I never wondered much about this when I was getting started. It seemed perfectly reasonable, if I was supposed to be going “to any length” to get what they had. Of course, I was an extremely spooked — and therefore willing — newcomer, a blessing not always granted to folks early in recovery. I was convinced that if I didn’t “get it” I was going to die, and I had sense enough, barely, to see that my best shot was the program with the best track record.
However, over time I came to understand some of the underlying reasons for this “suggestion,” which in my opinion, is more of a Damn-Well-Better. Mostly, it’s a matter of exposure. To begin with we go to meetings because we’re scared, or because someone told us we had to go. At first they’re confusing, then if we’re at all serious about staying clean and sober, they begin to get interesting. Then sometimes, after a while, they get boring. People seem to be saying the same old things, always whining about the same stuff. The folks who constantly quote from literature instead of sharing about themselves begin to get to us. We haven’t yet learned that the things that annoy us about others are often the things that we dislike about ourselves. Maybe we start developing a resentment about the “God stuff.” Maybe we start looking for excuses not to go to meetings, to take that “easier, softer way.”
It takes a while for us to develop a philosophical attitude: that folks don’t go to meetings because they’re paragons of emotional health, and we shouldn’t expect all of them to sound like recovery gurus. They’re there because they’re scared, hurting, want help, and want to get — or remain — clean and sober, most of them. More or less just like us. When we manage to wrap our heads around that idea, develop a little tolerance (one of the first and most important aspects of that spirituality they talk about), and begin to really listen, we find that hearing folks talk about their problems and how they are handling them begins to help us sort out our own issues, and to absorb ideas that might apply to our own problems.
These things all take time. We don’t change our way of thinking — cemented in place by the insanity of addiction — overnight, nor does it stay straightened out, to begin with. Getting clean and sober is a process, not an event, and we move forward, back a bit, a little bit forward, and so forth. After all, we’re learning to change our entire way of looking at the world. How long can it take, right? Right. It take a good, long time, and it’s essential, if we’re going to make it in sobriety.
So we suggest “ninety in ninety” for a very good reason. The exposure. Having a goal like that makes it much easier to simply buckle down and do what we have to do for ourselves. We may not want to go. We may not like to know. We may want to hide in our little caves, or go out with our friends (not a great idea, BTW, unless it’s to a meeting). But if we have the desire and self-control to do 90 in 90, we may just find we have what it takes to make it the rest of the way, one day at a time.