Yes, It's Possible to Stay Sober Without AA
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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.

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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.