Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I had my regular breakfast with a delightful 20+ year sober sponsee this morning.  He'd had a particularly frustrating and discouraging weekend and, as we were leaving after his expressing his frustrations for nearly an hour, he asked me "...have you ever just felt like quitting AA?"

I had to take a deep breath because there's a short answer and a long answer to this question.  The truth is that I've been given a life beyond my wildest dreams as a direct consequence of AA.  AA really does work.

The medium-length answer is that, over the years, I've often felt like quitting AA - even knowing that it might be my death sentence to leave.  No, maybe especially because it would probably be my death sentence.  But, that's probably another article.

There are basically a few reasons I've really been ready to throw in the towel on AA over the years:
  1. Early in sobriety and many times since, I would sometimes look around the room and get pretty judgmental and say "these guys and girls are all losers and hypocrites."  I still do occasionally.  Sometimes, frankly, I'm just embarassed to be apart of this family.
  2. I look at what we've made AA to be - the chanting, the opinions espoused, the religiosity, the latest pop psychology - and I just hate it.  It seems foreign to me and what I knew this program to be many years ago.
  3. I've felt that some members have become friends and then hurt or betrayed me.  Their hypocrisy or the way they've used me have caused significant pain.
  4. It all seems like such a huge waste of time.  I spend hours each day practicing the program or attempting to be of service to others involved in this program.  It really seems like this time would be better served with making a living, being useful in my family or, just finding an interesting hobby.
I think there are many other reasons I have for quitting AA but they might also just be variations of the above. I don't think it's worthwhile to come up with an exhaustive list.

So, against that, I have some different ways of looking at these same ideas:
  1. Any family has people who are more successful than others or folks who could be an embarrassment.  Heck, I've even been the one who I've known some people are embarrassed to know so who am I to talk or judge?  At my largest home group meeting, it's not an exaggeration to say there are 35-50 people there on any given Saturday night who would go to any length available to them to support me in my sobriety.  I've never had a family like that anywhere else.
  2. I realize that, today, I am  responsible for what AA will be in the future.  If I don't like what it is today or its general trend, I need to become active in making it into something different.  It's part of why I became a co-founder of aarenewal.org.  It's a privilege to, perhaps, be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  Besides, as a fellowship, we've been arguing since 1936 as to what is the "right" thing for AA - mistakes of AA leadership in the past seem much more egregious or dangerous than the ones of today.
  3. In every case where my feelings have been hurt or that there's been betrayal, it's been as a direct result of my either projecting intentions or commitments that were not there or I've been attached to people being something they weren't or I've been too sensitive or taken myself way to seriously.  I can't think of any other way I might have learned these lessons.
  4. For every minute I've invested in my and others recovery, I've received countless dividends.  Frankly, the world is not knocking my door down to ask for my professional contributions and my family is happy when I can be involved with them but are just as happy when I let them get on with their own lives.  The principles I've learned in AA are the only things I think that make me attractive to anyone else in my life.
So, while I have times of discouragement and despair in AA, on a good day I can see where all of those times have led me toward growth that I really could never have accomplished in any other way.  On a really good day, even my discouragement and feelings of hopelessness in AA can be useful to someone else on the same journey as I am.

Today was (is) a really good day.


Syd said...

Awesome post. There are moments when I become judgmental about Al-Anon too. But it is what has helped me and I realize that without the program of recovery I would be back to my old thinking in quick order. I like your glass half full thinking.

dAAve said...

Very very very very well said.

It's all about attitude and perception. Honesty and denial. Willingness and open-mindedness.

Where have I heard those terms before?

Mary Christine said...

You are an inspiration to me.

Steve E said...

Ed, you write here with such wisdom. Awesome. Just AWESOME! Thank you!

I sneaked back into the blog room today

Good to "see" you again. WOW! What a post.

Singularity said...

This post was an interesting read. I hear your frustration. My question is:"Can anyone really leave AA (or any other 12 Step Fellowship)? You may stop going to meetings, but since all 12 Step Fellowships are a "way of life", the Steps are what make your recovery possible, and if you practice these principles in all your affairs (make this way of life part of you); how may you ever really leave?

Also, a somewhat personal question. I noticed your length of sobriety and your age. The two don't agree. You would have had to have been in the Fellowship before you were born? Just an observation. Keep the faith.