I was recently asked by an AA member how I used Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) to remain abstinent. “Simple,” I replied, “I choose not to drink.”
My interlocutor was somewhat dubious of my reply. As a long-time AA member, he had a very dogmatic perspective on powerlessness, alcohol misuse and recovery. Having attended AA myself for almost eight years, I empathized with his standpoint, for I too had once espoused such views.
As an AA member, my entire self-concept was enmeshed in my being an alcoholic. I filtered all my experiences through the lens of so-called alcoholism: whenever I screwed-up, acted on a so-called character defect or failed to practise the program, I’d quip to myself and others, “God, I’m such an alcoholic!” I labelled most of my thought patterns as obsessive, and almost all of my actions as compulsive. I set myself apart as a distinct entity from the ‘normies,’ and took pride in my being recovered, believing this made me better than those members who still drank. In the mornings, I thanked my higher power for a new sober day, and perused daily reflections or the Big Book. In the evenings, I thanked my higher power for another day sober, took inventory and read more recovery literature. I attended meetings regularly, had a home group, worked the steps and sponsored. All my friends and acquaintances were connected to recovery, as were my colleagues, for I also worked in the ‘industry;’ recovery was my life, and my life was recovery!
Since leaving Alcoholics Anonymous, however, I do none of the aforementioned. Unlike AA, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy views alcohol misuse as a maladaptive behaviour, not a disease that requires life-long participation at recovery groups. It rejects the concept of powerlessness, and dissuades the individual from labelling him/herself an alcoholic.
Thanks to REBT, my identity is no longer defined by a maladaptive behaviour, I once engaged in. I have ceased labelling myself an alcoholic, for labels are gross overgeneralisations and belong on jars, not on people. I reject the concept of so-called character defects, instead accepting I possess very human traits that sometimes help me, and sometimes hinder. I no longer consider myself a life-long recoveree. I am simply a fallible human being who sometimes behaves in a self-defeating and/or anti-social manner. This has nothing to do with, as I once believed, my being inherently alcoholic, merely my being inherently human. Additionally, I no longer thank a higher power I never really believed in for my being abstinent, and I very rarely read literature about maladaptive drinking or recovery. I don’t attend meetings, AA or otherwise; nor do I engage in any daily rituals. I do occasionally, however, still practise Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, but only as a tool for self-development, which is a core value of mine.
As I reflect on the beliefs I acquired in AA, the daily rituals I performed, and the self-concept AA had helped propagate, I realise I was forever clambering an imaginary stairway to heaven. Since leaving Alcoholics Anonymous, however, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy has enabled me to cross a very real bridge to normal living. I have, for all intents and purposes, recovered from recovery.