Six years ago, I got sober through an intervention that landed me in a 30-day outpatient treatment program that focused heavily on the principles of 12-step programs. After I finished my initial treatment, I found myself attending at least three AA meetings a week for the first year or so.
Over time, and as I got to know myself better, I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. I am a Buddhist, so the whole God thing was becoming a turnoff. And then there is the sponsor aspect. I wanted to grow strong within myself and not be dependent on another person to maintain my sobriety.
I am not bashing 12-step programs. Many, many people have achieved sobriety through them, myself included. I just think that for some of us, AA functions as a step in the whole process rather than the whole process itself.
Although I still occasionally attend meetings, I have stayed sober for the past five years largely without them. Here is what worked for me:
1. An Internet Recovery Network – One of the reasons I believe that AA programs have been so successful is that you connect with many different people who share experiences that all addicts can relate to. The internet, however, opens that connection to include people all over the world who can offer support or share experiences with me. And it comes in so many different formats that include podcasts, videos, chat rooms, websites, bloggers. Even Facebook has something to offer.
2. An Outlet for Difficult Emotions – I have always enjoyed writing letters. I liked documenting my experiences and putting emotions into words. So when my therapist suggested I start keeping a journal, it turned out to be a perfect fit. Journaling became a new and healthy coping mechanism to deal with my fears and anxieties instead of drinking to drown them out.
3. Remembering the Past – While I don’t dwell on it, reaching back and reminding myself of what my drinking put me and my loved ones through has become an excellent tool to use when I am tempted to drink again. I actually have a little scrapbook that I keep a few photos of myself back then, where I looked pale and sickly. I also have remembrances of what I lost during that period, such as my press pass from when I was a successful journalist.
4. Relying on Inspiration – I have a collection of quotes and success stories on my phone that I refer to every day. Some people start the day off by reading the Bible; I start mine off by reading from my inspiration collection.
5. Expressing Myself – I grew up in an environment where I was taught to suck it up and not burden others with whatever problems I may have been experiencing. So I stuffed my feelings deep inside and drank to drown them out. I learned it is a lot healthier to talk to my therapist and my close friends when I am dealing with a stressful situation.
6. Knowing my Limits – I still get invitations to events where alcohol is going to be present. Some are tolerable and some are not. I have learned to decline attending functions where the temptation to drink will be too great.
7. Remembering what I’ve Learned – I’ve taken away a plethora of advice and skills from my days in AA that I still rely on to this day.
We are all different, so each of us will follow a unique path. But if you are looking for alternatives to AA, these are the tools that work for me.