Why AA works. For me.

Recently I had an interesting interaction on the value of Alcoholics Anonymous in dealing with alcohol – whether considered as an addiction, problem drinking, disease or whatever.  Over the years I have had this conversation on numerous occasions, but this interaction got me to thinking a bit more. I can come across as a strong proponent of AA or as I have posted before, I might come across as an AA heretic.  I have not been to an AA meeting in a while and have not had a sponsor in quite a few years. But, I am a firm advocate of the 12-Step program as a means to address my alcoholism.  After over 30 years of sobriety, I consider the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous more integral to my life today than ever before.

After the conversation, I sat down and read the entirety of Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, commonly referred to as The Big Book.  My 1984 detox copy is underlined, dog-eared, and well used, but I don’t recall just sitting down and reading the book cover to cover before.

What I got out of the read is that I can quibble with the nuance of the content.  For example, even the book title, I do not consider myself “recovered” but recovering.  As the title of this blog makes clear, I consider recovery a process and not an event.

But the read, as always with AA literature, brought me new insights into why the program works for me.  In a nutshell here is why the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous serve as the basis for my recovery:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

I could nuance even the 12 Steps to death – is it “were powerless” or “are powerless” – a debater’s point in which I have no interest.  I know when I put the first drink in my body I am powerless to not take the second drink.  I tried for years.  In terms of manageability, from the perspectives of never being able to predict how much I would drink, my behavior when drinking, or  where I would end up – yes my life had become unmanageable.

I don’t care whether alcoholism is called a disease or not.  In the scientific method there will always be attempts to further refine the understanding of alcoholism.  Were I offered a drug that guaranteed me I could drink alcohol normally, I would not take up the offer.  From the start, I drank alcohol to escape – to not live life on life’s terms.  Today I embrace my reality.  To drink alcohol is the antithesis of my life today.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Although I had proclaimed myself an atheist in elementary school, I had no problem with Step 2.  Again, I am not interested in nuancing the term “sanity” but acknowledge that the best efforts in my drinking career lacked logic for even a marginally meaningful existence.  I had no problem in recognizing that my best efforts landed me in a detox unit where I sought wisdom or resources beyond myself.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

I grappled with Step 3 for years in recovery.  I used the group as my higher power, good orderly direction, and all the other possibilities.  A conflict was to reconcile the AA Higher Power concept with what I learned as a young Roman Catholic in the Baltimore Catechism.  Some 7 or 8 years ago I was in an AA meeting and when the third step was read, it was like I heard the words as we understood him for the first time.  That is, I was going to have to take some action to understand this God and not pigeon-hole the concept into some variation of Abrahamic or other traditions.  That understanding is incredibly liberating as I have posted before (for example here and here) and continue to explore.

For me, the first three steps of AA set the stage for freedom from the bondage of alcohol, pure and simple.  Consider as a model the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.  I can liken the AA Steps and their application over the past 75 plus years as Scripture and Tradition.  Experience is what I bring to the table.  Combining the previous three, Reason, it is clear that alcohol is not going to work in my life and I need help beyond my resources.

For me, Steps 4-12 allowed me to take the basic understanding of Steps 1-3 and walk down a recovery road for the past three decades. I will return to this in a future post.





11 thoughts on “Why AA works. For me.

    • Okay, so I thought about not approving the above comment as being nearly a troll. My primary logic for not approving are two:

      1) The referenced site has little to do with dealing with alcoholism and more a defense of being drunk as noted on the their About page “Now before we get labeled as alcoholics, we’d like to see ourselves as drunkards. There’s a difference. We drink hard, we drink like no tomorrow, but we never drink alone. Alcohol always tastes better when shared and it’s the ultimate aid to socialize and meet new people. So with everything you do, always keep that philosophy in mind. We don’t want to make anyone alcoholic, just very very drunk!”

      2) Based on my 30 years of sobriety based on the AA 12 Step program, their five “reasons” have very limited if any validity.

      So, I decided to approve this comment from a principled position of not censoring discussion. I suspect the “Lords of the Drinks” will have a pretty limited run with lives that may end as tragically as some of the historic/literary figures depicted on their home page. Or if to the contrary, have at it fellows!

      • Well if given the choice I’d prefer a short adventurous life over a long boring one. But by now I feel I can make at least a 100 years old. And of course with a drink in my hand. Cheers,

    • Interesting! I’m in the early stages of sobriety and recovery and have gone to AA meetings. I’ve not felt it’s cult like in any way but perhaps you have a different experience? Nor have I been made to feel I am weak (then again I am, in spite of the fact that I’m an alcoholic, a strong minded individual with high self worth so doubt I’d take any notice if anyone tried to belittle me in any way), in fact the opposite is true in my case – people encouraging me and telling me I’ve done well by just getting to a meeting instead of choosing drink. That’s made me feel stronger and more determined to succeed, actually. But we are all different and to each his own. All the best to you, Micky! Sophie PS. Isn’t a cult in part defined by having an all powerful leader? Plus a bunch of other things, like members having to cut off contact with everything except the cult itself? I’m sure you know best though! 😉

  1. Robert,

    I enjoyed your post and look forward to the remaining story.
    Your understanding of the first three steps and the fellowship in general allies with mine, and I too must allow contrary opinions to abound despite my indignation.
    Having attained a long period of sobriety, how do you maintain emotional and spiritual fitness, now that you’re not participating so often in fellowship meetings and activities?

    love alwaz

  2. I didn’t do AA but I have a lot of respect for the 12 steps. I, too, consider myself recovering as opposed to recovered and know that alcoholism is sneaky. When I hear about programs that ‘teach’ you to drink responsibly i’m always amazed that someone sober would take the chance of going back to drinking. It was such a miserable existence for me and so many others. This idea that we need alcohol to live a full life is so insane. Sobriety has given me so much over the years. Yes, life can still be hard, but I feel the joys and bliss fully now- something i’m so very grateful for every day. It makes life worth living no matter what else is going on.

    • I agree with you completely. For those able to learn to drink responsibly or whatever – more power to them. But as you note, once I got far enough down the recovery road, drinking responsibly or otherwise was the antithesis of my life on a daily basis, I just had no interest in even considering that path.

      Have a great day!

  3. Great post and especially interesting for me to read at this point when I’m at the beginning of my recovery. Or JOURNEY of recovery, rather – I do agree it’s not an event or I would have cracked it by now after over a decade trying to control my drinking and find the holy grail of drinking like a non-alcoholic. And like you, if someone offered me a pill that would allow me to drink without the black-outs and all the other misery that comes with it, do you know what – I’d turn it down too! All the best, Sophie

    • Thanks for reading and sharing. Best wishes on your recovery process. I too spent many years trying to come up with the magic formula that would allow me to continue drinking, successfully, and finally just gave it up. Sobriety has been a true blessing in my life.

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