Do we avoid having conversations with loved ones that may help educate them in how we recovered and why it works for us?
In the Living Sober book by Alcoholics Anonymous we’re told: “Our shaky emotional condition also affects our feelings towards old friends and family. For many of us, these relationships seem to heal promptly as we pursue recovery. For others, there arrives a period of touchiness at home; now that we’re sober, we have to sort out how we actually feel about spouse, children, siblings, parents, or neighbors, then reexamine our behavior. Fellow workers, clients, employees, or employers also require such attention.”
As most people who know me know, friends and family included, I follow the basic outline of the HAMS program: This means I am conscious of how I treat others as well as how I perceive them to be treating me and I do not drink anything alcoholic in response to others’ unusual, angry, or frustrating behaviors.
HAMS is an acronym for Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support. I don’t go to any meetings, although there are plenty online available every day. However, I have basic tools I can use 24/7 with or without another person’s support. In AA, anytime another person, place or thing bothered me I was urged to call a sponsor or another member. On my own, I was left with a feeling of general uneasiness and distrust of my own choices. Today, because I am not dependent on outside support for each little thought that crosses my mind, I feel stronger.
The only one real tool I use every day is hardly ever mentioned at an AA meeting: Making sure I eat well. I guess, HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is the comparable AA alternative to the harm reduction advice that one should make sure they have eaten before mistakenly thinking they’re in the throes of cravings for alcohol. I do not experience outrageous cravings for alcohol.
When I do drink I drink at home, I use set limits on the amount. I practice restraint and self-control from going over limits by only buying the amount of alcohol I will want to drink; and sometimes, I drink less than that amount. If there’s a six pack at home, I may only drink one. I may drink three. I may even drink all 6 on rare occasions. However, if my goal is to only drink no more than three times in a month then sometimes it’s just six beers in one month; maybe even less.
Of course, because I am not abstaining, I am not working the AA program according to many opinions. Others have the opinion that the only requirement to be an AA member is a “desire to stop drinking,” therefore there is no set rule in AA that one must quit drinking to be a member. Likewise, there is actually no rule about practicing HAMS, Moderation Management, or SMART Recovery while also practicing AA’s 12 Steps; therefore, there is no right way to work an AA program.
I learned in AA meetings throughout the last decade that no one was above or below other members because there is no leadership or ruler in AA. The Living Sober book confirms this with “AA is not an organization in the usual sense of that word. Instead, it is a fellowship of equals.” Which means, a member who relapsed today is equal to the member with twenty years of abstinence.
Unlike my beef with the misogynistic, outdated, AA Big Book and 12×12, the AA Living Sober book may well be the most compatible companion book for any AA member who is failing at abstinence but is looking for suggestions on how to abstain and also have periods of non-abstaining. Whereas Living Sober is meant to be used exclusively for “alcoholics” there is no definitive proof that a “low bottom” alcoholic exists; there is far more proof from the NESARC data that 75% of problem drinkers recover, whether they abstain or return to non-problem drinking, without any program at all.
NESARC stands for the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, in which 43,093 adults were studied and successful recovery was measured by both abstinence and non-abstinence recovery results. Nearly 30% reported having been in remission from alcoholism for over 5 years, as reported by expert researcher in addictions, William L. White, MA.
Alcoholics Anonymous, which came into fruition in 1935, did not use any of the studies White also cites in “Recovery/Remission from Substance Use Disorders: An ANlysis of Reported Outcomes in 415 Scientific Reports 1868-2011.” Specifically, AA doesn’t cite any studies prior to 1935. For instance, from 1868 to 1959 the national average in the US was approximately a 50% recovery rate from alcoholism.
Hence, before and after the involvement of AA in treating alcoholics, the natural inclination for people is towards recovery and natural remission with or without any program at all. More importantly, recovery is not limited to complete abstinence.
As a woman, my exposure to Alcoholics Anonymous was detrimental to my natural recovery because of constant exposure to sexism, sexual harassment, and a set of steps designed to deflate an inflated, grandiose self-esteem as opposed to encouraging me to develop, and build up my self-esteem. My own counselors seemed inept in developing a trauma-informed, individualized treatment program for me that could resolve my drinking problems as well as resolve my issues from previous abuse.
The Big Book, for one thing, only addresses women in recovery in one line, on page 33: “This is particularly true of women. Potential female alcoholics often turn into the real thing and are gone beyond recall in a few years.” Sexism in AA is just an additional stigma of being a woman in recovery, and the only thing AA tells women is they are, essentially, even more hopeless than men in AA are.
Yet, in the later part of the 20th century, addiction itself is considered as social disease, not a lifelong incurable disease; in fact, the NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) has reported since the 1970s that once diagnosed alcoholics were drinking normally again. Nearly every report touching on remission rates have contradicted AA’s assertion all problem drinkers are alcoholics for life.
So the rule is there really is no solid recovery rule. Either one is still addicted or they are in a stage or recovery or consider themselves recovered. For our family and friends who are wondering the best way to treat someone in their lives with addiction, it would be best to educate them in the facts: 75% recover with or without any treatment. AA has a 5% success rate. And abstinence is not the only recovery method that works.