When it comes to recovery, it seems there is one method that is the most recommended and most talked about. Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step program that was created in the 1930s as a way to save those suffering from substance abuse from a life locked up in sanitariums. Until the advent of AA, many who had long-term issues with alcohol ended up sick and insane, and the public at large treated them as such. AA is one of the longest running programs for treating addiction, and many rehabilitation programs have been created based on its 12-step method.
However, what if AA doesn’t work for you? When I first reached a point where I knew I needed to quit drinking and was looking for help, the main suggestion given to me was to “find a meeting.” I was so raw and afraid of how out of control my addiction had become, I was willing to try anything. So like millions before me, I found myself in a church basement, telling a room full of strangers my deepest fears and secrets.
Before I stepped foot into an AA meeting, I had never been completely honest with anyone in regards to my problems with alcohol. I had lived a life of half-truths…never really coming clean or being fully honest with anyone. I told myself I wasn’t a “liar” per se, just someone who stretched the truth. A lot. But when I started attending 12-step meetings, I was able to be honest for the first time with people who didn’t judge me. They just nodded along, said “me too” and made me feel, for the first time, less alone.
However, after a time spent in the rooms of AA, I felt like the program wasn’t working as well for me anymore. As a spiritual, but not a religious person, I had trouble with the idea of a higher power. I was staying sober, and felt great, as the steps of the program really helped me to dig into what had caused my drinking problems in the first place, but I needed more. So after a few years in the program, I started to expand my recovery to add more than just meetings. In that time, I found so many amazing, awesome, healthy, happy women and men in recovery, who were not participating in a 12-step program. I couldn’t believe it! While I knew there were many avenues to recovery, I had no idea how successful they could be.
One of the first things I noticed in my non-AA recovery friends was their commitment to physical health. For many of them, exercise became an integral part of their program. I heard over and over again that running and yoga were two main ways people relieved stress, as opposed to drinking. The motivation was multifaceted. First, the exercise raised endorphins and eased depression. Second, their bodies looked and felt amazing. And third, if they drank, they couldn’t get out and exercise the way they wanted to, so it was an extra motivation to stay away from the bottle. Exercise has been especially helpful for me during the “witching hour”, otherwise known as the time right after my children go to bed. When I fill this time with physical activity, I don’t seem to have the cravings I used to endure. It also quiets the anxious voice inside my head.
Meditation and yoga have both become important parts of my recovery program. I noticed the people in my life that seemed to have the sort of recovery I wanted (serene, kind, happy people) did some mix of yoga and/or meditation. I was hesitant at first, because I couldn’t imagine sitting still in my own brain for more than five minutes, but I found repetition made it much easier. Mixing yoga with my meditation practice gave me more motivation, and on the days when I don’t feel like working out, doing a few stretches in the comfort of my home can still be extremely beneficial. Online yoga workouts or sites like YogaGlo have made it easier for me to squeeze in these sessions between my busy work and family schedule.
The pursuit of knowledge is also something I focus on much more these days. Many of the women and men I spoke with about non-AA recovery mentioned researching the science of alcoholism as one of their coping mechanisms. My friend Alice* says, “Now I gobble up scientific research and breakthrough studies on addiction. I find knowledge to be very empowering.”
Understanding how alcohol impacts my brain and nerve system has been eye-opening for me. While I once believed that alcoholism was a choice, now I know the brain is severely impacted by even minimal alcohol use. As a scientifically-minded person, reading this research and hearing these numbers is very helpful to me in understanding what happens when I drink even one drink, and therefore motivates me to not pick up.
Another crucial component was finding a qualified addiction counselor. I didn’t just drink because I liked the taste of wine, I drank because of deeply seeded emotional and mental issues, which needed to be dealt with. Just as you would go to a professional to help you recover from any other physical ailment, I feel strongly that an addiction counselor or other medical professional with an addiction background can be an excellent addition to your recovery program.
I’ve told many people the story of how I Googled, “symptoms of alcoholism” when I was spiraling. I was scared, lost and alone, feeling like I was the only person in the universe who had ever clicked the search button on such an awful topic. However, I wasn’t. Far from it, I have found in the last few years a massive community of women (and some men) online who have stories very similar to mine. One of the biggest positives of AA is that the aspect of community is the support that one alcoholic can share with another in ways that a regular person cannot. However, the prevalence of online forums, blogs, and podcasts is filling that void for those of us who may not be a good fit for AA.
I joined an online recovery community before I started attending 12-step meetings, and that group is still a major part of my recovery program. How did I find that community? Through sober blogs, such as Stefanie Wilder-Taylor’s Don’t Get Drunk Fridays (where my own story was featured when I was 30 days into recovery), Crying Out Now, UnPickled, and She Recovers.
Through these blogs, I found not only my online support group (dubbed the Booze Free Brigade or BFB), but also sobriety podcasts. “The Bubble Hour” is a recovery podcast created by a group of women, who share their stories in order to inspire hope amongst their listeners. I listened to The Bubble Hour on repeat in my early days of sobriety, and was fortunate to be asked on as a guest for two episodes regarding the topic of firsts in sobriety. Blogs such as Mrs. D is Going Without and Tired of Thinking About Drinking also offer support and a community that can boost a person’s chance of successful recovery.
Recovery memoirs and films are extremely important to me. As a writer myself, I loved immersing myself in the stories of others, and realizing over and over again I really wasn’t alone. One of my favorite books was Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson, which I couldn’t put down. Recently I read the memoir, Bottled by Dana Bowman, which is an amazing, honest, humorous look at early sobriety for mothers with young children. My two favorite recovery documentaries are There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane and The Anonymous People. The former is a documentary about a horrific drunk driving accident, which killed a woman, her children, and nieces. It hit me so hard, but forewarning, it can be extremely triggery. The Anonymous People is a documentary that explores the issue of anonymity in recovery, and what we can do to change the laws around addiction.
For me, the most prevalent issue in my own recovery has been finding community … the feeling of not being alone. This is something I certainly found in AA, but it can also be found elsewhere. Whether it’s through AA 12-step meetings, online recovery groups, or alternative recovery meetings (such as SMART Recovery), finding your tribe seems to be one of the most important components for an addict to get sober. For me, the most crucial thing is to remember even if AA doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean I have to drink.
While AA is a wonderful option for some, it doesn’t work for everyone. And that’s okay. There are many, many roads to recovery. You have to find the one that works best for you, and if it stops working, try something else. Keep your mind open, and you will find a program that fits you, your needs, and your life.
*name has been changed
Megan Peters is a blogger and photographer based in Kansas City, where she lives with her two kids, husband and recovery puppy. Megan is passionate about breaking the stigma of people with addiction, and writes about her experience as a young mom in long term recovery. You can read more about Megan on her website, www.crazybananas.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.