Alcoholics Anonymous is many things, and its role changes over time for those who remain involved in it long term.
Most importantly, AA can be a life line for those who are suffering from the potentially fatal illness of substance abuse. It is a way of achieving freedom from alcohol and drug addiction with the help of supportive peers who have “been there.” At these times AA is about dealing with urgent and basic struggles.
For most people going to an AA meeting evokes both a wish to achieve sobriety and a sense of distrust of any “authority”. This distrust can be enhanced by early experiences because some people deal with the stress of new sobriety by throwing themselves into AA as if it is a missionary religion. Those who are wary about this enthusiasm may feel as if they are the only ones with those doubts, but they aren’t. We have been surprised to find out how often long time AA members will talk about profound misgivings they had when they went to their first meeting.
In the long run, personal success in AA comes with some level of acceptance of the structure itself, which supports people in dealing with the impulse to do self-destructive things in response to psychic anxiety and pain. The supportive structure can be sustaining on a long term basis.
Sometimes AA is falsely felt to be at odds with therapy.
The truth is that AA can supplement therapy, as therapy can supplement AA.
The goal of AA is to achieve a genuine stability and relatedness to others that is essential for those with substance abuse issues and also to deal with overwhelming shame that can make it hard to take care of these problems.
The goal of therapy is to move beyond the negative and to find ways of recapturing the positive qualities that have been twisted or deformed through life experiences.
Both AA and therapy need very powerful grounding in a sense of hope and optimism, and a clear vision of possibilities that are “tailored” to individual needs, and to changes in those needs.
For more information we recommend these sites:
AASF – The AA website with the comprehensive meeting schedule for San Francisco and links to other Bay Area counties meetings. Very complete.
SFNA – The Narcotics Anonymous website for SF. Also a very complete meeting schedule.
womenforsobriety.org – We think this is really worth reading. Women for Sobriety is a peer support groups for women in substance abuse recovery. It is non-12-step oriented, but has a very empowering message.