A reader of Spiritual River writes in and says:
“My partner still smokes & drinks daily & did the entire time I was trying to quit.
Now I’m totally vice free & it sucks. I’m a super health nut now, work out daily & don’t even think of drinking, drugs or smoking anymore. They just aren’t part of my lifestyle.
My problem is I can’t stand to be around people who drink. I don’t party like I did anymore & if & when I do go to an event & people are drinking, my tolerance level is like zero. People seem to change even after one drink.
I don’t want to attend AA meetings and hear everyone else’s stories, nor do I want to get up in a room full of strangers and share mine.
I did it, it’s over, time to move forward.
Any suggestions of where to meet up with similar people without the AA thing?”
Yes, I have some thoughts and observations for you.
It sounds to me like you are a good candidate for non-traditional recovery. It doesn’t sound like you are geared into being social, and that is fine in my opinion. Traditional recovery will seek to change you on this point, insisting that you become social in order to embrace the solution that they offer, which is socially based (AA meetings).
So let’s take a closer look here and see what we can learn. There are some important points to consider when you are attempting to take an alternate path in recovery, and the most important is this one here:
First things first: how far along in recovery are you?
If you are at 30 days sober then I would have a tendency to suggest that you slow down and sort of go with the flow for a while. That is just my opinion but it is also based on a whole ton of data from watching people try to recover. The simple fact of the matter is this:
People who try to design their own program in early recovery often fail.
It is a direct conflict with the concept of surrender for you to be designing your own path in recovery when you are still in very early recovery. My suggestion at that point is to focus more on the aspect of surrender. You must surrender completely and give yourself entirely over to a new path in recovery, one that is not of your own choosing. This is important because if you have too much say in the matter then your addiction will try to jump in and sabotage your efforts. Total surrender means asking for help with “complete abandon” and then taking the advice you are given. In this world that unfortunately means that you are going to be exposed to traditional recovery principles: 12 step based programs, AA meetings, etc.
Again, my suggestion is to go with the flow. Not because I believe in that as the ultimate solution, but rather because the timing is all wrong for you to embrace alternative recovery.
You can still design your own program in recovery and do the holistic thing and create your own path to success, but I would not suggest that you try to start with this goal when you have a week of sobriety under your belt. Better to wait a few months or a year or two until you have some stability in your life.
So the first question you need to ask yourself has to do with honest self-evaluation. How far along in your recovery are you, really? How stable are you in your sobriety at this point? If you are less than 30 days sober then I don’t think your answer to this matters much; you are still pretty green in recovery. If you have a year or more than I would suspect that you are quite stable in your sobriety at this point. Those are just ballpark guidelines though and there are plenty of recovering addicts who are still not stable after their first year in recovery. And by “stable” I mean that they are not going to relapse at the drop of a hat just based on a strong trigger or two, random events, etc.
Even if AA meetings are clearly not for you (and I do not think that they are in this case), you can still get some value from attending them and just listening. I did this for several months and pretty much never shared my own stuff or my own story, I just listened. You don’t get a ton of value from doing this but you do get some. If I were in your shoes I would keep doing that until you feel you are stable enough and ready to branch out on your own. Meetings can still be a lifeline of sorts even if you are really reluctant to share in them. The traditional recovery approach would urge you to start sharing at meetings and get comfortable with them, while I am suggesting that you leave the meetings eventually while using them temporarily until you find stability. There is a difference. I want you to build strength in recovery and move beyond the meetings while the traditional approach is to encourage dependence on the meetings.
Evaluate how stable you are in your sobriety. Is there anything that could make you take a drink today? For me, I know that I am stable enough right now in my journey that the answer is a clear “no.” I understand that this can slowly change over time, however, depending on what I do on a day to day basis. Relapse creeps in slowly. Therefore the key to long term recovery is to maintain our stability and to keep growing as a person, always getting stronger against the threat of relapse. The alternative to this is to become complacent and get weaker against the threat of relapse.
So my suggestion for you is to do your own thing, to forge your own path in recovery, to strike out on your own and abandon AA meetings just like I did. But if you take this path I want to make sure that you do not do it blindly, and that you carefully consider what your own personal program of recovery is going to consist of, and that you have a strong plan in place to keep pursuing personal growth.
I agonized over this for months before I took the plunge and abandon the meetings. And I believe that you should do the same if you want to be careful about it and be sure of your success. If you are stable while attending meetings then stretch that out for a while and carefully plan what you are going to do in your life in order to remain clean and sober.
In my situation I started doing research about different ways that people worked their recovery outside of AA. I found one group of people that stayed clean and sober based on running and exercise. So I incorporated this into my own recovery plan, to run regularly as part of my recovery effort. This has been a huge factor in my success, I believe, because it feels so good to exercise on a regular basis.
But there are other actions that I discovered that I could take in an alternative recovery program as well, and I pursued those very actively when I first abandon the meetings. I suggest that you do the same if you really want to forge your own path in recovery.
It’s all about action, taking action, and pushing yourself to make real growth. Anyone can get complacent in recovery, both in and out of AA. Plenty of people sit in AA meetings every day and get complacent and are not really living the right life in recovery; they are stagnant. You could leave AA and become stagnant as well, or you could push yourself to keep making positive changes in your life.
Your job is to find a way to keep pushing yourself to make positive changes in your life. Because you are abandoning the “safety net of AA” you had better push really hard for the first year or two and really strive to make lots of positive changes in your life. In other words, you need to self-motivate if you want to do it all on your own.
In other words, if you want to abandon the traditional AA path, then do so cautiously, with the knowledge that now you are going to have to provide your own motivation and your own accountability, rather than relying on it from the group. Either path is valid and either path can work for you but you must realize that while in AA you can coast a bit, turn your brain off a little, and let the meetings fill you up with positive ideas. If you choose to leave AA then this “passive absorbtion of recovery” is gone and you have to create your own success, your own motivation, your own sobriety. Realize this and push hard in order to compensate.
You may actually be better off going your own path in recovery because now you are more deliberate in your approach to sobriety. In going to daily AA meetings for years on end we tend to become passive, believing that “just showing up” is now enough for us to stay sober and that we should be able to do well just by coming to meetings every day. When we leave the meetings entirely then we realize that our safety net is gone and that we have to create our recovery and all of our success for ourselves–we are no longer relying on a program or a regimen of daily meetings to do it for us. When we abandon AA we take full responsibility for our own success in recovery, facing it squarely with the knowledge that we will succeed or fail based on our own actions. This shift in responsibility may actually help you to realize the full scale of the task at hand, and spur you into action. I know it did for me. I was bored in AA, I was complacent, and when I pushed myself off the cliff finally I was a bit scared, a bit nervous, and this spurred me into massive action.
Why bother “meeting up with similar people” at all? That sounds forced, like you are missing out on a party or something
I want to be brutally honest here and I think that in doing so I may be learning something about myself as well.
When I first left AA I clung to the belief that I was “still connecting” with people through the online world. There were a few forums that I would visit about recovery and I knew a few people online, and some of them even did their own thing without depending on AA.
So when people would ask me things like “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you at the meetings lately….” one of my responses to this was that I did a lot of online recovery stuff.
This was a half truth though and in reality I was not working my recovery based on connections with people online. In fact I was not relying on online recovery in any way, this was just a vague excuse that I could tell people who were worried that I was going to relapse after quitting the AA meetings.
But I told myself this lie for many years, that instead of going to AA meetings I had simply changed venues, and that I was active in the world of online recovery.
The truth is that I am not, and was never very active with online recovery. I do not “make connections with others” in the online world in any sort of meaningful way–certainly not in any way that mimics the support and dialouge of an AA meeting.
So the truth that I have realized is this: connecting with others in recovery is of limited value, and you do not necessarily need to find an alternative for it if you leave the AA meetings.
Again, your progress in recovery is a factor here. The earlier you are in your recovery journey, the more you need to connect with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. Why? Because you need to identify with them and get hope from them. This is important in very early recovery in order to realize that it is actually possible.
This is especially true for the newcomer who has never known recovery, has never had any clean time, and does not even believe necessarily that recovery is possible. They need to identify with others and in order to do so they need to talk with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. They need to meet with them in some way and hear their stories. If they do not do this then it is likely they will become discouraged and not even believe that sobriety is possible. Connection and identification is important in early recovery.
After a few months of recovery this becomes much less important. Now the addict or alcoholic has managed to stay sober for a few months, they have found some stability in their recovery, and they now know it is possible first hand. They no longer need to hear the stories every day from other alcoholics because now they know it is possible, they have identified as a recovering alcoholic, and they know what they need to do to stay sober.
So this is another case of using “traditional recovery methods” in early recovery and then later branching out to do your own thing once you are stable. AA meetings, rehab, treatment centers–these all make a lot of sense in early recovery when you are vulnerable, bewildered, and still foggy from addiction. But later on in your recovery journey it makes more sense to branch out and do your own thing.
If your partner still drinks and smokes, are you willing to tolerate that forever?
Another thing that you may want to think about is that your partner may continue to drink and smoke forever. Most people who are in your situation have this sort of desperate hope where they believe that things will change one day and that the partner will wise up and stop drinking and smoking suddenly and then everything will be happy. If you are holding on to such a hope then you may just be setting yourself up for years or even decades of false hope and disappointment.
The solution in this case is for you to take action, and probably the best action that you could take is to go to an Al-anon meeting and talk about your situation. I would wait until you are fairly stable in your own recovery journey before doing this. Once you are stable though in your own sobriety, seek out an Al-anon meeting and then attend it. Explain your full situation and ask for feedback.
If you do this then you are going to learn that you ultimately have a choice. You can either live with your parner as is, or you can leave the relationship. But the people at Al-anon will urge you not to live your life while clinging to false hope. They will urge you to draw a line in the sand, to set boundaries for yourself, and then to live by those boundaries without making hollow threats or trying to manipulate the other person.
If you eliminate things from your life then something will move in to take its place
Another idea I want to convey to you is not to worry too much about what you are going to do or who you are going to meet and interact with based on your recovery.
You may feel like “I should be busy, I should be doing something, I should be taking certain actions to recover.” I would say to you: “Don’t force it. Let life happen and unfold for a while.”
Start thinking about the holistic approach to recovery and look at what you have that is positive in your life. You probably have your health and if it is not perfect then I would urge you to start taking action to try to improve it. If you are not into regular exercise yet then that would be a strong starting point in my opinion. Nutrition and diet would be another good area to start exploring.
Maybe you work at a job and feel less than fulfilled in your current career track. This is another point to tackle in your recovery which should open up a whole host of new options for you. If you don’t like your current job then take action to change it. If the timeline for doing so is depressingly long, don’t worry about it. You have plenty of time in recovery. Without the distraction of drugs and alcohol it is much easier to make positive changes happen. Change your job or find something that you truly like to do and then pursue it with enthusiasm.
Recovery is full of time, energy, and opportunity. If you remain clean and sober then you will be absolutely astounded at what you can accomplish in a few years time. I am frankly amazed at what I accomplished in ten years. Really, I never would have predicted that I could have accomplished certain things, yet the advantages that you have in recovery are very powerful. Time is on your side when you step out of addiction. If you make positive changes every day then those positive changes will start to accumulate. Success builds on success. Unless you relapse, you will continue to build momentum and strength as you go along, taking more and more positive action.
How you sculpt your life is really up to you, but over the years things will just keep getting better and better. Figure out what you want out of life and then pursue it. Always hold abstinence from drugs and alcohol as your highest priority. Keep pushing yourself to make positive changes and after a few years you will look back and be amazed at the progress you have made.
You can do this both in and out of AA. You can do this with or without a bunch of social connections in your recovery.
The important element is the accumulation of positive changes and the overal trajectory of personal growth. If you get lazy in your recovery and stop pushing yourself then you may end up relapsing. Again, this is possible both in and out of AA.