It pains me when I hear people say that Alcoholics Anonymous doesn't work. It pains me even more when I hear members of Alcoholics Anonymous say that treatment programs are a waste of time and money. Really? If someone joins a weight loss program and loses 30 pounds, then stops participating in that program and regains the weight they had lost (and maybe a few pounds more), do we blame the program, or the person who failed to stay with it?
And what exactly does it mean to be successful in recovery anyway? I'm sure that government agencies and insurance companies would collectively give me a quick and simple answer: Total and continuous abstinence. And I would argue that abstinence is and should be the “goal” of most treatment centers and recovery programs. But is it necessarily a measure of success? Some statistics tell us the majority of those who enter a program of recovery — as many as 90 percent — will relapse at least once in their first five years. Does this mean that programs like Alcoholics Anonymous fail?
The book Alcoholics Anonymous (a.k.a. The Big Book) tells us this: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”
“Constitutionally incapable of being honest.” Nothing says it better.
I'm not an expert on recovery nor am I'm professionally qualified to define what it means to be successful at recovery. But I do have my own experience, and my experience tells me that my own success at recovery (my own ability to stay sober 24 hours at a time) is directly proportional to my ability to be steadfastly honest with myself about my own condition and my daily behavior. The only way I've found it possible to do that is to go to meetings, work the steps and maybe most important, to sponsor other men and be sponsored myself.
Nothing else has worked. Waking up in jail without knowing why, being hospitalized, failing at marriage, the threat of losing a job — none of these were enough to keep me sober, though I've suffered them all and some more than once. It was not until the morning that I awoke (after nearly 7 years of bouncing in and out of this program) and admitted plainly and simply to my innermost self that I was powerless over alcohol, that my life would never get better (and that it was very likely to get much wore) if I kept drinking, that my recovery could begin. No drama, no jails, no hospitals, no courtrooms. Just an honest and open admission that I was alcoholic and that for me to drink is to die. I could not have made that admission openly and honestly to myself and other human beings if it had not been for the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and my repeated failed attempts to stop drinking on my own.
In my world, Alcoholics Anonymous succeeds every time it introduces someone with a genuine desire to stop drinking to a level of honesty that person had not previously experienced … no matter how many failed attempts it takes to get there.