I'm not sure whether or not to quit AA...
July 22, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

In summary: my sponsor, and her sponsor, advised me not to take a medication that is helpful to me and which I was not abusing. This makes me feel uncomfortable. More details below.

I'm an alcoholic, and have been sober for a little over a year. In May of this year, I started experiencing an acute tension headache. After trying ibuprofen, naproxen, massage, and heat, I gave up and went to urgent care. The headache receded due to the IV they gave me, but returned. I took the following week of of work, and went to my PCP as soon as possible.

My PCP knows I'm an alcoholic, and I reminded her of this fact at the visit. She prescribed me 10mg cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) to take for my tension headaches as needed, but up to 3 times daily. I had been on Flexeril in the past and had not abused it, but my sponsor and I decided to be proactive - she would hold on to, and dispense, my Flexeril.

I took 1-2 a day for a few days, until the headache dissipated somewhat and I was able to go back to work.

Over the next six weeks or so, I took the Flexeril as needed but far less regularly. (My guess would be 10mg, once a week.) I should note that I was not relying solely on the Flexeril; I have been trying to cut down on my stress and meditate using MBSR. I only took Flexeril when ibuprofen didn't help.

I got rear-ended about three weeks ago, and went to urgent care for that. The doctor there told me I could take Flexeril to deal with the pain. (I'd informed him of my previous prescription - he did not need to write me a new one.)

I took the Flexeril once a day after the accident for about a week. At that point, my sponsor decided she didn't want me to take Flexeril anymore and she wasn't comfortable dispensing it to me. I was really upset by this because I had been taking the Flexeril as directed and only as a last resort.

I met with her and her sponsor a few days after this conversation so we could try to hash things out. I felt awful after that conversation: I felt like Flexeril was evil, I felt like I had relapsed, and that I was on the road to ruin.

After returning home from that meeting, I realized how upset I still was. Why did I feel so horrible when I'd been taking Flexeril as directed?

My sponsor and her sponsor encouraged me to follow up with my doctor about the pain from the accident. I did this - or rather, I met with a PA since my doctor was out on vacation.

The PA actually said that taking 10mg once a day actually wasn't helping me heal / helping reduce pain very much since I was only taking it once a day. However, since 10mg does have a somewhat soporific effect, he suggested I take 5mg three times a day, for five days. Again, I was very clear to him about being an alcoholic, and asked him for alternatives to the Flexeril, but he felt that was the best option for me. (I ended up doing this, and surprise, I feel much better after those 5 days on the lower dose of Flexeril.)

I feel really uncomfortable and unhappy about AA right now. I know that my sponsor, and her sponsor, were both concerned for me, and trying to be helpful. But I also know that my Flexeril use was not irregular and did not warrant their response. I am not used to people thinking the worst of me.

I don't want to participate in an organization that encourages me to think the worst of myself - I have a difficult enough time with my self-esteem without that. I also don't want to participate in a program that encourages me to ignore my body and physical concerns in favor of dogma.

On the other hand, I'm concerned about leaving the program. I don't have a strong social network outside of AA, and while I don't want to drink, I also worry about what would happen if I left.

A few other things that may be relevant:
* I'm an agnostic. I find AA to be challenging for that reason, but thus far, it hasn't been a reason to leave.
* I have looked at other options, but non-AA-based recovery groups are uncommon in my area.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I certainly understand how you feel, and I think you have good cause for being upset. I also get that some of the AA stuff grates on you ( I'm agnostic myself). But be careful of all or nothing thinking because that kind of inflexibility can land you back in trouble.

Maybe this is a case where considering a new sponsor, rather than quitting the program entirely, would be a better option?
posted by misha at 7:23 AM on July 22, 2014 [23 favorites]

I am fortunate to not have a problem with alcohol (I chose not to drink years ago), so I have no experience with AA. I would bet that your sponsor and her sponsor are not licenced medical professionals. My gut response would be to tell them that, while you do appreciate and likely need their support, you are always going to follow recommendations of your physician first and foremost and that you respectfully ask them not to criticize or second-guess that choice as it is undermining the support that you get from them and from AA otherwise.
posted by aroberge at 7:28 AM on July 22, 2014 [51 favorites]

Keep in mind that your sponsor and her sponsor are just followers and unofficial representatives of AA. I am neither advocating for AA nor discouraging affiliation. As with religion and even medical science, people have biases and beliefs and intercept texts and make their own interpretations. Your health is managed by your PCP and you've been clear about your alcoholism.

You come across as levelheaded and thorough and I'm happy you are seeking treatment. You don't need personal religion to find success in AA. Root around Google and you'll find others who have struggled with the God in AA. Personally, I don't think you should leave! Good luck; I'm glad you came by here.
posted by maya at 7:29 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could also get a different sponsor.
posted by thelonius at 7:39 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Your sponsors are not medical professionals, they shouldn't be in control of your medication. It might not be legal for them to posses it without a prescription in their name.

Take back your medication before deciding about changing sponsors or leaving as.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:48 AM on July 22, 2014 [32 favorites]

A sponsor is not qualified to tell you what medicines to take or not to take, but she also may not be the right person to work with you. If the god stuff is really bothering you it might be time to shake up your meetings. Try searching your intergroup site for atheist or agnostic meetings. If you are near a university, those meetings tend to be less God-y.

Finally, around a year sober is a pretty common time to go out. I assume you got sober, despite your misgivings about AA, because things were really bad. They may not get any better the next time and coming back is definitely harder than getting sober the first time. Maybe stick it out even if you cant find a sponsor you click with better. Feel free to MeMail
posted by shothotbot at 7:48 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty sure the organization had nothing to do with this.

It's irresponsible for your sponsors to tell you to ignore medical advice, and I'm certain the AA administration does not ever advocate doing so. Your sponsor and sponsor's sponsor, I suspect, got a little caught up in the drama, what with witholding your medication and all that.

Since you know you have an ongoing medical problem that requires maintenance, maybe you need to find a sponsor with at least enough exposure to the medical industry to feel comfortable letting you follow your doctor's instructions. It sounds like your current meeting is a poor fit for you, but there are many others. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:53 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also recommend a different AA group and sponsor.
posted by Night_owl at 7:53 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

You may find this pamphlet from the AA General Service Organzation helpful A.A. Member—Medications and Other Drugs
posted by shothotbot at 8:02 AM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Random internet stranger here, but it strikes me that if you are prone to addiction, it's not very helpful of your sponsor to put you in the position of saying, "pretty please, sponsor, can I have my medication now?" It seems like that makes your sponsor now your dealer, in effect.

If prescription pills aren't your addiction, then your sponsor doesn't have any business keeping them from you. Never mind that the prescription isn't written out to your sponsor, and what the sponsor is doing might not be legal.
posted by emelenjr at 8:02 AM on July 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

Don't quit AA because of this. Just find a new sponsor.

FWIW, I take flexeril on occasion for my back pain and I don't find it to be mood-altering at all if taken as directed. I think you're doing fine and that these people heard "muscle relaxant" and thought it was similar to an opiate-type painkiller. Don't let specific individuals' ignorance and bad behavior sour you on a program that has kept you sober for a year.

FWIW#2: I cannot imagine my husband's sponsor ever, ever taking prescribed medication out of his hands and doling it out like that unless he specifically asked him to do it (and even then, he might say no). Why is your sponsor better equipped to hang onto that medication than you are? Presumably she is also an alcoholic, no? You need a new sponsor.
posted by something something at 8:05 AM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

The issue around the cyclobenzaprine is complicated but I think the things to focus on are bigger picture:

- Your sponsor and their sponsor left you feeling terrible about yourself.
- You're at a high-risk for relapse moment in your recovery (about a year, under a lot of stress and had a car accident, increasing physical discomfort)

These seem really important here, and probably more important than this particular issue you're focusing on.

Your sponsor should not make you feel terrible, but they should push you and call you out when they think you're rationalizing. Sounds like your sponsor is doing their best, but that best may not be right for you. Like others above, I recommend getting a new sponsor and making it clear that you want to follow the program but you also have real pain that you want to treat. Keep in mind that cyclobenzaprine is not particularly popular as a drug of abuse, however, also keep in mind the idea that staying clear headed and fully sober in the sense of present and unmedicated might also be a good goal for you. While having your sponsor deal out pills for you might not be a great system, consider that you may need some system to keep you using this medication responsibly, even if you've been using it responsibly up until this point.

If it were me, staying sober would be a very high priority. I'd be searching around for resources for how addicts manage pain issues. I'd be shopping for a therapist with expertise and experience in addiction. I'd consider what other support you can find around this to bolster yourself while you manage your decision making around AA specifically.

Best of luck to you.
posted by latkes at 8:06 AM on July 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

There is a common yet hurtful idea that persists in the rooms of AA that a recovering alcoholic is not to take any medication at all because it will jeopardize their sobriety. Particularly if that medication is a narcotic, muscle relaxant, or any substance that lends itself to potentially being abused.

There are individuals who would take a prescribed medication and not follow the directions of the physician and basically use it to get high. However, if you are being honest with yourself about why you are taking it and are following the doctor's orders, then there is no reason to beat yourself up about it. In fact, I have had to take narcotic painkillers in sobriety for ulcerative colitis, but I did so under the care of a physician and as prescribed. And when the pain went away, so did the painkillers.

People in AA are not perfect. Including sponsors. Especially sponsors. Nowhere is it written that just because someone is a sponsor and/or has more time sober than someone else then they know more. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth in my experience. It's already been mentioned to find another sponsor. Great, great advice.

You don't have to be gung-ho about God to get sober and stay sober in AA. Many agnostics and atheists have gone before you and have done it. As long as you can believe that something other than yourself can help you stay sober, you will be able to succeed. Don't give up. I've been sober in AA for years and it still grates the hell out of me even today, but it sure beats the living the life I used to have. Best to you. Memail me if you want to chat. :)
posted by strelitzia at 8:07 AM on July 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

Congratulations on your year of sobriety. I have 13+ years of sobriety myself. During this time, I have had 2 major surgeries as well as other ailments befitting someone of my age :). I have heard a lot of different opinions in AA meetings about medication as well as other issues. I personally have taken prescription pain medication including Vicoden, Darvon and the like. I've done it per the prescription and discarded leftover medication so that it is not a temptation.

You may find the GSO-approved pamphlet, "The AA Member -- Medications and Other Drugs" to be a beneficial reference, especially the section "Some alcoholics require medication". If you and your sponsor and your sponsor's sponsor don't see eye-to-eye on the issue, you can fire your sponsor and find a new one. If you can't find a local sponsor, there are online AA groups too.

Whatever you do, I hope you don't jeopardize your recovery over this. As they say in many of the meetings I attend "take what you like and leave the rest". I will be praying for you.
posted by elmay at 8:08 AM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't go all or nothing, as AA has helped you get this far, I'd try & find a different sponsor or a different group.

As long as you are clearly telling your doctors that you are a recovering alcoholic & want to avoid addictive substances follow your doctors advice. Just be aware that their fears of you exchanging one addiction for another are real, I watched my alcoholic father stop drinking, become a chain smoker from being a social smoker, stop that because of a lung cancer diagnosis & then die 5 years later deep in debt having spent the last 4 years of his life with a gambling problem. Addictive personalities get addicted.

It doesn't sound like you are concerned but if you are & want to monitor your use, get your pharmacist to prepackage the drugs into your doses instead of having them loose in a jar. I can't find an image online, but it is like a pill organizer but they do it for you and each dose on each day is clearly marked & sealed. They can do this free of charge & it will help you be sure in your head you are only taking the recommended dose. Again if that isn't a concern of your's that's fine, but a friend of mine that had a pill addiction gets all prescription meds if he can't avoid taking them like this to help him feel more in control of them.
posted by wwax at 8:10 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you know the 12 step saying ""Take what you need and leave the rest"? (You probably should anyway if you're an agnostic going to an AA meeting that isn't agnostic/atheist specific.)

I think your sponsor — and maybe your group — need to become a part of the rest for you. Though I can't promise that there aren't other true believers who would agree with them, they are wrong on this point. Maybe not wrong for them, but wrong for you and that's what matters.

Though some within the organization may think differently, I think being a "Cafeteria Catholic" member of AA is okay as long as it keeps you meeting your sober goals. Pick and choose as you need to do so as long as it keeps you where you need to be.

(For your particular pain management issue, the reason why it is prescribed by your physician the way that it is is so you can get ahead of the pain. If you don't take it as prescribed, you're basically fucking yourself over. I had a very similar thing happen within the last few years with a recovering addict who had major surgery and his mother who was very worried like your sponsors were; it wasn't fun to be in the middle of and I'm sure it is even worse for you, so I'm really sorry that it got you down.)

Good luck and if there is anything I can do to help, please feel free to MeMail or email me.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sponsors are not forever, they're for today. It is OK to change meetings, sponsors/etc., it doesn't have to be 'this sponsor didn't work out or nothing'.

You also bring up being agnostic, see if there is a 'we agnostics' aa meeting in your area.
posted by effigy at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

New sponsor for sure, new group perhaps. Your sponsor was out of line. She doesn't know better than your doctors. If you otherwise find AA helpful, keep on going, it works if you work it. People are fallible. Your sponsor is just someone who is more steps down the path than you are, your sponsor isn't a specially trained person, or a medical professional or anyone other than a person with an opinion.

Here's what I'd say, "Sally, I appreciate everything you've done for me. I think in this case my physicians know what's best for me. I have not relapsed and I'm not abusing my prescribed medication. Thank you for all of your help, it's time for me to find a new sponsor."

No drama.

In the future, don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe. "Sally, I appreciate your concern, but I've had frank discussions with my doctors and I'm more comfortable following their recommendations so I won't be handing my prescription over to you."

You're allowed to rock the boat, and should do so if you feel the need.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:17 AM on July 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

I agree with the above- your sponsor should not have been holding your medication. Look at it this way- you handed a person with addiction problems a prescription drug that they did not have a prescription to. Never a good idea. Just because you won't abuse Flexeril, doesn't mean she won't. Get your medication back right away.

Part of any type of recovery is finding your own voice again. Find it now. Stand up for yourself. Thank them for your concern and invite the to step out of the conversation, in regards to the Flexeril. If you feel that you are at risk by having an entire bottle, find another helper. If you use an independent pharmacy, you may ask the pharmacist to help you by dispensing a 3 day supply at a time. Some will help, some will not, it doesn't hurt to ask.

If AA is helping then stay. If you need to meet new people, volunteer for things in your community.

I think that being an agnostic would have to be the most painful, lonely thing to be. I couldn't imagine what life would be like without my faith to see me through. I'm including a link to my church's sermon audio page because I truly don't know what else to offer here.
posted by myselfasme at 8:21 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wonder if the sponsor abusers this medication and that's how she obtains it. Ask for it back. The sponsor isn't qualified to be making medical decisions or prescribe meds.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:23 AM on July 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Dear god why on earth is your sponsor dispensing your medication? That is appalling and you should find a new one ASAP. I would find it very difficult to ever again trust someone who conspired with someone else to withhold from me legally and responsibly prescribed medication which I urgently needed to function.

Further as someone who has been on flexeril for a long ass time, the abuse potential of it is pretty low and the medical value of it for knocking out severe pain is incredibly high. The amount of OTC painkillers I would have to take to achieve the same effect would land me in serious, serious medical trouble.
posted by elizardbits at 8:28 AM on July 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have no experience with AA. I did have a back spasm earlier this summer which left me in pain severe enough to see an urgent care doctor; that doctor prescribed Flexeril and it worked very well for me.

Would it be possible to have your sponsor have a conversation with the urgent care doc you saw? Honestly, the doctor knows you're struggling with an addiction, and yet s/he advised you to take Flexeril anyway, which means s/he thinks it's safe enough for you to take it as directed.

I'd also be willing to bet (like a previous commenter) that your sponsor and her sponsor do not have medical training, or, at least, not as much medical training as someone who puts the letters M.D. after their name.

Your doctor prescribed a drug. You've been taking it as directed and not abusing it. The drug is working for you. I'd say that's a pretty convincing argument that it's OK for you to take it and that you will continue taking it as directed.
posted by tckma at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2014

> I wonder if the sponsor abusers this medication and that's how she obtains it. Ask for it back. The sponsor isn't qualified to be making medical decisions or prescribe meds.

This was my first thought as well: that your sponsor might not be giving you your medication because she has either consumed or sold it. Even if that is not the case, the fact that she has created a situation in which this is even plausible indicates a lack of judgement and ethics on her part.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I felt like Flexeril was evil, I felt like I had relapsed, and that I was on the road to ruin.

That sucks and I am sorry that happened to you. I agree with the feedback other people have given here, specifically

- being in a "my sponsor gives me my meds" situation was not a good way to do this and if your sponsor specifically suggested it, that would raise an eyebrow with me
- you need a new sponsor
- you maybe need a new meeting
- AA is not necessarily the problem here, sponsors giving you mild pushback is normal but if it doesn't work for you the way yours is doing it, it's a bad fit
- good for you with being forthcoming with your doctors about your alcoholism, that is really hard for a lot of people and you are to be commended for trying to handle this
- this is a tough time for people in recovery and I think it's useful to remember the metaphor of your addictive brain trying like hell to keep you addicted. Quitting AA sounds like a ploy it would think of, ultimately it may not be helpful for you overall. It's easy to convert a bad situation/experience into flouncing out of the program and I don't suggest that.

Personal aside: my father was a crabby supersmart drunk and would basically blame everyone else for the fact that he "had" to drink (or, rather, would say that he had tried to stop, we didn't support him, blablabla) and it was sad to see him, an otherwise smart guy, weaving these tortured just so stories about his drinking which were, on their face, nonsense. You are experiencing a setback, not a relapse, maybe more of a crisis of faith. The sponsor and the meeting are yours to discard. I would strongly urge you to not, at this juncture, leave the program but rather see if minor adjustments can get you back to a place where you feel more comfortable and more supported. Quitting drinking is very very hard and you are doing very well and I'd think about what is most likely to keep you on the path.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing that not only is this not useful for you, it sounds like your sponsor might be taking your pills (for all the joy that Flexeril will give her). Your sponsor is not your doctor, and shouldn't remain your sponsor much longer...
posted by RainyJay at 9:05 AM on July 22, 2014

I'm an atheist AA member and a registered nurse. I absolutely understand why this would be upsetting and would cause you to question the value of AA. I don't know about your relationship with your sponsor, but I have always very much wanted my sponsor's approval, and feeling like that's being withdrawn is a slap in the face. Especially when you haven't actually done anything wrong, which seems to be the case here.

AA's official line on medications, as laid out in the pamphlet linked above, is that "just as it is wrong to enable or support any alcoholic to become re-addicted to any drug, it's equally wrong to deprive any alcoholic of medication, which can alleviate or control other disabling physical and/or emotional problems." I understand your sponsor being concerned, and I know that many medical professionals have insufficient knowledge of addiction, but I think in this case she's being over-vigilant at cost to you. People are able to get high on and develop substance use problems with just about any medication, but in general flexeril is not a commonly misused drug and is much less likely to be abused than other muscle relaxers like Valium or Soma. AA dogma certainly does not demand that you stop taking a medication that is helping you.

Personally, I think quitting AA over this would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, given that it's a source of social support for you and you don't have other options available in your area to help you not drink. The lack of hierarchy in AA is one of its strengths and also one of its weaknesses-- people are largely free to believe and behave as they want, as long as they have "a desire to stop drinking." I've run into a lot of people in the program who have (in my opinion) really wrong-headed ideas about addiction, recovery, religion, and health. But I do my best to surround myself with the people who I trust and whose advice and examples have helped me.

You absolutely don't have to keep your sponsor if she's not helping you. Has working with her been useful to you, and do you feel like you could get past this situation? If so, I encourage you to tell her what you're feeling about this situation: that you are taking medications safely and according to a physician's orders, that there is no reason to deny you medication that is necessary, that your conversation with her left you feeling shamed, and that you're having doubts about AA because of this message that the program is inflexible and anti-self-care. If you don't think any good could come out of that or if you don't feel like you can trust her after all this, then move on. Find other people to support and guide you.

Feel free to message me if you want to talk more about the situation or recovery in general.
posted by bookish at 9:10 AM on July 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

I know a guy in AA, we've talked about this issue. He told me that there are some specific questions that you should ask your sponsor should things like this come up. As follows:

1.) Are you a doctor?
If the answer is yes, ask:
2.) Are you my doctor?
If the answer to question 2 is no, state:
You are no longer my sponsor.
If the answer to question 2 is yes, state:
You are no longer my sponsor or my doctor.

She and her sponsor likely have good motives. But they are just some mopes in AA, same as any other mopes in AA. This is a hot-button issue for many, as so many have gone out drinking after abusing a scrip for pain medications or medications for panic disorder or whatever else. But many other people do as you are doing, IE taking your drug as prescribed, always aware of it's potential for abuse, and then this sort of stuff happens, and it pushes many people out of the doors of AA; too bad. My friend tells me that there is much less of this sort of thing in recent years than there was in the past, but that it still lingers in some AA groups, like a bad fart in an elevator.

Get that medication back from your ex-sponsor, thank her for her care if you wish to, keep your eyes open for someone with a bit more sanity, a bit less control issues.

Oh, and the god thing: plz don't let that chase you out the doors. Anyone who thinks they know what god is, or if they have a parking place god ("I was out shopping and I got a parking place right up at the door of the store: it's wonderful that god did this for me!"), hey, they're just another nut, same as you'll find anywhere else. But you need not know what god is, doesn't much matter; just keep close to the principles, keep working the steps. You don't need to know anything about electricity to use a lamp, you just need to make sure that the lamp is plugged in, and how to turn the lamp on.

Good luck, and have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 9:24 AM on July 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


I asked my friend who had had similar issues who I mentioned in my original answer if he had anything else I could add on his behalf to your question and he responded with a chunk of text I'd like to share (he has much more experience and even stronger opinions than I do on AA, so I think his phrasing of similar advice might be helpful.)

Short answer: if your sponsor (or your sponsor's sponsor) are not medical doctors, do not go to them for medical advice. Likewise, do not do your 4th and 5th step with your PCP.

Longer answer: taking medication while living a "sober lifestyle" is very complicated and there is no quick or easy answer. Each situation is different just like each persons addiction is different. While the purpose of sponsorship is to model your recovery on someone who has found success, this process must be individualized too (otherwise you wouldn't need a personal sponsor and everyone would consider Bill W. their sponsor).

So it seems you have come to a crossroads where your situation and your sponsor's experience differ. Because it seems your sponsor isn't able to fully grasp your situation and no longer feels comfortable helping you in your steps while you are being medicated, it might be time to look for a new sponsor who has more experience with chronic pain and medications. Ask around at meetings is there someone in your area who has been prescribed medication and remained "sober"? If you cant find someone in your area look online, also I believe NA has some really good information on this topic.

The bottom line is your sponsor is there to help you navigate through the steps, not to dictate how you live your life. A sponsor should help you make the best decisions in difficult situations, NEVER make them for you. If AA had been working for you, don't let this be the thing that drives you away. The program is meant to be flexible enough to work with a wide variety of people not so rigid that if you don't do as your told you end up leaving. Take what you like and leave the rest.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:43 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

A friend who'd recently found AA wasn't a good fit (partially for atheism reasons) found SMART Recovery better. If AA works for you otherwise, a new sponsor/group is a great idea. But if this causes you to want to try something different, take a look at groups like SMART that can also support your recovery.
posted by ldthomps at 9:53 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not an alcoholic, I have very close relationships with alcoholics which include having direct involvement in their recovery, and I've literally grown up around the program. Like others I am concerned that you're going directly to "should I quit AA" with this conflict.

A few things to consider: first, you're talking about what the "organization" is doing to you but what you're describing is your reaction to a conversation with two individuals. There really isn't that much organization to speak of in AA, which can be a blessing and a curse. But it's not like they were running the official medicine-shaming script from AA Central. Another issue here is that your reaction to the interaction you had was doubtless to some degree subjective - it certainly wasn't their intention to make you think the worst of yourself, nor do I believe they think the worst of you.

I think they are being (as many AA people are) hyper-vigilant about a drug that does have some potential for abuse, that does sometimes have problematical withdrawal issues for people, a situation which is a relapse risk. I want to stress I think your use is completely reasonable and you're managing it the right way, but I can see (without agreeing with their conclusions or actions) where the red flags in this situation came up - that you went in a short span from using this medicine for one issue to using it for another, and that the second issue is the kind of open-ended accident-related pain that very frankly has been a gateway for many people to go from a reasonable medically directed use to abuse of a medicine. I'm not saying they're right just that they're not coming completely out of left field, and that a more charitable perspective on their actions is that they are simply being over-cautious out of concern.

I don't know whether you need a new sponsor, I would say it depends on how positive and useful your relationship with your sponsor has been up to this point, and whether you can regain your trust in her - since trust is really critical with the sponsor relationship. I do think that regardless of that decision you need to communicate with your sponsor what you communicated here - that you are confident you are managing a prescribed medication appropriately with medical professionals who have the full story about your sobriety, that the conversation you had with your sponsor and her sponsor made you feel judged and shamed and you feel they overstepped their boundaries in advising you to act contrary to the advice of your doctors, and that if this sponsorship relationship is going to continue you need for her to be able to respect this choice.

It's far from unusual for people to change sponsors and indeed meetings in AA. It's not an attack or personal or moral comment on your sponsor if you do, just acknowledging that you needed a different relationship for that role. Please don't leave a support network for your sobriety without having something else in place.
posted by nanojath at 10:02 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Atheist in AA, relapsed with prescription meds after 25 years, taking meds again including Flexaril.

For me being honest about my medication is the thing that keeps me clean, not living in fear that every pill I take is gonna take me down. I would never give my medication to another person in AA to hold and dispense to me. I, like you, am not a child or an idiot. Yes, I relapsed bad with meds, because I stopped talking to my PCP about my alcoholism and thought I would be immune from further problems. You are not doing that. You are doing exactly the right thing.

Your sponsor and her sponsor mean well but need Alanon really, really bad.

This is what I do to stay clean:

I remind my providers of my addiction issues when taking medications that I have liked to abuse in the past (all downers).

I take the medication exactly as prescribed. I sometimes want to take less because of fear that I am taking to much and either call and ask my provider or talk with a supportive person about my thought process.

When it is suggested that I take one medication for two things I make sure my Doctors are aware of that .

I have a friend in the program that I tell when I take a pain pill. Just so that I can say it out loud to someone so I don't internalize guilt-tripping feelings.

I go to meetings, do service and all of the rest of the AA thing.

I do not talk about it at meeting level nor do I ask for medical advice from AA people.

If I were you I would get another sponsor. I would thank your sponsor for all of her help to date and move on. Don't stop with AA if it has helped you. Take care.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:13 AM on July 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

As an active AA member of many years, and both a sponsor and sponsee during that time, I have come to the place where I feel sponsorship is overrated and in many cases over done. Back in the day, everyone defined sponsorship as "a guide to sobriety." A good guide does not dispense meds nor say they will not help if you lose your way. A good guide shows you the trail and allows you to find your own way based on your own situation. If you get lost in the woods you can always call out for help and get back to the trail that's worked well for millions of people. The great thing about AA is you get to make all the mistakes you want and there is no right way to do it. That includes meds and the God thing. "The AA wrench fits all nuts." But in the end the only thing AA is good for is keeping this alcoholic away from the first drink today. Please be gentle to yourself (most alcoholics aren't). Hope you find a path that works for you.
posted by Xurando at 10:19 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure it's legal or advisable for your sponsor to hold your pharmaceuticals for you, and it's absolutely inappropriate for them to dispense medication, because they are making medical decisions, which they shouldn't do. Find a doctor who does addiction medicine to supervise your meds, or at least to meet with occasionally.
posted by theora55 at 10:44 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

My understanding, which comes from my doctor, is that Flexeril is not a narcotic muscle relaxer. It makes some people sleepy (not me, alas). Avoid anything with butalbital in it. It is highly addictive. I forget the name of the one I was on, but they warn greatly about the addictive quality.

"Is Flexeril a narcotic?" Answer by its manufacturer.

Your sponsor was way out of line here. You are not their patient, even if they were a doctor. They therefore have no idea of what you need from a medical provider.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 10:57 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

cairnoflore said what I was going to say, so just read that one again and pretend I said it, only not as well.

FWIW, this comes up all the time. The black & white thinking that comes with addiction doesn't stop at AA's door, (or NA's, where anti-medication dogma crops up possibly even more often). If your meeting has been taken over by these fundamentalists I think you'll have to switch meetings or try to change the meeting by sharing your own experience, strength and hope. I guarantee you're not the only one getting this hardliner bullshit thrown at them. I don't know which one I'd pick- I think it would depend on how emotionally strong I was feeling and how much I loved that particular meeting. Or as a middle ground, maybe go to a different meeting until you were feeling back on your feet and then go back to this one and share your ESH then.

In the spirit of rigorous honesty, I will confess that I'd like to go back in time and bludgeon to death the guy in my dad's NA meeting who told him that taking bipolar meds meant he wasn't sober. Which is to say that I'm not exactly unbiased here. (Dad eventually figured out otherwise but hasn't been very honest about any meds since, to the detriment of his sobriety.)
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 AM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't want to participate in an organization that encourages me to think the worst of myself ...

As others are saying, this isn't about the organization. Just the interpretation of the organization's goals, through the filter of a couple of its members. If you have otherwise found AA to be helpful, don't let these misguided individuals "spoil" it for you.

The weird, mental stuff that addicts often battle with in addiction quite frequently follows us well into recovery. Control and power issues, sex stuff, you name it. Like many here, I'm simultaneously appalled to hear about your situation, and yet not at all surprised.

A few years after getting sober, I developed a herniated disk in my lower back. I assure you, I took full advantage of all pain relief offered, including Flexeril. I was no longer in AA, having "taken what I needed," but if I had been and my sponsor had tried to restrict my pain management options, he would have received a respectful telling off.

Flexeril isn't a narcotic, although I guess it makes you sleepy. I can see how it might be sort of habit-forming, if you really get off on falling asleep in public. It's not even a pain reliever, in the classic sense, although it does relieve tension associated with pain. I can certainly see how treatment with actual narcotics could be a concern for someone with an addictive history, though. In my experience, the occasional prescription for narcotic pain relief hasn't been an issue at all; I get the lowest dose that will still work, I take them on the recommended schedule (or less frequently, if possible), and I start weaning as soon as the crisis-level pain starts receding. So far, I have finished each round of treatment with at least one or two pills remaining (of my already modest prescription), and no cravings for more.

This isn't to boast, but to illustrate how self-awareness can be used when navigating these sorts of things. I know that narcotics are a risk for me, so I stay really aware of how they are making me feel/how I'm feeling about taking them. A different individual might know narcotics to be a non-starter level risk, and therefore avoid them altogether. This kind of thing is just part of the maturing process in recovery, and I'm sort of sad to see your current sponsor denying you this agency.
posted by credible hulk at 11:52 AM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you are interested in pursuing alternatives to AA, there may be some available in your area. SMART Recovery was mentioned above. Secular Organizations for Sobriety is another.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2014

Also, there's no reason you can't do ALL THE PROGRAMS til you figure out what's right for you. I've heard good things about LifeRing.

(12 Step works for me, though, even as an atheist.)
posted by small_ruminant at 1:20 PM on July 22, 2014

From the OP:
Thank you so much for the wise advice. As I read through your remarks, there seemed to be two points that came up repeatedly: (a) I should not give up on AA, and (b) I might want to consider finding a new sponsor.

I went without a meeting for about a week while I thought about things, but last night, I went to a new meeting. The chair mentioned something about being 14 months sober, which is what I am - so I chatted with him after the meeting. He hugged me. It was nice, and reminded me about the things I like about the program. So, thanks for encouraging me not to give up.

I thought a lot about my relationship with my sponsor. I concluded that I didn't feel she trusted me or really knew me very well. I'm still pretty new to the program, but it seems to me like trust is a crucial element in a sponsor-sponsee relationship.

I tried to arrange a time to meet with her, but our schedules weren't meshing, so she suggested I call her. I called her tonight. I bumbled a lot at the beginning of the call, saying things like, "I don't know know how to word this..." But eventually I got it out, and I told her I thought it would best for me, and maybe best for her, if we weren't sponsor-sponsee anymore. This is how the rest of the conversation played out:

HER: What, so you've graduated?

ME: No...

HER: When was the last time you went to a meeting?

ME: Last night...

HER: Well, when you're ready to take step 1, you know where I am. Bye.

I'm feeling pretty awful about this, because I had hoped we could remain friends. But it reaffirms my decision. It seems obvious to me that she really doesn't trust me, and really does think I'm on the brink of going back out again.

Thanks for your support, everyone. I will definitely be following up via MeMail.
posted by mathowie at 7:44 PM on July 25, 2014

I'm feeling pretty awful about this, because I had hoped we could remain friends. But it reaffirms my decision. It seems obvious to me that she really doesn't trust me, and really does think I'm on the brink of going back out again.

1. This woman sucks, try not to let it get to you.

2. DEFINITELY get your meds back from her asap
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:02 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Excerpts from AA brochure on sponsorship:

"In A.A., sponsor and sponsored meet as equals, just as Bill and Dr. Bob did." (p. 7)

" ... [s]o we select an A.A. member with whom we can feel comfortable, someone with whom we can talk freely and confidentially, and we ask that person to be our sponsor." (p. 7)

"May a newcomer change sponsors? We are always free to select another sponsor with whom we feel more comfortable, particularly if we believe this member will be more helpful to our growth in A.A." (p. 11)

"An A.A. sponsor does not offer professional services such as those provided by [...] the [...] medical [...] comunities." (p. 14)

"[T]he newcomer learns to rely on the A.A. program, not on the sponsor. A sponsor well-grounded in the A.A. program will not be offended if the newcomer goes to other A.A. members for additional guidance or even decides to change sponsors." (p. 14-15)

"In their enthusiasm to help a newcomer achieve sobriety, some sponsors may tend to be overprotective. They worry unduly about the persons they sponsor and tend to smother them with attention. In doing so, they may run the risk of having a newcomer depend on an individual member, rather than on the A.A. program. The most effective sponsors recognize that alcoholics who join A.A. must eventually stand on their own feet and make their own decisions -- and that there is a difference between helping people to their feet and insisting on holding them up thereafter. Another danger of overprotectiveness is that it may annoy the newcomer to the point of resenting the attempts to help -- and expressing that resentment by turning away from A.A." (p. 19)
posted by WCityMike at 7:28 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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