Further Reading

Can you help me escape from the 12-step world, in which I grew up?


Thank you for your web site! I am a 22 year old who has been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for the past 5 years. I have been drug and alcohol free much longer than I used drugs.

I feel lost in life; I have grown up with the 12 steps drilled into me, but I recently have been seeing holes in the lifestyle I am expected to live.

I have only had friends in this 12 step program since I was 17. My boyfriend, however, is normal. We have no alcohol in the house, and we live with 2 other 12 steppers.

To make a long story short, I don't believe in the "santa claus" of Narcotics Anonymous anymore. NA worked at first to keep me from self-destructing, but I am dissatisfied with how my life is spent now. There is no goal for me in NA. I really don't know if there is anything left for me to learn.

I have found myself happy in the company of friends who occassionally drink (and sometimes drink too much) with no compulsions to drink. Being in their company is a big "no-no" and a sign of relapse, people warn me.

I fear I have been socialized to only fit in with ex-drug addicts and ex-alcoholics. The program preaches that addicts have always felt "different than." Now, more than ever, in the presence of those who live their lives as they please, without the intervention of the 12 steps, I feel "different than."

NA has no peer group for me. There are no young people my age in it. I have been stuck with many judgmental people who are my parents' ages or older for 5 years. All of the dogma and myths perpetuated in NA say that having friends who use drugs or drink will make you go get really high and lose everything. They say that I will never fit in anywhere but NA. (Which, I have learned, is VERY untrue.) NA members constantly reinforce at meetings "I am first, and foremost, an addict" and "I will never be normal."

I honestly can say I don't know what will happen when I leave NA. I would like to find others with experience being young and getting clean, and then returning to a "normal" life. I am scared that I have been overly socialized, and will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. I would like to know what a glass of wine, alone, tastes like, too. (Being 17 and drinking means you drink whatever is there, so I have never had a proper mixed drink or a single glass of decent wine.)

Do you have anyone or any resources you can point me to??? I want to know that there is life after NA.


Dear Belinda:

There is nothing so scary to me as people, like you, who are "captured" by the 12 steps before you can barely think. If there is anything cult-like about AA, this is its best example.

You describe what this experience is like perfectly from the inside. You are surrounded by 12-step individuals (although, in your case, you aren't dating one, you are still living with two other 12-steppers). You are indoctrinated with the idea that you can't associate with other people, aside from 12-steppers, without endangering not only your sobriety, but your life!

And, as you indicate, there are no guarantees when you leave this environment — life is uncertain, and you have hardly been exposed to it. But you must follow your inclination to escape this world — you have strengths you don't know about, you must get beyond this artificial destructive environment you're in, and you must understand for yourself what your abilities and limitations are. But it sounds like, on your own, you have already broken out of this closed circle — you are seeing other people, and I hope they have something to offer other than occasional drug and alcohol use. One obvious avenue it seems for you is to further your schooling, if you have not yet done so.

There are groups for people who have left AA. Check out these two web sites:

Let me know if these lead you in the correct direction.