I was in trouble with AA

How ketamine got me on the wrong side of the hardliners of Alcoholics Anonymous

10 min readFeb 14, 2024

I want to begin by saying that I owe my life and everything that’s good in my life to my sobriety, and in great part, to Alcoholics Anonymous. I used to have a promising career, good health, great friends and a fun lifestyle. Then I lost my career, my friends, and my health — worst of all, I lost my love of life and my bright outlook on life. I was 39 when I checked in to rehab. I was employed by my brother in his charitable attempt to protect me from homelessness and rock bottom. I was unemployable, drinking heavily every day and using street drugs. My life had collapsed. I wasn’t able to make a coherent sentence, and had theories about the world ending and the evil powers running things from a secret bunker.

On my exit from rehab I was excited to join a community of clean and sober people, mostly because I wanted to get back to having a life, a career, friends, and being happy. I was underwhelmed initially when I checked out of rehab and moved into a sober living house (SLE, in the recovery lingo). The AA meetings were uninspiring. The young people seemed to chew gum and read their phones sitting in the back row, and were there only because their probation officer and the judge required AA meeting attendance. The old guard were people who had been sober 20 or 30 years, sometimes more, and who seemed to speak like the high priests of some dark and oppressive religion. They were not fun, and they surely didn’t make us newcomers feel valued or excited about our new lives.

I’m so glad I didn’t leave. They call it the gift of desperation — I wanted anything but to go back to my couch and my bottle on the verge of homelessness, so I stayed. Gradually I met people who were exceptions to the gloomy figures I imagined all AA to be. I met people whose lives had brightened considerably with their sobriety, and who lived fully and meaningfully every day. I took up mountain biking and joined a group of sober guys who shredded the hills of Marin county and beyond, often riding at night with lights. I dropped in on an equestrian center and took some riding lessons. This led to my buying a horse and cometing in US Eventing Association shows in the region. I made true friends, and I found myself smiling much of the time. My career revived, I was now earning great money, taking fabulous trips and vacations, and I was rarely alone or isolated. I met a beautiful woman who was also sober, and we were married in 2006. Life continued to brighten and expand with each passing year. I never felt tempted to drink or take drugs again, and my social life was at least 50% centered around my sober fellowship.

Fast forward. In 2019 my beautiful wife Debi suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, taking her suddenly from healthy vivacious hair salon owner to paralyzed, brain damaged person requiring my assistance for almost everything. She would never work again, or drive a car, or be able to dress herself. Two years and two months later, she passed away in December 2021. In that time I also lost my company as I was unable to balance caregiving with running a busy Salesforce consulting firm. Also, my youngest brother, and my hero, Simon, was diagnosed with ALS and was dead within a year. With my life seemingly unraveled, and such heavy grief I was holding, I still remained untempted by alcohol or drugs. I stayed very close to my sober friends, and continued going to meetings, talking with my sponsor and helping newcomers, spending time 1:1 with each one, reading ‘the book’ and helping them find new hope. I also stepped up my physical fitness and healthy diet as I believe these are essential antidepressants, or at least can help.

All of these years I had gravitated toward the empathetic, likable, kind and gentle people in AA, remaining respectfully distant from the ‘AA nazis” as we called them. I frequently joked about the ‘AA Taliban’ or the ‘AA Ayatollahs’ and how unattractive their doctrine was. They were like the dour old men in a steel workers union, bullying the young guys and demanding servitude and respect based on nothing but their long tenure. They made ridiculous rules — take off your hat at a meeting, wear a tie if you’re the speaker. They smoked, believing a good AA member smokes and doesn’t go to the gym. They shunned money and careers, believing they worked for god now. Worse, they held scary, oppressive beliefs about medicine — that you don’t need antidepressants or pain medicine, you just need god and the big book.

Let me re-emphasize my strong attraction to the nicer half of AA, even if my disdain for the AA Taliban is so strong, I would have left long ago were it not for the kind people. It’s like the hawks and the doves in politics, the people who care and the people who want to rule. For those unfamiliar with AA, the 12 steps are a prescription for the addict or alcoholic to live by a (non-religious) set of spiritual principles, and the twelve traditions are a framework of governing principles for the community to survive by avoiding hierarchical power structures, prestige, money problems and politics. They prescribe a flat, unorganized community where only the traditions rule, not the people. It’s a wonderful concept and is probably the reason AA is still alive today. The old bearded Ayatollahs wish they could rule with an iron fist, but the traditions state that nobody is in charge.

In May 2023 I was fired from a job I loved. The company was acquired by a stuffy New York accounting firm, and I wasn’t showing the required level of enthusiasm for our new bosses, so they fired me. The next few months saw me apply for 150+ jobs and receive 100% rejection, due possibly to my 61 years of age, and to a softer job market in Salesforce partner services. My anxiety grew, as nothing I did was effective, and I couldn’t stop the narrative that told me I’m all washed up, and will inevitably end up working for minimum wage at Home Depot, losing my home and my nice lifestyle. I was paralyzed. I wasn’t able to shake the doom story playing in my head.

My therapist recommended I try ketamine assisted therapy. I had my doubts, primarily because it might constitute a relapse, and my sobriety clock would have to restart after 21 years and 9 months. Such a status associated with length of sobriety is ridiculous and wrong, nevertheless I seem to value my sobriety status and am unwilling to trade it in. But my anxiety / depression continued to darken my world, and my research and second opinions assured me that this is a medical treatment and can be very effective in case like mine, therefore the AA community shouldn’t have veto power on my mental health.

I signed up for the ketamine assisted therapy program, at a minimum this would be two prep sessions of talk therapy and note taking with my assigned therapist who is certified to administer this FDA approved drug and manage the patient’s experience from start to finish. Then we did two medicine sessions where I swilled a ketamine lozenge in my mouth for 10 minutes then spat it out, a process in which my body would absorb exactly the right dose of ketamine for me to experience a dissociative state, and after about an hour I would return to normal. This was followed by two more talk therapy sessions, after which the program was complete and I returned to work with my regular psychotherapist. I experienced a very pleasant feeling during my ketamine sessions, where my nerves were calmed and my mind was strangely cleared of all the busy thoughts that normally whizz around. More notably, my mind was free to imagine, to think thoughts that were no longer tied to each other. Thought #1 didn’t always have to lead to thought #2, and certainly not to doomsday thought #3. I was asked to set my intentions before each ‘trip’. My intentions were clear: to shake the fear that was paralyzing me, and to replace it with imagination, creativity, courage, and a focused attempt to build a path from here back to a prosperous and sustainable career. May I find my courage and my imaginative spirit, that was my intetion.

Huzzzzzaaaaah! It worked. Treatment successful. I honestly don’t know how or why, but I was quickly released from the fears that gripped me. In those two brief ketamine sessions I imagined myself as a bold, intelligent and capable life student, learning some new elements of technology, such that I would become useful and valuable to companies seeking to make AI work for them. I came out feeling positive. My immediate concern was how to hold on to this feeling without slipping back into fear and anxiety. The rest of my life situation is unchanged, but I’ve now been working furiously every day to complete my Einstein AI consultant certification, and I’m walking around believing this is going to work and that my work drought will give way to a new me, providing real solutions to companies who don’t yet know how to make this stuff work. I already have a few strong leads and some meaningful support inside the Salesforce fortress. I feel good about this, and about my ability to get from here to there.

I spoke with my AA sponsor after his return from a long trip, reporting all my recent events and my ketamine breakthrough. He is not an AA Taliban guy, but he does subscribe to some old school beliefs. He went quiet, then told me he believes that I have relapsed and should reset my sobriety date to zero (or today, to be precise). I was shocked, and refused to agree, stating that I underwent a medical treatment, not a street drug foray or an abuse of prescription drugs. We agreed amicably to end our 20 year relationship, and will hopefully remain friends even though we fundamentally disagree on this important question.

Why am I bothered and flustered by this situation? It’s because AA, despite its majority of empathetic, caring members, still is home to a dark culture, one that wants to punish and shame all who do not obey the old guard. I’m feeling at risk of being alienated, isolated, by the very community that has saved my life. The combative wolf in me believes that those old walruses should go fuck themselves because they are wrong, and because their beliefs can be harmful to sober people with mental health issues that need treatment. We have seen a number of struggling addicts over the years commit suicide after being told they aren’t truly sober if they’re taking antidepressants. This is not urban myth — it’s real. I choose to value my mental health over the opinion of one person in AA. So why not simply change my sobriety date and avoid the dispute? Because I feel this would constitute an admission of relapse, and I believe my sobriety is intact.

I went public and stated my firm decision to stick with my December 2001 sobriety date. I risked becoming a pariah that nobody would talk to. There is something in AA culture that ostracizes and shames people. It may be presumptuous of me to want to rebel against the AA Ayatollahs while keeping my ‘good guy’ status. Perhaps this is a fork in the road. Instead, I was greeted with warmth and caring and absolute support for my decision. Some people made strong statements about my sponsor being wrong. I insisted that there’s no villain and no victim in this story. I made a decision to try ketamine assisted therapy. It worked. I came out stronger, more willing to be brave and try something in a scary situation.

I will not use ketamine recreationally. I resist the temptation to go back and take more. It’s possible one day that I’ll need a refresher course, in which case I will follow my therapist’s instructions and keep any ketamine use strictly as medically administered. I paid almost $3000 for the treatment, including two doses of ketamine. I probably could have bought the same amount of ketamine on the internet for $100. It’s ok. The treatment surrounding the ketamine is what worked on me.

We all know ketamine is popular among tech leaders and hip people, and I can understand why. Without judgment, I prefer to remain clean and sober, even if my journey has now taken me into the ketamine experience. I won’t recommend this course for you or anyone experiencing anxiety depression, except to say all of us should explore all viable avenues, and not let society bully us or keep us from a solution that might work.

I’m grateful for the treatment I received, and have now found the courage to establish an AI consulting company and have already found a few early clients, cementing my belief that I’m reasonably capable and that things are working out. If any of this is relatable to you, I wish you success and happiness, regardless which avenue you choose.




San Francisco geek, entrepreneur, wannabe economist, mediocre equestrian