Is there such a thing as an alternative to AA when it comes to getting sober? Unbelievably, some people have been led to believe that there are no other options for a struggling alcoholic.
The truth is that you do not necessarily have to sit in AA meetings for the rest of your life if that is not suiting you in your recovery journey. If that happens to work well for you, then by all means, do it. But some people may not find the daily meeting idea to work for them, and they are frequently told that “this is really the only path in sobriety.” Not true.
There are alternatives to what would be considered “mainstream recovery,” and some of those alternatives are working just fine for certain individuals. Obviously the key is that you have to be honest with yourself about what is really working for you and what is not. If going to AA meetings every day helps keep you sober, then be honest with yourself about that. Figure out what is helping and then see how you can modify or apply those concepts in your life. If you quit going to meetings and you have terrible cravings and are on the verge of relapse, be honest with yourself about that too. This is about doing what actually works, not what you think (or hope) is ideal.
I had to be honest with myself when I stopped attending daily AA meetings. At first I noticed that cravings for alcohol were popping up out of nowhere, so I had to slow down and figure out what was really going on. The truth is that I had to do some work in my life in order to be able to walk away from a support system successfully. By being honest with myself I was able to realize this and take positive action in order to correct it.
The main alternative is religion, which definitely works for some
If you look at mainstream recovery then you will notice that the biggest alternative to the 12 step program is religious based recovery.
There is nothing wrong (or right) about this alternative, only the results will make it so. In other words, if religious based recovery works for you, then go with it. If it doesn’t seem to be working for you then obviously it is the wrong fit.
Of course in order to really know this for sure you have to dive in and give yourself a chance to benefit from a religious approach. This cannot be done in a single day or even in a single week. It may take months of “surrender” to a new program in order to see the benefits of it. So this is really about what your preferences are and what you are willing to do.
I believe that almost anyone can benefit from either AA or from a religious based recovery program, so long as they are willing to give themselves over to it completely. You have to trust in the program 100 percent and hold nothing back. If you do that then you will reap the benefits of that approach and things will turn out well for you. But it is all about making a 100 percent commitment to what you are being taught in that program. If doesn’t honestly matter if it is AA, a religious based program, or something else entirely (such as a behavioral approach for example). All that matters is results and if you dedicate yourself completely to any of those methods and you surrender completely then you will get good results.
There is not really any mystery to alcoholism recovery. This is not rocket science. I think a lot of times we believe that there is some great mystery to how people are able to remain sober by working a program, but that just isn’t so. There are some basic fundamental principles that seem to be shared among most of the popular approaches, including AA and religious based programs, such as:
1) Abstinence based recovery. Not trying to control alcohol intake, but simply eliminating it altogether.
2) A decision to stay sober. (This is not rocket science, people!)
3) Some form of support for the newcomer. This could be AA meetings or a religious based community or therapy based groups, etc.
4) The idea of personal growth, working to improve yourself or your life.
5) The idea of eliminating the negative stuff inside of us, like shame, guilt, fear, anger, etc. Letting all the bad stuff go.
None of these fundamental concepts is really unique to any recovery program. These are just the normal building blocks of sobriety in general. There are no mystical secrets in that list above.
You might even add the concept of “faith” to the list, though in reality I have studied enough alternative recovery programs to know that this is, in fact, optional to the recovery process. Faith in a higher power can definitely help some people but it is not a necessity. Interesting that so many recovery programs are based almost entirely on the concept of faith, when these other fundamental principles are so much more important.
Another alternative is behavioral therapy and counseling
It is possible too that you could go see a therapist or a counselor and use that as your entire recovery program.
This was not enough “help” for me in my own life though and I had to have something more than just therapy. In reality I tried to do it this way and I failed. I could not break free from my addiction while I was in counseling or therapy. It just wasn’t enough help.
Instead, I had to go to inpatient rehab, which has a totally different feel to it than counseling or therapy has. When you go check into a rehab and stay there for a few weeks, the idea is one of disruption. You are totally and completely disrupting your entire life by staying in rehab for 28 days. To me, this is very, very different from going to counseling or therapy.
I suppose that some people are able to overcome their addiction by simply going to counseling, but that was not my experience so I cannot really comment on it. I just know that it is possible and that it is yet another alternative to the mainstream approach of simply going to AA every day.
The holistic approach could be considered an alternative (“creative recovery”)
In early sobriety I believe that the concept of “disruption” is extremely important. It was for me anyway. I could not break free from my alcoholism unless I went somewhere and checked in for a long time. I could not stay out in the real world and have total freedom and overcome my drinking problem. It wasn’t working for me.
After I went through treatment I lived in long term rehab for 20 months. During that time I had to figure out how I was going to live a sober life once I finally moved back into the “real world.” What I discovered during that 20 months was that traditional recovery was not for me. I didn’t want that path and it was not a good fit for my personality. Sitting in meetings every single day was not serving me well. I needed an alternative.
At that time I started to figure out what was really keeping other people (and also myself) clean and sober. I attempted to deconstruct successful sobriety. What really made it work? What elements were important to my recovery, and what was extraneous fluff?
To be honest, I could tell that there was a lot of extraneous fluff in my recovery efforts. This is because there are so many suggestions in early recovery: Get a big book and read it every day, work the steps, go to meetings every day, get a sponsor and call them every day, study the recovery literature, write in a journal, call your peers in recovery every day, and on and on and on.
To be honest the amount of suggestions that a person can get in recovery can become a bit overwhelming. I needed to separate out what was actually helping me from what was not.
This does not happen automatically!
You will not discover this information unless you make a deliberate plan to start testing it out in your life.
Your measuring stick is your level of cravings for your drug of choice. That was my measuring stick anyway, and it worked quite well. If I started to have thoughts about taking a drink, then I knew that I was on the wrong path, and that I had to try something else. I had to change my approach again, because what I was doing was not working.
Then if the thoughts about drinking went away, then I knew that I was on the right path again.
You have to PAY ATTENTION for this to work. You have to really pay attention to the thoughts and the cravings for alcohol if you want to learn what your true path in recovery is.
Essentially what I did in my own life was to say to myself: “These daily AA meetings are a drag for me. I am going to stop going to them. But when I do, I need to make sure that I am taking care of myself in recovery in other ways so that I do not relapse.” Then I had to pay attention to my thoughts each day and monitor how I was doing.
What you don’t do is that you do not just stop going to meetings suddenly without paying any attention to your thoughts or cravings. If you do that then you are asking for relapse. You must be mindful if you want to change your recovery process.
So what sort of things did I do instead of going to meetings, you ask?
Defining your own path to success in long term sobriety
I embraced a holistic approach to recovery. Instead of focusing entirely on spiritual growth (as is taught in most recovery programs, including AA and religious based programs) I decided to take a more holistic approach.
My goal was to become healthier and improve my life in various areas. Which areas?
I started with the basics of any holistic lifestyle:
1) Physical – fitness, exercise, quit smoking, good sleep, better nutrition.
2) Emotional – finding emotional balance, avoiding becoming too angry or upset, etc.
3) Mental – brainstorming ideas, finding gratitude in every day situations.
4) Social – eliminating toxic relationships. Finding positive people to interact with.
5) Spiritual – practicing gratitude every single day.
My goal was to work on every single one of these areas every single day of my recovery.
My theory was that if I worked on these things and made an effort to improve my life over time that things would get better and better.
I have found this to be true. We become what our habits have led us to become. Therefore my goal is to establish good habits in life. In order to do so you have to look at the overall picture, meaning you should consider your holistic health. If you neglect one area of your health (or your life) then you will suffer for it in the long run. Better to make an effort in each area so that you do not fall behind or find yourself falling into any traps.
For example, I know many people who have relapsed due to stressful relationships during their recovery. If they had taken a more holistic approach then they may have found a particular toxic relationship in their life to be a big warning sign and they may have taken action to fix it.
The holistic approach to recovery is really about eliminating these negative pitfalls and traps. I believe that the idea in most recovery programs is that if you follow a strictly spiritual path then this other stuff (such as relationships or your physical health for example) will just take care of itself. But I think that is too risky to believe that a spiritual transformation is going to lead you to exercise, fix your relationships, and quit smoking. Better to address those areas of your life directly and realize that improving your health in all of these different ways will add up to really help you in your recovery. I have watched too many people in AA who were far “more spiritual” than I was who have since relapsed. What were they doing wrong? They missed something critical in one of these other areas, or they missed several things and it all added up. The holistic approach is more comprehensive than a spiritual approach.
Why you should surrender to a program in early recovery instead
In early recovery, everything is different.
In my opinion you cannot just start out in early recovery with the idea that you want to use this holistic approach. It makes sense for long term sobriety but in the beginning you need to focus a bit more. You need to concentrate your energy in order to overcome your addiction at first. You need to disrupt your pattern of abuse so that you can break free from the daily addiction.
This is why the concept of surrender is so important. If you are still drinking every day and you decide that you are going to get clean and sober your own way, but that you don’t need any help at all, then you are probably setting yourself up for failure. You may find ideas like “the holistic approach to recovery” and think that you can implement them in your own life without any help at all during your first week of sobriety, but you are probably mistaken.
Early recovery depends on surrender. You need direction. You have to ask for help. You can’t just take charge of your own life during your first week of sobriety and expect to tell people how it is all going to work out. That is the wrong attitude. Try it if you don’t believe me. Design your own recovery plan for your first week of recovery. It will likely fail.
Instead, you should ask for help. Surrender to a recovery plan. Anyone’s plan. It doesn’t matter in the beginning. All of these alternatives, all of these different treatment programs and potential paths in recovery–none of it matters. All that matters is that you get out of your own way and surrender. You can’t figure it out in early recovery. It’s just not possible. If you could then you would not be alcoholic, there would be no problem at all. You could just stop drinking on your own and go on about your business. If there is no problem then there is no problem.
But the struggling alcoholic or addict cannot just overcome their problem on their own. They need help. They need disruption.
You can get creative later on. In early recovery you need direction. You need to be told what to do. I know that sounds harsh and maybe even unpalatable but it is the truth. If you want to get clean and sober then you have to crush your ego and get out of your own way. You can’t figure this thing out during your first week of sobriety. It won’t happen. You will just end up sabotaging your own efforts and return to drinking.
The key is that you surrender totally and completely to your disease, and then ask for help. This is the start of a successful journey in recovery. Later on you can start to design your own path in recovery by creating the life that you really wanted all along. This is the gift of long term sobriety. It is possible to deconstruct your recovery and figure out what is really helping you and what is not. But in order to get to that point you have to ask for help, surrender, take suggestions, and do what other people tell you to do. You can’t just go from zero to “fully recovered” without a whole bunch of steps in between. And that stuff in between is going to take some time.
If you have made it through early recovery and you are excited to create a new life in recovery then consider looking at a guide that can help you to do that.
On the other hand you might be in very early recovery (or even not yet done drinking or using drugs yet) and you are eager to get your life on a new path. If that is the case then I would strongly urge you to take action and ask for help. Your first step is to surrender to your disease and after that you need to follow through and take action. Don’t get hung up on finding the right path because that can take several years to unfold. It is much more important in the beginning to ask for help and start taking direction from someone.
The more control you hand over to someone else’s ideas, the easier it will be for you to stay sober in the beginning. In other words, anyone can tell you how to stay sober and not drink, you just have to agree to give control to that person. You must surrender and give yourself up to someone or something else. This is how you build a foundation of sobriety in early recovery. You have to crush your ego to do this and get out of your own way. It is hard to do and that is why so few people want to do it! But the rewards are great and after you get through early sobriety you get to take control of your life back some day and start designing your own path again.
What about you, have you found an alternative to mainstream recovery? How has it worked out for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!