Intensity or Intimacy

The nature of addiction is to crave the escape that comes in the pursuit of a substance or a process high. It could be numbing out with drugs and alcohol—the adrenaline rush of something new like the risk of a new relationship, physical challenge, exotic adventure, or the rush of meeting a deadline at work. At first, the pursuit seems subtle, like the calming effect that a cup of coffee has to starting your day. Over time it roars like a lion and becomes a dominating organizing principle of everyday living. Someone addicted to nicotine cannot comprehend going through the day without lighting up, dipping or ending the day with a cigar. The entire day becomes organized around taking the edge off by engaging in nicotine. Some addicts describe having an intimate relationship with their addictive behavior.

One of my sons told me a story about doing a rigorous hike in the desert with a couple of friends in the summertime when it was way too hot. After hiking a great distance, they were sweaty, exhausted, and stopped to take a break. He reached for his water bottle to quench his thirst and find relief from the heat. His two friends reached for a cigarette and with sweat streaming down their face found relief with nicotine and later took a drink of water. 

Addiction response can be extreme and radical. Some of the most intense people I know are addicts. Do you know a workaholic who has literally slept at their office? NFL football coaches have been known to work all day and sleep in their office. The rush that comes from getting prepared for the next game can be intense. For a workaholic, pushing for completion and fanatically reaching to meet a deadline can be powerful and consuming. Stories of addicts fiercely lusting for a hit and radically moving heaven and earth together to satisfy a craving are replete. 

Intensity or Intimacy? Addicts confuse intensity with intimacy. Intimacy can be understood as a close personal open heart connection with self and another person. Many people refer to sexual intercourse as intimate. Of course, this can be true. However, compulsive sexual behavior is often not intimate. At times, the insatiable drive to be with another person is the furthest experience from true intimacy. It has been described by some that the intense desire to be close to another is like wanting to be inside the other person’s skin. There is a craving for another that is more about neediness than intimacy. The need is intense.

Addicts become disconnected from their feelings. They are poor at managing moments of emptiness. An addict will often seek to fill the emptiness with chaos and addictive behavior. Emptiness and loneliness trigger addicts to fill in the hole of their lives with drugs and alcohol and other compulsive behaviors. Most addicts create a cocktail of adrenaline experience that can include substance, relationship pursuit, work intensity, exercise, food, and high-risk adventure. When one or more of these behaviors don’t do the trick, then they just go to the next combination in behavioral experiences. This response is described as addiction interaction behavior. The intensity of this daily cocktail experience can be mistaken for intimacy with self.  

Recently, a young man counseled with me about feeling extreme loneliness and depression from a recent relational breakup. He engaged in meditative silence and then shifted to extreme outdoor adventure. He stated that he felt very intimate with himself by testing his physical endurance. For sure, engaging physical endurance activities can be intimate. Yet, for this person, he came home to the same dilemma of intense loneliness and depression after the endurance adventure. Rather than embracing and grieving the loss, he had mistaken physical intensity for emotional intimacy. This is a common experience for addicts. 

Intimacy begins with an interpersonal connection. What is important is to carefully listen to your feelings. This requires slowing down and embracing the very emotion you would like to avoid. Intimacy demands that you be able to embrace discomfort. Knowing that you can feel uneasiness and sift and sort understanding and meaningfulness from this experience is necessary in order to meet the personal needs that exist underneath the uncomfortable emotion. This is fundamental to practicing intimacy. It begins with an inner connection with self before it can be extended to another. Many attempt to first connect with another believing this connection will help awaken feelings within. However, it is a precarious path that often leads to relational intensity being mistaken for relational intimacy. What is missing is the cultivation of interpersonal connection with your own feelings. Those feelings become lost with the intense hot pursuit of another person, substance, or experience. 

Intimacy requires that you be open and honest, first with self and then others. Emotional honesty demands that you be willing to embrace unwanted feelings. In the context of this embrace, you will find the pathway that leads to intimacy. The intimate discipline of sitting with your own feelings will spawn understanding and separation between emotional intimacy and emotional intensity in an addict’s relation to self and others.

How I Caught Alcoholism

It takes a lot for some people to realize that addiction and alcoholism are the same thing: A sleazy date finally taught me what even a wise counselor could not.

When I got to rehab in the spring of 2000, I was sure of exactly two things: that my life needed to change, and that I was in no way an alcoholic so I didn’t need to quit drinking.

Mental IllnessBut I knew how crafty and manipulative those rehab and AA types were. I knew that they were out to convince me that I was an alcoholic even though, at that point, I didn’t even like drinking.

A sober friend had taken me to a few AA meetings a year or so earlier, where her friend calmly explained that my distinction—that I was an addict and not an alcoholic—made not one bit of difference to her.

“They’re the same,” the girl said, while sighing in what I perceived to be a sanctimonious way. And boy did I argue her down—trotting out every example, defense point and anecdote I could. With more notice, I’d probably have prepared flow charts.

I was fairly certain I’d won that argument, too. I got the official word on that a few days later: The friend who’d been taking me to meetings stalled when I asked if I could go with her again—explaining that I made this girl uncomfortable. “She said you remind her too much of what she was like when she was still ‘in her disease,’” she explained. “You can’t come to meetings with us anymore.” Shortly thereafter, that friend drifted away from me.

You’d better believe that I used this as ammunition against AA and meetings and sobriety for a good while.

When things got undeniably worse, I made a deal with myself: I’d go to rehab, but wouldn’t subject myself to any of that AA stuff. AA was where they told perfectly nice drug addicts that they were also alcoholic. AA was where my incredibly logical arguments—how I didn’t drink that much and about how drinking didn’t ever motivate me to do drugs—were ignored.

I immediately recognized the enthusiasm of a sleazy guy who’s just received information that leads him to believe he will be getting laid that evening.

So when my counselor at rehab asked me if I was an alcoholic, I was prepared: “Nope. I’m a straight-up drug addict. Cocaine. And pills, too—but those aren’t for fun, they’re just to sleep or calm down or whatever.” I uncrossed my arms, sure that he would be swayed by my honesty.

“Uh huh,” he said, nodding. Now, I really liked this man. This was a man who, though I was as terrified and overwrought as ever, made me feel safe and comfortable. He was so kind and gentle, and he was the first person I’d ever heard talking about recovery in a way that didn’t make it sound awful. So when he posed his next question, I was only willing to take it into consideration because I liked him so much: “Given that you’re not an alcoholic, why don’t you take some time off of drinking?”

“Sure,” I replied. I didn’t tell him that I’d quit drinking once before and had made it 10 days—10 stressful, horrific days where I’d talked incessantly to anyone who would listen and many who wouldn’t about how I was “x” number of days off drinking. Ten days during which I’d taken plenty of painkillers and hypnotics. But things were different now. I was in rehab. I could make it longer than 10 days—and without the pills.

“Great,” he said. “How about you take off…I don’t know—a year?”

I looked at him evenly, trying to figure out if he was kidding. Who in God’s name took a year off of drinking? This thought, if I’d had the ability to absorb one, might have given me a clue about my situation. But I said nothing.

Then he asked: “Are you willing to believe that addiction and alcoholism might be the same thing?”

I thought about that. And because I liked him so much—just for him—I nodded, slowly: “I’m willing to believe that they might be the same thing.”

So the next six months progressed, with me fully admitting that I’d been a drug addict who took so much Ambien at night that I sometimes found myself driving around the next day not knowing where I was going or really who I was. An addict who stayed up for days at a time doing fat lines of cocaine by myself. I shared these stories with the people I met in rehab and then, when the rehab started taking us to AA meetings, with the people there.

I never went to NA or CA for the simple reason that I was so out of it and confused that I just went where I was taken—and the rehab took us to an AA meeting, where I met people who told me to go to another. About half the stories I heard in AA were about drinking and the other half about drugs; nobody seemed too concerned when people like me identified as addicts, not alcoholics, or talked about drugs, not alcohol. I was fine with this mash-up of addicts and alcoholics as well, since the whole time I was telling myself that I was willing to believe that addiction and alcoholism might be the same thing. In many ways, I thought I’d even convinced myself.

Then a friend from rehab relapsed, on cocaine. I grilled him for the details: Had he had a horrible time? Was it true that a head full of recovery and a body full of drugs was a terrible combination? Did he hate himself and want to die?

Nope, he told me with a smile. The night had been amazing.

Soon after that, I ran into a guy I’d dated years earlier, a guy who’d been sober for a long time. I told him I was now sober, too. He shrugged and said he wasn’t anymore: “That whole thing was bullshit.”

Somehow, these two conversations fused in my mind, and the thought occurred to me a day or two later that alcoholism and addiction were very much not the same thing—that even though I was going to AA meetings, and liking and relating to what I heard, all those people must be crazy. Because how could addiction and alcoholism be the same thing when they were two entirely different words?

I chose not to call my sponsor with this thought. I instead chose to call the guy I had a date with that night. When I got to his house, where we were planning to have a drink before going to dinner, I introduced the topic: “Remember how I told you I don’t drink because I have a drinking problem? Turns out I don’t have a problem, so I actually do drink now. Do you have any wine?”

This guy nodded like he couldn’t believe his luck, and I immediately recognized the enthusiasm of a sleazy guy who’s just received information that leads him to believe he will be getting laid that evening. But what did I care? He was just going to be my evening’s drinking buddy and he could think whatever he felt like.

He poured me a glass of wine and I took first a sip—and then a gulp. I remember feeling mystified that this innocent little beverage, this thing that tasted and felt so benign, had caused such endless discussion. My partner in crime seemed to feel similarly. “I can’t believe you thought you had a drinking problem,” he said. “You’re not drinking alcoholically at all.” We did a “Cheers” to that happy thought.

One glass led to us finishing a bottle, so he opened another, and at some point, like in some Fitzgerald novel, the dinner plans were forgotten and I was lying down, a little woozy, and he was sitting next to me, saying that he didn’t feel bad about giving me alcohol but he did feel bad about the drugs.

“The drugs?” I asked, popping up. He held out a handful of ecstasy pills. “I can’t do that—drugs were my problem” was a sentence I attempted to get out of my mouth. But I think I only said “I can’t” before popping the first pill in my mouth. Once I’d done it, it seemed silly to not go all out, so I took another. And when I couldn’t even feel that one, he suggested a third. By the end of the evening, I’d had two bottles of wine and four-and-a-half hits of X, and it turned out that being high and drunk and aware of a different way to live felt awful—like the volume on a horror movie turned up. Perhaps that’s what made it easier for me to escape the sleazy guy without giving him so much as a kiss.

Horrified and chagrined, I went back to a meeting the next day, where I explained what had happened and declared myself a newcomer. I announced that I finally understood what everyone had been saying about how alcohol was a clear gateway to drugs, which I’d never known before because I’d always done drugs all the time, without needing alcohol to ease the transition or give me the idea.

It was a good year or so later before I saw the situation a little more clearly—when I saw, specifically, that I’d always drunk alcoholically. From my very first drink, I’d been doing things I didn’t intend to do and drinking to get drunk. I’d just been surrounded by so many people who were doing the same, and my vision of my life had been so small, that it hadn’t registered. This became even more obvious when I started going to parties again, and discovered that not everyone who arrived ran straight up to the bar to start doing shots before looking around for the best bathroom to do coke. That was just what people like me had done.

A year or so after that, I saw what a good thing it had been that my experiment in alcoholism versus addiction had only lasted one night. I’m even more grateful for that today. I still know both the guy from my rehab who relapsed and the guy I’d dated who had been sober but decided that the “whole thing” was “bullshit”: They both still go to meetings where, for the past 15 years or so, one or the other is always a newcomer again.

I’m not any different to them, really. We’re all three addicts—or, if you will, alcoholics. The main difference, as I see it, is that the night I decided to experiment, I happened to have access to enough supplies to overdo it in a massive way—and I happened to do it with such a sleazy guy that I simply couldn’t avoid admitting that there was a serious problem with my behavior.

If only sleazy guys could always be put to such good use.

Why Is Addiction Not a Disease?

It’s important for addiction discussions to note the difference between a disorder and a disease. Addiction is a disorder, not a disease, because it is a host of symptoms that are different for everyone. For instance, a disease has to be measurable and testable. You can take someone’s temperature and know that they have a fever, but you cannot “test” for addiction as it is a set of behaviors that trigger a set of symptoms. These behaviors may not always be conscious because of the changes in the brain due to substance use. But they were voluntary at least in the beginning. The level of personal responsibility is at stake in labelling addiction whether it’s a disorder or a disease.

Some addicts can conquer their addiction and others cannot. Some treatment techniques work for some addicts but they don’t work for others. These are not the hallmarks of a disease, which would involve a more uniform pathology and a treatment plan that would work universally. There’s no cure for addiction that’s why it is not classified as disease. They just learn a new set of behaviors to short-circuit the things that trigger their desire for drugs or alcohol. They have to abstain from these substances for the rest of their lives after recovery.

Addiction as a Disorder

Addiction is not a disease

In the discussion of addiction as a disorder, you should consider the stigma attached of seeking help. When people think of diseases, they think of illnesses that are contagious and they think of the diseased person as having some kind of moral failings that has brought the illness upon them. Addicts need help understanding that we live in a culture that encourages over consumption. Some people can handle that kind of message and others can’t. This does not make an addict a bad person.

It just means that they need better examples of people who have higher priorities and healthier goals. Our relationship to drugs and alcohol is really a disorder that exists at the cultural level rather than at the individual one, even though some people are capable of moderation. These differences among personalities accounts for another reason why addiction is a disorder. If it were a disease, then anyone exposed to the same cultural message of over consumption would also become an addict. However, only certain people predisposed to this kind of behavior find themselves in trouble.

Whether we call addiction a disorder or a disease changes nothing about how it is treated. Diseases are often things that people try to solve by themselves at home. If someone has a cold, he/she might just get some extra sleep and eat a bowl of chicken soup. However, by understanding addiction as a disorder, we are admitting that addicts need a larger support structure in order to change their consumption patterns.

Are Some Substances More Addictive Than Others?

Not all substances have the same level of addiction, and a user’s road to dependency can vary greatly depending on which particularly substance is being abused. Common drug addictions can be broken down into three categories that roughly correspond to the first three levels on the FDA’s schedule of controlled substances: drugs that are highly addictive (schedule I), drugs that are moderately addictive (schedule II), and drugs that are minimally addictive (schedules III through V).

Crack cocaine is the worst drug in terms of speed and intensity that a user can become addicted. Crack offers a more intense high than cocaine. It enters the bloodstream more quickly when smoked rather than snorted.  However, the high ends much more quickly, which is one of the reasons that even first- time users have a high risk of engaging in compulsive and addictive use of this particular drug.

Crack addiction seems to be decreasing in favor of other controlled substances such as Oxycodone which is also highly addictive. This opioid is often prescribed by doctors to help with pain management. Dependency occurs when users take more than prescribed by their doctors and they become reliant on the feelings of euphoria.

Many people believe that Tamadol, another opioid used for pain relief, is the new Oxycodone in terms of addiction. Medical professionals initially started prescribing it because they thought it was safer than oxycodone. However, Tamadol users also have a high risk of addiction. Naloxone is the usual treatment to detox an addict from opioids. It seems to be less effective in treating addictions to Tamadol. It may cause an increase in fatal overdoses related to use of this drug.

Morphine & Xanax

SubstancesMorphine is another common pain killing substance which is derived from the poppy plant. It’s available in a variety of forms from oral to I.V. transmission. It relieved the pain after the surgery. Psychological dependency on morphine can happen after only a few doses but patients would have to use it for many months before developing a physical addiction to this medication. The problem with morphine for addicts is that it is dangerous to simply stop using the drug. Users need to taper off doses under medical supervision.

Xanax, a schedule IV controlled substance used to alleviate the feelings of anxiety and other medical purposes. The FDA’s schedule classified it so low, therefore considered to have a low addiction rate. However, that does not stop people with addictive personalities from abusing the drug, even people with a legitimate prescription for it.

Tens of thousands of people every year enter treatment centers due to overuse of benzodiazepines, such as Xanax. Adderall is the drug used to help people with ADHD, a behavioral disorder. Some people have reported developing a dependency on it, but the risk is rather low for addiction.

There’s a difference between taking medically prescribed substances for legitimate reasons and for recreational use. Taking multiple kinds of drugs at the same time or taking it with alcohol increases the risk of overdose.

Does Drug or Alcohol Rehab Work?

There are plenty of successful recovery stories that testify that drug and centers can work well for many addicts. However, this success really hinges on matching the right kind of treatment with the specifics of the addiction and the addict’s personality. Not every treatment for addiction is the same, just as not every addict is the same. In fact, there’s no official way to measure the success of a rehab program. It all depends on how the addict defines success. If the goal is just to reduce consumption, then this might be easier to achieve than addressing some of the underlying issues that might prevent someone from entering recovery completely.

Some people who abuse drugs or alcohol do manage to quit on their own. However, one might argue that if an addict can decide on his or her own to change their behavior, then maybe their dependence wasn’t to the level of addiction. This is where rehabilitation centers come in. Some addicts have such bad withdrawal symptoms vomiting, physical shakes that resemble seizures—that they need around-the clock medical care. This type of care is known as in-patient or residential care, depending on how long the addict stays in the facility. In-patient services are usually shorter, about a month, while residential programs tend to be longer. An alternative treatment plan would be an outpatient program that relies on counseling and mentoring.

Rehab Programs

RehabMany in-patient and residential programs are very costly. However, this might make an addict take them more seriously. If you know that you are committing a large sum of money to your health, you tend to value the process more. Also, you can weigh the cost of rehabilitation against the cost of fines and lawyer fees resulting from addictive behaviours. You might get into jail when caught in the possession of illegal narcotics.

And then, of course, there’s the old adage “you get what you pay for.” Rehab programs are often staffed by knowledgeable medical staff with graduate degrees in their fields. The national boards often evaluated the centers. However, a treatment plan is only as good as the commitment a patient makes to it. If an addict does not truly want to recover, then it won’t happen. Mere completion of program doesn’t indicate success, as patients can revert back to their old habits after finishing the treatment. So much of recovery from addiction has to happen through changes in the outlook of the person suffering from addiction.

Bear in mind that a relapse isn’t an indication that treatment hasn’t been successful. Neither is it a judgment about the personal failing of the addict. In fact, it’s merely just a pretty normal step in the process of recovery. Addicts often relapse few times before they realize the severity of addiction and the need to avoid from mood-altering substances. In many ways, the most important “work” rehabs  accomplish is to introduce addicts to the basic tenets of 12-step programs, healthy routines and habits, and what it takes to achieve long-term sobriety.


How to Stop Drinking Alcohol Successfully

How to Stop Drinking Alcohol?

There are many ways to stop drinking alcohol, but the only successful way is to understand why you need to stop drinking alcohol in the first place. You can be mentally/physically dependent upon alcohol (or both), which can cause problems in every area of your life. Health, relationships, family, marriage, work and school are just a few of the areas that alcohol can wreak havoc on. Identifying the places where alcohol has caused damage in your life is the key to giving up the bottle for good. This isn’t always easy, though. Very often, the problems aren’t as clear as having a serious, clear legal consequence (a DUI, for example). Alcohol, in fact, can be causing other people in your life to suffer more than you.

Once you’ve identified the reason (or reasons) why you want to stop drinking alcohol, a great first step is to visit your primary care physician or medical professional. It is incredibly important to be honest about how much you’ve been drinking alcohol. Don’t worry about what they will think or say about you. First and foremost, the doctor’s job is to help you. If you don’t accurately describe how much you’ve been drinking alcohol, they won’t be able to correctly treat you or customize a plan for you to succeed. By lying, you’ll only be deceiving yourself. Depending on the amount of alcohol that you’ve been consuming daily, withdrawal symptoms can range from unpleasant to downright deadly. That’s why meeting with a doctor is the best way to determine not only the severity of your addiction, but to receive practical advice for how you can stop drinking.

The Common Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

Stop Drinking AlcoholDoctors might suggest next steps that involve tapering down over time or stopping immediately. In some cases, physicians can prescribe medicine to make your alcohol withdrawal comfortable and safe. Even in the mildest cases, alcohol withdrawal is never pleasant. Common symptoms include nausea, anxiety, sweating, vomiting, a lack of appetite, and insomnia, while less common side effects include confusion, fever and (even worse) hallucinations and convulsions. Talking to family members and friends about wanting to stop drinking alcohol is another good approach to ending your battle with the bottle. By honestly explaining why and how alcohol caused problems in your life, you may discover their willingness to help you. By sharing your desire to stop drinking, you’re also sharing your desire to make a positive change in everyone’s life—not just yours. It’s also a highly effective way of staying accountable on your journey to sobriety.

Friends and family can oftentimes be the best support structure imaginable to help build confidence, provide encouragement, and keep that person on track—mainly because they know you and what you’re capable of.

Very early on, it’s easy to fall back in old habits and routines with alcohol. Believe that you can overcome on the setbacks and struggles. Early sobriety is all about finding out what works best for you. After all, what works for one person in recovery might not work at all for you. Alcoholics should always be mindful about not engaging in all the same behaviors they did while they were drinking. If you used to join co-workers for after-work happy hours, that’s really not an option anymore. Start replacing alcohol-centric events/occasions with healthier ones, be it an afternoon walk, shopping, or even going to the movies.

Self Discipline is Your Key to Sobriety

The first few weeks/months of sobriety are critical. You should spent thinking of new and healthier things to do, rather than mourning the loss of alcohol. Think on the negative consequences of alcohol, and it will make you more dedicated to long-term sobriety. What are your triggers? What are the places and people and things you need to avoid? Look for support groups that are convenient for you and your schedule. Don’t judge a fellowship by just one meeting, either. Chances are, there are dozens of meetings in any given week near your house. Get out there and meet people who understand exactly what it’s like to go through what you’re going through.

Once you get a few weeks or months of sober time under your belt, be sure to make note of it. Celebrate them, if you can. These are important milestones. The longer you’re away from the bottle, the more time you’re investing in becoming the best possible version of yourself. This is an incredible amount change in your life—and something won’t happen overnight. Recovery is an ever-changing, never-ending process—and it’s one that doesn’t need to be stringent or strictly defined. It’s your recovery and it’s bound to be as unique and dynamic as you.

How to Help an Addict Without Enabling Them

Effective Way of Helping an Addict

Friends and family members have to walk a fine line when trying to offer assistance to an addict. Of course, it’s natural to want to help someone you love when you see them suffering. However, recovery efforts are only as successful as the addict’s commitment to them. Because of this truth about recovery, there are good and bad ways that others can lend support to addicts. Be careful not to cross the line over into enabling their addiction. While recovery efforts can be costly, it is important to make sure that any money you give an addict is not just a way for him or her to buy more drugs or alcohol.

AddictIf the addict was only tapering down consumption because he or she could not afford any more of the substance, then your charity might be used to rekindle the addiction rather than seek a long-term treatment option. If an addict tells you that he or she needs money for treatment, you should ask to pay the treatment center directly.

Many addicts alienate their friends and family by being emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. One of the ways that emotionally toxic relationships develop is that the addict keeps promising over and over to clean up his or her life. In order to avoid this cycle, the friend or family member needs to set clear boundaries and stick to them. Let the addict knows that you won’t tolerate if he/she keeps using.

Tough Love:  The Best Way to Help an Addict

The addict needs to know that there are consequences for his or her behavior. They also need to feel like they have a purpose in life. Let them do the things that they need to do to survive. Otherwise, he/she will not realize how badly the substance is that keeps them from living a normal life. For example, don’t pick up added responsibilities around the house or make excuses for the addict at his/her work place. Sometimes the only road to recovery is to hit rock bottom. If you keep giving the addict a safe cushion to fall on, he or she will never wake up to the realization that drugs or alcohol have ruined their relationships and their lives.  You can’t sugar coat the situation—sometimes the best way to teach someone is to let them fail. Failure is often a better teacher than success.

You have to faced numerous realities about loving an addict. First, you have to give up trying to control the outcome of the situation. It doesn’t matter how much you want your loved one to get help, he or she has to want it. Second, you have to understand that you cannot change the addict. Only he or she has the power to beat addiction. By doing some work on yourself and learning to love while at the same time letting go, you will have a better relationship with an addict.

Friends and family members want to help and they want to show how much they care. But the best way to help an addict is with tough love.

Why You Don’t Really Hate AA

I’ve seen too many people attack the program that saved my life. But their problem isn’t AA itself; it’s some of AA’s members.

I got sober because of Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe with every pore in my body that had it not been for the program, I wouldn’t have been able to put down drugs and alcohol over 12 years ago and wouldn’t be able to live the life I do today.

For a long time, out of what I then considered respect for the 11th tradition, I didn’t publicly identify as a member. In my first novel, Party Girl (which was so autobiographical, I didn’t even bother to act coy about it), I actually switched various AA-related words to protect the program: I used “guidelines” for “steps,” and “apologies” for “amends.” And when I went on TV to promote that book or to talk about the addictions of various celebrities, I always explained ahead of time that if the story they wanted to focus on involved AA, I couldn’t go on, because AA was an anonymous program.

I said the same thing in late 2010.

And then, slowly, my perspective changed. As my years of sobriety—and talking and writing about addiction—continued, I began to realize that my desire to not mention AA had less to do with respecting the 11th tradition than with protecting AA from any more of the judgment was being heaped upon it.

From what I hear, AA is a harsh, religious, recriminating cult.

Before I came to AA, I considered it a cult for Jesus-worshipping freaks, who had nothing better to do with their time and needed something—anything—to cling to. Whatever I heard about the program (they hold hands! They pray! In unison!) I used to fuel that preconception. And that preconception kept me buying books about how AA didn’t work, while I slowly annihilated myself with years of drinking and cocaine.

There seem to be as many ways to interpret the 11th tradition as there are people in AA. Some swear that it means we should never give our last names when we talk about being sober; others say it means we’re allowed to say we’re in AA, so long as we’re not doing it in the press, or on the radio or in films. Still others preach that it means not outing someone else as a member. And there are those who insist that it means never telling anyone anywhere that we’re sober. AA-history obsessives will often tell us how necessary the 11th tradition was, back when alcoholism and addiction were considered horribly shameful; some insist that we still need to honor this tradition, while others say we should scream about our disease from the rooftops, to eradicate any left-over shame.

My own feeling is this: AA’s founders couldn’t have predicted the Internet or the world we live in now, where everything is everyone’s business. Bill and Bob didn’t know that one day anonymous online commenters would attack their program. When the traditions were written, AA was small, young and fragile. Today, it isn’t. And while many have tried to ignore, defame and destroy it since then, the fact is, they haven’t had much success.

But still, because AA doesn’t have a spokesperson, it can’t fight back or respond to the criticisms that are constantly hurled at it. So at a certain point, it seemed like it was okay—in fact, better than okay—to start being open about the program on this site, and allowing those who felt their lives improved by it to share that.

In short, I didn’t want to give people out there who were like me—that is, judgmental and alcoholic—any more reason to judge AA than they already had. Maybe, I thought, if we publicly shared how the program had saved us, we’d help open people’s minds. Whether that mission has been successful, I have absolutely no idea.

Trust me—my positive reaction to AA shocked the hell out of me at first. I honestly couldn’t believe that I didn’t encounter a bunch of glassy-eyed cultists, or tie-dyed followers of some New Age guru forcing newcomers to hand out flowers at the airport.

Well, let me clarify. I did encounter some people who lived up to my preconceptions—or were even worse—but they were not the majority. No, the overwhelming majority were the sort of people I’d been seeking my whole life: funny people, smart people, self-aware people—people who suffered from the same problems I did, but who knew how to talk about and deal with them in ways I hadn’t yet learned.

The last person I ever thought I’d be was Susie AA—the girl sitting in the front row of the meeting, or at a coffee shop highlighting her favorite passages in the Big Book. But that’s who I became. Turns out, I’d always been waiting for someone to give me rules for living beyond those my family had presented—which were mainly about going to an Ivy League school, making six figures at your first job and suing people before they sued you. Though I didn’t know it consciously at the time, I’d been seeking out information about how it was my self-obsession—well, self-obsession plus stimulants and depressants—that was making me so miserable.

I’m well aware that this is apparently not most people’s experience when they come to AA. From what I hear—mostly from anonymous commenters on The Fix—AA is not the welcoming, loving, non-judgmental solution to a miserable life that I discovered. Instead, it’s a harsh, religious, recriminating cult, filled with controlling assholes who are determined to believe that their way is the only way.

In some ways, I understand. After all, I have met, in AA, horrible, judgmental people, who are determined to believe that their way is the only way. And I’ve met, as you’d expect, people who are mentally ill.

I have been told, by a woman who was sponsoring me, that I wasn’t “really sober” because I was on anti-depressants, and asked to immediately get out of her car.

I have been ruthlessly shamed by another sponsor, because she put me on “dating restriction” for a year (not my first year of sobriety, by the way) and, nine months into it, I kissed a guy. She told me I hadn’t surrendered and “fired” me outside a meeting as I sobbed.

I have listened to women preach from podiums about how determined they are to help everyone they can—then had them not return my calls after they’ve agreed to sponsor me.

I have shared deeply personal things in meetings and had people approach me days or weeks later to give me unsolicited, offensive feedback about what I was doing that had caused me to feel the way I did.

The program is what you find in the Big Book—not the people who make up the fellowship.

I have been pulled aside by old ladies after I’ve shared and told that I was sharing “wrong.” And I’ve heard about even worse things: AA icons sleeping with newcomers, sponsors giving sponsees drugs—you name it.

But not one of these things has caused me to hate AA.

Maybe that’s because I was lucky enough to meet some genuinely, ridiculously amazing people when I first came in. Maybe it’s because I got sober in LA, where there is, arguably, less shame and more cheer about sobriety than anywhere else, so that the overall joy made it easier to overlook the sicker folk. Maybe it’s because I was so desperate when I got to AA that I couldn’t afford to think any differently.

Yes, there are assholes in AA. But you find them everywhere. And while AA, by the very nature of what brings people to the rooms, may have a higher percentage than some other places, that doesn’t make AA the asshole. If those people weren’t in AA, they would just be somewhere else, doing their best to give that somewhere else a bad name. The program is what you find in the Big Book—not the people who make up the fellowship.

Hey, you can still hate AA. But if you go there, and encounter someone who tells you that you have to get sober his way, or shames you for not doing exactly what she says, I just ask that you consider going to another meeting or reaching out to another person—to consider that this individual might be the problem. The people in AA whose lives seem to be working are, from what I can tell, those who remember that good AA’s don’t tell anyone how to do anything; who reinforce the fact that the steps are merely suggestions; who don’t say you must believe in some almighty God, but just ask you to consider that perhaps you’re not the one in charge of everything.

All of which is to say that maybe, just maybe, your hatred is misdirected. At the very least, now you can direct it toward me instead of the program. After all, I’m the one telling you that you don’t feel the way you say you do.

Can You Get Sober with the Help of God?

Getting Sober: Religious and Spiritual Approach

Addicts need all the help they can get in order to successfully get sober. Many may find the support they need by turning to faith-based groups. These groups often view recovery not as a matter of chemical dependency but as a matter of moral sinfulness. They see substance abuse as a ”vice,” whereas the medical community views it as a matter of brain chemistry and chemical dependency. Recommended treatments from faith-based groups will involve bettering your relationship with Jesus. Not all Christian groups have the same relationship to alcohol, however. Catholics, for instance, often drink wine as part of their celebration of mass. Some branches of Protestant faith, however, often avoid any drink in their celebration the Eucharist or they substitute grape juice.

Most time-tested 12-step recovery groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, reference God frequently in their meetings and philosophy. It’s possible for an atheist or non-Christian to participate in these programs, but it will require some creative thinking. These approaches has been successful in large part because of the way they tackle addiction from a multi-pronged standpoint, as a disorder of mind, body, and soul.

Determine the Cause of Addiction

Getting SoberThere are also special faith-based treatment centers that help addicts getting sober and rebuild their relationship with God and with their Christian community. They seek to replace the addictive behaviors with prayer and meditation. Many people who choose this particular recovery approach became addicts because they experiences a loss of faith. If you turn to substance abuse because you have begun to question God’s benevolence in the face of losses you have suffered, then to undo your addiction, you might seek a faith-based approach. However, if your addiction has nothing to do with a loss of faith in God, then this approach may not work for you. Addicts need to be honest with themselves in many ways. Perhaps, the most important element of truth needed for recovery is seeing the underlying issues that led to addiction.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God will just magically make your addiction go away. As Christians like to say, “God helps those who help themselves”. Or, as Lao Russell wrote, “God will work with you but not for you”. The reality is that if prayer alone could cure someone from addiction, then there would probably be no more addicts.  Replacing drugs/alcohol with God may have short-term positive benefits, but it doesn’t address the underlying issues of addictive personality. It just redirects the obsession to a more acceptable subject.