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Are Meetings Needed to Stay Sober? From Dry Drunks and Popcorn Farts to Happy and Recovering (and Everyone In Between)

January 2020
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This will likely be the toughest post I’ve ever written.  I am beholden to steer clear of controversy related to AA and the 12 Steps, but this is a hugely important topic that doesn’t get enough of a proper airing.  I’m going to try to walk the tightrope.

Let me start by adding a disclaimer; the following is my opinion and my personal understanding.  If you want to know exactly what’s in the Big Book, look to the forward and the first 164 pages.  I highly recommend reading that rather than basing your opinion on someone else’s opinion.  Especially when trying to make a determination on what the book does or does not say.

With that, I’ll begin.  Are meetings needed to stay sober?  No.  And yes.  One of the biggest misunderstandings about the aforementioned Big Book is whether or not other forms of recovery are acknowledged.  Many mistakenly believe that those in AA believe “the program” is the only way to recover.  This is entirely untrue.  It’s a fabrication and a pervasive myth. AA does indeed embrace the idea that it does not corner the market on recovery.  The idea that “AA” as a whole only recognizes its own “brand” of recovery is simply false (page 31, 38 & 39, bottom of 94, last paragraph of 95, and finally, 103).  As I go, I’m only worried about my own recovery and passing on my experience, strength and hope that it might help others.  Our stated goal, and I fully embrace this, is simply to be useful to others.

Where this gets tricky is that our brand of recovery happens to be very thorough.  We “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to rectifying our past and making amends for our misdeeds.  We learn to change how we think and live down to our very core.  We look at everything that we are and seek to rise from the dregs of society to become productive members of society.  Better, we do this without trained professionals and at little cost, beyond a Dollar to help with coffee and rent and a few more to buy a Big Book.

Put another way, if cancer could be fixed the same way, there’d be a line around the block to get into a meeting and no one would complain about having to work a few simple steps!

Happy and Recovering

That out of the way, I have two very close friends who lead perfectly happy lives who stopped going to meetings decades ago.  One found God and happiness in church and the other simply got the message and changed his ways long, long ago.  Both are fine, upstanding members of society and have more “clean time” than I do by more than a decade each.  Those two alone show beyond a shadow of a doubt that recovery is attainable without meetings.

The trick is, each of my friends are mindful of who they hang out with and what they do with their free time; they’re every bit as vigilant as I am about my recovery.  They also worked some form of program in the past where they transformed their life to break the cycle of addiction.  These items are a must if one hopes for peace and contentment.

Dry Drunks and Popcorn Farts

Now we’re going to wander into dangerous territory.  If I were to have sworn off alcohol for good and managed to quit on my own, cold turkey as they say, well, I’d probably be dead or drunk today.  I simply couldn’t do it without the program and live with myself.  I had to fix my stinkin’ thinkin’ and everything that came with it in order to sober up.  I also needed the companionship that only comes with being a part of AA.  And therein lies the rub – but that’s me.  I can’t fairly say what someone else needs, I can only share my own experience.

However, where we get into trouble is when well intentioned people lack the ability to honestly assess their situation and become irritable discontents.  Within the program these people can get help.  Outside, without professional help, they languish, forever placing the blame that belongs on who they’re looking at in the mirror on other people, places, and things.  Things they have no control over.  These are your dry drunks that we often refer to as “drier than a popcorn fart”.  They quit drinking by sheer will alone, and they’re not happy about it.

I don’t know what the answer is for people so afflicted.  It’s a horrible condition indeed.  I just do my part to be useful to my fellows, wherever possible.

In the end…

In the end, it’s all about happiness and contentment.  Call it “quality of life”, a fantastic buzz-term for this topic.  I continue to attend meetings because they better my quality of life.  I’ve said for a long time (after someone passed it on to me), it’s a lot harder to fall off the wagon when you’re sitting in the middle of it, surrounded by 50 of your closest friends.  It’s easier to fall off if you’re sitting on the edge, all by your lonesome.  All that wagon needs is to hit a bump and you’re flying through the air, waiting to land in the mud.

Meetings and steps isn’t the only way to sober up.  It’s a thorough way.  It’s a useful way, and when done with gusto, a way to sober up that leads to an exceedingly happy life.  I continue to go because going makes me happy.

But that’s just me.


33 Comments

  1. annastk76 says:

    Great post! And I can see the difficulty in writing it – it’s a divisive subject! – but much needed.

    I think perhaps it sometimes comes down to people’s interpretation. I have genuinely been met with doubt and almost scorn from AA’ers when stating it’s not been my path. But then to be honest, I feel “my way” is surely the only way! So I’m sure I inadvertently project my view in the same manner too. Because of course, I feel in my heart that I couldn’t do it any other way and my experience of AA, whilst enormously positive on the whole, was how it didn’t sit quite right with me. I suspect it may have more to do with the people around me.

    Flippin’eck! You clarify things so well. Thank you for this. And I think it’s hugely important to highlight that the interpretation of AA as “this way or the highway” is incorrect. I mean, that has been my experience so I needed to read this. If everyone approached it the way you do, it’d be a different story I think. But hey, we believe what we believe and when something works for us, the obvious conclusion to land at is how “hey, this works!” and how it by default must then work for everyone else too.

    Thanks for making me think. Again. You’re a very good (and inspirational) teacher for this somewhat reluctant student! 😀

    Great stuff!

  2. WVrunnergirl says:

    Long story short if you don’t work some form of a program, make lifestyle changes, and get honest, sobriety and honest will be hard to get and keep. You did well walking the line in this post. So many people misunderstand the AA program and it’s intentions for various reasons. When it comes to the 12 Steps so many want to arbitrarily focus on the “God thing” they miss the whole point of the steps. I tell everyone the steps aren’t even about addiction, they are about self-reflection and improvement, that’s why anyone can do them. So when someone tells me the steps aren’t for them, they are telling me they don’t want to do the work, take a look in the mirror and get honest with themselves. #Drydrunk Good post.

  3. Thecrazylife10 says:

    Great post! 💙

  4. This is awesome. I had lunch with my sponsor yesterday and we discussed this exact same thing. ❤️

  5. Lovely honest post … Everyone’s different as you say. What you’re done is amazing and shows your strength. I’m in awe. Katie

  6. Brent says:

    Thanks for pointing out the dangers of being a dry drunk. That’s exactly what I was for most of my drinking career. After realizing that the amount and circumstances of my drinking were out of control in college, I put in place several rules that, unfortunately, worked very well: never drink alone, only drink stuff I really liked, and 3 drinks per day max. They worked in that my son never saw me drunk, no co-worker ever said anything negative to me about how much I drank in front of clients or even other co-workers, no cop ever asked me to walk a line or blow into a tube, and so forth. I went weeks without drinking, and without making much of an effort to do that.

    Unfortunately, I was absolutely an alcoholic inside. My self-centeredness, my way of going through life, all of it was exactly as described in the Big Book. The amount I didn’t drink covered that up and made it hard to see. I started going to meetings as a guest, in support of the woman I was dating, who had 20 good years but still went regularly. Going to meetings woke me up and set me on the road to recovery. When we read about dry drunks for the first time, I knew that was written about me. Working the steps cracked open a really tough nut and got me to start actually making the changes to become of use and service to those around me.

    I don’t currently go to meetings, for a list of reasons that are quite complex, but I am ruthlessly committed to living the program in everything I do. The payoff: I actually can accept the person I see in the mirror now, instead of cringing as I knew I was not the person I was meant to be.

  7. Eliza says:

    I’ve found it is different for every person. The time it is an issue is when people replace their addiction with an addiction to the programme they are working- which for the first year is okay,

    • Eliza says:

      The biggest thing about meetings is to find a great one. There are so many aa and na meetings I’ve been to that aren’t real, where the people mostly there don’t have true sobriety or reflect what meetings are about. It’s meeting the people who have real sobriety – I know and am in touch with a few – that have shown me that. When I recommend checking out a 12 step programme that is one of the biggest things I say – don’t judge it by only one or two meetings. And, take the good you can learn from it even if you don’t agree with or want to follow every single principle. Everything has some that works for you (taylor swift music) and some that doesn’t. Although I don’t agree with all the precepts of the 12 step programmes, there is so much I’ve learned about recovery, honesty, giving, being, connection and trust. That I don’t know if I would’ve learnt elsewhere.
      Love, light and glitter

      • bgddyjim says:

        I’d like to present an interesting perspective on bad meetings. I’ll put it into a post for next week. The 12 Steps, though, I have to be very careful about what it is I find disagreeable… when I find something disagreeable in a program that has gotten millions to recover, I have to make sure the problem isn’t me, first. 😉

      • Eliza says:

        I’m looking forward to hearing/reading…
        I’ve discussed what bothers me with others and the conclusion we came to is that the points that bother me, some of it is people presenting things in a way that isn’t necessarily fact – even if it is at loads of meetings, it’s not all. That some things work for some people and not for others. And that it’s not all so black and white. It’s not the twelve steps themselves that we took any issue with. And as I said, I’ve learned so much from the fellowships and I’ll take what works for me.
        By the way, randomly, one of the things I don’t think should be a principal for everyone I follow for myself for now. The point of never being able to drink. However I don’t think I will always follow it. Once I have really worked through everything, and if there is enough that I can, I would take painkillers in a healthy way. That’s my goal. To be able to use painkillers when necessary. And I have in the past. To make that work I always did only when I was at work and needed it to function – when in too much pain to teach. I wouldn’t now without risking it, but one day I would. I feel like the world isn’t black and white. And it may just be that I’d come to see it’s not possible. Or that it is. We’ll find out one day…

      • bgddyjim says:

        Pain meds are addressed in the BB. I’ve had two freebies myself…. let’s see… 1994 and 1996. I also passed two up, including after a car crash. Had my DO line me back up and took two Aleve. Other than that, “principles, not personalities”. 😉

  8. joliesattic says:

    Well done. I think there’s a scripture that tells us how each of us “must work out our own salvation”. No other human can do it for us. Further, one size doesn’t fit all, We see evidence daily that what works for one may not work for another. Each will find their own way of recovery. Inspiring.

  9. Saoirsek says:

    Delighted to read this. After 9 tears in AA I stopped going to meetings. That was nearly a year ago and I’m still sober. HOWEVER. I still have good friends who attend meetings and I meet up with them and my old sponsor. I go to lifering meetings occasionally and often use what I learnt from the program, it’s bloody good advice for the most. I was a pretty hardcore believer in the steps and was extremely hard on myself, especially around my defects. My anxiety got worse and I ended up in therapy with medication. I still take it one day at a time.

    • bgddyjim says:

      You have my permission, and that of at least one other I know of, to turn off your ass-kicking machine. Sounds like you’ve been after it long enough.

      It’s more about the fellowship, isn’t it?

  10. Saoirsek says:

    *big book bashers* but some WERE basket cases

  11. LovingSummer says:

    Brilliant post, thank you!

  12. Hollywood and Vine Recovery Center says:

    I just posted a story from the original text of Alcoholics Anonymous telling of how recovery came to los angeles before meetings were around. Our center was founded and is run by a member who got sober with Bill W. Please share how you see fit with those suffering…the story of recovering alone could begin #globalrecovery allowing hope to spread exponentially. THANK YOU so much for sharing!

  13. Robert Crisp says:

    Thanks for sharing this. AA was an important part of my early recovery, but I never fully embraced the program. I’ve done the steps once but I’ve never sponsored someone (so maybe I didn’t complete them). I stopped going to meetings about a year ago and decided I didn’t miss them. It’s good to know AA is there if I need it. I tried a Zoom AA meeting yesterday and it just weirded me out. Oh, well. 🙄

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks, Robert. I don’t care much for Zoom, either. For me, it beats the alternative, though. AA is always here if you need it… even if you just want to broaden your horizons a little bit, or if you find you’re simply missing something in your life. Good luck, my friend and either way, enjoy your sober life.

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