Alcoholics Anonymous: Building the foundation of AA (with a dog named True)

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

I’ve maintained 12 years of continuous sobriety through the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program. However, the first two years were very difficult, with plenty of challenges and relapses. When I first joined into AA, I had no concept of a “higher power.” I took one look at the third step: “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” and ran the other way, relapsing that same evening.

After sinking to a new low, I understood that I had to put my ego aside and fully commit to the program if I wanted to achieve lasting success. I still couldn’t do the whole “God thing.” I found the concept difficult to connect with. I recognized that AA wasn’t going to work for me if I tried to connect with any Higher Power in the traditional manner. Instead, I turned to the gentlest being that I could find, a dog.

A Trip To New York

A few months into what I hoped would become my long-term sobriety, I drove to upstate New York to find a puppy, a sober companion of sorts. As soon as I walked in, a golden retriever approached me knowingly, as if she knew that I was broken and needed her help. When I looked into this dog’s eyes, I felt as if I was looking into her soul. For the first time in my life, I connected to a “Higher Power.”

With Hamlet’s “To thine own self be true” in mind, I named her True and took her home with me that day.

My Dog True

Raising a puppy proved to be exactly what I needed for recovery. Life was no longer solely about me; it was about me and True. I had previously owned a dog during my drinking days, but I was not the most loving, attentive owner at the time. There were many days that I was too tired or hungover to take her out for walks or spend time with her. Sometimes, I would raise my voice at her in anger without considering how it made her feel. I understand now that I didn’t prioritize her as well as I should have, and I regret that. But I was determined not to do the same with True, I was committed to being the best dog-dad that I could be.


How She Changed My Life

I resolved that I would never let her see me drink. Never will I be too sick to take her out for morning walks, nor would I lose my temper with her. In early sobriety, I kept myself busy taking care of her because she gave me a sense of purpose. I took her to Central Park every morning and we sat on a small cliff of rocks (which I now call True’s Rock) as we contemplated the morning. I never missed a morning of walking her. Rain or shine, we went outside. Every day after work, I made sure I got home on time to take care of her, so she could have her dinner and enjoy an evening walk. I never raised my voice or my hand in anger towards her. She was only treated with tenderness.

I learned about the concept of a “Higher Power” from True. She wanted the best for me. She didn’t want me to suffer or relapse. Prior to making True my Higher Power, I would happily argue with anyone about religion. But after I met True, I no longer put up a fight about it. If a dog could be my driving force, who was I to argue against anyone else’s beliefs?

Step 2: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Drinking stripped me of my sanity, and I had to work hard to get it back. Connecting with True helped me regain a sense of order and control over my life because taking care of her required that I maintain a regular schedule. I had to get up, feed her and walk her at the same time every day without excuses. In the past, I would have been too hungover to even open my eyes in the morning. Now, if I overslept, True would wake me up. Her need for structure and consistency required that I do my part, every single day.

Step 3: “We decided to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Submitting to a Higher Power became easier the more I bonded with True. I could talk to her about anything; I could cry with her right by my side. She listened to my problems and did not judge or reject me for having them. She taught me how to turn my will over to something stronger than myself and accept the care I deserved.

Step 5: “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

It is imperative that we take accountability for the damage we created while we were using. Instead of communicating with God directly, I confided in True, opening up to her about my unsavory past and telling her things I’ve never told anyone before. While praying to a God that I didn’t believe in felt disingenuous, talking to True made sense to me.

Step 6: “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

Again, I found it challenging to speak to God in the traditional way. However, True seemed eager to remove my character defects. Having raised her since she was a puppy, she openly believed in and trusted me. She was a very calm, sweet dog that was very expressive in her love and concern towards me. The fact that she never saw me come home drunk or miss meals was nothing short of a miracle. She had faith in me, and I needed that.

Step 7: “We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

True got me through these 12 steps, this one included. When I sought forgiveness and support, I turned to True for assistance. She kept me centered, on track, and on schedule. I no longer had a reason to go parties or hang out in bars. I had found a new purpose in taking care of her, and her purpose was to help me stay sober.

As I spent more time in recovery, my concept of a Higher Power changed. By entrusting True as my Higher Power, she opened the door for me to explore the concept more thoroughly. I still really have no fixed understanding in what it should be. It could be a dog one day, and a recovery group on another. It could even be nature.

I am now 12 years sober. Although it continues to sadden me that my sobriety outlasted her, I can truly say the biggest gift True gave me was my life. I will always be grateful for her for that.

About Adam Banks

Adam Banks is a certified interventionist and the owner of Adam Banks Recovery. After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Adam built a company acquired by United Health Care. His discipline and attention to detail comes from his former career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Today, Adam is dedicated to helping others achieve long-term sobriety. His work has guided executives, pilots, and physicians on paths to recovery. Adam brings families together through a loving and inclusive approach.

Adam has authored four books on addiction. His recent work, Navigating Recovery Ground School: 12 Lessons to Help Families Navigate Recovery, educates families on the entire intervention process. He also offers a free video course for families considering an intervention for a loved one. 

Adam is available for alcohol and drug intervention services in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally. 

Recommended Posts