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Mentium

My experience of AA (as requested!)

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Mentium

Well at the suggestion of a fellow member who has no experience of AA I am starting a thread here about my experiences of that organisation. It may be a bit out of place in this forum but as it was suggested here goes. I am aware that some or maybe the majority of you may well have been to AA in your attempts to quit drinking so I will just say from the outset that these are my views and that they are from my perspective only. For those who don't have any experience of AA, I hope this is enlightening.

The basics are as follows:

AA was started prior to WW2 in the USA. There were two main founders. The essential principle of the organisation or 'fellowship' is it is generally known by its members, is that a 'higher power' of a spiritual nature is able to remove the craving to consume alcohol when all else has failed.

AA famously offers a program which offers 12 Steps to help you get and stay sober. I won't list them here for the sake of brevity and in any case most people probably know at least some of them. If not here's a link:

http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA

The basic idea is to 'give up', admit you have no control over your drinking (or using) and rely oh the higher power to help you deal with it all and do the heavy lifting. The program then assists you in what one might loosely call a therapeutic way to deal with the reasons and root causes of your reasons for drinking, to make amends to people you have hurt while drinking and to make a better person of you altogether.

It is worth saying that the program has hardly changed in the decades since the 1940s when it took off. The literature, including the 'Big Book' which contains the stories of some of the early founders and also some of the program principles, has had a few updates, but remains essentially the same as it was in 1950 or earlier.

AA has been 'the only game in town' until really quite recently – perhaps until the early 90s. It is a huge organisation, with chapters or 'intergroups' in almost every medium sized and bigger town in the USA, the UK, much of Europe and the rest of the world. I'm not sure anyone knows how many groups there are in existence but it certainly numbers in the tens to hundreds of thousands. It has no central organising power as such, just a coordination structure which keeps a few organizing principles together. Every group is in fact independent, though rather oddly perhaps very much alike in most respects.

So how do AA meetings work?

Well the first thing to say is that meetings of local groups do not recruit new members but work by 'attraction'. There are regional telephone help systems and probably the majority of people make initial contact through that (I did) or their GP/health professional. Local groups often make people available to meet someone who is desperate for help and will take them to their first meeting – a daunting experience for many.

The meetings vary in size. A few local small groups might only get four or five people attending, but some of the large city groups may have up to a hundred or more.

The meetings begin with some routine ground rules and usually a thought for the day or prayer and then someone reads a section from the Big Book or some other sobriety related material occasionally. Usually a theme emerges. Often a guest speaker from another group then talks for 15 minutes or so about an issue related to their sobriety journey – occasionally a 'drunkalogue'. The meeting is then thrown open for people to 'share' as it is termed. There is no discussion, challenging or cross talk – people say their bit and then the next person does theirs. Usually there's a break half way through and the meeting ends after in total 90 minutes.

The 'shares' are to me the most important and helpful part of the whole business. Listening to the trials and tribulations, the successes and positives of people's experiences can be really uplifting. Given that many alcohol dependent people have things in common one often finds oneself 'identifying' with people – a term one often hears. One also makes friends if one wishes to and meeting up for a coffee or whatnot with them can be really helpful as well as a way to make new and helpful friendships.

I go the AA meetings because of this very powerful aspect of the meetings. I have recently returned to meetings after managing to stop (again) because of these benefits.

Now to the down side from my perspective.

In the UK the Higher Power issue is less pronounced than in the USA where is is generally assumed I think to mean 'god'. The 12 Steps infer god even if it isn't explicit. As an atheist I can't accept that. There is a lot more to say about this issue but not here I think.

Step #1 insists that you accept that you are 'powerless over alcohol'. For many people this simply isn't the case and it is a contradiction really in my view as many people abstains and attend AA without accepting this completely – that in itself proves the contradiction.

AA stresses that there is no 'cure' for alcoholism/addiction but that abstaining and attending AA is in effect a remission. The folklore is that your 'alcoholism' carries on in parallel with your sobriety and if you start drinking again you are further along the path to total ruin.

The Steps programme is a bit weird really. It recognises alcohol addiction/alcoholism as a disease but the program suggests a lot of concentration on your 'character defects'. Again more to be said.

AA has many aspects of what one might term a 'cult'. It is blinkered, remains stuck in a bit of a time warp and has its own dogma.

There are a couple of big HOWEVERs. Firstly, at least here in the UK anyway, you are free to 'take what you need and leave the rest' (I don't know if it feels like that in the USA). You can attend as many meetings as you like and nobody can or will insist you do anything you don't wish to or believe anything you don't wish to. Many people do.

People are incredibly friendly for the most part and very welcoming. It can feel really hard to attend your first meeting but in the vast majority of cases you will be made very welcome.

Finally – there are lots of sober people there who have 'made it' long term. The stats for AA's success rate are heavily debated and according to some research is not very high. All I can say is that locally there is a core of people who go to meetings regularly – maybe twenty five or so, who are long term sober (and this is a small city).

To conclude: Personally I go to meetings because while doing so I have had the longest periods of freedom from alcohol in my life – and much of my adult life has been spent drinking too much. I take what I want and 'leave the rest' after much wrestling with myself. (I should add here that there is a growing agnostic/atheist movement, including alternative 12 Steps floating around these days – lots on the net). Alcohol addiction can be truly isolating. For me it is really refreshing to meet and interact properly with people, to choose who you would like to get friendly with and to share your experience and journey with them. It can be very positive indeed!

If you are struggling to stop drinking it is certainly worth a go!

Happy to respond to any points. Apologies for the length!

 

 

 

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MJM

I spent most of my 20s, half of my 30s and a couple years in my 40s in AA. So about 16 years. The last I went was about six years ago.

I liked the steps four and five then six and seven, which were basically about owning your failures while drinking and admitting it, then fixing up whatever damage that could be fixed. Drinking makes us natural liars; I liked the fact that in AA it turned that around, and made you look at being responsible.

The rest of it is risable in my view, especially the 'fellowship'. The fact that Bill Wilson said that 'we know but a little' yet the fellowship today appears to suggest that there is no flexibility in getting or staying sober; it's the 12 Steps or nothing, especially not any pills. Share in a meeting that you're sober by the grace of Baclofen and see how that goes...

Edited by MJM
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Mentium

Perhaps if you shared that you tried baclofen and it made you feel terrible, so you are back with AA..which is my story to a great extent.

Quite a few people do share that they take anti-depressants and other mood altering meds, not to mention Antabuse.

I would not be too harsh, though I am not here to defend AA.

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