I'm Out of AA Again--For Good
by Chic DiIorio

It's the morning after my last AA meeting. I discharged my remaining sponsees last night and wished them well. With this message, which I hope inspires those struggling with leaving AA, I will discuss, for the final time, alcoholism and recovery. I'm done with AA, anti-AA, medium well-done AA. It's all over. Finished. I got better. I'm a person who simply doesn't drink. I'm 49 years old and by the AA way of counting things, I've been continuously clean and sober since 1977. That is such a ponderously long time ago. I'm tired of talking about alcoholism. It's the least interesting thing about me.

When I joined AA, I was lucky in that I found a sponsor who, although a true believer, wasn't a True Believer, if you get my drift. I remember an early conversation we had in which he asked me, "You're just not buying this God stuff, are you?" I allowed how I wasn't and that was that. God was never an issue for us as sponsor/sponsee. Terry was about helping drunks get sober and that's what he taught me. I was active in AA near my home in NY from the time I came in until 1989, when I moved away.

Now, I never took to a lot of what goes on in AA. I did the Steps, went to my meetings, talked to new guys, left the women alone and that was that. I never tried to micro-manage my sponsees' lives. I never kneeled in prayer. Never even chanted the Lord's Prayer. I never preached death to those who left AA. I don't believe I've ever said a slogan out loud or promoted their use, except maybe the three original mottos. In many ways I was an AA fundamentalist, using only the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Everything else in AA was added on later and didn't apply to me.

The God thing I dismissed with "the god who keeps drunks sober." No other magical powers implied or stated. The disease concept I latched onto right away, but over the years I began to have my doubts as more and more of the people with whom I came into AA left - and stayed sober and seemed happy and led good lives. And here I was, telling the same old war stories over and over. I was good at running my mouth, though, and got asked to share a lot. Although I didn't speak in fluent cliché I did get a point across and my own story was rather dramatic, with guns and car accidents. People in AA like hearing about wacky drinking escapades, especially from a guy who looks like Opie.

In 1989 I moved to West Virginia. Joined a group right away. Very friendly people. I heard the same old AA jargon coming out of new mouths. For the first time in years I really listened at meetings. I began to realize how trite and repetitive AA members sound, how they don't deal with real issues except in superficial ways. Still, AA gave me an instant group of friends when I moved so far from home. The sheer number of active alcoholics in the area also gave me chance to help people like I'd been taught to do.

In early 1996 I moved to Massachusetts. Not so friendly AA. Not friendly at all. I went to some meetings when I first moved up there but drifted away gradually - and I stayed sober. Did well in my career. Met people. Had a life. And my evenings were free. I even watched some prime time television again. I did all this without ever having read one critical word about AA.

In 1997, I had to move back to New York to take care of my elderly and infirm father. At first I thought about maybe going to see the old AA gang, but my sponsor and the people I was closest to had all left the area for various reasons. Or they left AA and stayed sober. I did hook up with some old non-AA friends, made some new ones - and again I stayed sober, happy, etc. I really didn't think about alcoholism or me being an alcoholic. Alcoholism had become a non-issue.

In the fall of 1999, I got worked over emotionally by an old girlfriend I'd started seeing again. Of course I wasn't going to drink over this, but I was disappointed and restless and one night I went to the place where I'd attended my first AA meeting those many years ago. "Just to check it out," I told myself. Well, within a few weeks I'd rejoined my old group, got active, did a lot of speaking and leading meetings. Picked up some sponsees, too. A lot of people remembered me and it was fun to see the old faces and catch up on news. I'd always avoided the AA Nazis and gurus and my friends in AA this time were a pretty mellow bunch. Still, they believed things I could never accept..

For the most part I tried to use AA as a social club and stayed out of the debates. That became harder as I got enmeshed in the mechanics of AA again. I had something else, too - a computer. In the course of the last year or so I began researching AA and its critics on-line. I'd always known Bill Wilson was a ten carat SOB.because of his notorious womanizing and the way the Big Book money was handled. My readings about Wilson eventually took me to www.aadeprogramming.com and from there I discovered Charles Bufe and Ken Ragge and read their books. I also read all the anti-AA web-sites in detail. I won't repeat AA's dismal record here. The information is out there now thanks to the Internet.

The initial burst of enthusiasm, which I had upon my return to AA, faded and was replaced by a cold, sober look at the mind-rotting cesspool of guilt and shame and fear that informs the real AA. I began to listen carefully to what people were saying. Some of these were people I'd know for 15 and 20 and more years. They were all saying the same things, like they'd been given a script. On an intellectual level, I'd known how robotic AA members could be, but now I was making the connection in my gut. AA was not a good place for me anymore.

Still, I stayed, growing increasingly dissatisfied. My role at meetings became more and more of a contradictor. I'd let folks prattle on about AA nonsense, then point out how their data was unsupported, how personal opinion was being stated as fact, how the Big Book itself contradicted what was being said. I'm a nice guy. I didn't yell at people or preach, always flavoring my criticisms with examples from my own life. I was often praised that I only shared about myself, that I didn't lecture. Irony is lost on most AA members, I guess.

I had a few epiphanies over the last 2-3 months:

  1. A woman with 13 years sober was complaining to me that her sponsee was taking a fear of flying class in order to go on vacation. I asked her what was wrong with that. She replied, "Why doesn't she just ask God to take the defect away?" Taken aback I said, "It's a phobia. It's psychological problem, not a defect." And the woman said, "It's fear. Fear is a character defect." And I realized there was gulf between us that could never be bridged.

  2. A man with 15 years sober was describing to me the ordeal he went through having a closed MRI. He was slightly claustrophobic and the experience of being in that tube had terrified him. I saw the discomfort in his face as he told me the story. I asked, "Didn't they offer you a Valium or something to calm you down?" And he said, "Well, yeah. But my sponsor wouldn't have liked that." And I said, "He's your sponsor, not your doctor." And the guy looked at me like I had two heads. Again, that gulf.

  3. A man with 9 years sober in my home group and I were discussing sponsorship. He was describing to me how he demands that his sponsees do the 5 Things every day. These 5 Things are something I ran into upon my return to AA in New York. It's stuff many new people in AA do anyway, but I'd never heard of them being codified that way before. Daily meetings, calling one's sponsor every day, kneeling in prayer morning and night, reading some recovery literature each day and some other AA busy work. You know the drill. And this guy said to me, "I can tell if a sponsee is truly willing to go to any lengths if he does these things every day. If he won't, I fire him." I pointed out that in "How It Works" in the Big Book Wilson talked about half measures availing us nothing but he was referring specifically to the 3rd step and our faith in a higher power. "Nope," he said, "That's how I proved my willingness to my sponsor and that's how my guys prove their willingness to me. The 5 Things are part of the Program and that's that." The gulf widened.

I thought about these conversations and I had the big epiphany: AA is not about helping drunks. It's about creating obedient AA members. If AA was truly about recovery from alcoholism it would embrace new information, new techniques learned since 1935. AA is about AA and nothing more. Yes, there are good people in AA who do care about drunks, not dogma. My old sponsor Terry is a perfect example. Unfortunately, one good apple can't unspoil the whole rotten bunch. No matter how critical I was of AA, the fact that I was there at all, meant I supported the program in its entirety. I had become a hypocrite. I made my decision to leave AA for good.

Because I've left AA before and stayed sober I may be in a somewhat advantageous position to someone who is thinking about escaping AA but is fearful. I also have the advantage of substantial time away from a drink. I don't need any kind of program anymore. I've been through deaths, disease, divorce - the gamut of human experience - without drinking. Still, each of us who has left AA had to go through our first day when we were no longer members of AA. AA's tendrils run deep into our brains. Our view of life has been colored by a demented program and by people who have lied to us about the effectiveness and purpose of that program. We owe AA nothing. We owe those people nothing. I'm sober today despite AA, not because of it.

Last night I took aside, individually, the two sponsees I'd kept and told them to get new sponsors. One guy has 18 years, and is part of an AA/Al-Anon family. He literally grew up in AA in ways most of us will never know. AA's permeated his entire life, even before he ever drank. He thinks I'm nuts, but he's known me for over 20 years and knows I'm not going to drink. The other guy has 9 years (after slipping for one night after 8 years sober). He listened carefully to my reasons and agrees with them. I hope he escapes. He's a terrific guy with a real future ahead of him. Those are the only two people I told that I'm out of AA. Mark, the second guy, said, "Good thing. This group would have you under the hot lights in the back room trying to change your mind. Just go."

And that's my advice to you. Just go. Today. A few people may call and try to restore you to sanity, but in a day or two there will be newcomers to latch onto, to turn into obedient AA members. You'll be forgotten. That's the nature of AA. People come and go. You've seen it yourself how many times. AA is ephemeral - because it doesn't work. I can't tell you how to stay sober from now on because I don't know you. Do whatever you have to do. You're an adult. You'll find a way. AA tells us that without AA our fate is death, jail or the insane asylum. Guess what - they lied. And AA's not going to lie to me anymore.

Chic DiIorio

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