I have been in and out of AA so many times I can’t stand it. Been in [a number of] treatment centers, gotten [a number of] dui’s, lost everything many times. Still can’t stop drinking. Don’t understand why I just can’t stop and surrender to the program. I do for a few weeks then something comes over me and I am right back out.
What is wrong with me?
-dead soon if I don’t stop.
The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) is rich with language to describe addiction and what you are going through: Words like baffling... heartbreaking... in fact, it calls this the "heartbreaking riddle" -- and in reading your brief, poignant and desperate email I cannot but feel that phrase is a perfect expression of this terrible cycle.
The internet has allowed you and I, through it's strange combination of intimacy and anonymity, to reach out to each other. As such, given both the specific and general nature of your email, what I am moved to do is offer you questions to consider, rather than write some passionate plea about things you've maybe heard countless times in rehabs and meetings. I want to offer you the best I can in trying to help -- I hope and pray something in these questions triggers an insight which can be the first domino in a chain of thoughts and actions which knocks your relapse cycle on its ass.
Before I do, remember this: Sometimes a cancer is so virulent that it takes many applications of a medicine for it to be arrested. Addiction is a disease. There is nothing "wrong" with you. You have a disease which corrupts your thinking and triggers this cycle. I use the cancer analogy a lot lately, and I believe now it is more apt than ever. Addiction is like a cancer of the mind. If cancer in the body is cell growth out of control, then addiction is the cancer of our thinking; certain thoughts grow out of control, until they eclipse all others. So it's not a question of you not "getting it" it's a question of you seeking the place where your disease trumps the medicine, and working to ward against that.
Some, all or none may apply. It is my deep hope one of them helps you shine a light on this relapse mechanism -- because you are right. It will kill you.
Consider what might help and ignore the rest:
Do you have a secret?
Some of the people I know who have not been able to stay sober had terrible secrets which seemed to prevent them from fully surrendering to their recovery. Sometimes these things are deep down, and may not be in our thoughts every day, but still exert a pull on us, so that after we get clean, and feel raw from doing life un-buffered, we are vulnerable to using again. Is it possible you have a secret which you're carrying around, and which is working against your staying sober?
Do you have an "outside issue?"
I am speaking in medical terms now. Addicts are difficult to diagnose since we present with so many different kinds of symptoms. Sometimes we are undiagnosed, and our drinking and using is an attempt to self-medicate not just our addiction, but something else. Sometimes we are over-diagnosed, and have many medications which we are sloppy about taking or combine in ways we shouldn't or... or... or. If you're playing a game with meds, that's not going to help you get and stay sober. Regardless, if you are taking medicine as prescribed by a qualified medical professional DO NOT STOP TAKING IT. Outside issues need outside help, only you can be honest with yourself and say whether you are using or abusing any medicine you're prescribed. And if you have a family history of certain medical conditions, i.e., bi-polar disorder, manic depression, etc., you need competent, qualified medical assistance in dealing with those conditions in addition to dealing with your addiciton.
Have you come to believe that AA won't work for you?
One of the most terrible things about a relapse cycle is you look around and see others "getting it," and you try everything AA suggests and yet it feels like it doesn't work for you, and you begin to fear that while AA works for everybody else, you're too broken and damaged and it never will in your case. But here's the thing -- and this is NOT an accusation -- is it possible you've been inconsistent in what you're tried? If I go to the gym for a couple of weeks, but leave the spin class early, and skip out on a couple of appointments with my trainer, and then become discouraged and give up, I'm able to sit at home and say to myself that I tried going to the gym but it didn't work for me. This is NOT a moral issue. Trying all of AA's suggestions is counter to a lot of our thinking and nature, and there can be a lot of factors working on us to phone it in or plain opt out. So you might have come to believe that AA won't work for you by only taking a half dose of the AA medicine. Reading that might make you want to scream and tear your hair out. "I've tried! I've tried and tried!" If you have, you have. But with your life on the line it's worth sitting back down and looking over what "tried" looks like, objectively. Again, I'm not impuning what you've done so far, just suggesting you look at the dosage on your AA medicine.
Are you listening to the wrong person?
Is there someone close to you in your life who undermines your sobriety?
Are you unwilling to do things differently?
On a very basic level AA works for me because I decided to do what AA suggested, and not what I wanted to do, no matter how mad, bad, sad, ugly, pretty, horny, scared, entitled, tired or -- most dangerous of all -- bored, I felt. I always have a really good reason for doing what I want to do. It was a great lightbulb for me to understand that willingness is not the same as "want to" -- I kept waiting to "want to" do what AA suggested, when really it was much more the truth that I didn't want to feel bad, so I did what AA suggested until I felt better, and then I went back to doing what I wanted. I want the result, sobriety, without doing the process, which in this case equals not doing things my way. Willingness, for me, means that I'll do what I don't want to do, one day at a time, whether I feel like it, or think I need it, or not. You say in your email "... why I just can't stop and surrender to the program..." Perhaps that's a telling clue for you to look at regarding how you approach this, because in my experience it works better the other way around: If you surrender to the Program, then you'll find Grace and can stop.
What's going on with your sharing?
Don't think that relapsing, or only having a few weeks sober, means you have nothing to offer. NOTHING could be farther from the truth. Your experience of relapse, and what happens to you before you go out, and your ability to keep coming back, is INVALUABLE and can save lives, if you share it. But you have to share it. And sharing it, while maybe uncomfortable, will help you begin to change any self-judgment you have into self-acceptance -- though for most of us that's a gradual process which takes a while.
Are you being of service?
God, I'm so worried by this point in my questions it sounds like some litany of lack, like I'm playing at being subtly accusatory regarding what you're not doing. That's not what I want to do at all -- but you say "something comes over you" and I have heard similar things from others over the years. While it can be very useful to deconstruct what that "something" is, the deconstruction is a mental exercise, and to stay sober it's about action. Service will save your life. "We work out our solution on the altruistic plane" is what the Big Book says. More than just setting up chairs -- though that's a great thing if you choose to take the commitment seriously, and show up for it drunk or sober, happy or sad, feeling like it or not -- service to other addicts in recovery can make all the difference, be it giving rides to meetings, calling to see how someone having a hard time is doing, being a "phone buddy" to someone else who's new, volunteering to be on a panel which goes into hospitals and jails and telling your story, offering to help at one of those rehabs you went to... something. Anything. The more you are of service the better your chance to thwart the "something" you describe as coming over you, as it tries to take you back out.
Believe me when I tell you this: Just today I met with someone who's more than ten years sober who took years to get it. I talked on the phone with someone who used to live in Central Park, covered in wine sores, who had a terrible, horrible time for years in AA when they tried to get sober, who is now literally "happy, joyous and free," at the top of his profession, in a great relationship and sober many years now. I have sponsored -- and sponsor -- people who have not been able to stay sober in terms of years, but continue to get better and continue to come back, with long amounts of sober time filling their lives. AA works, if you stay and keep trying. The voice in your head that tells you it's not working, it won't work, you can't do it... that's not the voice to listen to. Listen instead to the voices outside your head, the one's in meetings, who understand and want to help.
Thank you for writing, and I hope one or more of those questions might spark some light to pierce the fog which shrouds your thinking before you pick up a drink again.
You are not alone, though it may feel like it.
You are not without help, even if you feel helpless, or hopeless.
You are not doomed to die drunk, no matter what your fear and your alcoholism tells you. You're not.
If you don't believe that today, believe that I do, and borrow some of mine, since I believe it with all my heart.
Pray and breathe.
Read the Big Book. Go to 90 meetings in 90 days. Call three other alcoholics every day. Get a sponsor and be open to their direction. So what if you tried it before and you think it didn't work -- you're alive today, so it can work today. Many applications of the medicine may be required for it to take, remember? Just take it one day at a time. Your past is not your future; every sober person is living proof of that.
Good luck, and please keep coming back.