I recently made the decision to join the ranks of the sober, having been a rather exuberant drinker for more than 20 years, and I have chosen to do it without Alcoholics Anonymous.
This, it turns out, is considered by some to be a radical decision. Alcoholics Anonymous is so culturally entwined with our ideas about alcohol consumption, abuse, and our response to that abuse that it almost invariably comes up when I mention that I have stopped drinking. Until I came clean about my alcoholism, I had no idea just how much this has narrowed the public view about the subject, and I’m kind of shocked. Apparently, the notion is that my choice not to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous not only means that I will fail but also means that I have not fully admitted to my alcoholism. I must be kidding myself. Going sober without AA is an equivalent to failure.
If AA is the only way, then I suppose I am well and truly screwed. The common feeling is that it’s AA or the highway when it comes to alcohol addiction, and any other choice is met with incredulity. Thankfully, logic dictates that there is usually more than one way out of a room, and, being that my way out of this room cannot include AA, I am in luck.
My present decision not to join Alcoholics Anonymous is rooted in an experience I had about twelve years ago when I escorted a friend to a meeting. He was psychologically unstable, and the mixture of his psychiatric medication with alcohol was making a rather spectacular mess of his life. We listened to stories. He told stories. I sucked back sour coffee out of a limp paper cup. I have lost track of that friend since then, but, at the time, it seemed that AA just might have saved his life. He and the program made a good fit.
It is not so for me. The coffee wasn’t the only sour thing about that experience. A quick read of The 12 Steps reveals deep and irreconcilable differences between the program and I. It demands that I believe in a Power greater than myself that could restore me to sanity, that I turn my will and life over to God as I understand Him, that I be ready to have God remove my defects of character, that I humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings, and that I seek to improve my conscious contact with God, as I understand Him, and gain knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out.
No can do. I am a staunch atheist. There are obviously forces greater than myself in the universe, but I cannot and will not understand these greater forces as particular godheads with particular wills invested in the direction of humankind. I just don’t have it in me. I’ve been told that I can visualize this Power in any way that suits me, but there is no way that would both suit me and not leave me feeling more insane than I went in.
There is no God to restore my sanity. There is no God that would remove my defects of character. There is no God with a will for me. And I will not admit to a powerlessness that demands I switch one insanity, alcohol, for another.
What I do believe in, though, if my sobriety is to be successful, is support from a community, which is what I think AA has accomplished extremely well with its network of support group meetings dotted throughout every city on every night of the week. That is one aspect of the program of which I wish I could take advantage, but I think it is probably frowned upon to attend meetings while shunning its core philosophies, so I have had to seek my support community elsewhere.
I am finding my community, if a little haltingly and a little more slowly, even without the ready-made one that comes with Alcoholics Anonymous. I have a list of emergency e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and Skype usernames at the ready. I have found a group of sober women with whom I can confide and share. I have a partner whose gentle and kind patience has carried me through some difficult days and nights over the last five or six weeks.
I believe wholly and unequivocally in love, honesty, and my pursuit of a good life, a sober life. I have spent the majority of my years on this earth castigating myself for my lack of restraint and poor decision-making, allowing my own weaknesses a drunken pass to design a lesser life. If I am to move forward into a future in which I can both believe and love, a future in which those I care about can also believe and love, sobriety is not an option, and I truly and honestly trust that I can be sober without surrendering myself as powerless before a deity in which I have no faith.