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What Then, If Not A.A.?

By Stinkin' Thinkin' - Muckraking the 12-Step Industry

If you found your way to this blog, you probably have a reason.

And if the reason is that you're having a problem with alcohol, I want to make sure that we can offer you something beside our obsession with tearing the ass out of A.A.

We make fun of A.A., but we don't trivialize the need to get sober or the despair that drives the need.

There are some links to alternative communities in the right sidebar of this page, which may be of help to you.

But I also want to give you some more ideas about taking control of this, based on my experience and the experiences of others who have done this without A.A.

Now, I quit drinking without A.A., and so did the co-author of this blog.

And so did many people that we know. We all had it bad, too - if you want to do something about it, it's bad.

The idea that, because we were able to do this on our own, we are not really alcoholics, is gobsmacking. No one can tell you what your experience is. You know if you have a problem. And you can quit drinking. You can.

The insidious thing about belief systems is that they are founded on fractions of truth, and A.A. doesn't get everything wrong, despite the fact that it is seriously wrong.

Not just flawed, but wrong.

For instance, one of their slogans, "It will work if you want it to work" is right on. 

What that means is that your intention to quit has got to be fixed.

The fact that A.A. has the same success rate as nothing bears this out: The people who make the decision on their own to quit and the A.A.s who "want it to" have exactly the same success rate.

What that demonstrates to me is that it's about the decision you make and not about the program you work.

However, we have all had the experience of being determined to quit when we're morbidly hungover, only to lose that resolve by midday as we get our legs back under us - vaguely wondering where the resolve went, but more desperately focused on the important task of getting back in the bag.

I remember waking up seething with hatred for myself, incapacitated with hangover, skanky taste in my mouth, knowing that this was just another in an eternal string of daily promises I had broken to myself - and I'd surely break another one today.

I felt utterly defeated by the knowledge that however badly I wanted it at that moment, I still didn't want it bad enough that this would be the last day I woke up like this. It's a nightmare.

So, what was the difference between one of those horrible mornings and the one horrible morning that it clicked? I'm not sure, but that was the day I asked for help. I joined an amazing non-denominational online community of quitters - some A.A.s, but most not. I journaled, played, argued, supported others, read a lot, and white-knucked it on this message board.

I believe A.A. is a scam and a half, but that doesn't mean that I am against asking for help.

Asking for help quitting is an enormous step toward committing to it, and I believe that the commitment is success itself.  If A.A. has a 5% success rate, which is equal to the success rate among people who choose to quit on their own, the only common element is the decision. If you've made up your mind, what difference does it make how you go about reinforcing and actualizing it?

How you reinforce and actualize is your business. Committing to quit drinking is a commitment to honor your life, to move away from mediating every facet of your experience on this earth through an alcohol-induced stupor.

A.A. doesn't want you to commit to quitting drinking; it wants you to commit to working the program, so that you can quit. I really believe that this is completely backwards and inside-out. This makes quitting incidental to working the program: "It will work if you work it." Remember, the stated goal of A.A. is to perpetuate the program.

I do hope that the distinction I'm making here is clear. In one scenario, you decide to quit drinking, then go about reinforcing that decision in ways that make sense to you. In the other scenario, quitting drinking reinforces the program, which is paramount. In the first case, "self-will" is your friend; in the second, it is your enemy. In the first, sobriety is something you take control of; in the second, it is a gift, given to you by the program.

Do you think it is more likely that you will achieve your goal of living without alcohol if it is a choice you have made for yourself, or if it is an elusive reward you have to negate and debase yourself to humbly receive on a daily basis, like a crust of stale bread you must be grateful to Someone Else for?

OK, enough of A.A.

I think the toughest thing about quitting alcohol is wanting to want it - wanting to be able to make the decision, but not being able to move beyond that point of desire and into energy. This is the foundation for any permanent change you make in your life. And since what we want from moment to moment changes, and since the addiction is a stronger muscle than your will - like your dominant hand: it's the one that you use automatically - fixing and maintaining our intention to quit is not easy.

So, get some help. Get after it.

There are many communities of sober people, who got that way, or are getting that way, without A.A. - join them and stay close. Plunk yourself right down and build your community. Find a counselor who is knowledgeable about addiction, but who is not invested in 12-step - seek and ye shall find.

Make a list of your priorities (your children, your dreams, your health.) and keep it close.

Write vividly about how you feel when you are hungover, and keep it close.

Step out into the world, sober, and really celebrate your successes (not by crying through your drunkalog for the hojillionth time), by actually celebrating, reveling in and honoring your accomplishments, sharing it with your community.

Set goals for yourself that are important to you, but that you could not do if you were drinking, like making your kids pancakes on Saturday morning. you know, life kinds of things. Watch movies that will make you laugh your head off. Learn to meditate.

Get hypnotized. Volunteer at the co-op. Whatever floats your boat. Remember that even if you're crawling out of your skin or sobbing in a corner, you will not die of it. Read a lot. Keep exercising your self-will until it becomes your dominant hand, until the desire becomes a decision, and you can finally say, "I don't drink" and move on to the next case.

The biggest job you have ahead of you is turning that desire into a decision, once you make that decision, there's nothing more powerful. That is how it's done - and even A.A. bears this out. They're right: you can quit drinking by praying to your Chia Pet, but you have to want to quit.

You can put any nonsense before "but you have to want to quit," and it will work, because that's the key. Getting to the place where you want to is imperative, and can be a process - and it's different from wanting to want to, or wishing you could - but this can be done. It's hard, as is evidenced by the low recovery rate.

But, there's no such thing as your "last hope" or the "last house on the block." You are not powerless; you're just not used to being powerful, yet. Don't turn it over, or let go - take it back. Don't trade alcohol for aphorisms. 

If you believe in a higher power, then believe this, too: there is no supremely enlightened being that wants you to debase yourself and throw away your uniquely human potential to create your life by being drunk or by living the rest of your life on your knees.