The only requirement for membership of Alcoholics Anonymous is the desire to stop drinking. This means that it is permissible to just attend the meetings without making any attempt to follow the program. This is because the 12 steps are only a suggested program for recovery. Experience has shown though, that it tends to be those who put some effort into the 12 steps who get the most from the program. This leads to the claim that it is the steps and not the meetings that keep people sober.
It is highly recommended that members of AA attempt to make the steps part of their life because:
* Going to meetings may be enough to keep people physically sober, but it won’t lead them to full sobriety. This means that the individual will not be getting the most from their recovery.
* There are some individuals who attend the meetings but who do not seem to be getting any better. This is often referred to as dry drunk syndrome because although the individual is physically sober they are acting in many was as if they were still in the midst of addiction.
* One of the real benefits of long-term sobriety is the chance to develop serenity. The individual is far more likely to reach this point if they work the steps.
* One of the main reasons for why people relapse in recovery is because they feel unable to cope with life. The aim of the program is to give the individual the tools that they need to meet any challenge that comes their way.
* Guilt about the past can be a real stumbling block for people in recovery. An important element of the 12 steps is making amends and moving on from the past.
* Those who work the steps will reach a point where they can be of great service to other people. Helping other people greatly strengthens sobriety and leads to happiness.
* The 12 steps are a spiritual program. This means that the individual develops as a spiritual creature.
* One of the real dangers for people in recovery is that their life can lack meaning, and this can lead to thoughts that there is no point to staying sober. The 12 steps can give the individual real meaning and purpose.
* Following the steps means that the individual is able to function much better in society. This will make life easier for family and friends who may have already suffered a great deal because of the alcoholism.
* The benefit of having a program is that it provides a structure that the individual can follow. It is far easier to accomplish something when there is a structure in place.
* Perhaps millions of people have already benefited from the 12 Steps so it makes sense to follow a winning strategy.
There are many attractive benefits to be enjoyed if people follow the steps. The most well known benefits are referred to as the promises, and they can be found on page 83 of the Big Book. The promises are introduced with the prediction, If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. The promises include:
* The individual will get to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
* They will not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it.
* The individual will comprehend the word serenity and know peace.
* The individual will develop the ability to help other people.
* Feelings of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
* The individual will develop an interest in other people and lose interest in selfish pursuits.
* An end to self seeking.
* Their attitude and outlook towards life will completely change.
* No more fear of people or economic insecurity.
* The individual will intuitively know how to handle every situation.
* The person will come to the realization that their higher power is doing for them what they could not do for themselves.
Just because people have managed to stop drinking does not always mean that they have become better humans. In AA they talk about the sober horse thief. If a drunken horse thief decides to give up alcohol they will just become a sober horse thief. This is a reminder that just giving up alcohol is not enough alone to make people behave better. The individual can still do terrible things even after they have become sober. This is why it is recommended that people follow the steps so that they can develop real sobriety.
Those individuals who give up alcohol but fail to do more work will often develop dry drunk syndrome. The symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:
* They are likely to have a low tolerance for stress – even the slightest incontinence can send them into a rage.
* Such people will have few scruples about engaging in unethical behavior.
* The dry drunk will tend to blame all their problems on other people. They will fail to take responsibility for their own bad decisions.
* They continue to behave secretively and tell lies.
* The individual is likely to suffer from loneliness and boredom. They may later use this as a justification to return back to their addiction.
* They will tend to be full of self-pity. They view their time in recovery as being similar to serving a prison sentence.
* They are likely to romance the drink This means that they spend a good deal of time thinking about all the good times they had while drinking – even though such good times are usually just in their imagination.
* This individual tends to be overconfident in their ability to stay sober. They will deny that they need the help of anyone else.
* Even though this individual is physically sober they are still caught in denial. They just can’t see that their behavior needs to change.
* The dry drunk will usually suffer from terminal uniqueness. This means that they do not believe the normal rules apply to them, and this can put them in great danger.
* Such people tend to be full of negativity and resentment. This makes them difficult to be around.
The dangers of dry drunk syndrome include:
* The individual will continue to engage in maladaptive behaviors. This will cause suffering for themselves and for other people.
* The dry drunk will not find sober living to be very satisfying. This means that they are far more likely to relapse back to their addiction.
* The individual will be living a life that is way below their potential. It seems a shame that anyone would get sober and not make the most of the opportunity.
* They may try to drag other sober people down to their level. Such individuals are a particular danger to newly sober people because they can be such a bad influence.
* If they do relapse they are likely to make claims about how unsatisfying life in recovery can be. This may dissuade other alcoholics from attempting to become sober.
* Other people may find the dry drunk difficult to be around – they can be like a dark cloud. This makes it difficult for the individual to form meaningful relationships.
If people faithfully follow the steps it should take them towards serenity. This is a state of being where the individual feels at peace with the world. No matter what is going on in their world the serene person will be able to accept it – their inner sense of calm remains untouched. The individual who develops serenity knows no real fear, and they find pleasure in even the most trivial details of life.
As people begin working the steps they should begin to experience moments of serenity. As time goes on, the individual will begin to experience these episodes more frequently. Eventually they reach a stage where they are serene almost all the time. It can take decades of following the steps before the individual reaches this point, but it is certainly something worth aiming for. This is the way of living that the individual was hoping to find when they originally turned to substance abuse.
Not every member of Alcoholics Anonymous will become a dry drunk if they do not follow the steps. There are some members that just attend the meetings for support and to socialize. They will have their own program that helps them stay sober and develop as a human being. The most important thing is that the individual is actively trying to become a better person, and that they are tackling those character flaws that led them into addiction in the first place. There is nobody going to stop the individual from following their own program while attending AA meetings, but some may question this need to reinvent the wheel when there is already a viable program on offer.