‘I Was an AA Imposter’

I don’t love AA, but I don’t hate it either. The reason I started The Sobriety Collective, an online community where people are encouraged to share their sober stories, was to make a place where people who found sobriety and recovery in any way, shape or form, could connect. With eight years of continuous sobriety, I have the long-term recovery I once never imagined possible — most of which I achieved outside of “the rooms” of AA. But I did learn from the program, even if I wasn’t all in when I started.

I Was Forced into AA

I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous not by choice but because the intensive outpatient rehab I checked myself into stipulated 15 hours of AA within five weeks’ time; it was non-negotiable. At my first meeting, I felt like I’d crawled out of my skin and landed on a foreign planet (that “newly sober and not sure what the hell is happening” feeling). I didn’t want to be at these meetings – at all.

But my group counselor asked me to keep going after I graduated from my five-week rehab program. I went back to AA for all my sober-month anniversaries and tried to find a sponsor. But it just wasn’t clicking for me. Even though these people intimately understood what I had been through, I still felt so alien and so “less than.”  The feeling in rehab was that 12-step programs were the only way to get and stay sober; I now believe that inpatient/outpatient programs need to incorporate a variety of treatment options to give patients exposure to more than just the 12 steps. So I stopped going to AA.

Before I knew it, I was coming up on three years sober. I was already well into therapy for the underlying issues that I had been self-medicating with alcohol (anxiety, OCD, panic attacks), and I had cut ties with toxic people from my drinking days. I exercised more and had better relationships with my family. But according to many of the people I had met in “the rooms” of AA, I wasn’t sober. I was a “dry drunk,” white-knuckling my way through life — one of those unfortunates who just didn’t “get” the program (these words I heard verbatim from people in meetings). “Maybe you should just pray on it,” I remembered them saying back in my AA days. “Call your sponsor.”

No Longer an Imposter

‘I Was an AA Imposter’As proud as I felt of my sobriety, I felt a chasm in my life. I didn’t have a sober network, and to say I was spiritual was an overstatement. So I went back to AA, this time by choice. I was no longer an imposter AA-er now. I had decided to change, and I opened my mind. I found a sponsor with whom I worked all 12 steps. I called at least one woman a day from AA to stay connected, and I became a “meeting maker,” an AA term for those who regularly show up at meetings and are most likely to “make it” in recovery. In doing all this, I formed what would become my home group for the next 18 months. And they helped me learn a lot, including these top three lessons that I still apply to my life today:

  1. Be of service. Be of service to my fellow human — alcoholics, addicts, alcohol abusers, heavy drinkers, anyone who seeks help, family, friends, the homeless, coworkers — hell, everyone. I went from someone just going through the motions of being an AA-er to someone who was living the steps. I volunteered for service positions and really immersed myself in the heart of the program. For a while, it really was wonderful. I finally had a sober network, and I fed myself spiritual nuggets in the form of Eastern philosophies and books from the likes of Don Miguel Ruiz, and I went on retreats with other women in AA. (And now being involved with The Sobriety Collective, I feel like I’m continuing that strong belief in serving others.) Having a community helps me. And in helping myself, I help others.
  2. Do my part. Let go of the outcome and check my ego at the door. When I think back on my time in AA, the key takeaway I always return to is letting go of the outcome.  Learning to let go brought me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements. Ruiz advocates not taking things personally (that means losing your over-inflated ego).  This is about realizing that people do things because of themselves, not because of you. We all have our own interpretations of the world, but we should be careful not to impose our view on someone else’s. Easier said than done. It takes constant practice. I have to remind myself that I can’t expect someone to experience life the way I do. Yes, we may have shared experiences, but there is only one you. As clichéd as it sounds, you’re a special, one-of-a-kind snowflake, and so your worldview is uniquely your own.
  3. Recovery is a process. One day at a time. Progress, not perfection. It works if you work itLet go and let God.  These clichés are cheesy, but their roots are deep. Recovery is an ongoing journey, which means we’ll all have roadblocks, detours, and traffic cones to maneuver around. I feel immense gratitude that I’ve been continuously sober for eight years; to me, sobriety means no relapses and a constant quest for self-betterment. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had hiccups and done things that I wouldn’t categorize as “sober” behavior (old habits die hard; though I’m talking about selfish behavior, not boozing). But I keep reminding myself that I’m human, I make mistakes, I own up to my mistakes and I keep moving.  As long as we’re making progress in recovery, that’s all we can ask for, right?

Life After AA

These three lessons still help me today. After my return to AA for 18 solid months and becoming a real AA-er, I decided to quietly say my goodbyes to AA for the last time. It just wasn’t for me anymore. It played its role in my recovery — a vital one. I always heard I could take what I wanted from AA and leave the rest, so I did.  And doing so brought me to where I am today: eight years sober, connected to a sober community and healthier than I’ve ever been.

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5 Responses to ‘I Was an AA Imposter’

  1. Avatar
    Ed July 16, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! It’s a good story with a very positive message. I’m sure you’ll, undoubtedly, get some negative comments for leaving AA, but those AA’s who truly practice what they preach will be supportive. AA isn’t for everyone and no one should be forced into meetings. Those who find recovery in AA should be grateful. But AA or not, we should be supportive of anyone who finds recovery from addiction no matter how they do it.

    • Avatar
      Laura July 20, 2015 at 6:13 am #

      Thank YOU, Ed.

      I will never bash the program because it *did* help me at one point in time and continues to help millions of others every day. I just wanted to illustrate that there are many ways to get and stay sober, and we can all learn from each other and our different perspectives. For anyone suffering from addiction/substance use disorders, recovery is the end goal–no matter which program (if any) one chooses.


  2. Avatar
    Crista August 4, 2015 at 4:32 am #

    I have been sober now for 7 yrs 3 months and 12 days. I have had 4 stints in rehab since I was 19 yrs old. I will be 43 yrs old on the 18th of this month. NA was the only place people told me to go and was ALWAYS part of each rehab I went to, so I’ve “worked ALL 12 Steps at least 3 different times. I had sponsors and went religiously for different amounts of time. I have to say this time something was different. I didn’t go to rehab, I pretty much decided I am getting to old for this crap and was sick of starting over. So, I just stopped using and NEVER spoke to anyone I used with or even went back to ANY places that would remind me of using..even places like McDonald’s or grocery stores that I had been at high. I pretty much took things I had learned throughout all of my counseling and rehab and NA days and compiled it into a program that worked for me. Not that I don’t like NA/AA programs, its helped many many people the world over, but it just wasn’t for me. I am a spiritual person but I am not religious . I don’t believe there is some God or “higher power” that controls or “watches” over me or whatever. So that part of the program just never really did sink in or take effect for me. And I got called out many many many times in the rooms for that and was told I would NEVER “make it”. Well for one, I hate being told I can’t do something and for 2: “Yeahhh… who are you to tell me I WON’T??” Anyways. .after all the DRAMA and junk from different “rooms” from the west coast to the east coast (I travel ALOT) I just didn’t need the extra crap from “the rooms” in my life, it was already complicated enough. And also I felt like I was being reminded daily..several times daily that I would NEVER get over that part of my life and always ALWAYS had to identify myself as an addict and yadda yadda..well to me I wasn’t anymore so this way of doing things has worked for me. Of course its not for everyone or else they wouldn’t have AA/NA. But kudos to those who have “worked the program” and stayed sober and changed their lives, but you don’t need someone to tell you you’re an addict EVERY SINGLE DAY. .believe me…you NEVER forget..I used to beat myself up constantly with IT 🙂 SO all I can say is this is nice to see there is a place to chat it up with others who have experienced life similarly to myself. I’m just really not into organizations that say “OUR way is the ONLY way” because..really ..it’s NOT. The human mind ia a wonderful tool capable of doing what it wants and if you are determined you DON’T need someone telling you that YOU HAVE to live by these sets of “rules” (steps..program. .whatever) to become successful at life again. It kinda reminds me of a cult..ya know..Charles Manson, Jim Jones kinda crap. But I just know that “I” don’t need anyone to lead me…and I’m NOT willing to “drink the koolaid” LOL Thanks again for making this place for people its AWESOME 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Bianca S August 5, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this personal experience with your readers and congratulations on your ongoing recovery! What has to be ditched is the current arrogant image that AA is the one and only way to solve an alcohol problem. It doesn’t work for everyone and it’s as simple as that! This post really reminded me of a book I read recently called “Addiction is the Symptom” by Dr Rosemary Brown. It is amazing that after all my years of programs, counseling and books that there is a new concept still to be discovered. The author modifies the well used 12 step program in a way that addresses the cause of the addiction and not just the symptoms. it is a fresh and insightful way to look at an old (and dare I say outdated) concept. Emotional “freedom” and independence is so crucial to the healing process, and reading this book has given me insight and tools necessary to find that freedom within myself. It is nice to read material from someone who is not only an expert in the subject, but has faced many of the same trials as I have, it makes the advice more “real” for lack of a better word. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something besides AA….

  4. Avatar
    Kristen August 31, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    I had a similar experience with AA and continue to recommend trying a few meetings to anyone looking for support, even though I stopped going long ago. It helped, just as blogging and running and working to be a better parent helped. The recovery process continues to evolve and I love that. And some people stay impassioned and connected through AA meetings, and I love that too. So many ways to get and stay sober. Thanks for writing this lovely piece.

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