“i didn’t have much success with aa,” my facebook friend bee said to me. ”the meetings, the stories the people would tell, just made me want to have a drink.”
i think i know what she means. there are stories i hear in the rooms (aa-speak for their meetings) that make me want to meet mr. pinot grigio in the the parking lot for a quickie.
“if you didn’t go to meetings, what did you do?” i asked.
“i found jesus.”
there are people who get sober through the aa program. aa as an organization claims a 100% success rate with those who stick with and adhere to all the intricacies of the program. aa only counts those that stick with the program. if you drop out and don’t attend meetings and work the steps (that’s aa speak for having a sponsor who guides you through the twelve steps of sober spiritual development) you are not counted. but how many people drop out? well, if one hundred people were to go to an aa meeting on january first and we counted up how many of that hundred are “working the steps” a year from now, we’d have a meeting with five people. ninety five percent will have dropped out before then. and of the five percent, roughly forty percent will be sober a year after that.
and yet there are extraordinary stories of success with aa. there’s a wonderful chaotic democratic spirit to the program. there is a sacred text, just like a bible, called the big book. and it worked for a family member who has returned to moderate drinking and has regained control that mr. vodka had coopted.
still, there are alternatives to aa and even — forgive me for saying this, bee! — jesus. rational recovery is probably the most notable. this program eschews the “surrender” or “disease” concept of aa and aims for the jugular of the “beast” (that’s rational recovery speak for the fact that once you drink that first cosmopolitan you are going to shut down the bar) with an addictive voice. i went through their online explanation of rational recovery and it sort of creeped me out. but what i really came away with was how diametrically opposed to aa this system is. this is no “i’m powerless over alcohol” program. rational recovery claims that the sort of aa talk that anticipates the possibility of relapse will, in essence, create relapses.
i was intrigued by the rational recovery program after an aa member with twenty five years recovery texted me “please please don’t drink today” which was sort of random. i ignored the text. a second text sent to me a half hour later read “i am really worried about you” and “i have so many friends who have died of this disease” and finally “do you need an intervention?” i felt like i had been bundled up in the failure cape. then again, the text were motivated by genuine concern and experience with a great many of the 95%.
i truly admire my friend bee who worked out her own solution. i admire my aa friend who has been sober a quarter century. i admire the people who aim for a meeting every day. i admire too the people who give it their best and they fall on their ass and have to figure out how to pick themselves up. and i admire the people who do the twelfth step and care for the newbies like me in a way i find frankly puzzling and beautiful.
Twelfth Step: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
i don’t have any answers. i have a lot of questions. i see a lot of pain that people who are addicted–to mr. alcohol, to gambling, to narcotics, to cigarettes, to food–and i wonder how we get out from the undertow and swim to the safety of the shore.