Help me get sober in a secular, woman-friendly way
October 20, 2014 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I am in my early thirties, and I am finally facing the fact that I have a substantial drinking problem. Like a lot of people, I drink to mute my feelings--I have been through an awful lot of trauma, so even as I work on things there is still more hurt to feel. I am trying to formulate a recovery plan that works within my own idiosyncrasies and values, but I am not sure what is out there.

First, I have problems with AA and I am not willing to go that route. Even though I am quite spiritual, I don't like the way they use the idea of a higher power. The other thing is that I've read a few pieces on how AA is not generally a great fit for women because it ends up further disempowering women who've been drinking because they feel disempowered.

I realize this one is a sticking point and I may have to just get over it, but support groups generally irritate the living daylights out of me. I get annoyed at all the chit-chat or when someone takes up too much time or when the focus is negative in a way that I don't find constructive. I would still consider going to a group if I knew of a good one, but I'd rather try other routes if they are out there.
I already have a personal therapist, and I have hidden the drinking from her for the most part. I feel like I can tell her now, though she and I also have a ton of other things to work through, and if I can find a separate addiction counselor or something, I'd prefer to do that.
All of this being said, I really do want to get better and stop hurting myself the way I have been for far too long. I just know myself enough to know that I wouldn't be able to stick with a recovery plan that wasn't a good fit.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You might give Women for Sobriety a try. I don't really know much about them, being a guy in another fellowship and all, but I've heard them mentioned in the past. They don't have much of a presence in most cities, but they do have an online footprint.

While I've got you here, I wanted to warn you about one thing I'm seeing in your question that raises a red flag for this guy: your desire to get exactly what you want exactly the way that you want it. This is the attitude that kept me drunk. Getting sober is necessarily going to involve doing things you don't want to do, listening to people you don't want to listen to, and hearing things you don't want to hear. If quitting drinking involved doing only things you felt like doing, you would have done it by now. I'm not saying that I know what particular things you need to be doing that you aren't, but I do want you to remain cognizant of this impulse - it's one that everyone shares, but it's not helpful in this context.

Alcoholism has no requirements in order to keep you in a fog; by all means, do what feels good to you. If your requirements for your recovery are that you get to hear only what you want to hear and do only what makes you comfortable, you're in danger of remaining in a rut.
posted by Gilbert at 7:14 AM on October 20, 2014 [37 favorites]

I already have a personal therapist, and I have hidden the drinking from her for the most part. I feel like I can tell her now, though she and I also have a ton of other things to work through, and if I can find a separate addiction counselor or something, I'd prefer to do that.

If you trust her (and if you've stuck with her as a therapist, hopefully you do), bring this up and then ask for recommendations. She's seen this before and can totally steer you in the right direction. If it seems too hard to say in person, you can send her an email or else just write it down and hand it to her.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:15 AM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Great that you want to address your drinking issues! And please do not listen to anyone who tries to invalidate your objections to AA philosophy and practice -- there are a great many people who do not cotton to the 12-step approach, and unfortunately a great many 12-steppers will say things like "if you really want to get sober, you will be willing to do this" or "just keep trying different (12-step) meetings until you find one that's a fit". If 12-step ideology is not for you, it's not for you. And there are indeed many people (particularly those with a history of abuse or trauma) who have been psychologically harmed by their experiences in AA/12-step.

You might feel comfortable with SMART Recovery. It is a completely different approach than AA/12-step, and is highly regarded by therapists. It does have meetings, however you can read their literature and perhaps craft your own self-motivated sobriety path, with your therapist as an ally. Some folks are just not groups/meetings types, and that's fine too. Setting goals is key. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by RRgal at 7:21 AM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Reading a lot into what you wrote but, it seems like you have a low frustration point and that you compartmentalize everything, needing to keep everything in control. You may have been using alcohol to self medicate a condition that can and should be treated by medication. Ask your therapist to recommend a psychiatrist and get evaluated. Recovering from addiction is a lot easier if the underlying cause is being treated properly.

You can do this. It is not beyond your reach.
posted by myselfasme at 7:22 AM on October 20, 2014

I used to drink my feelings, lots. I stopped drinking nearly two years ago. I hated the idea of support groups - and I was very uncomfortable with the term "alcoholic" when applied to me. I considered myself a problem drinker - and my drinking was a huge problem - but nothing about the steps or groups appealed to me.

I stopped drinking when I was ready to stop drinking. I'd wanted to plenty of times, but it never stuck (or, sometimes, I never even tried) - I wasn't done with booze. I couldn't process the idea of having a last drink and then no more. We still had so much to do together, me and liquor. And I was 23. I mean, I started young, but getting sober struck me as something people in their forties and beyond did, after a nice marriage-length romance with alcohol. I felt like such a weenie.

The last time wasn't much more rock-bottomy than any of the other bad times - I was used to blacking out, to puking, to hangovers, to keeping my also-drunk ex up all night talking about how I wanted to kill myself until he had panic attacks. None of that was new. The emotional hangovers had been getting worse and worse, and I had a real bad one of those, too. Drinking was doing my mental health no favours (undiagnosed bipolar, treated with SSRIs under the guise of depression - a different story that also didn't go well). But there was something in the shame and the remorse of that particular time, and in my first-ever two-day hangover, that made me want to not do it again. Probably ever again

I didn't put it to myself like that. I figured I would definitely not drink for all of January, and maybe try for the year. It was only after a few months that I thought I could and should keep it up for as long as I could, and ideally forever.

Reinforcing my suspicion that I'm a cheater and I wasn't ever an alcoholic to start with is the fact that, for the most part, it hasn't been hard. I occasionally miss the taste of good beer or wine, but I don't miss the out of control feeling, or the blacking out, or the needing to pee from the sheer amount of liquid I was taking on, or the throwing up, or the feeling like the worst turd alive for a week or more afterwards. It wasn't hard, because I was done. My latest therapist spent a long time during one of our first sessions commending me for quitting, and I sat there feeling like a fraud, because it hasn't cost me much at all.

Enough with the sob story. The main things that helped were breaking up with my ex - our mutual friends were (, still are) very alcohol-oriented - every social event was either in a pub or at a house party with lots of drinks. I like a lot of those people, and keep in touch, but I don't spend a lot of time with them. I started dating and then moved in with someone who also doesn't drink, and that's also been useful - it's just not a part of our lives.

I also don't want to suggest that you should do this without help/that you shouldn't try to do this unless your body and mind are pretty aligned on the "we're ready" business. It's clear that you're motivated - take advantage of that. Don't worry if you fuck up. Have lots of people on your team who can help you if and when it gets rough. Don't let anyone give you shit about not drinking (I stopped hanging out with anyone who did). I think I'm an outlier - but it is definitely possible to do it without groups and steps if that's what you want to do.

Side note: I never managed to get much out of therapy when there were things I was keeping from my therapist. It sounds like you have a good relationship with the person you're seeing - this isn't a shameful secret or an extra burden or yet another compounding problem in a list that already feels too long (at least, that's how I felt when I was keeping stuff from therapists - either that or I wasn't prepared or emotionally ready to talk about certain things, which was also impeding the process). Your therapist is a professional and can help you best when they've got a full picture of all the stuff that's going on with you and the ways you're trying to deal with that stuff - and drinking your feelings is definitely a way of trying to deal with painful stuff. I ended up cutting my losses, finding a new therapist and laying out all the shit that I do to avoid dealing with my feelings by email before we met so that she could hold me accountable from the start. With my previous therapist, the knowledge that he wouldn't push me to examine the stuff I was avoiding meant I couldn't work with him any more - I knew what I could get away with, and I knew I'd try to get away with it if I knew that I could, and thus I couldn't trust him to treat everything that needed treating and not just the bits I'd cherry-picked as being easier for me to deal with.

Good luck, and well done for finding the courage to want to start exploring sobriety. I would be happy to MeMail if you want to talk more about this.
posted by terretu at 7:48 AM on October 20, 2014 [13 favorites]

Wow. What a great post from terretu. I hope I can add something useful. But I think corresponding with them as a sobriety buddy would be very helpful (as they offered).

Don't feel ashamed about being skeptical of AA. It works for certain people, and you're not one of those (nor am I). The research shows it doesn't work, overall. (This is my graduate specialty area and I'm happy to share peer-reviewed refs if needed).

Despite the fact I'm supposedly an "expert" in this - as you know, nobody knows what the heck is going on, and part of the problem is that problem drinking is idiosyncratic. There isn't one model.

One thing that helped me is that my life had two modes: drinking mode and sober mode. Once I made it a couple of days without alcohol, my sober "real" self kicked in. I felt more "me." Alcohol me was fun and cool but not real. Does that resonate with you? It might help the stopping - you are more creative and motivated when dry, perhaps.

Me mail me if you want to talk. Hugs and best wishes.
posted by Punctual at 8:11 AM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh, also, I find the "all or nothing" model of AA extremely off-putting. Black and white thinking isn't healthy, in my experience. So you aren't drinking right now. Maybe you'll drink in a while, when you don't need it for self-medication.

I think the disease designation - "I'm an alcoholic and cannot touch alcohol or I'll die" is a problem for social self-medicators. If you can stop for a while, you are a problem drinker and not dependent, physically or emotionally, and it is counterproductive to label yourself as such.
posted by Punctual at 8:17 AM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Along with all of the other great advice, I'm going to direct you to seek the assistance of a licensed nutritionist or naturopath who specifically deals with addiction issues. These people exist.

Alcohol changes your biochemistry, and it is a form of sugar addiction.

You'll need to change your diet (and possibly take supplements briefly) to help support your body in sobriety.

There is a physical transition involved with getting sober.

I know people think drinking is a failure of will power, a type of mental illness, a choice, etc..

Science says there is an actual biological component involved. Support in that area will help you unpack the emotional side of your relationship with alcohol.

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:24 AM on October 20, 2014

I already have a personal therapist, and I have hidden the drinking from her for the most part. I feel like I can tell her now, though she and I also have a ton of other things to work through, and if I can find a separate addiction counselor or something, I'd prefer to do that.
This really seems strange and counter-productive to me

Why do you not want to tell your personal therapist, with whom you seem to have a long-running working relationship, about what sounds like a profoundly psychological problem with vast implications for every problem in your life? If you don't feel like you can discuss your substance abuse with your therapist, it's time to get a new therapist.
posted by deathpanels at 8:24 AM on October 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

I agree with you that support groups are typically very annoying, no matter what philosophy they espouse. Having said that, though, you might check out Secular Organizations for Sobriety (or SOS). Perhaps you'll find a chapter near you that's helpful.

There's also Moderation Management, if you think you can go that route (many people find it harder to moderate than to quit outright).
posted by akk2014 at 8:25 AM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You may be interested to learn that most people with addiction issues recover on their own.

Seconding SMART Recovery - you would probably get a lot out of that. As a supplement, check out Sex, Drugs, Gambling, and Chocolate - a workbook for overcoming addictions.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:27 AM on October 20, 2014

I had a lot of your same reservations about AA, based on things I'd read about it, heard about it, seen about it on movies and TV...and then I actually went to a meeting. I was shocked by how good I felt afterward, how fascinating I found the other people there, how much it felt like...some air was cleared. Go to a meeting. If there's a women's group in your area, go to that. It's really worth a try, and only an hour.

And it doesn't have to be "all or nothing"; I'm a problem drinker who goes to meetings intermittently and I find them extremely useful in providing encouragement and perspective. SMART recovery, Moderation Management, and other models are very appealing and reasonable, but IMO the physical attendance at meetings with other people is really important. Meetings provide a support and accountability that a person might need to quit drinking--especially if they're white-knuckling it through a rough time. So if AA doesn't comprise your entire treatment plan, consider keeping it as an option for when you need support here and there.
posted by magdalemon at 9:17 AM on October 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Anecdata of a related sort: I was a smoker. Started when I was 12. Decided a couple years ago that it was time to quit (in my mid-30s). And I thought I needed all kinds of help and support and groups and a shrink and meds and ALL THE THINGS.

First I tried to get into a smoking cessation research study that was looking into the effects of quit-smoking medication on people with diagnosed mental illness. Didn't get in. Didn't get an explanation why. My asshole brain decided it was because I was too crazy for the mental illness study. Kept smoking.

Then I tried a group therapy AA type thing through the American Lung Association. Lots of feel good affirmations, lots of fluffy teddy bear support. Hated it. Hated it with the fire of a thousand suns. Got a refund and kept smoking.

Finally, I realized that I was the one who started smoking, so I was the one who had to quit. I know it sounds basic, but it was a powerful thought for me, that I was the one controlling the whole process, and only I could do it. So I called my best friend to come stay with me for a few days, stockpiled all my favorite junk foods, cancelled all my obligations for a week, and quit. I was all kinds of surprised that the psychological quitting was easy. It was just, "Ok, I'm done now." The physical withdrawal was hell on earth. But after the first day, it was easier to deal with, because I just kept thinking "I can't start smoking again, I'll have to go through this all over someday!"

You have the power to stop drinking. You have the strength; I can hear it in your post. You're the one in control. You go, girl.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 9:36 AM on October 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I wanted to warn you about one thing I'm seeing in your question that raises a red flag for this guy: your desire to get exactly what you want exactly the way that you want it. This is the attitude that kept me drunk. Getting sober is necessarily going to involve doing things you don't want to do, listening to people you don't want to listen to, and hearing things you don't want to hear. If quitting drinking involved doing only things you felt like doing, you would have done it by now.

That said, don't confuse peripheral things that some other people find helpful in quitting drinking for things you must do to quit drinking. I made this mistake with dieting for many years- I thought that, because I couldn't make myself keep a food journal, I couldn't diet and lose weight. A food journal is actually not required to lose weight by dieting (I lost 60 lbs, and never wrote a single food journal entry). There's more than one way to diet and lose weight, some of which would not work for me. I assume the situation is similar for getting sober.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:43 AM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

... your desire to get exactly what you want exactly the way that you want it.

This. You wrote that entire question exactly the way an addict talks. (Although you now realize you want a change - which puts you way ahead.)

I don't know what will work for you, but start looking now. You can try something - anything - for a pre-established trial period. That would avoid the trap of feeling you quit or failed Brand X.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:07 AM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I already have a personal therapist, and I have hidden the drinking from her for the most part. I feel like I can tell her now, though she and I also have a ton of other things to work through, and if I can find a separate addiction counselor or something, I'd prefer to do that.

I think you should tell your therapist about the drinking before you do anything else and work on a plan with her. They're trained to work on that sort of thing. She might want you to work with a separate counselor or go to AA, but in my mind it won't work to be like, "in therapy I talk about X but not drinking, in addiction counseling AA I talk about drinking but not X" because the whole thing is that they're tied up together.

I haven't had addiction problems but I talk to my therapist constantly about drinking and feelings about drinking because I have problem drinkers in my life (who doesn't) and I want him to have a basis for my behavior and thought process in case it might seem like an issue later on. It's helpful for them to have as much information about you as possible (as you share this info in the therapy context, not like Google searches or something).
posted by sweetkid at 10:17 AM on October 20, 2014

You might find this previous AskMe asking for books on addiction for agnostics and atheists helpful.

I totally respect your boundaries and doubts about AA -- by all means, listen to your own warning signs and don't let any well-meaning person on AskMe or in real life question your ability to do so. 12-step programs are not a cure-all and can introduce even more problems for people who are making themselves vulnerable in a place with no therapist/facilitators/official system of accountability.

BUT one point to share -- I attend another 12-step program (as well as a therapist) and it's been really helpful for me. Some of your worries about group therapy don't actually apply to 12-step meetings in my experience.

AA-type meetings are typically pretty regimented -- if you show up on time and leave when it ends there is no chit-chat, you don't even have to talk (a lot of times I just come in right when it starts and leave right after with absolutely no conversation with anyone!). Shares are limited to 2 or 3 minutes, there is always a timekeeper. There are a wide variety of attendees, some will have negative shares, some will have positive shares, and I sometimes actively make the choice to tune out people I find toxic. So it doesn't have to be a "warm and fuzzy" experience where you feel forced to be BFFs with everyone else.

But totally understand if you find AA squicky and there are a host of other solutions. Here's an interesting NYTimes summary of some alternatives.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:44 AM on October 20, 2014

There are two books that I would really recommend:

The Truth About Addiction and Recovery, by psychologist Stanton Peele (check out his other books, too -- he's an excellent writer and very knowledgeable about non-twelve-step approaches to sobriety)

Sober for Good: New Solutions for Drinking Problems -- Advice from Those Who Have Succeeded, by Anne Fletcher. Fletcher is a journalist, and she set out to do something very simple but powerful: She interviewed 222 people who had been sober for at least five years. She asked them questions about what they did to achieve their sobriety. Not surprisingly, she found that there are many different paths that people can take.
posted by akk2014 at 10:55 AM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out Addaction and their philosophy and Dry out now. Read up on the cycle of change of addiction and replace addiction with something else... healthy stuff/addressing neglected life areas/therapy
posted by tanktop at 1:13 PM on October 20, 2014

I'm 40, and stopped boozing at the start of this year. Like terretu above, it was simply the right moment for me. I went to a few AA meetings and found some of the ideas useful, but saw no real reason to stick around. Helpful things for me have been lurking on the stopdrinking subreddit, talking openly with friends and family, exercising, and drinking gallons of ginger beer. I wish you the very best of luck. Be brave!
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:21 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's fine that you don't want to speak to your current therapist about your drinking, an in fact, separating your drinking therapy with someone else is a very good idea. Most therapists have very little training in addiction, it's a specialty and needs to be handled by someone who has had a lot of training and experience with addiction, in particular alcoholism in your case. have found that when the topic of alcoholism comes up in therapy, most therapist not want to talk about anything else thereafter. It's like all the other issues you need to work through are secondary and the alcoholism is the focal point. I think that is ass-backwards and your therapist should stick to your other issues, which likely underlie your drinking problem. You need a second therapi9st of the alchohol, indeed.

I have been involved with Women for Sobriety online for several years, have read several of the books by Jean Kirkpatrick, the founder. Fortunately, a meeting just became available in my area so I am now also going to the meetings, too. I tried many AA groups and hated them all but kept looking and finally found a small women's group that I love. I highly recommend not going to the big meeting, especially the "big book" meetings, yuck. Some of the ladies in my women's group have found co-ed meetings they really like but for now I'm sticking with the women's meeting, that is just my preference.

You may also want to consider IOP (intensive outpatient). I hated the idea of group therapy but went to this program to try it out (I was desperate to get help) and it turned out to be much better than I thought. I looked forward to going 3 hours 3 days a week for 3 months even though I work full-time. My insurance paid for all of it.
posted by waving at 6:14 AM on October 21, 2014

I know you didn't ask for random general sobriety advice, but I'd like to say this: you don't have to have everything figured out before you start. A recovery plan is a great thing, but no program is going to do sobriety for you. It's going to help you do it: that's the best it can do.
posted by thelonius at 6:43 AM on October 21, 2014

A. there are woman-only AA meetings. Give one a try if there is one in your area--like others have said they sometimes just click with you, despite one's typical resistance to self-help communities, and are the best (and sometimes only) way to quit addictions for many people.

B. I've heard lots of good things about this online recovery forum as an alternative to in-person meetings. good luck!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:08 AM on October 21, 2014

I'm a woman and I spent some time years ago in 12-step. I went to tons of different meetings (for a while, one or two meetings a day). I did find meetings where I didn't like the vibe and I never returned to those meetings, but I don't remember finding any that felt disempowering to me (I went to so many meetings because I felt just a little bit more empowered after every meeting I attended). Perhaps a women-only meeting would be a good fit.

But what I really wanted to address was the spiritual side - there are a lot of people who are just getting into recovery who due to their circumstances do not or cannot believe in a higher power. You don't have to drink the koolaid on that. Meetings are more about letting sunlight onto your circumstances and figuring out how to address them in a positive and progressive way than reciting any prayers. I knew a man in a meeting once who shared that he did not believe in God, so he elected a particular door knob in his house to be his higher power. He would sit down and talk to his door knob to air his feelings and try to focus his thoughts. It sounds silly, but the point is he found a way to make the program work for him, without feeling like he was submitting himself to something that didn't feel true to him.

None of that is to say that you should go to AA if it doesn't fit you. But if none of the other resources are available to you due to time or distance, etc, it might be possible for you to find a way to make this resource work for you.
posted by vignettist at 9:14 AM on October 21, 2014

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