Stick with the winners.

Stick with the winners and avoid the losers! In alcoholism recovery groups like AA

When there is a post on a site such as “the Fix” which offers a view on AA, either for or against, you will always get the usual crowd arguing, and repeating the same things over again while everyone else gets bored and ignores them. The loud people have extreme views, they have either become slogan spouting, big book thumping, pray to a higher power, devout 12 steppers or they believe that everything that occurs in the world of AA is wrong, and that everyone who goes near it has joined a cult. Neither view really helps the average person in recovery, and like most extremists in the world, these people are best ignored. That is not to say that they do not make some points that are true, but often things are exaggerated and out of proportion. Once a group start arguing, then a pack mentality takes over.

In the Big Book of AA, chapter 5 lays out the 12 steps, which people who choose to practice them, believe are the answer to alcoholism and the way to live life. I was not impressed by the approach, and do not see it as a foolproof solution.The 12 steps of AA are based on the teachings of the Oxford Christian movement and require the person practicing them, to subjugate themselves to God. It is pretty clear the founders of AA meant the Christian God but have changed this to the God of your understanding to encourage other people to join, probably with the aim of converting them later, once they had experienced “the miracle of sobriety”. Chapter 5 moralises recovery from addiction and blames the individual if they are not successful in maintaining abstinence. There is no thought that anything cold be wrong with using a religious (often claimed to be spiritual) solution for everyone regardless of their core beliefs. This obviously causes unease in many that do not come from a religious background and causes many to simply disregard AA as nonsense. These steps have been given some credibility by the “treatment industry” which in America, is often run by 12 step members who have decided to follow this path. If they were offered as treatment to anything else they would be regarded as faith healing.stick with the winners

The anti-AA movement is very small and not well supported, probably because of the crazyness of some of its members, who attempt to ruin any online community, by dominating and trolling any thread, they are allowed to, and because most people simple move on from AA in a quiet fashion after they have some sober time.. (I do think that Leaving AA and NA daytona, do make good points and are generally concentrating on safety, which is fair enough). Having said that, the antis, obviously do make some points which are true. Certainly AA is not for everyone, and a minority can be badly affected by being a member. It is certainly not the only way to recover. The anti AA community do not like what is said in chapter 5 at all. They turn the argument on its head and say that it is the program that is to blame, rather than the individual, if they do not stay abstinent (assuming that is the aim, rather than harm reduction).

I think that both sides get it wrong, and that the major problem, is simply that a high proportion of people often relapse when they attempt to beat addiction, especially at the start. It is the individual that chooses to drink heavily while being aware of potential problems, and it is only the individual that can choose to do something about it. The individual has to take responsibility for their own recovery, and has to find a method that will be suitable for them. If something such as chapter 5 in AA conflicts with your own core beliefs then you are in the wrong place. It is not fair to blame a religious program for not helping somebody who does not have any conviction that a higher power would help them, they should have found a method that is more inline with their beliefs. I do accept that many in AA try to pretend that it is not religious, sometimes to get newcomers to stay, but I simply used to laugh at them, when they did that. Some people seem to believe that there is a big difference to a spiritual or a religious solution and that somehow a spiritual solution is actually rational.

In my opinion, maintaining an alcohol free lifestyle is a lot different to simply stopping in the first place. Many people decide to stop after some kind of life changing event. Many will have a few attempts at stopping, fail and then try AA (although a few do manage on their own). That was pretty much a condensed version of my story. I threw myself into recovery and have not relapsed since I made that decision to stop drinking, which was shortly before I went to AA. I think it was throwing myself into a recovery community, that really helped me in those early days, although I am not going to pretend it was all plain sailing. I went through 3 sponsors and did not completely trust them,especially after the actions of the first one (who many despised as a “Step Nazi”). In fact I did not trust anyone in AA fully, after a few weeks as I could see that there was a lot of gossip and I accepted that many longterm members, who were living the steps in every aspect of their lives, were not capable of much independent thought. My views on powerless changed quickly after reading the rational recovery book, and after a while I moved on. Despite these things that I have written that may appear quite negative, I do believe that, meeting other newcomers, helping others, spending time after meetings with other people, was really helpful to get me back on my feet. I started going to concerts or the theatre with people I had met in AA and this helped me to get my social life restarted, after moving away from my old heavy drinking friends. For me this was a bridge to normal living rather that the final solution.

I do not believe that any recovery support program will work unless an individual is prepared to change many aspects of their life in order to maintain sobriety. I simply feel that recovery programs are there to support and are not a complete solution. I think that getting fit has been one of the most important aspects of recovery for me, it has really changed my self-image and it would be hard for me to view myself in the same way that I used to after making such major changes. Meditation has helped me with acceptance and ironically removed any sort of anger I had at AA. I can see it for what it is and have moved on. I am grateful for the help in those early days but have no wish to spend the rest of my life regarding myself as powerless or praying to some ridiculous concept of God, such as a “group of drunks”.

I don’t mind people having other views to me as long as they do not harm others, but this is a problem in recovery groups. Many there, are quite mad, and a small but significant percentage, like to control others. There is also predatory behaviour, as is the case with most religious groups and it is often ignored. I do have a problem that the recovery world is becoming more divided as a result of people refusing to see anything good in solutions that are different to their own. Smart suggests that people may wish to also attend AA in its literature, which is a reflection on the fact that it cannot offer as many meetings as AA, and people do find the community side of these groups can be helpful in those difficult early times. I also think it is dangerous to give the impression that AA has no more effect than simply stopping drinking on your own, which is an idea that sites such as the Orange papers try to push. That was not my experience or that of many others who went for a while and moved on. I do not credit the steps or a higher power in AA for helping me, but some of the people there certainly did! AA is certainly not for everyone, but more people attend it than other methods, and most of those people did try to stop on their own without support and failed. However it is equally dangerous for AA people to tell people who AA is the only way, and not to get help with medications etc.

People who have drink problems have usually been making poor lifestyle choices and decisions for some time and this will still be the case in recovery until things settle down. Being in a group can help with this, but can also hinder development. There is a tendency for some to end up thinking that everything in the “Big Book ” is true because is read out so often in meetings. I find this curious as many of the people that do this, would have little time for the Bible, which is also irrational in my opinion and talks about miracles etc. I suppose some people want to be saved from alcoholism, rather than do the work themselves, I think that was true of myself at one point, I would have quite liked some God sort out the mess, but I realised that this would happen and I had to take responsibility, for all aspects of my life. There are also some people who are really gullible, and who get drawn into this fake religious side.Another winner

Others are more rational and concentrate on helping others and setting a positive example rather than talking about spiritual solutions and other nonsense. Mixing with these kind people can really help, as life can be strange and frightening in the early days of sobriety. In this case I feel the concept an alcoholic helping another alcoholic is a good one, but that does not mean that any old alcoholic should be giving out medical advice, to anyone who will listen.

To be successful in a recovery group you have to look for people who are really there to help other people and not those who are there to control or be self-righteous and try to impress the group. AA does produce some crazy figures who have a sick type of charisma and draw people to them. This leads to allegations that AA is cult, which most people do not believe is true, although some small groups would probably fall into that category. The pro AA brigade will defend AA, while the anti AA members will say it is a cult one minute and then turn round and say that 95% leave it the next, which is a bit of a contradiction. The treatment industry makes serious money running 12 step programs but I do not feel AA is wealthy. It certainly is not in the UK, and continually has to move its offices to smaller cheaper places. Most cults are there to make money for those that run it and that is not really the case in AA. It does contain self styled “recovery gurus”, and these people are generally best avoided.

Although I do not like the “Big Book”, the religious/spiritual stuff and many of the old-fashioned ideas, which the 12 step world has clung onto, I do not wish AA to be destroyed.I would like to see it being made safer, to make people be aware of modern therapy and more progressive ideas. I would like to see people have a look at other approaches and see what they can learn from them. It would be great to see people coming together and exchanging ideas on sites such as the fix and maybe offering suggestions. Instead, these sites are just venues for trolling, senseless arguments, and promoting dogma, and there is little in the way of sensible dialogue. This is a great shame, and a sad reflection of some people in the recovery world. It leads to people from different recovery groups competing with one another and having a lack of trust in one another.

Some of the craziest people I have ever encountered have been in recovery groups or in online forums. I would have been better off avoiding them in the same way I avoid drug dealers and bar room drunks. On the other hand I have really met some great people who have been really inspiring and who have turned their lives around. I will stick with the winners and ignore the losers!

Although I did not stay in the world of recovery groups after a nasty AA experience, I still feel that it can be helpful if you take the following steps ….

It it wise to keep away from people who attempt to control others.

Also avoid people in recovery groups who tell you not to take medication.

Ignore people who say a spiritual solution will cure alcoholism or depression.

Ignore people who only push the solution that has worked for them.

Ignore anyone who says God keeps them sober and not their own mind.

Avoid meetings that are cult like where people are only sharing for effect and not talking about the reality of life. I only went to a couple of “Big Book ” meetings in my entire time in AA as I thought the way the steps were held up by people who were keen on this type of meeting was irrelevant.

Keep away from people who try to isolate you from your family and friends in order to stay sober. I think it is also a good idea not to try to do much in the first year of recovery and also be wary of forming relationships with somebody in recovery who is likely to be unstable. Remember they may decide to share about you!

Ignore people who tell you not to go to recovery groups, it should be your decision and should be taken after going to different types of meetings to find one that fits with your values.

Do not give out your phone number to anyone who asks for it in the rooms, I got inundated with call from people I did not wish to speak to and still get the occasional text even though I have not been to a meeting for many years. Take people’s numbers yourself if you want, but don’t give yours out if you are not comfortable with somebody.

Take your time to really get to know somebody, before getting into a relationship. These are often disastrous for new people. If some old-timer hits on you, stay away from them.

Be really careful in big city meetings where many people may be visiting, and remember 12 step groups are not the same as rehab which are controlled environments. Anyone can go to AA and in the USA many are court ordered. They may not be sincere in helping people at all.

Good luck, whichever way you choose to do this!



Commenting area

  1. That’s a truly great post. Very sound advice. I feel a little sorry for newcomers to AA who are, after all, only going because they’re suffering. No-one shows up there because they’re having a good time on the booze, and we all know how bad that feels. So if you’re new to AA, reading this and wondering what you got yourself into, I second every word of that post. Unfortunately finding a balanced view on the fellowship and the steps is very difficult, but it is out there if you look hard enough and this site is a great example of that. Speaking as a former big book basher the “old me” would find many of these opinions simply unacceptable. You’re either in the solution or in the problem, as I used to tell my sponsees (quoting liberally from the book, of course). I totally bought into all the stuff big time at one point. Now I sincerely believe that neither the big book and 12 step programme, nor membership of the fellowship of AA, can ever be a healthy long term way of life. However, AA’s a good start. For many people, it’s all there is. Peer support is undoubtedly useful for those who struggle with a drink problem, and at the moment for most of us here in the UK, that basically means AA. In my home town there are around fifty-two AA meetings every single week… and two SMART meetings. Unfortunately for new people, AA definitely monopolises that element of recovery. My advice to a newcomer would be go to AA, but get your head sorted using a more rational therapy method. Don’t get an AA sponsor, get a qualified, experience and insured CBT counsellor or Motivational Interviewing practitioner. Heed the advice given here about not interacting with people who want to control you. Most important, do not enter into a romantic relationship with anyone in the rooms. That’s just asking for trouble. There are some total nutters in AA and there is also zero safeguarding. Nada. Don’t ever forget that. Eventually, when you’re confident in recovery after (say) three years (ish) get the hell out of there. Join the silent majority of alcoholics who are sober, happy and busy people with better things to do that talk nonsense at each other in AA meetings. All those people that the fellowship pretends don’t exist. There are thousands and thousands of us. Probably more than those in recovery who still attend meetings. Ultimately longstanding membership of any 12 step fellowship is simply mind poison, just like the booze was. It’s not “recovery”, it’s just replacing one form of denial and insanity with another. Unfortunately until something better comes along (and it will, for sure) AA is all there is. So make the most of it, then stand well clear. Good luck to you. Jon S, Brighton.

  2. Glad you like the post! I have mentioned Smart recovery on another post today You can always combine Smart with AA and take what you want from each. Smart actually suggests this in its handbook. We are quite lucky with Smart meetings where I live, but if there is not one close by you can use an online meeting.

  3. Finally! A blog that discusses the shortcomings of AA without bashing and offers alternative recovery methods. I want to move on as well. Can’t wait to go through your posts. Thanks for being here!

  4. Thanks for your comment, there are of course problems with the AA approach, but of course alot of people do support eachother in AA as well. I think it is important to tell people what can work and why it is different to AA.

  5. Thanks for a balanced view.

    I have read the orange papers and see that there is some sound fact there, but it gets buried under a pile of diatribe. Just as bible thumpers put people off AA, mud slinging can stop people paying attention to sound warnings.

    Yes there are crazy people in AA. We all were when we came in. I don’t think I ever herd anyone say “I just needed to stop drinking and wanted some help, so I came here”. Remaining crazy is another matter.

    I’ve met some control freaks, not many. They give their advice for free and it’s worth every penny. It did take me a while to realise that the ones who give a load of advice and quote the book are the ones least worth listening to.

    The people in AA who have done me most good and are, in my opinion, what AA should be about are the ones who ask how you are and you can tell them without getting a reply along the lines of “That’s because you haven’t done enough steps” or some other self affirming thing.

    As to big book meetings. They can be really good. When everyone at a meeting agrees that they hate the To Wives chapter and would like to tear it out and burn it, it reassures me that the group is not a bunch of programmed droids.

    Yes, the big book is full of antiquated language and it does imply that you will eventually become a revival style evangelist and so should everyone else. When I first went to meeting I met a couple of people who did try to encourage me to go to their churches. Others told me later that this is frowned upon and come to think of it, I haven’t seen the evangelists at meetings for a while.

    i have been to meetings and been genuinely lifted by the company and the support there. I have also been to meetings which bored the backside off me, with a bunch of people trotting out cliches and holding Bill W up a cross between Moses and Shakyamuni.

    I have not come across the “AA has all the answers” attitude, though I have heard it used to be rife. Even the big book says that people with psychiatric issues (which is quite a lot of us, alcohol abuse being a common symptom of underlying problems) should get appropriate help.

    There don’t seem to be many alternatives in this neck of the woods, so I guess I’m lucky that I’m okay with AA. For those who find that other systems suit them better, I wish you good happy and healthy future.

    • Thanks for your comments. I found AA did vary from area to area quite a lot. I found the meetings in trendy parts of London were generally the worst, with people sharing about trivial issues and loads of big book gurus. I went to other meetings in less affluent areas where people had lost a lot more and were more down to earth in their approach. You could really see the difference that being in a group had made to these people’s lives. They would be clean and dressed well whereas outside you would see people sitting in filth and drinking cans or cider, living the lives that the AA people had been talking about. I found these people really inspiring and thought if they could do it, then so could I.
      I see the support provided by AA as important to these people who had broken all links with family etc. I gave them a place to go and a place to support eachother. I did not want the support of family in stopping drinking, as they simply did not understand the problem so I used AA for support as well. I do find it frustrating that AA does nothing to modify it’s approach and is so anti science. With a few changes it could help so many more, but has become entrenched with dogma, and the Big Book plays to big a part in the felowship.

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