When I was still struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, this was my main question to the therapists, counselors, friends, and family members who wanted to help me.
I wanted to know:
“How can I get clean and sober without doing the meeting thing?”
Reason being: I was afraid of AA meetings. Period.
I suffered from a certain amount of social anxiety. It was not as bad as many people who suffer from anxiety, but it was bad enough that it kept me out of recovery for a long time. I was too afraid to sit in meetings with other people and have them expect me to speak. I could not stand it when everyone would look at me and expect for me to talk. People always told me “Well, if you are too anxious to speak in front of others at an AA meeting then you can just pass your turn and not say anything.” Those people fail to realize that this is too much attention, even to say “I just want to listen today.” You are still talking in front of others. Everyone still looks at you. The fear of dealing with this was too much for me, and it kept me out of meetings.
So my question to others when I was struggling to get sober was essentially: “Just tell me how to get sober without having to face this terrible anxiety. Tell me how to do it by myself. Tell me how to do it on my own.”
It became very discouraging because no one could give me an answer. It was basically “AA or the highway.” And actually they did mention one alternative but that was not really a good fit for me at the time either, as I will explain below.
And in the end they were all right. The people who were pushing me towards AA and mainstream recovery were basically right to do so. It is not that AA is the only way, it is that it was–at the time–the only really practical way for people to help me. And I am not discouraged by that. You have to face your fears and make major changes in recovery and most people are going to need some sort of framework to get that started. I realize that. But this does not change the fact that in long term sobriety the program you follow and the strategies that you employ are largely up to you. You can be successful in recovery without relying on programs, as most people suggest. But in early recovery you may still need help and support.
Alternatives to AA and why no one has a monopoly on sobriety
No one has a monopoly on sobriety.
If you go to AA you will find people who believe that some programs do have the market cornered. They falsely believe that AA, for example, is the only way that anyone could ever become sober and stay that way. But just because some people believe something does not make it true.
Evidence of this is simple: There are many different recovery programs out there that are quite different.
Let’s consider a few now just to make the point:
1) AA and NA and 12 step based recovery.
2) Christian based or religious based recovery.
3) Behavioral approach that relies on counseling and therapy.
4) Medication based approaches.
5) Fitness based approach that focuses heavily on exercise and training as a means of sobriety.
6) Nutrition based approaches.
Now you might not realize it but there are people who have become quite extreme in their approach, such as someone who uses exercise as their one and only means of sobriety. Such people exist and they have even formed organized programs around the idea (such as Racing for Recovery for example).
Such programs are not necessarily any better or worse than AA. The success rate of AA is not anything to write home about anyway, they simply try their best to help alcoholics and a handful of them “make it” in long term sobriety. There are no magic wands in this industry.
One of my favorite parables in recovery is about the “finger pointing at the moon.” The story illustrates the point that all of these different recovery programs are just fingers that point at the solution, but they are not the solution themselves. This is, in my opinion, a really important point: AA is not the solution. It only points towards the solution. The same can be said of alternative recovery programs.
So yes, there are definitely alternatives to 12 step recovery out there.
But no, they are probably not worth seeking out in my opinion.
Non 12 step based rehabs are few and far between, probably not worth the extra searching
Early recovery is much the same for everyone who is going to be successful in recovery.
You go through certain processes. It is much the same with everyone. First you surrender, then you ask for help, then you take action and follow through based on the advice you are given.
You cannot exactly be calling the shots in early recovery. If you are then you will sabotage your own recovery efforts. Instead, you have to listen to others.
Your beliefs might get in the way and screw you up. If you are so stubborn that you refuse to attend a certain type of treatment center then you are just cutting yourself off from those who would try to help you.
There is no “right” way to get clean and sober. There is no one method of recovery that is superior to all the others. They are all flawed programs, none are perfect. AA is not the best way to get sober, it is only the best way for certain people. All recovery programs are only fingers that point at the solution, but none are the real solution.
As such, you should surrender, ask for help, and then take the advice you are given. Most likely that advice will direct you to some sort of treatment. If you get hung up at this point on what treatment center it is and what their recovery philosophy is based on then you are only hurting yourself. Why complicate the surrender process? Just go. Stop arguing and fighting against yourself and just go to rehab. Stop believing that it has to be perfect, or that you can’t possibly get sober using a certain program, because that is all nonsense. Your beliefs are just a lens through which you see the world, and you can easily set those beliefs aside for a while if it means saving your own life.
In other words, let’s say that your only hope is to attend a religious based recovery center. Maybe your beliefs do not align with this particular religion and so you refuse to go. So you continue to drink and you eventually die drunk. Would it have been so bad to set your beliefs to the side for a moment and get the help that you needed in rehab? Would it have really damaged you so much to sit through some prayers and whatnot? Is it worth dying over and being a miserable drunk for the rest of your life? I can tell you from personal experience that your answer to this should be “no, it is not worth dying over.” This is what open mindedness is all about in recovery. You don’t have to “convert to a religion you don’t want” but you can still be open minded enough to get the help that you need.
Thousands of people face this choice every single day on this planet when they accept food or shelter from a religious based organization, such as homeless shelters. Who am I to believe that I am so much better than all of those people, that I can turn up my nose at those who would help me just because I don’t subscribe to their belief system? This is not open mindedness. If you want to get sober then you might have to let go of all of that for a while.
Picture yourself a year after getting sober. Five years after getting sober. Ten years after getting sober. Difficult to imagine, I know. But you won’t be relying on programs or people nearly as much after some time in sobriety. My point is: Don’t worry about compromising your beliefs and being “dependent” in early sobriety. You need the help and support. Reach out and ask for help. In a few years you will be strong enough to be sober on your own, to make your own rules, to dictate your own life. But in early recovery you have to let go of all that, you have to seek direction and advice, and you may have to use a little open mindedness. It won’t kill you to take advice from someone who has different beliefs than you. In fact, this may be at the very essence of early recovery–that you must listen to someone who has alternative ideas that do not match up with your own. Early recovery is about change. You have to do something different. Don’t be so offended if an early recovery program does not match perfectly with your belief system. Get over yourself. You can sit and take it all in and not be converted into some sort of brainwashed robot just because you are in a certain recovery program. Open your mind to the help that you need.
Being open minded enough to get help without becoming dependent on a program
How many people relapse in early recovery from alcoholism? Quite a few apparently. The numbers differ depending on who you ask, but none of the statistics are very encouraging.
You don’t have to be dependent on a recovery program in order to succeed. But you do have to take action and in my opinion you should dive into a recovery head first in early sobriety.
I was always put off by some of the people that I met in AA when I was in very early recovery. There were people with many years sober who seemed to be dependent on the daily meetings in order to remain sober. I did not want that sort of life. I wanted more freedom than that.
But I had to start somewhere. If I left the AA meetings when I had 30 days sober would I have remained in recovery? I doubt it. I needed more help and support than that.
So I made a decision to be open minded. I made the decision to stick with it and see it through. And I also made a decision that I was not going to take any of my own advice for one full year. Instead I would only take advice and suggestions from other people in recovery.
That turned out to be a great decision. I could not help but notice that after living that way for a while my life continued to get better and better.
People in the program said “it gets greater later.” I had hope that this was the truth, and in the meantime I was lucky enough to realize that things were already pretty good for me. Even in early recovery, I was noticing tremendous benefit from simply taking advice from other people and doing what they told me to do. Life kept getting better. I was happier than I had ever been in my addiction. And I kept achieving more and more freedom in my life even though I was doing what other people told me to do.
This is a contradiction that is worth examining.
In early recovery, you need to surrender everything. You must let go of everything and crush your own ego. You must live according to the advice of others.
Your fear is that if you do this that you will become “like the hole in the middle of a donut.” But in real life if you actually take my advice you will not feel bad at all with your results. In fact you will be happy and joyous as the results start to build. Because what you are doing if you live this way is to borrow wisdom from other people.
Essentially what happens is that you get advice from people who have already gone through early sobriety. They can easily assess your situation and tell you what you should be doing in life in order to get the best results. And because they have lived through it already themselves and made many mistakes they can tell you how to avoid those mistakes.
Believe it or not, much of your happiness in recovery is a simple result of avoiding pain and misery and chaos.
So much of the advice and suggestions that you get in early recovery will be geared toward helping you avoid all of that misery.
And what you probably don’t realize is that this is good enough. In fact, this is great. If you can avoid misery and chaos then your life will become really, really great.
Happiness is not some rainbow that you have to chase. In fact, if you try to chase happiness, you will come up short every time.
Instead, the wisdom in recovery is that you should seek contentment. You should seek to avoid pain and chaos and misery. You should avoid suffering.
Because your peers have all made mistakes and suffered, they can tell you how to do this. They can tell you how to avoid making big mistakes, how to avoid the major pitfalls in recovery.
Your job is simple:
You must listen to these suggestions and take the advice. Follow through on what they tell you to do. In this way you can benefit from their wisdom. You can take a massive shortcut to peace and contentment.
The problem is that most alcoholics don’t believe that this will bring them joy and happiness. They still believe that they have to chase happiness somewhere “out there.” But the real key is to simply surrender everything and take advice from others so that you can live a life of peace. This is where you will find real joy in recovery.
Early recovery demands specific help, long term sobriety allows you to find your own path
In early recovery you do not have that option. It is not available to you yet.
The option to create your own path in sobriety comes later. It is part of long term sobriety. You can’t just jump in after a week of detox and start to build your own recovery program. It won’t work. You will make far too many mistakes and you will relapse.
In order to get to that point you have to become stable in your sobriety. And to do that you have to surrender everything and learn how to live your life in a stable manner again. You can’t do this by using your own ideas. Heck, you already tried that when you were still drinking. You tried to regain control yourself many times in the past and failed. If you try this in early recovery you will fail as well.
In early recovery you need a specific form of help. You need to disrupt you pattern of drinking.
Rehab is one way to do this. In my opinion an inpatient rehab center is the best way to do this.
My message to you here is that the treatment philosophy is only a minor detail. It is probably difficult for the struggling alcoholic to believe that, but it is true. It doesn’t really matter what kind of treatment center you attend–your odds of staying clean and sober are about the same no matter where you go.
In other words, it doesn’t make sense to cling to the belief that you have to find a treatment philosophy that matches up exactly with your belief system. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be close to your beliefs. Set your precious beliefs aside for a while and just go get the help that you need. You can choose to be offended by whatever treatment method they are offering you, and if you choose to be offended then you are only hurting yourself. Open your mind and allow yourself to get the help that you need.
I used to be terrified of AA meetings. I still don’t like speaking at them if I can help it, but I can certainly manage to do so today in a pinch. How did this change? Because I finally faced my fear. I finally got past the idea that I just had to find a way to get sober that did not involve me sitting in AA meetings. That solution never presented itself to me, so I eventually surrendered to it. I surrendered and I faced the fear and I did it anyway. I checked into a rehab that was based on the 12 step program. And I started going to meetings every single day.
Over the course of the next 18 months I attended roughly 500 AA meetings. I never got entirely comfortable with them, but it certainly got better over time. And eventually I reached a point where I decided it was time to create my own path in sobriety, one that did not depend on daily meetings. But realize that I could not start out with that idea, I could not just skip right to the part at 18 months sober where I got to design my own recovery program. I had to have that 18 months of help and advice and direction first. I had to have a foundation of recovery that came from taking advice from others.
As such, my advice to you is that you should just go ask for help and be very open to whatever method is presented to you. It may not be a perfect fit for your beliefs but it is definitely better than staying stuck in addiction. It will not kill you to entertain a different belief system for any length of time. Stay open minded!
What about you, has open mindedness allowed you to break through your denial in early recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!