What may seem like nuance in the land of Alcoholics Anonymous can actually be an enormous philosophical difference that shapes beliefs and the actions in the 12 Step program. One of these is the difference between a recovering alcoholic or saying you are a recovered alcoholic. Sometimes A.A. members will even get bent out of shape if someone says they are recovered during a meeting.
Here we attempt to lift the veil between the two and share our beliefs as an organization.
Why People Say “I am a recovering alcoholic”
Some alcoholics confuse the promises of the book with the disease of addiction and alcoholism.
If you are a chronic alcoholic and you cannot stay sober, you will never be cured of alcoholism. The reason is that chronic relapsers have a mind, body, and spirit that is different from normal drinkers.
When a chronic alcoholic takes one drink, they set off the phenomenon of craving, which means that they will drink way more than they intended and will have little control over the amount they take.
Usually, when they drink, they are seldom mildly intoxicated.
Once this physical phenomenon has taken place, the alcoholic will not be able to stop drinking. They will go on a spree until a consequence jolts them back into reality.
But no matter the consequence, the alcoholic will soon be back to drinking because their mind makes them think it will be different the next time.
This is because the alcoholic has a mental obsession that he or she can drink like a normal person. This obsession of the mind encourages the alcoholic to drink again despite the consequence that piled up.
Once that first drink is taken, the phenomenon of craving occurs, and the cycle continues. This cycle of alcoholism will almost always happen once an alcoholic starts drinking.
As a result, alcoholism was considered an illness in 1956 by the American Medical Association. Although their consequences might be different, alcoholism will affect every alcoholic the same.
Once they start drinking, they cannot stop. And when they stop, they will eventually drink again because of the mental obsession.
There is no cure for the body. The body will always be allergic to alcohol. When an alcoholic puts a drink in their body, they will physically want more. There is no magic pill that will allow an alcoholic to drink like a normal person.
Perhaps this is why some in A.A. land use the term “recovering alcoholic” because the body will never be cured.
We believe this is not an accurate representation of the promises or the solution in the Big Book.
Why People Say “I am a recovered alcoholic”
First, the reason we say “recovered” is because it is printed on the title page of the book Alcoholics Anonymous: “This is a story of how Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism”
The main problem of the alcoholic is in his or her mind. If the mind can be changed, then the first drink will never be taken, and the cycle will never be set off.
Once the mind is transformed through a spiritual experience, recovery occurs. The book states that a spiritual experience is a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery.”
When one says “recovering,” they are not “recovered.” When someone says “recovering,” it indicates that they are constantly in a state of fighting alcoholism.
Here’s an example. If you have the flu and you are recovering from it, it means you are still weak and feel sick. You’re not 100 percent. You’re still fighting the virus. You might not be as sick as you were, but the effects of the flu are still lingering.
The same is true with alcoholism. You can be recovered. You can be in a position where you are not fighting to stay sober.
The Promise of Alcoholics Anonymous
If you follow the steps in the Big Book, you can be in a place where you’re not white-knuckling it to be sober.
You can be completely free from the desire to use and drink. You don’t need it anymore.
The book states that if you think of drinking, your mind will “recoil from it as from a hot flame. We will react sanely and normally, as we will find that this happens automatically.”
Wow. What a promise.
That is what recovered looks like. We are no longer obsessed with not using or drinking. We are no longer fighting with all our willpower to stay stopped to no avail.
Instead, we are free from the desire to drink.
Once this happens, life takes on a different meaning. We can be useful again. We can contribute to work, our families, and society again.
In a sense, we are reborn, and we are recovered from the disease of alcoholism.