Sober for a year now, having doubts about 12-step

Old 07-08-2019, 03:38 AM
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Sober for a year now, having doubts about 12-step

Hi everyone,

I became sober around a year ago with the help of NA (my problem was alcohol mostly but my friend was in NA so I ended up there) and cognitive behavioral therapy. I think NA was really useful in a lot of ways in the beginning, but now I'm having serious doubts about whether it is any longer useful for me. The things is, as far as I am aware of, there are no non-12-step support groups in Finland, so this is why I ended up here, as this forum seems very active and is not just 12-step.

So yeah... I have really had doubts about the effectiveness of the NA-program in my case (I emphasise I am only talking about myself here) for a very long time, some of these thoughts have been there from the beginning. However, I have always brushed off these thoughts, which I find was a really good thing because they would have made it difficult for me to be active in NA, and I really needed the strong peer support for a long time. But now all of these thoughts that I had been in denial about hit me like a brick wall two days ago.

I don't think the NA-program itself ever really worked for me that well. With lots of effort, I have managed to apply some of the things from it (though only few), but now realise I have been using CBT-approaches mostly, and they are really effective for me, unlike the NA-approaches. The peer support element did help a lot in the beginning, but now I have started to feel like the NA-meetings are triggering me and keeping me stuck in the past. I feel like I'm starting to be ready to move on in my life, and being reminded about my past all the time is not beneficial. I am not planning on forgetting my past and starting to use again, but I don't feel like revisiting the trauma of the past regularly helps anything.

I have started to think that I need to focus on combatting my addiction by further improving my CBT-skills, instead of going to meetings all the time when the meetings don't really help anymore. During the past four months, my meeting attendance has been once a week max, and at the moment I haven't been in a meeting or seen any of the fellows for over two weeks, and have had no problems at all (except for my ptsd, but I don't think NA helps with that ), and I feel like the meetings haven't had a positive effect on me for the past four months.

The thing is, four months ago, we started addressing in therapy the childhood sexual abuse I that happened to me between the ages of 6-10, and after that I have had zero urges or anything like that. I feel like my addiction was more like a maladaptive coping mechanism and a way to escape the absolutely horrific feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness related to the sexual abuse and being denied proper help to deal with it.

In no way am I implying that it would ever be safe for me to use alcohol or drugs again (and I don't really want to either, the thought of even moderate drinking makes me want to puke), but I feel like especially the guilt and shame were the driving factors in my urges and other issues. Looking back, every time the urges came I was usually feeling so guilty and shame-ridden that I didn't think that I deserved to live etc.

I just don't feel like its my selfishness that made me use and is behind my problems, sure it was selfish to endanger myself with substance abuse, but that was more about me being suicidal (I was chronically suicidal for years) than about some deep "flaws of character". I never really harmed anyone but myself (if you exclude that fact that my parents were worried about me at times), never stole or cheated money or anything. In fact I was the one who got my money cheated etc.

So yeah I feel like my biggest problem was and still is the feelings of guilt, and I feel like NA is only making them worse. My therapist keeps saying that I need to find a healthy degree of selfishness and to establish boundaries, and to live life not only to serve others but also for myself, and I feel like NA is encouraging me to do the opposite.

So I have thought about this a lot during the past few days and I don't think I will keep going to NA. I know the third tradition says the only requirement of membership is the desire to stop using, but the only thing we do is talk about the program and about our past or present issues, and I feel like the present issues other people talk about are stuff that I have already overcome (or stuff that I've never even had), and revisiting my past all the time is really exhausting and triggering, and prevents me from moving on with my life in a healthy way. I just don't feel like being reminded about my past all the time does any good, I really don't find how on earth I could "forget" my past and go using again, when even that part of my past is giving me ptsd-symptoms.

And don't get me wrong, I do think that some day I will have urges, but nowadays I know how to observe the trigger, prevent the reaction, and defuse the trigger, like its done in CBT.
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Old 07-08-2019, 03:46 AM
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Hey there. Have you tried AA? Might be worth giving that a try to see if the dynamics are different.

The bottom line is that if you donít want to go to NA meetings anymore then donít. Simple. The key in my experience is living the program (12 steps) in your daily life. Also if you find yourself needing it again the meetings will be there for you. Itís all about honesty for me; if youíre sober and content then that is the barometer in which to judge your recovery in my experience. If your intentions for leaving are genuine and not the addict mind talking then thereís no problem in my experience.

Whatever you do itís essential to always prioritise your recovery no1 in your life and to always live a recovery program each day. SR is great for maintaining regular contact with other alcoholics/addicts. I use the word live as opposed to Ďworkí as for me itís simply a way of living and it became second nature.

For me Iím an alcoholic and I would always be an alcoholic regardless if all of the other stuff that I used to use alcohol as a medicine for were dealt with. I believe I was born an alcoholic as my reaction to alcohol is different to most non-alcoholics.
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Old 07-08-2019, 03:47 AM
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Hi and welcome to posting someo
I have no experience with 12 step groups, but others will.

I think a lot of us turned to alcohol to deal with a whole lot of things be it abuse of some kind, or self medication for anxiety depression or other mental illness, or PTSD...or any one of a myriad of traumas and reasons.

I think it's great you understand that now - but for me I also think it's important to deal with addiction, as well as the underlying stuff.

I have to deal with the underlying stuff - and the alcoholism.

Whatever way you want to do that is up to you, but I know you'll find support here

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Old 07-08-2019, 03:54 AM
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Thank you for posting!

I dont have any advice, I just want to say I feel very similar. I am in AA and 14 months sober and like you, it was very helpful for me in the beginning. Being with other alcoholics, going to meetings instead of drinking, getting through cravings. And it has helped me with alot more also. Realising I have no power over other people, places or things. Using prayer and meditation to calm my anger and resentment. That has all been beneficial to me. But like you, something is just not sitting right with me. I too have been using some CBT methods, and I have also pinpointed the trigger for my alcoholism . A trauma I had in the past, not abuse, but something so painful I used alcohol as an escape from and something I will be seeking treatment for. I have completed my step 4 and I just dont want to read through all my stuff with my sponsor. And I keep getting told if I don't I will drink again and that those who dont give themselves to this programme will drink again and I have to share my secrets blah blah blah. I was going to go to a meeting this morning and I just couldn't face it. I dont want to be there. Listening to other peoples problems and going on about mine. I want to LIVE. And I too feel like AA is keeping me in my past.

So thank you so much for sharing this today. I look forward to others responses.
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:46 AM
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Thanks for the replies! I really don't feel like its the addiction speaking, and I want to emphasise that I don't feel like I don't need to work on my recovery, I just personally feel that the things that work for me are a bit different than those that work for those who are able to fully benefit from the NA-program.

I have been thinking about AA and feel like I don't want to go into another 12-step thing, but thanks for the suggestion, it made me realise that I can always go to AA if I feel like I need to. I have been to AA once and it was a good experience. But its still 12-step and I really honestly don't fully believe in the 12-step program, I mean in my case (it does genuinely work for many). Or I mean, I think there are some good things in the program, but I also think that everyone's alcoholism is a bit different (though many similarities exist) and that there are different approaches.

I just feel like I need to find what works best for me. What I have always done is to observe myself and find the root cause of why I'm feeling bad, having urges or whatever is going on, and to try to eliminate the trigger.

But yeah maybe its important for me to very seriously think what to do with my recovery, and maybe this is the right time to do so since I am doing pretty good in every area.

I definitely feel like I should start exercising more, eat more healthily and get closer to my family and relatives. I do actually feel like I have relied too heavily on the meetings and neglected recovery in many other areas. Since I stared thinking about not going to meetings I have had many valuable insights into my recovery, which sounds a bit odd, but its true. I have just been thinking that if I run into any bigger addiction-type-of issues I will go to more meetings, and that's not even what the NA-program suggests. I mean its not just the meetings... But I do still think that the 12-step approach is not maybe the approach that I need. But yeah the good thing of course is anyone is welcome to return to NA or AA, so if I find that I do in fact need the 12 steps I can always go back. Right now I just need to keep an eye on myself and spot any signs of danger while I try to find the approach that works for me. We have a good AA-group in my home town so I can go there if I start feeling like I can't manage without face-to-face support groups.
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:48 AM
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Good morning I would do whatever works for you. Different strokes for different folks. Iwndwyt
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Old 07-08-2019, 05:12 AM
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I'm in my third month and so far I'm finding a rounded approach by taking what I need and leaving the rest at both AA and SMART, which is CBT-based. I keep my mouth shut about CBT at AA and moan about the rigidity of AA at SMART. That probably says a lot. But I do like the camaraderie, the simple slogans (I find I say them to myself quite frequently over the course of a day) and the format of AA meetings. Long-term not doing the steps I might feel increasingly uncomfortable there.
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Old 07-08-2019, 05:18 AM
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AA is certainly helpful to a specific subset, but not for everyone. And the claim that it will work for "those who strictly follow our path," is not supported by research. Nor is there any research to indicate that while it only works for 5-10%, it is still better than other approaches. All that can be said is that it works for some. In addition, other approaches often work better, including among them RBT and CBT, which you have found work better for you.

As a person suffering from alcohol abuse, your task is to find which works best... [for you]. I don't believe it has to be one approach as an all or nothing. You can borrow from any approach you wish. You can even invent your own, although for myself, I have found it better to try various philosophies and test them. Each offers suggestions that others have found encouraging, and while these won't be universally helpful, some may help in your specific situation.

The pain from your past sexual abuse may be related to your abuse of alcohol. AA suggests the steps (learning life skills) will keep you sober, and this may be true for some. But that's completely backwards for me. I believe your sobriety facilitates your mastery of life skills. That along with other benefits causes me to put sobriety first. Once that is out of the way, the path is clearer to take on life.

Your CBT as a way of mastering life skills, will certainly include overcoming the guilt you feel from your past. In my opinion, Rational Therapy or Cognitive Therapy or almost any documented professional therapy is the most powerful thing out there for learning about yourself and taking on life. For me, there are no 12 specific anythings. It may be just one thing or an infinite number of things to explore.

I went to AA, and like you, I had no other alternatives, and I brushed off most of it. But there I found inspiration from alcoholics living rich lives in recovery, and a subset of AA does that. That was important to me for reasons I don't fully understand myself. Now life outside of AA also has many successful inspiring types, but most of these types have never been encumbered by alcohol problems. I guess I needed to know that it was also possible for alcoholics. I also picked up a gem here and there in AA, so there were other benefits.

You have got a year of sobriety under your belt, so you've got the most important part of your alcohol problem tamed. Now you can focus on your other issues, always being mindful that you can let down your guard and get mired in alcohol again. This danger will never go away, but you can avoid it as you go on about the rest of your life.

The best to you in your search. And it's an exciting search. I'm still doing it. It has not gotten old.
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Old 07-08-2019, 05:43 AM
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I went into AA meetings having already "worked through" my past trauma and forgiven those involved (including myself) many years previous. My drinking was becoming a problem and I was isolated. So I looked for the fellowship, but I didn't realize they would be (as you said) all about the past and rehashing the gory details. I didn't and still don't think AA meetings and/or a sponsor are the place to go over unresolved trauma. I think it can open up very painful vulnerable parts of myself and then I am unprotected from the untrained comments of strangers all of whom are recovering alcoholics who may likely have boundary issues themselves and who are not likely to keep my discussion confidential.

I am of the belief that 4th & 5th Steps should be done with qualified therapists or clergy, especially for people who have significant trauma to process. One thing that is good about AA is that it shines a light on that tender underbelly and may facilitate actual progress in overcoming the past through therapy, as you are discovering.

The good thing about meetings is that they are a relatively safe place to work out in a general way how to get along with people and how to find support for not drinking, which isn't going to happen out in the world. Off-balance newly sober people are chaotic and it's the one place where their instability is allowed and they are encouraged to, "Keep coming back," and are given basic tools for living. I only went for a few months but I saw some remarkable changes happen to people. It's a valuable resource and without it a lot of people wouldn't know where to even start.

Lots of ways to stay sober, and indeed it is a self-directed path. Welcome to our little corner of the internet.

Hope you stick around. It helped me a lot to be on this site.
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Old 07-08-2019, 05:56 AM
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I have started to feel like the NA-meetings are triggering me and keeping me stuck in the past
Oh boy, yes, I can relate to this. On at least three occasions I have left an AA meeting and gone straight to a bar. It doesn't work for me personally for the triggering reason among others. It works for a lot of people, and I'm certainly not going to knock it because anything that spares lives and families from this disease is a good thing. It definitely does not work for everyone, and I know at least two long-time-sober alcoholics that feel this way, along with one now-dead alcoholic who washed out of AA and took the idea that he was a "hopeless alcoholic" and ran with it. They can call you a "dry drunk" all they want, but it's better than being a damp drunk who stumbles into AA after every binge.

SO what are your options? Therapy is good. AVRT (look it up) has been very helpful for me this time around. Just coming to these forums and reading and posting is a nice daily dose of reality and inspiration. Whatever you do: don't drink or use. That's the main thing.
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Old 07-08-2019, 06:14 AM
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I say move on or find some new meetings. Sounds. Like you have a good grasp on this. Nothing wrong with doing your own thing. I have no idea what CBT is so I can not comment on that.
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Old 07-08-2019, 06:47 AM
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My first thought at your title was, "ok, don't go!" Then my second was, "what are you going to do instead?" You have described a few things and personally I think CBT is amazing (and everyone could use it, not just us alcoholics/addicts).

Many people take what they want and leave the rest, an AA saying- and for some that means starting with one program (so NA) and switching to others. Your therapist has some solid points you mentioned. Boundaries for example were tough for me....still work on those!

It's important not to try to do it on your own, at any point, IMO. And I know my mind could become tricky if I didn't have a solid program (with multiple components, not just AA) that kept me convinced that it's what guides my perfectly imperfect life in recovery.
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Old 07-08-2019, 07:05 AM
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Originally Posted by DriGuy View Post
AA is certainly helpful to a specific subset, but not for everyone. And the claim that it will work for "those who strictly follow our path," is not supported by research. Nor is there any research to indicate that while it only works for 5-10%, it is still better than other approaches. All that can be said is that it works for some. In addition, other approaches often work better, including among them RBT and CBT, which you have found work better for you.
I was somewhat remiss in the above claims about research on various methods. I was in a rush out the door to make an appointment. Actually, there is research that would support AA claims and the claims of it's champions, but none that is NOT contradicted by other research, and none that is definitive much less impressive. The data on differences in efficacy is measured in very small percentages, and all of that is on unimpressive recovery rates for all methods of treatment to begin with.

No one can point to a universal method of treatment. How we get better is personal and heavily influenced by philosophy, with science trailing behind as it tries to sort actual knowledge from popular ideas and common wisdom.
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Old 07-08-2019, 07:17 AM
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I spent years in AA. My longest term sobriety has been after I stopped going. I don't regret for a minute the time I spent in AA, but I had to come to terms with alcohol and life separate from AA. Each of us has our own journey and should look for any resources that help us with life, but in the end, it is our life to live. I check in here daily or read via a news feed. This group is my primary "recovery" resource at this point. Otherwise, I just live life as full as I can and contribute more than I take in my daily journey. I have not had an alcohol problem for some time now. It is just not for me.
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Old 07-08-2019, 07:42 AM
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Yeah I think I definitely need to come up with a solid plan on what to do and for example follow up once a week how well I have followed the plan. Thanks for giving me better insight on this. Also I need to have a solid plan on what to do it things get messy. I now firmly believe this is the kind of stuff that I should have thought about a long time ago even when I was going to NA-meetings regularly.

And I think I will make it a daily routine that I come to some recovery forum (probably here most of the time because this seems most active) and try to think about my recovery every day at some point.

But I think I need to build a program of positivity for myself, instead of something that's centred around fear. Some fear of relapse is good but being occupied by it is not and using positive motivators works 100 times better (at least in my case) than motivation through fear. I think this has been one of my issues in general, I tend to motivate myself through fear, and in some areas it works but what happens is that I overdo it in some areas of life and neglect other areas. I think I need to build this positive image of what my life could look like if I go through with my "program", instead of focusing on what will happen if I keep neglecting some areas of my life.

Maybe I will later also consider some options of reaching face-to-face peer support like even going to the local AA-group once in a while, now that I think about it they probably wouldn't condemn me if I attend irregularly because they don't know me and thus they probably won't care whether I attend that regularly. But right now I think I need a break from everything 12-step related for at least a week, I'm not in active danger and I don't want to trigger myself too much, all these realisations that I have made during the past couple of days managed to trigger me pretty badly and I need to work through that so I won't re-trigger myself.

One thing I realised is that my addiction problem might look a bit different since I have a strong dual diagnosis (I have bipolar with psychotic features, but I'm now 10 months into complete remission, and I also still have moderate ptsd). I have read from the literature that in cases of strong dual diagnosis (meaning bipolar or schizophrenia), especially if like in my case the mental illness was not triggered by substance abuse, the whole thing often looks a bit different than in cases where the main component is addiction. So I need to realise that the fact that my addiction looks in many ways different from e.g. most of those who I met in NA, doesn't mean that I'm not an addict (I never questioned whether I could use again, but I admit having had conflicting thoughts on the nature of my addiction recently, and for a very long time on a more subconscious level), and it also means that I really need to keep working on my mental health (which I have been working on with extreme efficiency for the past year), and that like I have always known, the most dangerous moments for me are the ones when my mental illness gets active.

I think I will actually begin working on some kind of plan today or tomorrow. Actually lol, I just realised why I'm having difficulties with that type of stuff and generally with having balance in my life. I have a cognitive distortion about it, I feel like I'm really bad at living a balanced life and I always fail in trying to find a balance. This is very common for me, like two weeks ago I started programming again after having a period of heavy ptsd-symptoms, and I currently am slowly expanding my own business into a full-time job (I do websites and plan on also doing smaller-scale e-commerce sites), and my business strategy is to start doing uniquely designed websites that I code from scratch and also to mostly design the sites myself. The thing is I worked as a back-end developer in larger-scale e-commerce projects in a very demanding setting for four months, so I'm a good programmer, but I just was unable to learn the front-end and graphics design stuff, until... I realised that I was thinking that I totally sucked at it. Once I defused that cognitive distortion, it took me 1,5 weeks until I had my first custom-designed website up and running, I had thought it would take three months to get to that point, lol.

So yeah, that was CBT at its best. It's not very unexpected that you can't find proper balance in your life, if you think that it's impossible for you, lol.

So.. Maybe I will start working on the plan now (though I'll possibly go for a walk first) and email it to my therapist, she usually doesn't reply but she reads them and I get the best insights always when I write to her.


AVRT seems interesting, will dig into that, and I already have used SMART Recovery in the past
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