Let me be clear about two things up front: I am no expert on sobriety, I’ve only been sober for 40 days at the time that I’m writing this; and I understand that the fellowship of AA has helped millions of men and women get, and stay, sober. What I am writing about here is my own experience with sobriety and AA. If AA works for you, please keep working the Program, you’re in good company.
I write articles like this, about my experience with AA, because of the desperation I felt when I thought the only path to sobriety went through a windowless basement full of older men who smelled of cigarettes and referred to themselves as “drunks”. I believe there are many like me who are willing to commit to a sober lifestyle without going to meetings on a daily basis.
For more than 10 years I’ve been aware of my troubled relationship with alcohol and for almost as long I’ve attended AA meetings off and on seeking help. I tried all different types of meetings— Big Book meetings, newcomer meetings, speaker meetings, etc.. I engaged with people before and after the meetings, and I forced myself to text people outside of the meetings, despite being a hapless introvert. All in an effort to kick my uncontrollable drinking habit.
Alas, AA never “clicked” for me over the course of this 10 year period. Any amount of sobriety I achieved as a result of my time in the Program was short-lived and felt like a sacrifice. I was living every day with a voice in my head that said “Drink and go to a bar” and AA was asking me to replace that voice with an equally obsessive sounding voice saying “Don’t drink and go to a meeting”. This never felt like freedom to me. In fact, it seemed like only a slight upgrade to my current situation.
I was living every day with a voice in my head that said “Drink and go to a bar” and AA was asking me to replace that voice with an equally obsessive sounding voice saying “Don’t drink and go to a meeting”.
Going to meetings and calling people to talk about not drinking never gave me the feeling that I had escaped alcoholism, I simply changed my focus from obsessing about drinking to obsessing about not drinking. Yes, this was physically healthier than consuming a poison on a daily basis, but mentally I still felt trapped.
I met several men in AA (I say men because I went mainly to mens-only meetings) who I am sure were committed to seeing me get sober. However, relationships formed solely from a common desire to not drink always felt forced to me. At best these relationships were casual texting connections with no substantive benefits, at worst they felt like reporting in to a probation officer. Calling or texting someone with the sole purpose of reminding both him and me not to drink truly made me want to drink. Again, this wasn’t their fault, it’s what you do in AA, and it’s another reason it didn’t work for me.
I needed a different way.
There is another way. Several, in fact.
On September 28th of this year, I made the decision to stop drinking alcohol. Sounds simple enough, but for anyone who has been through the grip of addiction, you know how hard that decision can be to make and to stick with. This time is different, I believe, because I’m not following the path of AA. I’ve opened myself up to a number of alternative perspectives and ideas about recovery. I wrote in a previous article about Anne Grace’s This Naked Mind, and how the ideas in that book completely changed my thinking about my relationship with alcohol — consciously and subconsciously.
I also researched and studied medical means of recovery. I stumbled on something called the Sinclair Method and practiced that for 3 months prior to finally quitting. This involved taking the medicine Naltrexone before I drank, every time I drank. I’m not a doctor, but I learned that the medicine shuts down your pleasure receptors that get activated by the effects of alcohol, so over time, that excitement you get just thinking about drinking goes away. I was diligent about taking the pill one hour before I drank every single time I had any alcohol. I believe this is having a huge impact on my ability to stick with it. I simply don’t associate pleasure with drinking anymore on a subconscious level.
This time truly seems different to me. As of day 40, I don’t feel as if I’m sacrificing anything. In fact, I feel like I’ve gained my life back. I get more joy from everyday activities like picking up my girls from school, grocery shopping or doing the dishes. Things like this used to be seen as obstacles on my way to drinking time.
I’m not suggesting quitting drinking is easy. It’s not. It’s nothing short of a miracle that I’ve been able to go 40 days without it. And if I can stick to it I will consider this one of my life’s biggest accomplishments. I’m also not suggesting that my way is the best way. What I simply want you to know is that there is another way. Your way. Find what works for you. You can stop drinking and you don’t have to feel like you’re sacrificing anything or labeling yourself as diseased.
After years of AA I thought being sober meant a laser focus on not drinking. I thought it would be a daily struggle (one day at a time, after all). But it’s not. Now that I’ve retrained my subconscious thinking to disconnect pleasure with drinking, I can go days at a time without even thinking about drinking. It is possible, and I am proof.