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One person’s experience with the AA and 12 Steps
Dear Dr. Peele:
I went through a somewhat nasty divorce in 1990, along with getting laid off from my job. I realized that I had a drinking problem, and I attempted to moderate my drinking. I was somewhat successful, but not as successful as I wanted to be. I came across a copy of the AA “Big Book,” and after reading the description, I thought I was an alcoholic and powerless over alcohol.
I started going to AA meetings, and I was told that AA was my only salvation, and I reluctantly agreed at the time. However, I had bad feelings about the program from the beginning, and I felt like I was being forced to accept things that I didn’t believe in. I believe in God, but I didn’t like the constant reliance on “Faith” and “Letting Go and Letting God” (whatever that means). One guy in the program, who kept relapsing, was told by his AA sponsors to ask God permission before he did anything, even to go to the bathroom!
I started to resist the demands to attend all these meetings. But when I voiced any concerns to other members, they would just tell me to go to more meetings and to “work the steps” until I “got it.”
I thought that if I went to more meetings, it would become clear to me. I became proficient in the lingo, but I started to feel a sense of panic that I had never felt before in my life. I thought that AA was the only answer, but that I was incapable of grasping the program. My solution was to immerse myself in the program even more, entering a two-week treatment program. I then entered “The Thirteen Step House,” a local halfway house. One day I figured I was being brainwashed, and something deep inside me started to fight back. I relapsed about six months into the program; I think I did it just to get away from all of those boring meetings.
At this point (I was still living in the halfway house), I recognized I was in a re-education camp. I started to question everything about the 12 step program. I started to tell people I didn’t think I was powerless. But I was still frightened of leaving AA. My sponsor finally asked me if I thought I was an alcoholic, and I said, “No.” His advice to me was to go out, get really drunk, kill somebody, and maybe then I would crawl back to the program and accept my powerlessness.
By this time, all the other members were getting very hostile towards me. I decided it was time to leave AA. I thought that I might die if I left, but I couldn’t go on there.
I was in a very shaky state of mind by this time, so I checked into a mental hospital, and they diagnosed me as having a major depression. They filled me so full of Prozac that I couldn’t sleep, then they medicated me to get me to sleep. I became suicidal at this point, but I also think I tapped into survival instincts that I didn’t know that I had. I stayed at several other hospitals after that. But I started to get better when I spit the pills down the toilet.
Something strange then happened. Somewhere inside me a “true self” asked, “Can alcoholics become social drinkers? Why don’t you try some controlled drinking?” I went out and got roaring drunk several times, just like I had done before going to AA. Then I started to cut back on my own. At this time, I found your book, The Truth About Addiction and Recovery. It became immediately evident to me that you were telling the truth, and that “The Life Process Program” would work for me.
Your program was the catalyst that put all the pieces into place for me. I’m sure it saved my life. I quit drinking immediately for 13 months and then I developed a self-identity as a social drinker! I decided that’s who I was and it is who I still am. The first time I went out with some friends, had some beers, talked to a pretty young woman, and had a great time. Victory was mine! (Plus I have never needed medication to function, like the doctors at the hospital told me I would.)
Thank you (and Archie Brodsky and Mary Arnold) for writing a great program. It saved my life, and drastically cut down the trial and error time I would have to go through to become a social drinker. I hope you continue your work because I know there are other people in the same boat that I was in or worse. I know that you take a beating from others in your profession and the 12-steppers. As a former alcoholic, I am delighted to be able to report that alcoholics can indeed become social drinkers!
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