Why did I stop going to AA?
The reason I stopped attending AA is because the program was no longer helping me become a better person. I started in the program so that I could learn how to stop drinking and find a life that had meaning and purpose and value. But what I found was that the real growth in my life came from outside of AA.
It was very difficult to leave the AA program because of peer pressure. The other people in the program wanted me to stay and I think this was mostly out of their own fear. Somehow my leaving the program was a threat to their sobriety. So what I had to learn was how I could stay sober for myself without letting their fear of relapse projected on me. This took a lot of soul-searching while I was in the process of figuring out what actually Me clean and sober.
The reason that I stayed so long in AA because I was afraid I would relapse if I stopped going to meetings. This was a constant threat and fear that I heard talked about in the meetings over and over again. Everyone told me that if I stopped coming to the meetings that I would drink and I would die.
Eventually I got tired of listening to the same people tell the same stories over and over again during AA meetings. I had to make a decision if I wanted to keep sitting through the meeting or if I wanted to go out on my own and see if I could recover by myself, and for myself.
I challenged myself to take an honest look at my recovery and figure out which actions were actually driving my sobriety. When I got honest with myself about this I realized that I did not stay sober the way most people in AA or staying so. For example running was a huge part of my recovery, and it became one of the pillars of my sobriety. If I had not found exercise I do not believe I would still be sober today. The use of regular exercise has had a huge, positive affect on my recovery.
People in AA have already found their solution. They do not want to be told that there is a different way in which they could recover. They just know that they need to follow direction and do what they are told in order to stay sober. The problem is that at some point this is not enough, and a recovering alcoholic may become frustrated with the meetings themselves.
I found that if I was not engaged in personal growth my sobriety was being threatened. I could tell that I was moving closer to relapse when I allowed myself to become lazy in my recovery. I found that complacency can become a problem for someone who is either working a program of AA, or someone who is not working a formal program at all. The driver of success in recovery is personal growth. Those who push themselves to keep making positive changes are more protected against relapse.
For a while, I was able to achieve positive growth while being in the AA program. But after some time I became less motivated to make positive changes based on the impact of the meetings. I found myself wanting to make better use of my time instead of sitting in meetings every day. If you add up the time spent in daily AA meetings it can be very significant. If you include travel time, the time spent in meetings each year can nearly total an entire month. That is a huge investment and you had better be sure that you are getting maximum benefit to your recovery if you invest that much time. 1 hour per day is HUGE. Your discretionary time is very limited after you remove sleep + job + eat + hygiene etc.
Barriers to leaving AA
As I mentioned already your peers in AA will go nuts if you mention the idea of leaving the meetings.
They are programmed to say this. They are programmed to try to protect you, to keep you coming back to the meetings. It is the only way they have learned.
I cannot fault them for that. But in reality I do fault them, because some people get stuck in a recovery program and they would do well to leave. It is a very personal decision and a very difficult path to follow.
In fact, the problem is that the path is difficult no matter what you do. I don’t care if you stay in AA. It’s a tough path to stay sober and rebuild your life. I don’t care if you leave AA meetings and do your own thing as I have done. That is tough too.
AA is not a magic bullet. But the people who try to keep you coming back are motivated by FEAR.
They don’t want to see you leave the meetings and then relapse. Deep down this is a reflection of their own fear. That they might leave the meetings some day and then relapse. They probably do not even realize that they are projecting their own fear onto you.
So don’t fault them to much for doing so. But realize that this is one of the major barriers to leaving AA.
Second of all is the actual barrier of dependence on the program. Before you leave AA you would be wise to test your dependence on the meetings.
I mean, if you leave the AA meetings and you relapse, that is no good at all. I would rather see someone stay in the meetings even if you hate them if it means the difference between sobriety and relapse. Because if you stay in the program then at least you can build from there. If you relapse, all is nearly lost. You start over from scratch (if you are lucky enough to make it back to sobriety).
So stay in the meetings until you are sure you can leave without being dependent on them for your sobriety.
What you do not want to do is to leave the meetings and then prove all of the fear mongers right. You don’t want to relapse. That is priority number one.
Priority number one is staying sober. Leaving the meetings and building your freedom is priority number two. Never get that mixed up. People who get that mixed up relapse right away.
So the first barrier to leaving AA is the peer pressure. But the second barrier to leaving is your dependency on AA. If you are truly dependent then you should not leave until you have become stronger in your recovery.
You can stay in AA and keep going to meetings while building up your independence in recovery. Yes, you can do that.
The way to do that is to figure out what sort of things help you to stay sober. Things that have nothing to do with AA.
For example, I found that exercise was a HUGE factor in helping me to stay sober. So I started working on that path and incorporating more exercise into my life. When I finally left AA I was running 6 miles every single day. This was like a whole new world to me. It was meditation in motion. It was very powerful.
If you leave AA and do nothing, expect to relapse. I was not “doing nothing.” I was doing a lot, and exercise was just one piece of it.
Ideally you want to look at your whole life in terms of growth and progress. The exercise is just one part of the physical realm. I also quit smoking. This was another part of my physical health. I watched a lot of people stay in AA but continue to smoke. I thought “why not leave AA and quit smoking and be healthier?” Of course I also planned to do a lot more than just quit smoking.
Another example came from the online stuff. I was reaching out using various platforms. Doing some online AA. Doing some online recovery chat. I built a recovery website and I also built a recovery forum on that website. This formed a recovery community that was not based on AA dogma. Powerful stuff. I was writing every day and this was helpful. If all you do is write a journal every single day then that would be a huge help as well. But how many people have the discipline to write in a journal each and every day? Very few keep it up in the long run. Give it a try, you may be surprised.
I deliberately “tested” myself as I cut back on meetings. I was fully conscious of how I felt, if I was having cravings for alcohol, and so on. I did not just leave the meetings cold turkey and expect to fly like an eagle. I took action. I took positive action. I pushed myself to make positive changes, to replace the meetings with other things that would improve my life. Then I slowly cut back and made sure that I did not just stumble into an obvious relapse.
This is how to leave AA if you are interested in doing so. Do not just make the leap like a madman. Do it carefully, do it slowly, and make sure you are taking positive action as an alternative to AA. If you cannot point to things and changes you are making and say “see, this is what I am doing instead” then you are probably headed for relapse.
Drawbacks to leaving AA
One drawback is that you lose the network.
This is only partially true though. I still have friends in recovery from AA who I still have connections with. They call me to help them fix their computers or put up a website for their business. I am always eager to help folks out in these capacities.
But for the most part you lose out on this massive amount of support that you otherwise would have had if you stayed in the meetings every day. You lose support.
Another drawback is that you lose the “safety net” of accountability that comes from daily AA meetings. If you are going to meetings every single day then this pattern alone can help to hold you accountable. You cannot just show up drunk the next day, they expect to see you in the meeting and for you to be sober.
These are all hints as to what you must do in order to successfully leave the meetings. For example, you need a way to hold yourself accountable even though you are not associating with meetings every day.
So you lose the support network from the meetings and you lose the accountability factor that is built into the routine. Those are not trivial matters, though they can both be replaced if your goal is to be free of the meetings.
Benefits to leaving AA
The biggest benefit is quality of your sobriety.
I think that people can get stuck in AA. If you work the program right and you push yourself then this does not have to happen of course, but it DOES happen to some people.
They stop growing. They show up to the meetings and they go through the motions but they are not really pushing themselves to grow.
When you leave AA you get an instant benefit: either start making progress or you relapse. It is like the mother bird pushing the babies out of the nest. When you leave AA, you are forced to fly or go splat.
On the other hand if you stay in AA then there is a possibility that you will fall into complacency. And it may be just enough that you will flatten out. You will remain sober, but be unhappy. And because you have accepted AA as your only solution, there is no way for you to break free from this.
So leaving AA can be a wake up call.
It was for me. I got busy in a hurry.
I said to myself: “If I am going to leave the meetings and remain sober, then I had better get busy on improving my life.”
So I did exactly that. And my life improved by leaps and bounds. Things got real good after a few years. They continue to be really good today. I have been blessed with abundance in nearly every area of my life.
The second biggest benefit of leaving AA is time. You gain a ton of time.
My sponsor used to say “what is a meeting, just one hour each day, is that such a big investment in order to insure your recovery?”
Um, yes it is. That one hour each day is huge. If you add in travel time then you are talking about an enormous chunk of your discretionary time, of which you probably have very little. If you work a full time job then going to meetings every day probably represents roughly HALF of all of your “free time.” I don’t want to live my life like that. I would rather be free and doing positive things to grow in my recovery (such as exercise, meals with friends, spending time with the family, etc.).
If AA is working for you then that is great, keep at it. But do realize that it is an enormous time investment. One hour per day + travel time is a big commitment.
What I would do differently if I had to do it over
I probably would not have changed a thing. If nothing else I would have simply told myself not to beat myself up over leaving AA. I agonized over it for several months before I allowed myself to feel good again about my recovery. Now it is over ten years later and most of my peers who stayed in AA have since relapsed. I don’t feel bad anymore about my decision. But I did back then due to massive peer pressure.
You don’t want to relapse of course. But you also have to be honest with yourself. Find your path to freedom.
What this means for you
This means that if you are getting a lot of benefit out of AA, then by all means, stay in the meetings.
Sponsor people. Reach out and help people. Keep pushing yourself to learn and to grow. There is nothing wrong with AA so long as you do not get stuck.
On the other hand you may find yourself like I did. I was bored with the meetings and I was tired of hearing the same things over and over again. I was finding things that helped my recovery a great deal and they did not seem to be related to AA or the 12 steps (things such as exercise, journaling, etc.).
So if you want to leave the meetings or want to explore the idea then I suggest you read this article through again. Plan it out carefully. Be prepared to NOT leave the meetings if you feel like you may relapse. Above all you want to stay sober, and stay safe. There is no point in leaving AA if you are going to relapse.
On the other hand, you may be holding yourself back by staying stuck in AA. That is the point that I was at, and if you are experiencing that as well then I wish you nothing but freedom.