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It Does Not Matter How We Recover: Leaving AA

“It Does Not Matter How We Recover: What Matters Is THAT We Do Recover”

I left AA. I stepped away. I am not fulling denying it, but for now, I am not a member. I don’t have a sponsor or sponsees. And Yes, I have worked all 12 steps and I still integrate them into my daily life. I am forever grateful for those steps.

I needed them, at the time.

Here’s the thing: you can recover without AA. You can recover without a program. And yes, you are allowed to change. We are allowed to change.

There is still so much close-mindedness that it breaks my heart. People are desperate to find a program of recovery outside of the 12 steps. But, when they say this, or ask for this, they are shunned. They are told: “You might be sober. But, you are NOT in recovery.”

Seriously? Is that how we empower others? Is that an act of service? I think NOT.

We are allowed to change. We are allowed to grow.

We are allowed to recover in whatever way feels right for us.

“You are allowed to change” – Laura McKowen

For the last 18 months, my entire social life in Dallas had been based around my AA homegroup. Most, if not ALL of my connections in Dallas, outside of my family, were in a 12 step fellowship. The 12 steps were what I had been taught during my four stays in treatment. I was under the impression that the only way to recover from my addiction was to join AA – work the 12 steps – and have a spiritual experience.

In fact, when I stepped a tiny bit outside of AA for the first time and started talking about other resources, a large majority of my community lit up with: “Well, I have never heard anyone recover without having a spiritual experience from the 12 steps”

And I can’t fault them, because this is what I used to believe.

I attempted sobriety for over five years. I lived in Los Angeles during my addiction and three of the treatment centers I attended were in Los Angeles. I was under the impression that the only way to recover was by working a 12 step program. That is what I had been taught. That was all I knew.

I know that might sound surprising as I lived in California. California is the mecca of recovery. However, everyone I was integrated and involved with worked a 12 step program. I had only heard of one other method, which was SMART Recovery. But that method was laughable, by my support group. I was told over and over again that if I wanted to recover, I had to work the 12 steps.

Of course I had heard of some non 12 step programs, like Passages. But, I couldn’t afford a program like that nor did I really want to. The “I used to be an addict. Now I’m not” commercial turned me off at the time. It didn’t seem credible. I understand his message today, but at the time, it didn’t make sense.

Wouldn’t I always be an addict?

When I moved to Dallas in the summer of 2013, I was off all addictive substances. I was on suboxone, but I rationalized that one as a way to “maintain my sobriety.”

I went to one meeting in Dallas and I was completely shocked. Where were all the hip cool people? Why were people not dressed to the nines?

In Los Angeles, I went to meetings to “be seen.”

As the story goes, I couldn’t stay stopped. I wasn’t working any program of recovery. And in reality, I didn’t want to change, or grow, or evolve. I did NOT want to recover. So I started using again and I went to my fourth and final treatment.

When I left treatment, I was tired. And I was sick. And I was desperate. I wanted to remain sane for longer than a couple months, and the conversation about the 12 steps continually played in my head.

Must work 12 steps to recover. Must work 12 steps to recover.

And so that’s what I did.

I can never deny that the 12 steps worked for me. That is my truth.

The problem was that as I was working the steps, I began to grow, and change, and evolve. I didn’t believe in my previous ideals anymore. The idea that I was inherently selfish and/or that I was the problem didn’t feel right. I wasn’t a flawed person. I was a human who made some mistakes.

When I started this final journey, I based my self-esteem and worth on how much I could quote from the Big Book. I told friends I only went to Big Book studies and if you said you went to discussion meetings, I looked at you appalled and said: “well I never got sober listening to other people’s problems.”

But here’s the thing. All I was doing was quoting what other people said. I was listening to what other people thought and making it my truth.

I didn’t know my truth. I knew other peoples’ truths.

And they were sober, so I decided to own their story and hold it close, like it was my own.


When I first discovered my beautiful friend, Laura McKowen, on Instagram I noticed she was connected to this Holly chick. I liked Holly’s marketing and her hipness and her edge, but then I read her manifesto on Hip Sobriety and saw that she was promoting another method outside of AA and I said “Bye Felicia.”

Holly was not for me.

I decided Holly was not for me before even knowing her. Holly was not for me because she was not in AA. And how in the world could you recover outside of AA? It was unheard of, in my world.

When Laura and Holly started their Podcast, HOME – I started listening to random episodes, here and there. I liked these chicks. They were cool, and they were open. They were intelligent and knowledgeable. And best of all, they had huge hearts. They were recovering outloud.

This was unheard of to me. I had tried to recover outloud but I received backlash from my own 12 step community because I would mention AA in my story. And people all over the internet and all in my real life playground, would remind me of the traditions.

I don’t even know what tradition it is, but I’m not supposed to talk about it.

As I did more research, as I listened to more podcasts, as I read more books, as I found an online community of women who utilized various paths to recovery, as I started meditating, I became open-minded.

I became open to other paths and other modules and I realized something very simple. It doesn’t matter how we recover.


It seems like a simple idea. Yet, there are so many arguments against one way over another.

There are battles online about what works and what doesn’t, about AA and SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery and whatever else there is. It doesn’t matter.

When we make the decision to change our lives for the better and remove substances that are suppressing our best selves; we should be celebrated, not attacked.


I hurt. It hurts when you have made a conscious decision to do what is right for you and people say:

“Well, I am sure she’ll drink or use again.”

“Yup, she’s on the path to relapse.”

“She must be living in self-will.”

I get the sacred ground of AA. I GET IT. I totally accept and love you if you are a member of AA and I totally accept and love you if you are not a member of AA.

I totally accept and love you if you are on your own holistic path of recovery AND even if your path was self-help books and desperation, I love you and I accept you.

Maybe you didn’t have a spiritual experience or even believe in spiritual experiences, but YOU stopped drinking, using, abusing, etc. You made the conscious decision to better your life.

You are doing VERY hard work. You are BRAVE.

You should be celebrated. Not shunned.

This is my wish.

I wish there was an easier way to leave AA. I hear from other women in different areas of the country that AA is much different for them. I hear that they would not question someone for leaving AA to move on to another path. When I talk about my experiences with AA, and the harsh comments that I encountered by others, they send me love and compassion and understanding.


One of the hardest moments I encountered when I left AA involved an ex supervisor of mine. He told me I was going to relapse. He said my behavior had changed. I wasn’t helping people. I had not gone to a meeting. He said I wasn’t myself.

I looked up to this man, and when he told me this, I trusted him.

I went home and thought of all the ways that I could change. What was I doing that was causing this? How could I change my behavior to please him? I stayed home from work for two days, in tears.

I finally broke and I broke HARD.

And guess who picked me up? Holly. You know the founder of Hip-Sobriety who I said “Bye Felicia” to several months before. Yeah her!

Holly saved my ass with her huge heart.

Artist: Tammi Salas

A couple weeks prior to leaving AA for good, I signed up for the winter session of Hip Sobriety School. I knew Holly from the interwebs and had connected with her several times over social media. A couple women were discussing her school and so I looked into it. It offered a variety of resources and tools, but best of all, it added an additional layer of healing that I so desperately needed.

You see, there were issues that arose in my own sobriety that prayer and AA couldn’t fix. But, I was scared to even talk about it. I felt like something was wrong with me when I said, outloud, that prayer and AA were not fixing the issue.

And I wanted to heal from these issues.

I admired Holly from afar. She owned her shit. She owned her story. And she made no apologies for being herself. She listened to her own intuition and she did her own research. She wasn’t some uneducated fool – she found her path – and she was well-read with a mouth full of knowledge, grounded in science and research.

When I shattered and broke open that day I came home from work, sobbing and in fear, when I started questioning my entire life and my path and my journey and my sobriety, Holly was there. The other members of Hip Sobriety School were there. They lifted me up and they held my hand.


They are all unique. They are all individual. No one has lived my story. No one knows my heart and my desires and my needs, like I do. The only thing I am trying to do is be a better person, day by day.

I am trying to grow and evolve and heal. And do really, really hard things.

 I am trying to love.

I am writing this post for the people who are thinking of leaving AA and/or evolving in their path.

I am writing this because when I left AA, it was hard and it hurt. And I don’t want you to hurt like I did.

Unfortunately, there is no manual for how to leave AA. For how to NOT listen to the people you admired so deeply when and/if they tell you a variety of harmful things:

– You will relapse

– You are living in self-will

– You can’t stay sober without AA

– You must not be listening to God

And the list goes on....Here’s the thing. Those statements above, they are harmful. But guess what? They are opinions. They are NOT truths.

I was blessed to have an unexpected resource in Hip Sobriety School that helped transition me out of AA and into a more holistic empowering approach.

Today, I have a variety of tools in my tool-box. I still attend AA meetings on occasion. I feel an immense amount of gratitude in those rooms. But AA is just one of many tools.

It is OK to change your program of recovery. It is OK to change your path.

It is OK to change.

Today, there are so many resources available that I did not know about. AA works for hundreds of thousands of people and I can never discount that the 12 Steps helped save my life. They are an incredible resource.

One of the best books I read on integrating a 12 step program with a more holistic and inclusive perspective is “Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life” by Tommy Rosen. 

Tommy believes that: “recovery happens in stages, and that by utilizing the best practices of the 12 Steps in combination with yoga and meditation, he could achieve lasting freedom from addiction.”

If you are looking to evolve your own recovery, I highly suggest his book. If you are happy with AA, and don’t need any additional resources than I totally support that too.

Below are a few additional resources that helped me transition out of AA.

Hip Sobriety School – An 8-week virtual course open to anyone who wants to start on a path of sobriety or is already in some sort of recovery program. (

Integral Recovery by John Dupuy (

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace (

Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life by Tommy Rosen (

HOME Podcast with Laura McKowen & Holly Whitaker (