Why I Stopped Attending AA


I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a long time. Since May of this year to be exact. I guess the main reason I’ve been avoiding writing about this topic is that I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if I was actually stopping attending 12 step meetings or not. But it’s been 5 months since I’ve been to a meeting so I figured I would finally address this topic. I’ve mentioned it on my podcast and in a few other posts that I hadn’t attended meetings lately, but I didn’t explain why.

The truth is it wasn’t a conscious decision. It wasn’t like I attended one meeting or woke up one day and said, “Ok I will no longer go to AA.” As most of you know, I did not get sober in the rooms of AA. I started attending meetings a year and a half into my sobriety. I got a sponsor, went through the steps twice, attempted to sponsor one sponsee, and attended regular women’s meetings about twice a week. I met a ton of great women in the rooms. I got something out of every meeting I went to and every speaker I heard tell their story.

Earlier in the year when I was stressed to the max with planning my wedding I started to skip some of my Tuesday night meetings. I felt extra guilty doing this, but I justified it by saying I needed the extra time to plan and pack. When I came back from Mexico I got back into the swing of things, but this is also the time when I started to amp up the amount of working out I was doing at CrossFit. My gym partners wanted to do Saturday morning classes and that was the other time for the other 12 step meeting I attended. Again, I found myself feeling bad for wanting to do something different, but then I asked myself, what’s wrong with wanting to work out and get closer to my gym friends? Nothing! I started working out instead of attending meetings on Saturdays.

Another influence that played a part in me separating from 12 step meetings was growing apart from my sponsor. When I went to her about certain things over the past year, I wasn’t feeling understood. I wasn’t feeling like she and I were on the same wavelength anymore. There were many times when I received answers and advice that I felt were more in line with the traditional dogma of AA instead of tailored to my specific needs and situations. Go to more meetings, do service work, read the Big Book, pray about it, character defects, etc. Of course, I could have gotten another sponsor, but to me, it was one of the last threads of 12 step meetings falling away for me.

When I came back from celebrating my 4 year sober anniversary in New York City at She Recovers this year, I went to my Tuesday night meeting and picked up my 4 year chip. My sponsor wasn’t there to give it to me or hug me or give me a gift like she had been in past years. In my heart, I knew that was probably one of the last meetings I would attend. I felt like a guest, not a member. I didn’t feel like it was my place anymore and I haven’t been to a meeting since.

I have not been quiet about my criticisms of AA. There are many components about the program that are outdated, stale, and in some respects, dangerous. There are many ideas and guidelines I do not subscribe to. And yet, the program helps millions get and stay sober. To each their own.

Twelve step meetings and the fellowship were valuable to me, but in a sense, I feel like I have evolved past what the program is able to give me. It felt too limiting for me. I have always felt there was a wall up between me and the program. In a sense, the program is a secret society tucked away from the world where people only know each other by their first names and create and attend private events with only AA member attendees. Many 12 step members make this their whole lives, but for me, I felt like it forced me to divide my world into two lives. I couldn’t invite my spouse or other friends who might not be in the program, to AA events or meetings. I couldn’t share much about my blog or my work in meetings because some people looked at me like I had 10 heads. I know people in my local meetings who specifically did not befriend me on social media because they know I am public about my recovery and they want nothing to do with that. For me, this duality would not work long term. I could not keep a veil of secrecy in one area of my life, while encouraging everyone to be open and honest about their sobriety on the internet.

A common thought in AA is if you aren’t feeling good or aren’t making great choices, you aren’t working your program hard enough. “Meeting makers make it,” as they say, and if you don’t attend or attend less, alarm bells go off for everyone in the rooms. Something must have happened, or you must not be sober. If you don’t work your program you could even die. Well no, I’m not dead and my recovery is still strong and in full swing. In fact, I feel as though I’m taking what I’ve learned in the rooms out into the world and using it to be the best person I can be. I am out there living my recovery, instead of hanging out in church basements endlessly reading the same literature and analyzing, “alcoholic thinking.”

I’ve started exploring new areas of my recovery and self-development. I just started seeing a therapist, I’ve started recovery coach certification courses, I’ve co-hosted a recovery workshop and I’m trying to make yoga a normal part of my routine. I’m working on my book and competing in CrossFit competitions. I’m dedicating more time to organization and self-care.

To be honest I haven’t missed 12 step meetings much. I miss some of the women I got to hug and talk to on a regular basis, and some of them have reached out to me to see how I am. Others have not. Maybe I will go back someday if I feel so inclined. Maybe I’ll return to get my 5 year chip. I don’t know. It all depends on how it makes me feel. But for now, I feel good moving on, progressing, and sharing this truth with all of you.

I am grateful for the role AA has played in my recovery, but I am also happy leaving it behind.