings but like you, its more about meeting nice people, supportive people, kind sober people, people who show you you can have a full life, a FUN and fantastic life, without booze.

  25. Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs) on

    A study of what researchers called AA careers studied those who went to AA and followed them for a few years, published November 2005

    Alcoholics Anonymous Careers: Patterns of AA Involvement Five Years after Treatment Entry
    Lee Ann Kaskutas, and others

    They find that there are four trajectories: Low, Medium, High and Declining AA activity. This one qualifies the obvious, which is that if you don’t connect with AA you may not ever drink again but by the numbers, you’re better off to stick around and get invested in AA, at least for the early years.

    Heath Hoffmann (2003) did another study and named four distinct groups:
    1)Tourists do the 90 in 90, might even dive right in until their one year or two and then they get on with life. For them, they didn’t get sober to go to meetings and the promises happen outside the rooms.
    2) Insiders become rank-and-file, circuit speaker or elder-statesmen.
    3) Chronic relapser is in and out of the program.
    4) Graduate starts out like the Insider but eventually gives up the AA social life and connects with the outside world.

    Tourists often go to AA because of outside agency (court-ordered, employment contract, etc). Once they’ve fulfilled their obligation, they move on. Some stay sober some don’t. Same with graduates. The don’t have significantly less of a chance of staying sober than the insider.

    It’s a good discussion to have because many of my opinions are based on rather anecdotal evidence.

    • These people who only trust studies…like to an extreme…are interesting. I mean…anecdotal evidence matters in courtrooms!? Can we diss all of it? I don’t think so. The only thing I will say is, despite all of the anecdotes, I’ve never actually seen a ghost in real life, but there’s still time for that.

  26. THANK you everyone for your feedback!! I love knowing I am not alone on this new journey…and I’m so glad people could relate. 🙂

  27. This reminds me of something I might have written myself when I left AA after 9 years–and many of the comments here, denigrating you, remind me of some of the things that were said about me when made my decision to leave. I guess there’s not much new under the sun, eh? It’s best to simply ignore these statements and move on. The comments say much more about those making them then they say about you.

    Anyway, if it’s helpful, it’s now been 8 years since my departure from AA. None of the dire warnings of relapse, institutionalization, jail, death, misery, etc. have materialized. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I’m now sober 17 years, enjoy a successful marriage and family life and am thriving in my career. It did take a good bit of time to rid myself of the negative AA-isms in my mind (“if you’re in your own head, you’re in a bad neighborhood”, etc.), so if that’s happening to you I suggest you be patient with yourself. Recovering from recovery is a real thing, but just like our addictions it does not have to be permanent.

    One thing to note about working with others. AA does not have a monopoly on the idea of helping others! I still do so and in fact am quite passionate about it. These days, though, my service is not to spread the message of AA but rather the message that recovery is possible and that there are many ways to achieve it. Support groups, such as SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, SOS, Celebrate Recovery, Moderation Management and HAMS can be helpful, as can the various 12 step programs. It is important that people seeking recovery know that all of these options exist.

    All the best to you!

  28. AA does more harm than good. I had some very good friends who worked that idiotic program to the best of their ability. Meetings every day, sponsors, steps, service work. You name it they did it. They both died from overdoses. The self fulfilling prophecy. I left AA in 2006. I haven’t shot dope since 2007. I haven’t had a drink since 2010. I did it. God didn’t do it, the fellowship didn’t do it, those ridiculous meetings didn’t do it and that moronic, archaic book didn’t do it. The only thing AA did for me was kill my friends.

  29. The rooms aren’t saying that you will ultimately fail if u leave the rooms first of all..”the jails, institutions and death,” was taken out of context. I too once felt the very same way as this article..I felt therapy and me working on myself would suffice and it did for about 3 years..the program is designed to help addicts become more mindful of themselves and to grow spiritually, mentally and emotionally. And being in active addiction can change your thoughts, your actions, and your a very damaging way..being in the rooms is a way of good support and allowing you to not rely on your own thinking especially when you are in early recovery..the program doesn’t imply that we are just morally deficient human beings but more of, I think that because of our negative choices i.e. active addiction,come negative consequences i.e. changes in thinking patterns and processes..when you feed the spirit with negative things it only makes sense that negative things will be produced from it..and giving back is a way to help yourself as well instead of always thinking about yourself and it also in return feeds positive energy to your spirit. And as years pass it is easy for some to forget that they are an addict..and that can be Dangerous! Best of luck to you and I mean that sincerely. And Recovery isn’t just not using or picking up’s so much more. There is a reason why this program has been around for the length that it has.

    • Hi Jenna, I really appreciate this comment for many reasons, not the least because it’s measured and not vindictive. But these are very good and important points, though, and I do think the exchange of ideas is very important on all of these issues. IT’s true the article was snarky to some degree, honestly, that’s more or less my writing style…with any piece on anything including something on doughnuts. Regardless, thank you for your thoughtful contribution to the discussion. I was going to post this before I saw your other comments that were supportive of my article. Crazy! Thank you! The only conclusion I can come to is that because the meetings are in fact autonomous (and there ARE good things about that…) anything goes. Hence we have some meetings that are actually great and others where people say wacky things…things like you’ll relapse if you leave AA. Some AA’s don’t agree at all with that! Many swear by it. But thanks again for this as I think it facilitates good discussion and it’s good food for thought!

      • YES – absolutely on the meetings! The particular meeting makes a huge difference (IMHO). Sometimes I feel like I so belong and others I feel like such an outsider.

        I’m still on the fence about AA – I go regularly sometimes then go weeks without going. A big part of me prefers going to Yoga or going for a run or doing sober fun things with my teenage girls.

        Anyhow, thanks for a great piece……..and I love your writing style!

  30. Gosh this is a great article!
    I’ve made the decision to leave AA as i realised we have CBT and SMART recovery and i am seeing a psychologist who specialises in addiction.
    AA started making me very unsettled with the powerless ideas,
    and being told to ignore medical advice to do fellowship was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It unfortunately hasn’t sat well with some of my home group, but i know i have moved on from it.
    I’m not powerless over alcohol, i can change my life for the better!
    I look forward to reading more of your articles. 🙂

  31. Hi Tracy thank you for this piece, I was in and out of AA for 2 yrs relapsing numerous times, I am now 5 1/2 months sober the longest ever with no aa input. I won’t diss it because it helped me many times and I met genuine people there, but ut can have an element of fear around it too and I did find people who preached that without AA u could not stay sober, unfortunately I found people who judged there too. The principles are great in theory but in the real world it’s a different matter. I chose my path out of AA and my recovery consists of trying to be a better person than I was yesterday. I foung yoga, reiki and training and in the last 6 months I’ve done more things sober than I could have ever hoped xx thank you again

  32. I do agree with everything you say as I have stopped going to meeting about 2 years ago because recovery is about change , I have dealt with my past and the cause behind my drug taking and drinking through the 12 steps and a year of thereby for my Depression , I have been to a couple of meeting in the last couple of months and have understand that I did moved on , my life today is not about the need for drink or drug , its about loving and enjoying every day as it is , I do thank AA for for getting me into recovery , and thank the thereby for helping me to know and love myself .

  33. I just want to thank Norman for the response he gave…if you see this thanks man…my life is getting better and as it does its very easy for me to forget why I go to AA meetings…and easy for me to get confused. Your second comment really struck a chord. I guess its really that easy for everyone to turn their backs on the newcomer. I’m glad there were people there for me when I was suffering in my addiction, but now that I feel better…i dont need to give back or anything…thats dwelling in the past. Fuck the newcomer, the newcomers not my problem. I got what I needed so I’m moving on …??? I choose to see that as selfish self centered motives.

      • Cults take your power away. AA empowers people. Everything in life can be dangerous when other people are involved. Especially narcissistic people.

      • Tracy, I found AA to be good for me while I had a “good” group to be with, but when I moved to another state, had badly relapsed, went to Rehab, tried to find a meeting I could feel comfortable in, and without driving 20-30 miles after dark. I was sadly disappointed with the establishment’s way of “running” the meetings. Two people chaired every meeting and did all the talking, telling their “stories” at each and every meeting, No help to me. Tried another meeting, all male, who looked at me as I had dropped in from Mars. I found that I had to find my own way. Family, TV, Internet reading, watching educational programs , and relearning my US history have been great for me. I have 7 yrs of sobriety, as does my son, and we are so proud of our lives today without alcohol. To thine own self be true.

    1. Falling in love.

    2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.

    3. A hot shower.

    4. No lines at the supermarket.

    5. A special glance.

    6. Getting mail.

    7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.

    8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio.

    9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.

    10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.

    11. Chocolate milkshake (vanilla or


    12. A bubble bath.

    13. Giggling.

    14. A good conversation.

    15. The beach

    16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter.

    17. Laughing at yourself.

    18. Looking into their eyes and knowing they Love you

    19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours.

    20. Running through sprinklers.

    21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.

    22. Having someone tell you that you’re beautiful.

    23. Laughing at an inside joke.

    24. Friends.

    25. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.

    26. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to

    27. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner).

    28. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.

    29. Playing with a new puppy.

    30. Having someone play with your hair.

    31. Sweet dreams.

    32. Hot chocolate.

    33. Road trips with friends.

    34. Swinging on swings.

    35. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.

    36. Making chocolate chip cookies.

    37. Having your friends send you homemade cookies.

    38. Holding hands with someone you care about.

    39. Running into an old friend and realizing that some things (good
    or bad) never change.

    40. Watching the expression on someone’s face as they open a much
    desired present from you.

    41. Watching the sunrise.

    42. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another
    beautiful day.

    43. Knowing that somebody misses you.

    44. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.

    45. Knowing you’ve done the right thing, no matter what other people

    • 46 Waking up sober and not even wanting a pill.
      47 Hugging a grandchild.
      48 Playing golf without having to have a few pills hidden in the bag.
      49 Going to work and actually feel like working.
      50 Spending time with family and actually enjoying it.
      51 Being of sound mind and everyone around you enjoys YOU.
      52 Babysitting your grandbaby and she lays her head on you shoulder.
      53 Hugging your wife and you know she loves you.
      54 Dealing with day to day problems and you know you’re making the right call.
      55 Realizing that you are actually more happy sober.

  35. Sevasti Iyama on


    i so love this. thank you. i am tired of dwelling on the past even though supposedly we are supposed to let it go..i will always be grateful to AA for the help that i received, but i feel like i am ready to move on….Tracy, I am probably more of an agnostic but I will be honest every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, something inside me feels sick..and i can talk to a professional about that…more than someone at a meeting…
    i am pretty close mouthed anyway, i don’t like to open up at meetings like i used what does that say? it means i don’t feel like i can trust some groups…
    and i don’t want to drink…i get so tired of hearing that if you don’t go to meetings, you can go out…that is not true!!!
    love your article, thanks again,

    • Tracy Chabala on

      Hi Sevasti! I know. It’s easy to think “Oh, I shouldn’t do that” for many reasons. My life is definitely more well-rounded. My biggest point is…for those of us (myself) who were coerced to the program without wanting to go…we should be able to leave without fear of relapse or being guilted by people to stay…for whatever reason.

  36. Most of those I got sober with over 30 yrs ago as a young person in aa are still sober, most eventually weaned away from meetings decades ago but still feel fondly toward, are grateful for, and are supportive of aa. Even if there are things about aa they don’t agree with. Those who still attend go maybe 1-3 times a month to help others or check in with old friends similar to a vet sometimes wanting to interact with others who’ve been through combat. So it’s a myth that you must stay in aa forever or leave with an attitude. Lots of things work for losing weight or quitting drinking. Not one thing works for all but Most find over time that lots of resources are helpful. Addiction can be isolating and aa helps some of us feel connected. Not everyone needs that in recovery. Some find being tethered to medication for decades a god send and others would find that troubling. There are many profit motive agendas in the addiction field these days and Park ave shrinks who want you in therapy with them for several yrs are threatened by the free non professional nature of aa. They don’t get it. Since your blog was purchased by rehab reviews which is owned by an anti aa rehab that just happens to list themselves on here as the number one rated rehab, ahem, I do wonder if the Kool aid drinking goes both ways. Just sayin… …

    • Tracy Chabala on

      To clarify – My personal writing on AA has nothing to do with the owner of this site, and no one, especially our Editor in Chief, has ever told me to shape my writing a specific way. I’ve been given full rein to write how I feel, and if you peruse other articles by other writers on this site, you will find my thoughts on AA contradict many of theirs. The amazing woman who runs this site believes that all of us have a voice to be heard, and if you read her work you’ll see her personal ideology differs from mine. Ultimately, she wants the largest amount of people to benefit from the site, and let’s face it: there are AAers, anti-AAers, and those of us who see both sides, then those who are indifferent. Many of us who have significant upsets over the matter were coerced or forced into the program, knowing we felt uneasy about it. As you can see, many people relate to this story. Others may relate more to the stories that celebrate AA. Either way, we do use journalistic ethics here. Perhaps the ownership is misleading…but personally, I wouldn’t write for any outlet that censors my ideas based on its partnerships or ownership. Now, if they want to cut down my snark or correct my grammar, by all means…

  37. Natalie Ingram on

    Really very much enjoyed your article and all the reply’s. I have been sober through AA for over 19 years now and for myself I have an absolute commitment to AA because I know it saved my life. I agree with you wholeheartedly that AA is not the only way. I get so disappointed by the fear, shame and bullying that can take place within the rooms of AA. I honestly try to overcome this by really believing that ‘people are NOT HIGHER POWER’ and that ‘a person cannot be shamed into sobriety. I truly try to convey this message to peeps in AA. I love my life to AA and the wonderful people I have met, and even the ones that have ‘tested my reality’ have somehow made me more determined to hold on very closely to what I believe in, TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. I am around alcohol regularly in business and social situations and I am so fortunate that I have no need to drink. I love the strength of being a ‘sober me’. Thanks so much for your article because it’s everything I believe in too. :)))

  38. thank you for posting this! I’ve been sober 31 years…yup 31 years. Got sober at 18 1/2 –moved out of state (bad idea according to AA) and meet my husband at a young peoples dance. (another bad idea -relationships) We have been together 29 years, married 27 and not once have we thought about going back to meetings. Shoot, we want to live life! We both drank heavy and did a ton of drugs. You CAN live without AA. Too many people use it as a crutch, and that’s fine in the beginning…until you get your sober legs on.
    Don’t get me wrong, the program is a great tool, but you have to learn to live

  39. I too stopped going to meetings two years ago, and remember feeling apprehensive but excited in those early days. I feared relapse and hated that quitting the program was seen as “going back out” and relapse by some members. I’m so glad I followed my gut though. I definitely knew I couldn’t drink anymore and surrounded myself with sober and supportive people, plus took up new activities. It hasn’t been easy, but it has felt like an easier, softer way. Loved this piece, thank you so much for sharing it.

  40. I went to AA and found that being in an alcohol free, supportive comunity was helpful but I certainly don’t think the steps are the best way to beat alcoholism. I left after 18 months and have not had a drink in over 8 years. It certainly is possible to recover without AA and make use of other solutions. I think you do need to be serious and motivated to beat alcoholism and a support group can be helpful, but I also think groups such as AA hold people back and make people reliant on them.

    It is really up to and the responsibility of the individual to find what works for them and change things if they want improvement or are having problems.

  41. Thank you so much for this article. I have been sober from drugs for 3 years. I did rehab, came out and never went to NA/AA meetings or joined the fellowship. After 26 years of hell in active addiction my 21 days in rehab seem to work and something clicked and I knew what to do in order to stay sober but I have always felt guilty for not attending meetings as well as always anticipating failure. By reading this article and some of comments I feel relieved because it can be done as long as you “choose” to stay sober

  42. Hi Norman, let me clarify something. AA didn’t bring me relief from my drinking. I CHOSE NOT TO DRINK. I will stand by that, because I relapsed for three years while in AA and working all steps and constantly meeting with my sponsor and constantly “being of service”. During that time, AA didn’t take the blame for my relapsing…it was MY doing. In fact, the world-at-large made it my responsibility. I never blamed AA for relapsing while being an avid member of the program. So now that I’ve stayed sober, I’ve decided to give myself credit for my sobriety, which is what the world-at-large does. This is what happens, though, right? If you relapse while in AA, whether you’re “working the program” or not (and this happens constantly), it’s your fault. If you stay sober in AA, it’s because AA kept you sober, not because you chose to stay sober. Curious. And…here’s how I started my article: “Behold the biggest myth you’ll EVER HEAR IN Alcoholics Anonymous: that you can’t stay sober without AA.” Because, as you said…PEOPLE in AA have said this, many many people have said this,and I’ve had it said to me countless times, very recently, too, when I decided to leave. So, this is why it started off my article. I have no problem if AA works for some people, but to tout it as sacred is ludicrous. “Nothing else worked” for people because other recovery methods are axed out of the conversation because of AA’s monopoly, and getting this monopoly was a very exacting effort on behalf of Bill Wilson by lobbying the medical community. There’s a lot of research to do. I’ve never heard someone stand from the podium and say “I tried SMART Recovery, SOS, LifeRing, but AA was the only thing that worked.” Have you heard that? Read “The Sober Truth” by Lance Dodes. It might clarify some things. Many people have been harmed by AA, so, while I agree the article is snarky (but that, you see, is the tone of AfterPartyMagazine), it is not one big flippant effort to “diss AA”. It’s an effort to educate about something very grave. Speaking out about the fact that you can leave AA without relapsing and dying is extremely important, because many people waste precious years of their life going to meetings simply out of fear. Others truly enjoy going to meetings and that’s great that it helps them. I was going only because I was told I’d drink if I didn’t, even when I got a bigger and fuller life. And, too, when I first heard people speaking critically about AA I was horribly offended and angry. But I couldn’t help but do some research. As I read, listened, and opened my mind, I realized I had drunk the Kool-Aid. I couldn’t live with that, so I started reading and educating myself even more. Then came the day when I knew I had to leave. And I write for many outlets. This article I wrote out of pure passion. All the articles I write for APM are because I care about the addiction conversation, not to just rake in cash. I have many options for my writing. But thanks for looking me up.

    • Tracey, lets start with the most obvious and glaring mistake in your writing.

      Alcoholics Anonymous is a book.

      Your criticism about there being myths in AA is hence ridiculous. It is a factually written book penned by the first 100 men and women who found a way to stay sober by following a simple set of spiritual principles. You will be able to read them just a bit further down my rant here.

      The message of that book is simple: you never have to drink again: that’s it.

      What you probably should have said at the start of your article is that your disagreements really are between yourself and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you had, I would certainly have enjoyed your piece a lot more as I too see problems within the fellowship. I love reading and talking about solutions to those problems, but lets be clear: Alcoholics Anonymous is indeed a book.

      Cudos. Giving yourself the credit for being sober is wonderful and I am sincerely happy for you and your friends and your family. Having the confidence of that conviction underlies some other great qualities like determination, focus and ambition. I can sense those from your writing. Seriously I am glad you are sober and that you are writing about it.

      But when you refer to yourself as being “in AA” I just cant fight the urge to point out to your readers the ambiguity of that statement. Yes, you in very quick terms describe your experience of “being in AA” as going to meetings, having a sponsor and doing service work. This is again more to do with your relationship to the fellowship of AA, not the book. I have heard it best said as a point of difference between two people with one person being “in AA” and another person being “around AA” Your experience describes to me the later example.

      “Working the program” Another phrase that gets tossed around in so many articles similar to yours without any other reference to the book.

      For your readers and any one else who is having trouble staying sober I would like to share a list of the spiritual-principles that the book Alcoholics Anonymous suggests people use a program of recovery. (There you go, The Program” (Get ready all you Kool-Aid drinkers huffers)

      1. Honesty
      2. Hope
      3. Faith
      4. Courage
      5. Integrity
      6. Willingness
      7. Humility
      8. Brotherly Love
      9. Discipline
      10. Perseverance
      11. Spiritual Awareness
      12. Service

      That’s it! That’s the program. Use these principles in your problem solving, in your relationships, in your parenting. Use them to get along better with your co-workers and your neighbors, use them to better understand your relationship or doubts of a higher power, use them to make amends for mistakes both in the past and with the ones that you will inevitably make today. Use them in “All your affairs” is what the book Alcoholics Anonymous simply and confidently encourages the hopeless alcoholic who has found no other solution to their drinking problem do and you will never ever have to have another drink.

      And if you, (again I’m talking to your readers who might still be having trouble staying sober, not yourself Tracy as you have already found a solution) if you find you cannot put those principles into your life on your own, and come on, how many of us can, please come to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, introduce yourself, stick around with the bad coffee and the odd collection of self involved bible thumping ego-fired odd-balls that do indeed make up the fellowship, until you find someone you can trust, and ask them to help.

      “Nothing else worked” for people because other recovery methods are axed out of the conversation….”

      Completely not true. The book actually says very clearly that we do not have a monopoly in this game. There are many other methods that work for many different people and we should be quick to recognize this.

      So in your effort to educate us about “something very grave” I think you are actually throwing out the baby with the bath water Tracy and I remain with the opinion that your article is reckless: not well thought out and just a wee bit resentful. I’ve heard old timers whisper this one: “You knocked on our door, we didn’t knock on yours”

      “Others truly enjoy going to meetings and that’s great that it helps them. I was going only because I was told I’d drink if I didn’t”

      This is bullshit and you know it. You went because you thought there would be something in it for you; you desired something from that group. When that was no longer needed, you left. As you and I have done in every single relationship in our life.

      You say, “I had drunk the Kool-Aid”

      Once more: Alcoholics Anonymous is a book and a fantastic one at that. Reading it along with someone who has not been able to stay sober, who has no idea of why, who has not had a friend in years (or possibly ever) that they could sit still with for more than twenty minutes without craving a drink this is the single greatest experience I have ever had.

      Watching that person find hope, gain friendships; clear up their past and getting sober is not “drinking Kool-Aid” as you childishly refer to it.

      I would suggest you look at principle number five. It’s a great one that each of us always returns to. Always. And I wish you the best of luck.



      • I find the Big Book to be outdated, sexist, and a bit creepy and comical at times. But I like the meetings and the fellowship a lot. The Big Book says “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.” Outdated and untrue. Lots of other ways to become sober. AA works for me but I am open to lots of other venues as well, like Women for Sobriety, SMART Recovery etc.

      • Norman – with all due respect, a lot of what you’ve said is not only condescending to the author but a complete load of BS. You can argue what actually constitutes AA forever (the book versus fellowship) but you’re blatantly ignoring the fact that at every single meeting – meetings “required” to be attended to prove your commitment to sobriety – 90 meetings in 90 days – every single meeting we hear about how if you can’t or don’t follow AA’s “way” it’s because you’re constitutionally incapable of being honest with your self (I.e., blaming already beaten down people trying to change). You also hear in every single meeting through the opening readings that if you don’t follow AA’s “simple program,” you’ll discover the terrible truths that the founders know – that your only other options will “jails, institutions, or death.” For you to blatantly deny these things and degrade the author by calling her a liar is absurd. You saying AA is simply a book is like saying Christianity is only the Bible. Can you BE a Christian by only reading the Bible and practicing its teachings? Of course you can. But to deny that Christianity is also a culture of fellowship is ridiculous. When you’re facing horrific despair from alcoholism, nobody says “here…read this book from AA.” They say to go to a meeting. Newcomers get swept up in the “fellowship” and the brainwashing of fear (I.e., There’s something wrong with you. You’re defective. You can’t ever stop being defective. You can’t leave us because you’ll end up in jail, a looney bin, or dead. Listen to all the stories of people who relapsed in AA and died.) Nobody in AA ever says that relapse is PART of recovery (like therapists and doctors understand). No. Instead, you have to do a walk of shame in front of your peers even if you took NyQuil because it had alcohol in it. You pick up a white chip again. You feel depleted. All your efforts failed and here you are again with a white chip. But everyone’s smiling and clapping and hugging you. So, you keep pressing on….and on….and ALL of the rhetoric and bonding just grows deeper and deeper in you. It can be extremely damaging and traumatic for some people. Some people kill themselves over the shame they felt being in AA and sober and relapsing. If AA is just a book to you and you want to deny the very real and lasting damage AA has done to innumerable amounts of people, then fine. But, I decided to stand up for the author and the rest of us who actually learned to practice the principles of AA without the program – who know that we aren’t defective just for being susceptible to alcohol – who found the courage to learn to trust and believe in themselves instead of the BS demeaning things AA says about who and what alcoholics are. People deserve to know that there is hope beyond AA and not be attacked for it or gaslighted for speaking the truth about parts of AA just because it doesn’t fit your specific experience or description of AA.

        • Tracy Chabala on

          Thanks for this, Christine. Just yesterday I was thinking about my few relapses in the program. You know, I remember taking those first sips and kind of feel ill and sick and not really wanting to continue. When you haven’t had alcohol for some time, it can really taste like poison and feel like poison. But no! Given I’d lost my time with that one stupid sip, given I knew I had to walk back with my tail between my legs and “start over” with all the relentless self-examination, instead of just saying “okay, you took a little sip, a baby baby slip, so let’s just get back on the horse and keep on going” I drowned my shame in booze and suffered the dire consequences that result from getting good and drunk. A few times, I attempted suicide in my drunken state because I felt like such a failure–all because I had relapsed. Just last night I was thinking…gosh, all my friends and relatives who really cared for me would be like…cut yourself a break. you’re human. it happens. just keep on trucking.”

      • Dr.Seuss wrote a book too. People writing things in a book doesn’t make it true or correct. Your assertion that this is so cannot truly be backed up since the failure rate in AA is around 80%. This does not mean it cannot help people but the book does not make this happen the individual does.

      • Joseph Smith also penned a book, and sent a bunch of idiots out to the desert mountains of Utah. They believe in his special book too. They love to recruit newbies and give them a magical book that will fix all their problems. All they have to do is submit to this special group forever. They are self proclaimed Saints, leading the nation #1 in porn addiction, and #7 in opiate overdose deaths. I think they are really happy not thinking for themselves.

    • I’m very sorry you had such a horrible experience with AA but here in my community u never hear anyone say that AA kept you sober! AA is a resource and the individual makes the choice everyday whether or not to stay sober. Like anything in life nothing is perfect and neither are the people in the rooms.

  43. AA does NOT say you wont keep sober without AA. People in AA might say that they specifically were not able to stay sober, but AA does not say that.

    Starting off your article with a flat out lie weakened your story and credentials immediately.

    People in AA might say that they specifically find working with alcoholics helps them overcome periods where they find themselves over focused on their own lives and problems: something pretty much everyone on the planet desires to know how to do better at some point in their life. I guess, writing a smarmy insulting article or phishing the dark net does that for you, well, how wonderful.

    In fact, AA doesn’t say you have to do anything at all. Period.

    The most disappointing part of your not very Masterful piece Tracy is that after having found relief from your own drinking trouble by attending AA meetings and witnessing probably hundreds of others lives change because of their own attendance ~ you suddenly find it amusing and worth mocking. What does that say about you?

    Another thing you hear reliably from people in AA ~ It worked for them when nothing else did. This is the central message of AA and you are lying if you say you have never heard nor understood this. Pause for a moment and think about the tens of thousands of problem drinkers and the hell that they have gone through and the hell that the people they love have gone through and answer this for me:

    How does dissing AA for a few hundred dollars from a web site being helpful to anyone other than your pocket book?

    My hat may be off to you for finding a way to live without your AA group ~ but it remains on disapprovingly at your lack of scruples and sensitivity.

    I certainly wont be putting any time into googling any more information or writing by you thats for sure.

    • Norman
      I am all for the rooms but have you read what you’ve actually wrote? This woman was only sharing her experience and it was formed through her sound won’t always like or agree with what others have to say but if it doesn’t apply let it fly. Right? I understand your coviction to stand up for AA but there is no reason to insult or bash this woman.

    • Did you forget that Tradition One states “Personal recovery depends upon A.A. Unity”?

      And the long-form says “A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die” ?

  44. I am a grateful member of AA with eight years sobriety. I love AA, but I also know, as an Addictions Counselor and Interventionist, that there are other ways to recover, and that people have great success with these non 12 Step programs. WhatI I do know is that the most important aspect in recovery is that a support group of like-minded people is essential!


    So eloquently stated! A.A. was my “safety net.” But once I had my feet under me again, I became less dependent on it and explored the world’s possibilities and mysteries as a sober person. 25 years in, I can’t imagine trading my worst day clean for my best day using. Thanks.

  46. I am just curious to know if you had worked the steps before you left A.A.? Or have you done it totally without any foundation thus far. I totally get what you are saying. What’s good for some may not be good for another. It seems you are very blessed to have sober people around you. I surely did not know anyone that was sober when I decided to get Sober. I found friends and “family” in the rooms. Thank goodness, because I would probably be locked up in my apartment, lonely and white knuckling it. Some are just a little more fortunate than others. I wish you the best and it is always awesome to see people beating this thing no matter what approach it takes.

    • Tracy Chabala on

      Hi Mandy, yes I did do the steps before leaving, although I had a difficult time with the God thing from start to finish. After six years of sobriety, I still couldn’t hack it. Slowly, I realized I didn’t agree with any of the philosophy in the program. I cannot say I didn’t learn some things from AA, and this is why people get angry with what I write since I also have left the program, but ultimately I find CBT and the info in SMART recovery, plus just keeping positive and looking forward is far more helpful and far more empowering. Many of my closest friends aren’t sober at all…they’ve never had drinking issues (my roommate, boyfriend, and other close friends). Actually, a lot of these people won’t even have booze because they just aren’t into it. I have other friends who drink moderately in a very “normal” manner. Then I do have sober friends, but, to be honest, a lot of the ones are writers for this site! It’s a great group of people! I’ve grown apart from other friends in AA, but kept some too. My social life is a complete and utter mix, that’s for sure! 🙂 I’m also close with my family, and fortunately they’re also a bunch of “normies” who drink every now and again, but never to excess.

  47. I need to go to AA because it helps me remember why I quit drinking. Also, I like being in a room where people are learning to be better people, just because it makes life easier for them. An AA meeting once a week isn’t going to put too much a dent in your free time.

    And what about “one Alcoholic talking with another”. Maybe there’s some newcomer women who need to hear how you got sober? You don’t mention how long you’ve been sober, but it sounds like you’e happy you quit drinking…

  48. You just described better then anyone else .
    1 year and 9 months clean . Went to AA for about 2 months. It helps me alot but is not for me. Some people can’t believe how I still sorber but like you say keep it busy , boredom kingdom is not good.
    Ps… I just can’t live without bananas my kids and husband are the same . We eat them in every way possible everyday. People call us The Monkey Family. …

    Thanks for this beautiful words

  49. Miriam Ruberl on

    Thank you for your article – which I “just happened upon” on a morning where I have to go do something that I am nervous about, Even reading something about staying sober emotionally is helpful !

    I learnt I was an alcoholic drinker by filling in a questionnaire. My next step was to drink more, coz now I knew why I drank, and that’s what alcoholics do, right ? I had never heard of AA except they were mentioned on that questionnaire. This 30 years ago. Six months later I pretty much “found” myself at my first meeting – I had no conscious memory of how I got there. In those days I was only 1 of 3 women in the room. One was an atheist like myself, and told me I could CHOOSE to live without alcohol. This was an absolutely revelation to me, and it mattered that I did not have to give my power and responsibility over toan invisible friend in the sky.

    For 20 years I relentlessly followed the programme (to the best of my ability as they say), and gave AA the whole credit for that. And as you write above, I also learnt to change my friends – easy, I had none; to surround myself with the healthiest people I could find, and ask them for feedback at times. I worked relentlessly on my “stuff” … and started noticing things that at first I dismissed as being critical of AA members and therefore wrong, in denial, and making a decision to go out and drink.

    Then stuff went down which would sound like AA bashing, so will not recount it, and, having discussed it wit healthy, non drinking friends I trusted, I knew I had to trust myself and all the years of study and re-education of my thinking and stop putting myself through the experiences I was getting in the rooms. And so I decided not to go back. I still have “friends” who go. I tell them why I don’t when asked. I find transactional analysis descriptions of behaviours totally fitted my life and the people in it. I feel stronger in my emotional sobriety than ever, and I tell people AA CAN help you STOP drinking, ie pause long enough to make some rational decisions about our life. That’s all the literature actually offers. After that, it’s up to us as to what quality of life we are willing to experience – and offer others.

    Like you, today I am 73 years old, 28 years clean, dealing with life without alcohol, and most importantly, without self pity and self importance and self-righteousness – most of the time. I am able to support those who have found AA alone did not keep them sober into looking at other ways of doing that, if they really want it. So lots of tools from AA, but no magic pill.

    I see Laura posted above that she is a non-practising Jew. So am I. As such, I have learned to help others, to share what I have, to not judge others from the outside. And no, I still don’t see the need for an old man in the sky counting my crimes and demanding my allegiance without ever fronting up to me ! That’s the power I gave to alcohol, and I have taken it back, to share with others as they come into my life !

    The question we can all ask ourselves is : How good are we willing to have life be? How little do we need something to complain and blame about ? If I want a disgusting life, I know what to do. Having gotten off alcohol and drugs was the toughest experience my body and mind have ever gone through. Once is enough !!

    All good things for all of you !

  50. Once again, you’ve said it better than I could ever have–and I mean that in the nicest, most adoring way possible! When you make recovery/sobriety the cornerstone of your life, everything else will align, regardless of which program you practice (or don’t). I applaud you for being open about your experience in AA–you never bashed it, you just strove to find ways of improvement, and now, you choose to leave but not without taking a few nuggets you learned. For a non-practicing Jew, I’m still gonna say it: A-FREAKING-MEN!!!

    Thank you, Tracy, for being a voice for so many.


    PS: now that we’re Twitter friends (again), let’s keep it that way <3.

    • Tracy Chabala on

      LOL! I have so many twitter friends I get confused. Are you the sobriety collective? Tell me your name!! 🙂 Sometimes I do housecleanings, not because I don’t like folks but so I can follow newsfeeds.

  51. Awesome, Tracy – sharing on @she recovers. I know I owe you the Q and A answers – but I can’t find the email 🙁

  52. Thank you so much for posting this! After 7 months, I decided to leave AA, and guess what? I’m 36 days sober and this didn’t happen while I was in AA. It just wasn’t for me and I’m glad to know there are others like me out there ?

  53. Not only is leaving AA very much possible…never going at all is very much possible. Eighteen years sober—no AA. However! I must qualify that by saying I am not remotely anti-12 Step and also by noting that I would not recommend going it alone for everyone.

    Another terrific piece Tracy. Thanks for sharing.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.