Why AA Didn’t Work for Me (But Rehab Did)

George A Yesthal

I was an alcoholic. I got cured. AA will tell you that is impossible and it is my opinion that like so many Organizations, Authorities and Associations today that are predicated upon treatment of a certain cause, malady or schism, they come into being ostensibly to address, or find a cure for the particular problem but inevitably they grow to a degree that there are some full-time jobs created by their momentum and soon they are here to stay and the rest, as they say, is history.

I say I got cured and I mean that. Let me explain. I’d slid so far down the alcoholic banister that I eventually had to give up my heroic, “I can do anything on my own” philosophy and seek professional help, which I did at a very prestigious rehabilitation center in sunny San Diego, California. It was supposed to be a twenty eight day program. I stayed for three months.

I am a naturally rebellious person and have always been extremely suspicious of anyone with the mind-set or mission statement to set themselves up as “authority”.

Now, I realized that after forty odd years of drinking on varying levels, no cure was going to be forthcoming in the allotted twenty eight days, and it really wasn’t about the alcohol anyway. I’ll explain later. I took my therapy VERY seriously and after clearing it with my therapist, councilor and insurance company was allowed two extensions. I do nothing half-way and that includes my alcoholism AND the “cure”.

Here’s the strange thing about Alcoholics Anonymous and their treatment. They concentrate on treating you by ingraining the concept that you are afflicted with a personality/psychological disorder that resists and precludes any real cure. To illustrate, on the last day of my treatment I had to stand up before the whole group of other alkies and druggies and tell how I planned to rotate back into “sane” society and what my plans were to continue my therapeutic recovery and stay on track. Alcoholics are loathe to say “recovered" and always say, “recovering” instead. I find that defeatist. I told them flat out that I thought if I could find local groups that were as effective as the ones I’d found in California, that I would attend regularly but if I was unable to find groups that I felt were helping, then I would do it on my own. At the end of my dissertation I went around and stood before each and every member of the group including my councilors and therapists and was told, in no uncertain terms, what they thought.

In the three months I’d been there, I’d seen and been part of many of these “leaving” ceremonies and most of them were pretty brutal when it came time for the others to share their criticisms and thoughts. Mine was just the opposite. It was warm, everyone said how they thought I’d really taken my therapy seriously, how I’d been an inspiration and two actually came out and said that they’d have left after the first week if it hadn’t been for me. As you can imagine, the tears flowed and when my shrink and councilors agreed that I’d been their best success to date, I shed more than a few of my own.

Now, here’s the weird thing. Later that day during my last group session, I was told by the group leader, Steve, that if my friends and family continued to drink and would not curtail it in my presence, that I would be unable to be around them. I laughed and said, “What? Fuck you!” Yes, we spoke like that in group.

I was told that it would undo all the powerful and effective work I’d done at rehab and within days, weeks or months I would be right back in the grips of my demons and probably right back at the San Diego facility or another going through the DTs and detox and months of therapy all over again.

I informed Steve and the rest of the group that I had undertaken this effort as much for my family and friends as I had for myself, maybe more. If I was unable to be around those I love, what was it all for, anyway?

Steve told me that he was the expert and what he was telling me was right and if he wasn’t right I could email him a big FUCK YOU. Well, Steve still hasn’t gotten that big FUCK YOU, but only because I have been unsuccessful in reaching him. Councilors are advised against continued communication with clients after release, which is understandable.

The AA prime directive is to get you to give over your recovery to God. In the current social climate of religious intolerance, “God” has been transmuted into “Higher Power”, but make no mistake, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded with the concept of not only a deity, but the Christian’s deity at it’s very core and they take your recovery as less than successful if you don’t embrace the concept.

I have always been of a spiritual mind-set, leaning toward the atheistic side of the agnostic fence, meaning that I always have sensed a cosmic something that we all ultimately dance to, but a personal relationship on a first name basis was something I’d always poo-pooed. At rehab things happened to me that changed that and the reasons are my own. Suffice to say that today I believe in God.

BUT…

I don’t count on God to do my recovery for me and I feel that the willingness has to come from inner strength and determination. Don’t count on God for that which YOU are alone responsible. God is there to provide what you can’t provide of your own accord. Here’s my personal dichotomy: At rehab I was so desperate I prayed for the first time in years. What I received when I opened myself up and asked for it, were things I could not even hope to provide for myself and yet because, out of an extreme emotional investment and desperation I reached so far beyond my personal attachment to this cosmos, I was rewarded with answers, immediate and profound. It was my epiphany.

That’s all I’ll say about that. My point is, that my personal experience went so far beyond the magical God formulae they try to shove down your throat at AA meetings and yet may not have ever happened if I had not been exposed to the opportunity to heal that the rehab afforded. I did realize that Higher Power means simply that if you don’t realize that you are an integral piece of something much greater than the sum total of your parts, you will be valueless and in your own hell. That is the awakening that starts one down the road to recovery. Not guidelines; not twelve steps; not dogma, not denial or deprivation. It’s a bit of intuition. It’s throwing off some of the pseudo-pride we grow into and laying yourself bare and vulnerable that starts the healing. It’s very personal and introspective.

I said that I’m cured, and I am. If there’s one thing I learned in my awakening it’s that there are very few real absolutes. If I ever relapse, it certainly won’t be the fault of the alcohol. It will be because I have allowed it. I’ve had two potentially serious slips since being back, but with determination and the help of a loving family, I worked my way clear of them. Since then I’ve attended many social/family functions where there was drinking aplenty. On St. Patrick’s Day I had two Bourbons over ice and on Mother’s Day I had four glasses of red wine. I haven’t back-slid into alcoholic abuse, but then my problem was never about alcohol; it was about personal issues that I was too weak to address and allowed them to manifest themselves into alcoholic abuse. Once I recognized them and addressed them the alcohol ceased to be the issue. That is not to say that I never became physically dependent, I most certainly did. I had the ever-present shakes and nausea and experienced hallucinations and horrors compliments of delirium tremens that were akin to hell. I ended up in the hospital eight times in 2009 alone. My detox, nearly killed me.

I attended a bunch of meetings when I came home and was still re-experiencing the AA dogma and indoctrination that I’d experienced at rehab, but there was something different. I was back in the real world trying to get back into real life and I realized one night after listening to a number of other personal stories and experiences, that they were all the same stories. Of course there were variables that gave them some differing qualities that made these poor schlubbs feel as if they were telling uniquely personal tales, but they all had the AA flavor that they were helpless without the organization and that they were so thankful for meetings that they could depend on for strength for the remainder of their lives.

At my last meeting, I sat through more of the same and someone got up and suggested that we all stand and give the reasons that we attend these meetings and what we get out of them and why we were so thankful for the blessed ministrations of Alcoholics Anonymous. A lady in the row in front of me had members of her family with her and she got up and told how she’d always had a drinking and drug problem and if it weren’t for these meetings her family would have bailed on her a long time ago, and a bell went off in my head. I thought, “Well, there ya go. No wonder you drink if your family comes second to these meetings.” And yeah, she probably will need them for the rest of her life.

When it came my turn to tell my reason for attending those meetings I rose, took my coat from the back of the chair and said, “I attend these meetings, to someday be able to not need them anymore; to someday be able to walk out that door and not look back. Today is that day.” You could have heard a pin drop. I turned and walked out the door. When I was outside I heard some of the crowd clap and cheer. Whether they did so because they were happy for me or happy for being rid of me, I care not. I’m glad to be shed of them.

Why AA Didn’t Work for Me (But Rehab Did)

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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