Why You Should Not Sit through AA or NA Meetings for the Rest of Your Life in Order to Stay Clean and Sober

Patrick
  • Let me get this part out of the way right up front: If AA or NA meetings work for you, then that is great, and I would encourage you to continue on with them (for the most part).

    However, even if meetings seem to be working for you, I would encourage you to take a look at some of the ideas on this page. I am not trying to “talk you out of meetings” necessarily. I am just challenging folks to really look at their recovery. The fact is that anyone who is living a successful life in recovery should be making personal growth on a regular basis. If they are just coasting along then they are not doing themselves any favors, and they are also running a risk that they might relapse at some point.

    So while it is not going to be the case for everyone, some people would do well to think about an alternative approach to their recovery other than just “go to a meeting every day.”

    Let’s find out why:

    AA meetings can be a waste of time

    You only have 24 hours in each day and many of those hours are already spoken for with things such as sleep, work, family interaction, and so on. Your remaining expendable (disposable) hours are very precious and what you do with them will have a huge impact on how your life evolves. Given that, are 12 step meetings the best choice?

    There are a few reasons that meetings are effective. One is because recovering alcoholics benefit from a constant reminder that they are in the recovery process. This helps them to shut down thought processes that might romanticize the idea of taking a drink. Without regular reminders about recovery, these thoughts are pursued for longer periods of time and can make the recovering alcoholic miserable. Therefore, regular meetings serve as a reminder to the brain to help keep it on the right track.

    Another reason that meetings are effective is because they allow people to vent. If you have no one to talk with in your life then going to a meeting can give you a chance to vent frustration. This was never the intended purpose of AA meetings, but they definitely do get used in this way. If you go to several AA meetings you will surely hear people vent about their problems that they are having in their lives.

    In very early recovery, meetings can also be the vehicle and the location where the newcomer actually learns how to live a sober life.

    So those are the ways in which meetings can be effective and helpful for recovery. But, keep in mind these 2 things:

    1) All of those needs can be met outside of regular meeting attendance.

    2) The “cost” of each meeting is one hour per day plus travel time. This adds up significantly over a lifetime.

    Time in AA meetings is not necessarily “wasted” as it depends on what your needs are. If meetings work for you then it is probably wise to continue with them.

    But be honest with yourself in terms of how much growth you have made in the last 30 days, the last 90 days, the last year. Are daily meetings pushing you forward, or are they keeping you stagnant?

    One hour per day plus travel time is a HUGE investment. If you are not getting inspired growth and continuous progress based on your meeting attendance, then it is likely a waste of your time.

    Results speak for themselves, but of course, you have to be truly honest with yourself. It can be easy to coast along, become stagnant, but still pat yourself on the back for not relapsing. Are you really growing though?

    AA meetings can detract from what your real priorities should be in recovery

    What is the long term goal in recovery?

    In my opinion the answer is personal growth.

    That is why anyone who is attending meetings on a regular basis but feels like they are stuck in a rut needs to take action in order to jump-start their recovery.

    The point of recovery is not to abstain and sit in meetings all day. The point of recovery is to recover a life of purpose and meaningful growth. There is a tendency in AA to focus on one type of growth at the expense of all others. Spiritual growth is the only kind that matters in the program of AA.

    But in “real world recovery,” there are huge benefits from looking into other types of personal growth. For example, exercise and physical fitness can have a huge, positive impact on recovery. The 12 step program does not acknowledge or admit this. It has no need to, because the solution in AA is narrowed down to “spiritual growth.”

    The real solution is bigger than that; more powerful. Holistic growth is the key to a successful life in recovery, and it includes the idea of spiritual growth as well.

    AA meetings are effective because they narrow the focus down so much and give concentrated help in one specific area. If you have two weeks of sobriety then you can get huge benefit from an AA meeting. But after two years or twenty years in recovery, are one hour meetings every day really giving you the exact help and guidance that you need to keep making forward progress in your life? Sure you can still get value from any AA meeting, but that is not the point. The point is, how are you spending your precious hours every day?

    For people who have mastered the basics in recovery, sitting in a meeting every day becomes an excuse for inaction. Your real priority in recovery should shift to one of personal growth. New goals should appear in your life or you should find more meaning and purpose in other ways. That is not to say that you *have* to leave AA as you move into long term recovery. It merely means that you need to make a conscious choice about how you are spending your time, and if the daily AA meeting is the best way for you keep growing in your recovery.

    For some people, the daily meeting is a great way for them to experience growth. Maybe they actively sponsor people, chair meetings, get involved, make a real impact. But many people do not take it to that level, and instead just coast by, using daily meetings as a sort of life preserver to keep them sober. This is not real recovery and that is not real personal growth.

    So yes, you CAN keep going to AA meetings in long term recovery. But don’t do it because you NEED to in order to stay sober. If that is the case, your recovery needs work.

    AA meetings are fine. But dependency on AA meetings is not good. Personal growth is the goal, not just stability.

    AA meetings might not be your best venue for helping others in recovery

    Why help others in recovery? Why not just help yourself and focus on your own sobriety?

    The reason is because helping others in recovery is one of the highest-impact things you can do for your recovery. There is little else that you could do to strengthen your recovery more than helping others. This is true both in and out of AA.

    So you have to ask yourself: “Can I help others most effectively inside of AA meetings? Or outside of them?”

    The key is to be honest with yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of getting some clean time, prattling on at meetings like a guru, and feeling your ego stroked while all the newcomers look up to you. Yes, you want to help others in recovery. But if you are doing it in meetings every day to stroke your own ego, then that is a problem. It can be easy to fall victim to “big-shotism” in AA when you get a few years sober, depending on what meetings you may attend. Old-timers are rare, but newcomers abound.

    Going to AA meetings and sharing your experience is one way to help recovering alcoholics. But there are other ways. What you should do is to consider your own unique strengths and talents, and see how you can best use those to reach out to others in recovery. This may or may not be best suited for AA meetings. (For example, maybe you excel in one-on-one interactions rather than speaking in front of groups, etc.).

    AA meetings can become a daily routine and an excuse to stop taking real action and making real growth in recovery

    This is the main caution that I want you to take from this article. I am not trying to talk you out of meetings….rather, I am trying to get people to consciously choose meetings if they are going to keep going to them.

    Remember that your real goal in recovery is not merely abstinence but instead it is continuous personal growth. AA meetings might be pushing you to make that growth, but they might also be keeping you stuck in a way.

    It is easy to fall into a pattern of complacency if you attend daily meetings. This becomes especially true as you start to accumulate more sober time. Due to the massive attrition rate of modern day AA, this means that anyone who sticks around for over a year basically becomes a “senior member.” The constant influx of newcomers (who are not going to stick it out for the most part) means that you can now pat yourself on the back due to your “success” in being able to stick and stay. Show up to a meeting every day, preach to the newcomers, life is good.

    The danger in that is complacency.

    If you are stuck in a “meeting rut,” ask yourself the following questions:

    * How can I push myself to grow in my recovery outside of traditional step work and spiritual growth?

    * How can I push myself to carry a message of recovery to the world outside of the 12 step program?

    * What can I do with an extra hour or two each day that will have a huge, positive impact on my life?

    * Am I depending on meetings for my sobriety? How can I grow beyond that dependency?

    AA meetings as a crutch

    In some regards I tend to think of AA meetings as a bit of a crutch. This depends entirely on how you use the meeting, however.

    If you depend on meetings to maintain your sobriety then obviously it is a crutch. The question is: “Is that a healthy dependency?”

    Most people would answer that it is a healthy dependency to have and is certainly better than drinking. I would agree that sobriety beats drinking, but would also challenge people to choose the route of daily meetings more consciously. If it just becomes your default method for sobriety, your daily venting session that you depend on to keep you sober, then I think there is room for growth there.

    Continuous sobriety should come from continuous personal growth. If you stagnate in your growth because attending daily meetings keeps you sober with little extra effort on your part, then that is bad. Look to challenge yourself a bit, away from dependency on daily meetings.

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