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Why I Found Comfort in Letting Go of Fellowships

AA helped me get sober and the 12 steps continued to help me tremendously for the first few years.

But as I continued on my recovery journey, I realized I suffered from a multitude of emotional and mental health issues, and that’s when I developed a problem with the 12 step process.

AA Leads the Way

Early in my recovery, I attended at least three AA meetings a week. During those meetings, I kept hearing people say, “more will be revealed.” And, sure enough the more I stuck around, the more problems revealed themselves.

But I only came here to stop drinking, I thought.

I discovered my issues with codependency, sex, food, and mental health. Not to mention I suffered from a severe inability to communicate or express myself and emotional immaturity.

The suggested solutions to these problems (at the time) were specific 12 Step fellowships:

  • Al-Anon: To deal with family members in recovery or active addiction
  • CODA: To deal with my issues of codependency
  • SLAA or SA: To address my issues with relationships and sex addiction
  • OA: To address my eating disorders

The list went on and on.

Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings

Around a year sober, I was so fed up with my binge eating, I very reluctantly attended my first OA meeting. Perplexed by the experience, I sat there and wondered why I needed another 12 Step fellowship. I couldn’t fathom any reason to attend two fellowships with exactly the same Steps – the offending substance is simply swapped out. Where would it stop? Was I supposed to attend a different fellowship for every single one of my issues? I already attended three meetings a week – I really didn’t want to attend another three.

I understand there’s a level of identification within each group. But addiction has many facets and typically all of them show up in AA: We get sober and we can’t stop eating, or we come from a dysfunctional family and have issues with codependency which revealed themselves after we got sober. Many people in my AA meeting had exactly the same facets of addiction I had – I didn’t need another fellowship for that.

Take What You Need and Leave the Rest

I decided to use the Steps to examine all of the ways addiction manifested in my life and practice them as a solution. Which I did for as long as I could. And it worked – to certain extent. I was able to lose weight, stop drinking and binge eating. But my use of The Steps only took me so far.

I started feeling increasingly uncomfortable in 12 Step fellowships I eventually stopped going to meetings. My discomfort stemmed from my issues with:

  • All of the unhelpful phrases
  • Insistence on attending numerous fellowships
  • Spending my life in meetings
  • An outdated and un-relatable program
  • Self-limiting beliefs
  • Defective-thinking
  • Ill-fitting language

Freedom from Fellowships?

I broke free and started on a holistic path to recovery. Initially I was terrified because we’re told, if we stop attending meetings, we’ll relapse. But it turned out to be the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. And in many respects, my recovery has been enhanced by breaking out of that mold, trying alternative modalities and looking at my recovery holistically.

That said, throughout my journey over the last five years, there’ve been a number of issues which repeatedly presented themselves that I couldn’t seem to get a hold on. Specifically, how I should act in an intimate relationship. A friend suggested I check out ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). I balked. I kept balking for five years.

But when I reached a unbearable place of pain in a relationship, I decided to put my differences with the 12 Steps aside and check out ACA. Within that fellowship, there’s a list of traits adult children of alcoholics display throughout their lives. They’re so identifiable within my personality, just reading them terrified me. These traits are family of origin issues, and are often the root cause of substance abuse.

While I attended ACA meetings, I continued to struggle with my position on the 12 Steps – particularly around family of origin issues. I didn’t want to work The Steps, because I think they’re outdated and because I don’t want to share my darkest, most traumatic experiences with someone who isn’t a trained professional.

The Benefits of Counseling

Around the same time as I attended ACA, I started therapy. Remarkably, with the help of my therapist, I was able to take a step back and use that trait list as a barometer of how far I’d come in my recovery. While I still identified with a number of those characteristics, I could see I no longer acted on a number of them. It also became apparent I was already parenting myself, and had been for the last five years.

I told my therapist I didn’t want to attend ACA meetings anymore. I shared my difficulties with the 12 Steps and how I didn’t want to spend my life in meetings – which felt too confining and unproductive. I expressed how I found it far more beneficial to have a therapeutic relationship with her. A relationship which helped me focus on:

  • What I’m doing right today
  • How to be mindful
  • How to better communicate in relationships

She reminded me I’d already overcome my past and developed my own program of recovery. If I didn’t want to go, I didn’t need to.

Perhaps I needed her reflection to see I don’t need to dig up old issues – especially ones I’ve already laid to rest – with a rusty old spade. I’ve been doing fine just on my own. I need to keep living my life, not adding more fellowships to it.