Recovering from Recovery

I was once asked by a bemused AA member how I used Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) to remain abstinent. “Simple,” I replied, “I choose not to drink.”

My interlocutor looked at me askance, understandably dubious of my reply. As a staunch, long-time member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he dogmatically believed we  were utterly powerless over alcohol, that alcohol use disorder was in fact a chronic illness, and that life-long adherence to the 12 Steps was the only way to achieve and maintain long-term abstention. Having attended AA myself for almost eight years, I empathised with his standpoint, for I too had once espoused such views.

As an AA member, my entire self-concept had been enmeshed in the belief that I was intrinsically alcoholic. I filtered all of my experiences through the lens of AA’s alleged illness of alcoholism: whenever I screwed-up, acted on a so-called character defect or failed to practise ‘these principles in all our affairs,’ I’d quip to myself and others, “God, I’m such an alcoholic!” I labelled most of my thinking as obsessive, and almost all of my actions as compulsive. I set myself apart as a distinct entity from seemingly normal drinkers, and took pride in my being ‘recovered,’ believing this somehow made me better than those attendees who were struggling. Of a morning, I thanked a higher power I neither understood nor really believed in for a new sober day, and perused daily reflections or the Big Book. In the evenings, I took inventory, asked that same power for forgiveness,  and read more recovery literature. I attended meetings regularly, had a home group, diligently worked the steps and sponsored. All of 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 AA and ‘converting’ to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, I do none of the above. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, REBT views alcohol use disorder as a maladaptive behaviour, not a chronic illness that requires life-long maintenance and participation at recovery groups.  It rejects the concept of powerlessness, and dissuades the use of the labels alcoholic or addict, for these are gross overgeneralisations.

Thanks to REBT, my identity is no longer enmeshed in a maladaptive behaviour, I once engaged in.  I have ceased labelling myself an alcoholic, and I have rejected the notion of character defects. I no longer consider myself a life-long recoveree, forever dependent on a power greater than myself to maintain abstinence. I very rarely read recovery literature, and I haven’t attended meetings, AA or otherwise for over five years. Rather than ask a higher power to forgive and remove my so-called shortcomings, I choose to practise unconditional self-acceptance (USA), albeit imperfectly. I am not the selfish, self-centred alcoholic I was led to believe I was, I am merely 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, in my being intrinsically alcoholic, simply in my being innately human.

As I reflect on the beliefs I acquired in AA, the daily rituals I performed, and the self-concept AA had inadvertently helped propagate, I realise I was forever clambering at an imaginary stairway to heaven. Since leaving Alcoholics Anonymous, however, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy has seemingly enabled me to cross a very real bridge to normal living. I have, for all intents and purposes, recovered from recovery.

AA Apostate.

Up-dated 03 December, 2018

Author: AA Apostate

AA Apostate is a former member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and lay 'convert' to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.