Can too Much AA be Harmful to Recovery?

Can too Much AA be Harmful to Recovery?


Generally speaking, when someone is early in their recovery journey and they are attempting to quit drinking and turn their life around, soaking up as much AA as possible tends to be a good thing.

I can remember a time in my own recovery journey in which I actually attended 4 AA meetings in a single day one time (of course one of those was a midnight meeting, but still!).

And of course there are people out there who are just looking for excuses, and will say things such as “I don’t like going to AA meetings because they make me think about drinking, they trigger me.” I think that this sort of thing is just making excuses really. If someone is serious about getting help then they can certainly find that help at AA.

But on the other hand, there comes a point in recovery at which time the alcoholic has to start living a real life again.

This is not to say that you cannot be heavily involved in AA, that you cannot chair multiple meetings each week, or sponsor more than one newcomer in recovery, or anything like that. But what I am saying is that, in very early recovery, AA tends to consume your whole life for a while, and I think that is fine. That is good. The distraction is necessary in order for the alcoholic to succeed in early recovery. Just going to one or two AA meetings each week is not enough to really cut it for most people. So I am all for “going hard” in the beginning.

What I tend to question, however, is the idea that you have to stay married to the daily AA meeting for the rest of your life. I do not really believe that this is the vision that the first people in AA had in mind. The “founding fathers” of AA did not have 24/7 access to around the clock AA meetings in every single town. From the history that I have read about early AA, people often went to one AA meeting per week, and only rarely more often than that.

In today’s world of recovery and AA, I really feel as if some people almost abuse the daily meetings and use them like they are a crutch. That probably sounds overly negative, but I still think it is true. People go to AA and they vent and they talk about their day and they are not really working an actual program of recovery. Instead, they are essentially using the daily meetings as if they are talk therapy. And I think that if you are in the habit of going to AA every single day of your life then you come to use it as a crutch, you come to rely on it, and this has negative effects on your overall recovery.

Let’s do this: Flip the idea on it’s head for a moment: What if you could only go to one AA meeting per week, maximum? What if you had to limit yourself to just one hour of AA meetings per week? What then?

This is essentially what I did when I made the decision to cut back severely on my meetings, and then eliminate them entirely.

Of course I did not want to relapse at the time, and yet I had several sound reasons for wanting to reclaim that block of time each day for myself. But I also knew that I might be fooling myself, and just about every single person in AA told me that I was definitely fooling myself by wanting to cut back, and they had a million and one reasons why I should just keep going to another AA meeting every single day of my life.

And so I came to this decision: I was going to stop the meetings. But I did not want to just stop and then screw up and relapse like everyone said I would; I wanted to be successful. So I started to plan and decide what would be helpful to my recovery other than sitting in an AA meeting every day.

So here is what I did: I organized and optimized my life for recovery, just without that daily meeting. So I started doing physical exercise every single day. I started writing in a journal every single day. I was working in a treatment center so I was still connecting with people in recovery every day. People online were reaching out to me for help and so I was doing what I could to try to help them.

In short, I was actively pursuing personal growth in my life on several different levels, and in several different areas.

And I had friends and peers in AA who cautioned me that I needed to be careful, that if I stopped going to meetings that I was going to relapse. And I was afraid, at the time, that they might actually be right.

But I wanted to make it work, and so I started to make lists each day when I woke up of the things that I was going to do that day, and I started to take healthy actions in all of these different ways: Writing, reading, exercise, meditation, connecting with others in recovery, and so on. And I pushed myself to remain active in recovery every single day, just without resorting to sitting in an AA meeting.

This is, I believe, closer to the kind of active, hands on personal growth that was demanded from the founders of AA. Back in their day, when there were not several AA meetings scheduled for every day of the week, they had to actually work an active program of real action. They had to do more than just sit around in a meeting every day and complain about their problems. They had to actually grab a hold of the 12 steps and use them on a daily basis and take positive action on a consistent basis.

This is what I started doing in my own life as soon as I left the meetings. And I can remember the transition period in which my peers were constantly asking me if I was alright, they were worried about me, and honestly they were just waiting for me to relapse. And then a bit later they started to ask me what exactly I was doing to remain sober, because they could not figure it out.

And then much later I met up with a guy who was truly baffled by my experience, and he asked me quite a lot about how exactly I was living my life in recovery, because he had been going to AA fairly religiously, and he was convinced that I was headed for relapse, and then somehow the tables ended up turning on him and the exact opposite happened. And he was so baffled as to how I could “do my own thing” and remain sober in recovery.

I think there is a difference between living a program of recovery and just sitting in AA meetings every day and talking a good game.

I was never big on talking a good game while in meetings. I don’t give a great speech and sound super spiritual and successful when I talk in an AA meeting. And unfortunately I think that can become the measuring stick for success in early recovery. In the meanwhile, I was actually taking positive action–I was exercising, getting into shape, experimenting with meditation, writing in a journal every day, working with a therapist on personal growth issues, and so on. Instead of just talking a good game in the meetings I was actually putting in the effort and doing the work of recovery.

So it is not that going to AA too much is bad, it is that not actually working a real program and taking positive action can easily be overlooked if you happen to show up to AA and give a decent speech. But the great speech in AA is not what keeps you sober. Good luck everyone.