Glad I have left AA and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous behind!
I recently read the book “A.A.- How Alcoholics Anonymous Steals Your Soul: Indoctrinating America in 12 Easy Steps” and reviewed it on the site. It took me back to my days in the rooms and brought up some good and bad feelings about AA. I have not been to a meeting for about 6 years, but still see people from the fellowship, from time to time. I also know quite a few who have left and they generally seem to be doing quite well in life, if they have sorted out their drinking problems by various alternative methods, which is the opposite of what most in AA will predict. I think many of those who have walked away are actually quite strong in character, often quite intelligent,well read and inquisitive, although this is not always the case. They often saw through the religious side of the program, which is core to AA group acceptance.
Although AA gave me a place to go, which was different to my drinking surroundings and put me in touch with others with similar problems, I am not convinced that attending really helped that much, other than the change of surroundings. To be accepted into an AA group you have to do what they say, otherwise you will be treated as an outsider and some will shun you. AA causes a lot of fear in some members, because a lot of guilt is experienced, as the past is brought up over and over again. They talk a lot about resentments and how these are apparently going to magically disappear, along with your character defects, thanks to the rather unique deal that AA thinks it has with God. Some people sincerely believe all this and they often speak an AA type language that contains multiple phrases from the “Big Book” in everyday conversation. They are taken over by AA and as this has caused such a shift in character, which is required to beat addiction, you could claim AA has worked for them! The problem is, that they are not dealing with reality and many people outside the rooms find them weird! This drives them further into the group, where they will sponsor as many people as possible and give up normal life for an AA existence. They try to push their religious views on anybody that is available, convinced that the steps are the answer. I can see why some people consider AA to be a cult, especially if you are related to one of these members who are fanatical.
Other people feel they must stay working the steps, but don’t really improve and still suffer from cravings and are frightened about many issues in life. They often share things in front of everyone at meetings that most people think is stupid or trivial. They do not sound well or particularly sane and matters are made worse by gossip from other members who like to think they are working a better program, because they sit in meetings spouting AA slogans rather than helping anyone. CBT would help those who have self-confidence issues much more than the steps. The weaker members often relapse, especially when they are confronted by the fear of working step 5 which certainly does not guarantee sobriety! I feel sorry for these people as they are unlikely to succeed remaining alcohol free long-term, while they are following the AA path, which they see as the only solution. They are often sensitive people who really need some self empowerment rather than the message that they are powerless and full of character defects. They would probably be much happier following a more rational approach such as that offered by Smart, but sadly and ironically, they are often too scared to leave AA for fear of relapse.
I find that certain people from AA, often treat me with suspicion, but then I do the same to them sometimes, as they are generally coffee shop gossips! Others are more genuine and are happy to see people succeed any way they can, because they are not obsessed by the religious side of AA. Some of the more “cult like” groups have had a huge influence over other meetings in the areas that they are active. For example the Joys and Visions groups in West London were often quite active at intergroup and have many evangelical members who would try to push their version of AA on anyone who would listen. These delusional “Big Book thumpers” are the ones who have kept the fellowship running in the same old way, and have obstructed any new methods which would help AA function better or more safely in the modern world.
I wonder what would have happened to me if I had stayed? I don’t think it would have helped me, and I don’t think I would have developed as much in other areas of my life, as I have been able to outside the rooms. I could not sponsor people in the AA way, because I did not believe the steps were useful. I found all the higher power talk ridiculous, and I did not see a great deal of serenity in many people at many big city meetings which have been described by AA members as cult like. Instead the rooms were dominated by self-righteous idiots, who believed that their version of AA was superior to everyone else’s.
It would have been satisfying to help people who were new and struggling, but I get to do that now anyway, as many people ask me about stopping, having known that I was a substance abuser in the past. I try to be as honest about the situation as possible and tell people about different options and warn them of potential problems as well as advantages and disadvantages. It does worry me when some fairly young people go to AA, as there often unsavoury predatory types at the meetings. Their behaviour is often covered up by the group, and this again leads to the fellowship being ineffective.
I think there is a good chance I would have joined the 97% who drank during their time in AA if I had stayed. Ironically I am still one of the 3% who has not drunk since starting AA, although I must point out I decided to stop before I went! I suppose that some in AA might view me as an AA success. On the other hand, I suspect many would rather view me as a dry drunk, which is the condescending term they use to describe somebody who does not work the steps in recovery. For many in AA, sobriety is not measured by success in stopping drinking but it is how well you are working the 12 step program. This is because for them
AA is their religion. They have failed to cross the bridge to normal living and prefer a cult like existence, within the rooms. They do not seem to realise that they are actively promoting a system of recovery that is ineffective and that can actually make many people worse.
I am glad I live in the era of the internet and can access information that others would not have been able to find a few years ago. It is great to see something written about a book on a website and download to my Kindle or Ipad within minutes. Many old timers in AA have only ever read the Big Book and have never been exposed to any alternatives. Any discussions about non AA methods are met with ridicule in the rooms. The effectiveness of AA has not really been questioned until relatively recently, but there are lots of people who do not want its flawed program as part of their life. Many will have walked away from recovery after spending some time in AA, because they have felt that there was no solution that could help them. That is not the case today. If people make the effort to practice some of the ideas presented in more modern books, than they stand a much better chance of recovery, rather than relying on a higher power and the Big Book method. AA can stay for people who want it, but the rest of us can move on. There is more to a sober life than sitting in a church basement reciting slogans from the Big Book and sharing rubbish. I doubt if more than 2% of the things I heard in AA were helpful to my recovery. The rest was sad humiliating confessions of dysfunctional lifestyles, yet many AA members love hearing that stuff. They really love the drunkard stories and the confessions about life. As I walk through London I often see people I recognise from AA and remember some of the things they have shared about themselves in front of a group of strangers. I know their seedy secrets from the rooms which anyone could have sat in and listened. I really feel sorry for a lot of them, as they have not found the courage to move on. They have wasted a lot of their life consumed by addiction and are now ruled by the grip of AA. I view them as the sad, delusional dry drunks and not the people who have left and made a new life for themselves. I often run past a large meeting on a Sunday. They have their church basement and cigarettes, while I have the river and the fresh air of the park.
The information contained in this blog is based on the personal experiences of the author, who is not a health professional but simply somebody recovering from alcoholism. It is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician or other health-care provider. The author is not responsible for any adverse side effects or consequences resulting directly or indirectly from the use of any of the suggestions discussed in this blog. All matters pertaining to your individual health should be supervised by a health-care professional.
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