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copyright 1999, all rights reserved
by Toby Rice Drews
You can often tell that a person is serious about an intention to try to get sober if he or she goes to addiction treatment and then AA, or goes right to AA and then continues to go to AA.
The two purposes (as I see it) of a treatment center are: first, alcohol education to break through denial; and, second, making the alcoholic understand the importance of going to AA for the rest of his or her life, one day at a time.
Also, when an alcoholic goes to treatment for addiction, the place that is usually more effective is the one that believes in the disease concept of alcoholism rather than believing that alcoholism is a result of other issues. (And if the person also has a psychiatric diagnosis, that the alcoholism is in addition to it, not a result of it.)
And the person may also need some counseling, some serious therapy for some other issues, but these other issues usually cannot be completely addressed if the person isn't sober, and for that, most of the time, the person needs AA, because most people need AA to stay sober. It's the most effective treatment for alcoholism there is.
People who go to only counseling to try to stay sober, or only church, or whatever, or who try to do it by themselves, have a pretty poor prognosis for recovery.
The recovery rate for people who go to AA and stay in AA the rest of their lives is very good. According to AA itself (from a report in the back of the AA "Grapevine" magazine several years ago) the statistics went like this: 50% of the people who go to AA stay sober from day one; out of the remaining 50%, half of them had relapses and then came back and stayed sober, and the other half of them never made it. So, 75% of people stay sober if they go to AA. That's higher, much much higher, than any other form of treatment. So it's sort of playing Russian roulette to try doing it without AA.
Yet, you always hear alcoholics say "I don't need AA. I can get sober anytime I want." Well, that may be true, but it's not a matter of getting sober only, it's a matter of staying sober. A lot of alcoholics can get sober but can't stay sober.
As a matter of fact, as the disease progresses along (and it is a fatal, progressive disease) it gets harder and harder to even GET sober. So there's a very scary (but true) saying in the rooms of recovery: "I know I have another drunk in me, I don't know if I have another recovery in me." The thing is, with this disease, one never knows if one does have another recovery in you. There are people who go out and come back in, and go out and come back in AA all the time, and then one day when they want to come back into AA, they've lost the choice, and they try desperately and they can't get sober. The lucky ones crawl back in years later, and look like they have fought the Vietnam War by themselves; that's how bad they look.
And the crazy thing about this disease is that it progresses whether or not you're drinking. So even in people who are sober many years, this disease is still progressing. Even though their recovery is progressing, the point is if they pick up a drink ten years after they get sober, they are as sick as if they never had stopped drinking in those 10 years.
What If The Alcoholic Keeps Talking About Getting Sober Instead of GOING to AA?
Say it's now June and he says he'll go to AA in September. I hear this from literally hundreds of people who relate how the alcoholic says he'll go to AA later, maybe next month, or next season.
Now I'm not saying it doesn't ever lead to the person actually following through, but I would not hang my hat on it. Most of the time it leads to a lot of disappointment, because there's an old saying in AA that nobody woke up one fine morning, felt great, and decided to go to AA. That might be a bit of an exaggeration to say nobody did, but most of the time getting help is a surrender, it's not a pronouncement, it's not "I'll put a notice in the paper," it's not "I'll call all the cousins and tell them about it," it's not "I'll make 15 promises" and go on and on and on about it. It's usually kind of a desperate, quiet surrender, a screaming "Help!", an "Oh my God I need help!" and they just do it.
I would not say to the alcoholic, "You're not serious." I would just go about my business. I wouldn't argue about it, but I would just not count on it.
This doesn't mean that there aren't some alcoholics who will talk a lot about it before they go because they're scared and they're sort of working their way up to it. But like I said, I would not count on it. One of the changes that family members must do is to start listening to what the alcoholic DOES, not what he says. That's very important -- listen to what he does, not what he says.
Once He Has Actually Started Going To AA, He Needs To Fall In Love With AA
Now what do I mean by that? Falling in love with AA means that you love going. And that's the key that will keep people going back the rest of their lives so that they don't die from alcoholism.
Now, how does a person get from just plain old scared and just going to meetings (or resentment about going) to actually falling in love with going?
One of the ways a person gets to AA is being made to go by the courts or the jobs or by the family. Then, it's "get the body there and the mind will follow." They keep going until eventually it gets into them and they start really liking it and understanding what it's about, and feeling comfortable there, and getting verbal there, and talking, and sharing, and seeing that it really is helping them tremendously.
Now some people, probably a smaller amount of people, fall in love with AA from the beginning and see how much it helps them. For most people, it's a process, it takes time.
Now what do I think is the underlying reason why people really need to go to so many meetings? I think the crux of it is this: A PERSON NEEDS TO BE GOING TO A LOT OF MEETINGS FOR A VERY LONG TIME, BECAUSE FOR SO MANY YEARS, THEIR KNEE-JERK REACTION HAS BEEN, WHENEVER THERE'S BEEN STRESS IN THEIR LIFE -- AND NOBODY CAN BE STRESS-FREE -- TO PICK UP SOME CHEMICAL RELIEF, EITHER ALCOHOL AND/OR OTHER DRUGS, TO DEAL WITH THAT STRESS. THEY HAVE TO GO TO ENOUGH MEETINGS AND SEE ENOUGH STRESS-RELIEF IN THOSE MEETINGS, AND EXPERIENCE ENOUGH STRESS-RELIEF IN THOSE MEETINGS FREQUENTLY ENOUGH, SO THAT THEIR KNEE-JERK REACTION TO PICK UP SOMETHING FOR STRESS IS REPLACED BY A KNEE-JERK REACTION WHEN THEY GET STRESSED TO GO TAKE IT TO A MEETING.
What are the two main keys that I see why people stay in AA for the long haul, and therefore keep living and don't die from alcoholism? The two keys that I see that keep them there is they go to enough meetings and really start seeing how it's really a gift and it helps them tremendously. And the second thing is, they talk a lot in meetings. Verbal people just have an easier time in AA, that's just the way it is; or if they can't talk that much in meetings, they learn to talk to a sponsor or other good friends who are in AA outside the meetings. In other words, they stop stuffing their emotional pain. They talk about whatever is bothering them, no matter how embarrassing it is; they get it out and they share it with people who help them to see how to use the tools of the program to help them recover from it.
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The information provided herein is not intended to be considered counseling or other professional advice. Please see a health professional about your particular situation.