“I stopped going to meetings....I stopped hanging out with people in the program”
I started going to A.A. meetings in June of 1978. I had attended two A.A. meetings when a friend of mine invited me to go out and party with him. I thought…I’ve been to two A.A. meetings surely, I’ve learned enough about the disease that I can have just one. Later that evening I was scrounging through garbage cans looking for something to drink. I learned from that first slip what we hear in Chapter 5 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous… “we deal with alcohol, cunning, baffling and powerful”.
I went back into the rooms of A.A., but two weeks later found me hanging out with my old friends in the old spots. I hadn’t learned the importance of changing the faces and places. I relapsed again, but this time I feel to my knees, looked to the heavens and asked for God’s help. I had finally and fully conceded to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic. God lifted the obsession for drugs and alcohol from me. I had taken the first step. The delusion that I could drink like other people was smashed. (Page 30, Alcoholics Anonymous)
Upon returning to the rooms of A.A., I would listen intently to people who would describe how they slipped or relapsed. I wanted to learn everything I could from them, so I could benefit from their experience. Here are the three things that were repeated over and over again in every relapse story.
1) I stopped going to meetings: Every relapse story I’ve heard starts with this all too familiar statement. It is said that meeting makers make it. Regular attendance of A.A. meetings is like putting a firewall between me and a potential slip. In my first 365 days of sobriety, I went to 365 meetings. In those early days of sobriety, sometimes the only thing that prevented me from getting high or drunk during the day was because I knew I had my A.A. meeting that evening.
2) I stopped hanging out with people in the program: Surrounding myself with people in recovery or who understand recovery helps me focus on the solution to my disease. Going to parties, bars and other such establishments for me is a recipe for disaster. After studying the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned that I didn’t have to avoid places where there was drinking if I had a legitimate reason for being there, like a wedding, an office gathering, etc. But I had to check my motivation for going – was I going to this occasion in order to be with family and friends, or was I trying to live vicariously through others? (pg. 101, Alcoholics Anonymous).
3) I stopped calling my sponsor: Sponsorship is a key and vitally important aspect of the recovery program. From the pamphlet on sponsorship printed by A.A. World Services we find this statement: Most present members of Alcoholics Anonymous owe their sobriety to the fact that someone else took a special interest in them and was willing to share a great gift with them.
When I cut myself off from my sponsor, I’m cutting myself off from an important link in my recovery chain. I lower the chances of having quality or long-term sobriety.
According to one study cited in the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health (2016), in a randomized clinical trial, patients receiving telephone case monitoring were half as likely to drink as those not receiving it.
In yet another study cited within the report, a clinical trial compared weekly telephone monitoring plus brief counseling with two other treatments: standard continuing care and individualized relapse prevention. Telephone monitoring produced the highest rates of abstinence from alcohol at follow-up 12 months later.
What’s another phrase for this telephone monitoring? Talking to my sponsor on a regular basis. It’s really that simple. Having regular, telephonic contact with a sponsor who knows about my disease, and holds me accountable, increases my chances significantly of having quality and long-term sobriety.
I’ve learned in this program that I don’t have to go through it, to benefit from it. When it comes to relapse, I’ve learned that the road to relapse is paved with: missed meetings, avoiding people in the program and not talking to my sponsor.