What I found helpful in AA / Alcoholics Anonymous

My time in AA or Alcoholics Anonymous.

I have been fairly critical of the 12 step “Alcoholics Anonymous or AA” approach in places on this site, to explain why I moved on from it, but have also given AA credit for being useful in getting me to commit to living an alcohol free life. I had many attempts at stopping drinking on my own, especially between the ages of 30 and 40, but could only manage a few months at a time and would then go back to my old ways. These were horrible times as I really did not want to drink, but I was not emotionally capable of dealing with life without alcohol and I did not understand that I was caught in a vicious circle where the drinking was driving my depression and not helping me avoid it. During this time I had no idea that panic attacks were caused by drinking, and I did not really understand what was happening to me. I thought I was the only person that felt like I did, but was actually very relieved to find that I was not unique and that it was possible to change my life. I think that hearing people share about their problems in AA meetings really helped me. I no longer felt alone, and I had a bunch of people I could identify with. When I heard others talk about their issues openly in front of a group it made it all right for me to look at myself. I don’t feel that AA gave me a complete solution to my problems, as I am not religious and there was no way I was going to fully embrace the steps, in the way that some do in meetings, but I feel that it was an important part of my recovery in those early days, although I reached a point where I felt having too much reliance on a group was holding me back.

Motivation to beat Alcoholism – why AA helped.

alcoholics Anonymous

I strongly feel that it is up to the individual, to find a path that motivates them to recover, if that is truly their aim. This is harder than it sounds and takes a lot of work, along with some trial and error and probably involves some mistakes. There is no formula out there, that will save everyone. People often feel that simply going to a group such as AA, is going to solve all their issues thanks to the intervention of a “Higher Power”, or that “CBT” will help them even if they do no work. Many of these people are not particularly committed to recovery and so no method will really help them. Certainly a system such as the “Sinclair Method” which is modern and helps people cut down their drinking, has amazing potential, but I feel that some people will need the support of a group after cutting down in this way, if they are going to be able to cope with life without alcohol or drugs blocking out things they would rather not face. I think this is what used to cause me to drink again when I was attempting everything on my own. In fact it was the physical side and warnings from doctors that had initially motivated me to stop. The mental side had been horrible but that was not enough on its own to make me stop drinking.

I think that it is often using a combination of support methods as well as some guidance from the medical profession when required, that brings the best results. I personally found it best to make recovery my primary focus for a while (which is what AA suggests) until I had found some stability and could relax a bit. I think many people find that being part of a group, and really getting involved with it in the early days, is beneficial and the biggest of these groups and the one that most people at least try, is AA. I am certainly not saying that everything about Alcoholic’s Anonymous is great, and I can certainly see room for improvement, but can accept it for what it is and see that some people find it beneficial to be long-term members, while people such as myself choose to make use of the support offered and move on. I certainly find some of the arguments against AA are very weak and that many conclusions are based on emotion and conjecture rather than facts. I think The Sober Truth by Lance Dodes, gives a good assessment of AA and is far more accurate than some of the online critics, such as the Orange-Papers, which influences some people, but I view as fairly inaccurate and extreme in places.

The Religion in AA was not in line with my values.


I certainly did not have much faith in the religious/spiritual side of the program, and this is the area that most of the small but noisy, online“Anti-AA” bunch attack (when they are not arguing with each other!). AA and other 12 step groups, grew from the “Oxford Group”, which was a moralising religious group. It has kept the values of the “Oxford Group” and incorporated ideas such as sharing problems. I certainly learnt a lot from the sharing, as I have mentioned before, especially as I had not been to rehab, and this helped me later, in my second attempt at CBT, as after spending a year or so in AA, I was more ready to open and deal with my problems, than I had been in the past. I had been treated for depression and given CBT counselling ten years before I went to AA, but I did not take on all the ideas that were being presented and did not really discuss problems in a truthful, open manner with doctors. This lead to me spending another decade living a poorer quality life than I could have done.  The bottom line in those days was that I could not face life without alcohol, and it was not until I joined a fellowship of people (AA), that were trying to do the same thing that I really faced up to my problem and had started to do something about it.

I found some of the people in AA were inspiring and this motivated me to try to emulate them by living an alcohol free life. I also found other people in the 12 step world to be crazy, and were the type of people who were best avoided. Some people do find the religious side helpful, and do believe their recovery is down to God or a “Higher Power”. It depends on your own values and how you were brought up, but I tended to ignore this side, after realising that the program was written in the Mid West of America, which is generally more religious than the south of England, where I come from. I have travelled extensively in the USA and am aware of the varying attitudes on religion depending on area. I think quite a few people ignore the religious side of AA in this way and just use the fellowship.

I do think AA has some good ideas, for example phoning somebody when you are tempted to drink or simply not having a drink today. I do not feel all the steps are that bad. I think I have always done step 10 for example, since I was pretty young. The idea of powerlessness helped me in my early days and the first step as well, but I modified my approach over time, after I felt I had moved on in my recovery. Step 4 and 5 are held up as core parts of the program and this is not surprising considering the heavy moralising of the “Oxford Group” and these can lead to problems with some people, especially those who are vulnerable and should really be having specialist mental health treatment and not simply going to AA for a solution. Having said that, I do think that looking at resentments especially those that are long-term can be helpful, but should be done with a proper therapist if it is something that causes stress. Many in AA have a sort of blind faith in the program, and push these steps on people who do not feel comfortable with them, and then wonder why things go wrong. These people are attempting to perform faith healing which is not what AA should be. Alcoholics Anonymous should be a support group, and the steps are there for those who want them, not something to be forced on others.



A good thing about going to AA for me, was that it was an anonymous group and I did not have to talk to a doctor to go there, I could just turn up. I was worried about discussing my problems again with a doctor, and this was certainly a reason why my earlier treatment was ineffective (which I mentioned before when talking about CBT). Certain ideas had sunk in from those days, it just took me a few ideas to act on them! For me, attending AA certainly gave me a place to go to help beat the habit of going to a pub. It introduced me to new people, and was an introduction to living an alcohol free life. Being part of a group motivated me to beat addiction, but it was certainly not the final solution, simply part of the early stages. I changed my mind about seeking medical help after spending some time in AA, as I felt I needed help with depression. I think most people have some depression when they stop drinking and are facing up to a new way of life. Although certain people in AA did make me feel uncomfortable, I generally learnt who to avoid. I do not blame AA for my depression like some would, and can certainly see why some people suffer this despite joining support groups. I recently re read the book “Face to Face” by Audrey Kishline and Sheryl Maloy, which I found very moving indeed, especially in light of Audrey’s recent suicide. I was disgusted by some of the online reactions to her death and the conclusions that some people were coming to, despite never having had any contact with her. This was similar to the equally ridiculous comments about Robin Williams and others, by those who have a grudge against AA, and are prepared to use anything from wild claims that AA drives people to suicide or calling it a religious cult that has nothing to do with recovery. There are a small number of people in the recovery world, who will use a fellow alcoholic’s suicide to bash the recovery method they were using. They have formed these opinions from some of the more crazy online sites that are low on real facts and driven by emotion and a pack mentality.

Support from AA members.

Certain people in AA really helped me, with their support at certain events in my early days. I went to a few nightclubs with people from AA, and I’m not sure that would have gone well, if I had been on my own. Having sober people around me who were enjoying the night, was very inspiring and showed me that living a sober life could be fun. I needed to know that, to be motivated to continue, other wise the thought of life alcohol free would have been unbearable. There were people from AA at the first gig I played sober (for over 25 years) which was in a club called Dingwalls in London in front of a fairly large crowd. This really helped me, as they were people who had done the same thing and seeing them at the front of the crowd was really helpful! That was actually an important night for me as I was about 6 weeks sober and it really gave me a lot of self-confidence, especially as the gig was a memorial to an old friend, and lots of people I knew were there. It also made me reflect on the fact that most of those missing were dead through drugs (It was also the night I decided to ignore the advice about relationships in the first year!). I certainly would not have got this type of support if I had only used online support at this time. I feel that meeting other sober people in person can be really helpful, even though you may not share all their values.

I moved on from AA, after having a fair amount of therapy, which was much more effective this time. Looking back I can see that the fact that I was sober, was a big advantage when getting treatment from doctor, as was the fact that I was more motivated to beat my problems having seen some people succeed and live great lives,(and others fail and do badly). After going to AA, I was more ready to embrace ideas such as physical fitness helping beat depression and the benefits of meditation or other methods that help relaxation and looking at life in perspective. I do therefore feel it is accurate to credit AA with helping with my recovery, although I do this for different reasons to many, who feel it is God or “chapter 5” that has saved their life. For me, it was simply a case of identifying that I had a problem and being with people who were similar and who wanted to beat alcoholism as well. I got caught up in the dynamics of the group and did not wish to fail. I was happy to identify myself in the group as an alcoholic in those days, as I was not long out of the craving period, and the consequences of relapse and active alcoholism were large and real in my mind. This is something that has certainly eased with having a fair amount of alcohol free time, and I have changed my life so much and have a vastly different self-image these days, that I tend not to identify myself as an alcoholic any more. I am not in denial about the past, but I simply feel that I have moved on, and calling oneself an alcoholic is a pretty negative self-image in my opinion. I don’t call myself a smoker as I have not smoked for many years, so why should I feel the need to call myself an alcoholic when I have not had a drink for years. Changing my self-image has been key to being able to sustain the changes in approach I have made in my life. I certainly don’t do everything perfectly, but I am able to take a step back from situations and can deal with problems better. This is important in this day and age when economic problems make jobs unstable, and it is difficult to plan for long-term security in the same way that it was in the past. I do feel that working and taking part in society is another key part to recovery. Again it builds self-respect and independence.

Other methods such as Moderation.

One of the things that I find worrying about the recovery world is that people know so little about the alternatives to the 12 step world and that although some progress has been made, people who are looking for solutions are not really joining other recovery groups in huge numbers. I have read books about “Harm Reduction” and find the ideas there to be really good. It is a shame that many of the ideas of these groups are not more widely known as I feel they would motivate people to start looking at their problems much earlier and save them a lot of grief long-term. There was recently a fairly toxic argument on the Soberistas site about moderation, where many of the members of that forum attacked the idea of moderation as worthless. I don’t think this is true if people are in early stages, but do think that people are only joining support groups such as Soberistas or AA when they have serious problems, where attempting moderation can result in serious relapse. If people were helped earlier, or alcohol problems were de stigmatised, then people would could be helped more by these methods. It is a shame that the website http://www.substance.com is not being updated, as the harm reduction world does need a credible website, with the opportunity for some proper discussion, if it is to make people aware of what it can offer. AA is certainly better than other groups at advertising its meetings and its popularity is reflected by coverage in the media.

I have found reading about all the different methods to be really helpful for me. I would say that most solutions have some good ideas, and that somebody new to recovery should look at them all and then make an informed decision about which path works bests with their own values and personal circumstances. I suppose that is the idea of “Harm Reduction”, as it is about finding a method that is going to reduce the harm and addict is doing to themselves and others. I think that all recovery methods such as “Smart Recovery”, “The Sinclair Method”, and even AA can be considered “Harm Reduction”. The one thing I do not consider “Harm Reduction” that I have mentioned on this page, is the actions of the “Anti-AA” bunch and their opposite numbers, that clog up comments sections of sites such as the Fix with their pointless arguments. All they do, is present a poor view of people in recovery, and play up to the stereotype of alcoholics being mental cases. Attacking somebody else support group, which they may have to rely on at times of weakness is certainly not harm reduction. Using the suicide of an alcoholic, as ammunition in a pointless argument against the support group or groups they were a member of is not harm reduction.

Not everything is true that you hear in AA meetings (or read on the web).

The sad truth is that unless you find a solution that motivates you to change your ways, then it is doubtful that you will have a great long-term recovery from alcoholism or addiction. You do have to find your own way, as we all have our own reasons for getting drunk. You have to be prepared to modify approach when things don’t work out, and search for things that do help. I do think that recovery groups are important for many of those who are in early stages, and it can be really important to find some peer based support. However it is important to realise that people who are using support groups or online resources are not always the most mentally healthy, and that believing everything you are told or have read is not always a good idea! I think that methods such as the “Sinclair Method” can really make a difference to the numbers beating Alcoholism, and that it would work well along side peer support meetings such as Smart Recovery. AA has many meetings and lots of tradition and is accessible for most people, but does not move with the times, and so does not motivate as many people to become engaged in the recovery process as it could. This is a shame, but is a result of it being held back by dogma and tradition, which ironically is probably the last thing that the founders would have wanted.


Commenting area

  1. This is a wonderful post. One of the best things I’ve ever read about the pros and cons of AA, and I’ve read a lot on that particular subject ..! It’s so very hard to find balanced information out there and this article really does manage to tread a very fine line.

    We’re all grateful to AA for our sobriety, but somewhere along the line things just seemed to get more cloudy, not clearer. I meet more and more people who went to AA, it helped them get sober, then they left, and now they’re fine. I think, ultimately, that’s because although AA works well enough it doesn’t do so for the reasons it claims. People see through that, and just grow out of it.

    We know much more about alcohol abuse and dependency (“alcoholic” isn’t really a recognised medical term anymore) than we did in the 1930s, but AA can’t and won’t recognise that… It has a fantastic and loving message of recovery, no doubt, but it’s also incapable of real meaningful change.

    If only the fellowship and its members were more “Honest”, “Open minded” and “Willing” things could be very different. One day, I’m sure, this will be the case. It may take more than a generation though, particularly in the USA. UK AA is already very different, so the change may come here first.

    It’s such an emotional issue, however, and everyone seems to have something at stake. As a result, perhaps inevitably, lots of people are either rabidly anti-AA or robotically and defensively pro-AA. I’ve been both in my time, that’s for sure.

    Yet neither of those positions helps. Many of AA’s founders wouldn’t have held such conservative views, of course, not least Bill Wilson who might well have embraced naltrexone and The Sinclair Method much as he did niacin and LSD.

    Wonderful stuff. To paraphrase Sam Cooke: “It’s been a long time coming, but I know, a change is going to come.”

    Keep sharing the message!

    Jon S. “Leaving AA, Staying Sober” at http://jonsleeper.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for your reply. I do think most people do move on from AA when they feel the time is right, although it does take a period to adjust after leaving any support group, especially one that is religious in nature. Most people i knew that went to Smart were people who had moved on from AA and had found something more suitable for their needs, although I still feel that many of them would have been motivated to stop by their time in AA – The book by Pete Soderman https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/powerless-longer-review-pete-soderman-book/ talks about startting a sober journey in AA and then changing approach.
      I will try and follow this up with what is bad about AA from my perspective, I certainly do not share many of the extreme views about the 12 step world, that you can find online, but I certainly feel that AA could be made a bit safer without too much effort, and there needs to be recognition of other solutions that alcoholics can be guided to, if AA conflicts with their values.
      I think change will be slow, especially in America which has religious values that are out of step with the rest of the developed world. Methods such as the “Sinclair Method” do well in Scandinavian countries that have a more scientific eductaion system, and this will influence other countries over time.

  2. “… too much reliance on a group was holding me back.”

    Yeah. I’m feeling that way now. I’ve got a couple of guys in our small group who seem to want to control me to the point that they try and keep me just under their thumb, but give me enough freedom to participate in their entourage of telling others what A.A. is and what it is not, pretty much solely based on their own experiences and interpretations of what the A.A. book says. They’re quick to point out where my defects are glaring but I see a couple of immature and dependent dudes who can’t shed their own egos and change the glaring defects in their own characters, but since they are so flipping spiritual and the most qualified and professional alcoholics, they qualify as a couple of real bonafide Mr. A.A. gurus. Neither of them hold a full-time job, and rely at least partly on their over-burdened spouses. Yet they’re quick to jump my ass for putting my job or my well adjusted non-alcoholic wife ahead of them, the group, or A.A. in general.

    In fact it was the physical side and warnings from doctors that had initially motivated me to stop. The mental side had been horrible but that was not enough on its own to make me stop drinking.

    I can relate to this. I believe that I understand why I drank booze the way I did, but my belief system involves the spiritual realm of things, which many folks will not relate to or they will bristle with skepticism and call it cultish and A.A.-like. My understanding of abnormal behaviors that encompass alcoholism and drug addiction and perhaps other addictions entails the quest to raise one’s level of consciousness. I drank to feel better, obviously. It worked fantastically pretty much when I needed it to, when I didn’t expect it too, and even when I downright demanded it to because damn it, I effing deserved it! So why, one may ask, does drinking booze the way I did take me out of a lower stated of consciousness and directly into bliss? From what I understand of it, it’s because the booze merely blocks the lower states of consciousness for just a bit, and lets me experience my true being for just a moment. So because of that, and as the A.A. book says, we are doomed before we even take that first drink because the mental obsession brings me back to the possibility of escaping this realm and also gives me hope that I can control it better this time. The physical aspect of the malady is just a consequence. For me, those consequences involve the loss of control over the amount once I start and the loss of hope and stability when I’m abruptly separated from the stuff.

    So, the challenge is to find a way of raising my consciousness in a proper way. For some of us, that has become the spiritual approach, thus the steps. Don’t like the steps? Don’t like religion? Tell me a better way. Honestly. I’m all ears. What have you got? Just manage well? Buckle down and get my ducks in a row? Grow up? Get a life? A gym membership? Sure! I’m in! Sign me up! I’m willing. I’ll do it! In fact, I’m working on all of that now. For long periods of time, It seems to work for me. But the bottom line for me is, I need to be living a life where I have a life worth living, I need to enjoy myself and be of use to y’all, and I need to have all this going on and in the end, not want to drink booze because I just don’t need it anymore.

    “… but can accept it for what it is and see that some people find it beneficial to be long-term members, while people such as myself choose to make use of the support offered and move on.”

    My biggest problem with A.A. is that you have too many head-nodding-droolers in there who are socialized in A.A. and think that they can just “keep coming back” themselves sober and not really even do the step and practice them, but just think they’ve done them by reading them on the wall… day after day, meeting after meeting, hug after hug, coffee cup after coffee cup, cigarette after cigarette, etc.

    Why even go to A.A. if you aren’t gonna do steps, aren’t an actual alcoholic, refuse to be willing to consider that there is a God who you can turn your thoughts and actions over to in exchange for a guided and useful way of life? Either God is who He/She/It says He/ She/It is or He/She/It is a liar! Pick one or don’t. If you don’t, then do something else. To me, religion is horse bleep. But, some folks are making use of it. I’ve asked a very religious yet spiritually successful person what’s up with God, religion, the bible, Christianity, and all of the other religions. He pretty showed me that my hang-ups on all of these things are a matter of separating doctrine from what some folks would call Truth.

    Even some atheists would tell you that they find the Bible a well written book detailing accurate history, culture, geography, etc. Then there are those who find it to be the scourge of the planet. Not my battle. I’ve just got other things to do. All A.A. really tells me to do with this is to have an open mind and make use of where I find religious people to be right. What this does not mean is that religious people are always right.

    “The Religion in AA was not in line with my values.”

    You go on to talk about the Oxford Group. My recent understanding of the Oxford Group sheds light on how it may have been used and why it was later discarded. I could be wrong on all of this, but this is my current understanding of it in a nutshell;

    The Oxford Group was formed for folks who wanted to model their life on 1st Century Christianity and to live a more useful and pure life, and to bring the very society around them into a more spiritual and healthy realm. They obviously tried to bite off more than they could chew. Some folks looked at them as the “Salvation Army for snobs”. They actually tried and perhaps did exclude Jews, Catholics, the poor, homosexuals, etc., and though they accepted some drunks, they discouraged sober drunks from bringing too many drunks with them. For this reason, Bill W, and then eventually Dr. Bob, left the group.

    Here are the 6 tenants of the Oxford Groups as adopted by the founders of A.A. prior to their writing of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous;
    1. Complete Deflation
    2. Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power
    3. Moral Inventory
    4. Confession
    5. Restitution
    6. Continued work with other alcoholics

    You’ll find this on page 292 of a 3rd or older edition A.A. book.

    “Support from A.A. Members
    I am not in denial about the past, but I simply feel that I have moved on, and calling oneself an alcoholic Is a pretty negative self-image in my opinion.”

    My problem with this is the notion that I am still an alcoholic. I believe that my talking a drink of alcohol today would possibly lead to another experiment for me that would eventually or quickly not end well… perhaps to a result that would be as bad if not worse than any I’ve had before.

    Now, that said, what about my current sober state of consciousness? Can I manage my life now, without God? Without A.A.? Perhaps I can. And I will inevitably try. Why wouldn’t I? Even if I had 100% pure faith in God and was the most pious and enlightened person on the planet, I am NOT God. I will get lost. I will fail in some way. I AM human. I will fall down. But it doesn’t mean I have to drink booze. It doesn’t mean I have to give up on the spiritual life.

    What the spiritual life means for me is that I will become selfish, afraid, resentful, petty, self-pitying, dishonest, and sometimes down-right mischievous. And here’s the key… for me, I will do that from time to time, and I will get off on it. I’ll want to be mad. I’ll want to be in self-pity. I’ll want your approval, justified or otherwise, and I’ll want my way. I’ll not only want my way, but I’ll want to control and dominate you, because doggone it, I’m pissed and I want to get even with you. Then I will suffer, pay the price, be in shame for a while, then I will get back on my feet, dust myself off, and try to clean myself up a bit. Finding someone else I can help will lead me out of myself.

    So what were we saying about self-image again? Oh yeah. You have your way of dealing with it. I’ve got these stupid steps to use.

    It all boils down to this thought… the bottles were only symbols. Remember that one?

    “Other methods such as Moderation”

    Wonderful. I want to learn to “live and let live” in this regard.

    “Not everything is true that you hear in A.A. meetings…”

    I hear that!

    Bottom line for me, I think I can walk away from A.A. now or at least become the freelance floater that I want to be and live a spiritual-centered life, stay sober, and have a life that’s worth living and productive. I cannot reform nor “fix” A.A. They will only try to “fix” me or run me off.

    I still think that there are some religious folks out there who are making use of their faith, and that there are truly “spiritual seekers” out there that are not “religious” in the traditional sense and can keep from branding their beliefs and that hopefully one day, the religious folks can work and live side by side with the skeptics, atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers, mystics, pagans, etc. etc. etc.

    I’ll end with this, if you can get and stay sober without A.A., do it!

    • Thanks for such a detailed reply.

      I think that AA certainly helps a great many people that become involved in it, and that doing service and having the responsibility of service really helps them stay motivated not to drink. It makes the majority of people feel less alone, although a small number seem to find the opposite.

      The steps moralise alcoholism, especially step 4 and 5 and I don’t think this is a true reflection of what drives alcoholism today, although it would have been in keeping with the views of many shortly after the end of prohibition. Moralisation was a core part of the Oxford Group and the Moral Rearmament group that followed. These groups did seek to influence people through making links with the rich and powerful as they realised this was a quick way to growth. Post war they declined and were looked at as rather odd out of date groups, especially in the UK, where Mary Whitehouse was either loved or loathed depending on your values. Most people in the UK would have no idea that AA is based on the same spiritual values, that somebody such as Whitehouse held and tried to push on others.

      The idea of writing this all down was to give an honest appraisal of how AA affected me in my early days and aknowledge that I learnt things from it, and was inspired to stay alcohol free since joining. However it was not the only thing that kept me sober, and it was using a combination of methods that really helped me. I read this book recently https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/powerless-longer-review-pete-soderman-book/ by Pete Soderman called “Powerless no Longer” and he also made use of many methods to beat alcoholism. I think to many people get to a certain stage in AA and then cannot progress any more and suffer as a result. They would probably do better trying something else.

      There are certainly people in AA who I would not class as real alcoholics. They have not experienced the daily pull of alcohol ruling their lives and can often be the ones that have a blind faith in the program (or people that call it a cult when they leave after years of attendance!). They may have joined when they were young and immature, and taken on the message of AA in a literal way, which seems to happen in the USA more than Uk as people have grown up with religious values, and are ready to accept a GOD solution without question. This is not the case in the UK where religion is not a big part of most people’s daily life outside many ethnic minorities. AA is still a place where low bottom drunks go for help although this has changed a bit, especially in richer areas, where people have attended 12 step rehabs, and are introduced to AA at a younger age. In central London meetings, many of the people with multiple years have joined young and are American. The UK people tend to join much later in life.

      I think it is dangerous to assume that AA will work for everyone – it clearly does not. Many are simply put off by the structure of meetings and the Big Book message and of course may are not that serious about stopping and have been told to go by somebody else. Others are sadly mentally ill, and should really be getting proper care elsewhere but are dumped in AA , because they have a drink problem and are unlikely to do well.

      I don’t know if you have read Lance Dodes Book “The Sober Truth” which I found to give a good rational account of how AA grew and its limitations, https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/sober-truth-book/ . It certainly divided people on comment sections of internet boards when it was published but I think most of the posts were by people who had not read it! I do not feel it is disrespectful to AA and felt it explained how AA has become stuck in the past and weighed down by dogma.

      I will try and come back to all this soon and put down something about the bad side of AA and also look at the cult side. I do not believe AA is a cult, but did experience some cult like meetings. Anyway I’m going to switch off my computer and go for a run, its a great day in London after the rain and I’m going to go past the big Sunday AA meeting and wave to let them know I’m still alive and doing well!

      • “… I’m going to go past the big Sunday AA meeting and wave to let them know I’m still alive and doing well!”

        This would be a great subject for a post: how do you relate to other AAs after you’ve left?

        I struggle with it to some extent. I bump into AAs I used to know in Brighton every single day. It used to be one of the joys of recovery. Now I don’t know how to relate to them.

        It doesn’t help that they don’t know how to relate to me either. I get blanked or I get the concerned furrowed brow and the “are you ok?” question (in other words, “are you drinking?”) and then there’s usually an awkward embarrassed silence because there’s really nothing else to say.

        I was a major big book thumper. Shared at lots of meetings. Sponsored many others. Now although I’m not anti-AA I just don’t buy into it.

        So I can’t go along with the AA dogma any more, and at the same time don’t want to get into a conversation about why that’s the case.

        Interestingly the only people I’ve had a decent honest conversation with are those who I used to think of as slippers and sliders. The strugglers who couldn’t buy into it either. Funnily enough I can chat with them for hours now.

        Anyway, my “Dear Abby” question is how do I deal with it? Is it going to be like this forever?

        • “… I’m going to go past the big Sunday AA meeting and wave to let them know I’m still alive and doing well!”

          They actually waved back! Some of them from that meeting do refer to me as the local heretic! I can do a piece on that and will try and get something done in the next couple of weeks. I live in an area where there is a lot of AA meetings including two of the culty ones. Some people look the other way when I see them in the street and others are generally pleased to see me, and the fact that I do well without it. I recently saw a quite prominent AA person having a sneeky drink, and went up to him. He said he does not share the fact he drinks in meetings, but still goes. It did shock him to see me standing there though! I tend not to talk about recovery with most hardcore AA people as there is no point having an argument like you see on some online sites. I still go in a cafe where there are lots of AA and that can be strange, when you hear all the old phrases, but I like the food and it is also a musicians haunt as well.

          I was also asked to help out a longterm member who was in hospital because I would not make a fuss or share anything about their problems at meetings! They did not want their sponcees there. I just take people as they come and don’t really define them by what recovery method they use these days. If people are doing well in AA and enjoy it then they should keep going, but if they need something else then they should leave and move on.

  3. “Thanks for such a detailed reply.”

    You’re welcome. I had a bit of time. I don’t do much recovery writing elsewhere these days and only attend a meeting or so a week now as I’ve discussed previously. I wouldn’t go at all if it weren’t for the occasional new or car-less member wanting a ride to a meeting or my home group requesting my presence at their small but focused weekly meeting.

    Now you say that the steps moralize alcoholism. I would not agree with this. Let’s look at “A” definition for moralize; Comment on issues of right and wrong, typically with an unfounded air of superiority.” Now, I understand there are other definitions for the word, and will refer to an older dictionary to simplify the thing. Moralize can also mean simply, “To apply or explain in a moral sense.” Moral meaning of course, “Conformed to right; virtuous; inner meaning; moral philosophy or ethics; behavior.”

    But what is the best and most simple definition of the word moral in the type of A.A. group that I would frequent? There’s an answer for that. In those types of groups, it means simply, “Does it work” If it works, it’s moral. No sermon, no lecture, no cross to bear, no “axes to grind”… remember that one?

    I don’t think that the Oxford Groups invented a set of steps that the folks from A.A. would one day adopt and make use of for their hopeful recovery from seeking “spirits”. I think that there have been established spiritual principles with which to live that are universal to us all. I in fact believe that the founding forefathers of America used them to form this nation in which I reside. It is my belief that the following of those principles have never failed us nor the world at large. This goes back to a new argument that I’ve delved into, the quest to separate religious doctrine from spiritual principles.

    Some background on me and where I’m coming from; I don’t consider myself religious nor a “very good Christian” in the sense that those who are could easily claim me to be neither. I don’t go to church but a few times a year even though I’m perfectly aware that church remains open from Easter to Christmas and from Christmas to Easter… I was baptized Catholic when I was weeks old but don’t remember the event very well… I do not believe that non-Christians are going to “Hell”… I currently cannot believe that… I don’t even know what “Hell” really is nor do I accept a portion of the worlds’ interpretation of it despite their quick reference to it from the book and interpretations of their particular “brand” of religion… I never had Christianity nor Catholicism nor religion in general crammed down my throat by my parents shortly after that baptism to current day… I just don’t have any kind of resentment against the notion of a spiritual life in any way. I DO have many questions and misunderstandings and harsh judgments, resentments, etc., against all the “sand” religions and those who murder, control, attempt to dominate, etc. others for their own gain or for simple seeming sadistic, selfish, fearful, etc. reasons. I label all falsehood in the name of God executed by His children as simple “doctrine”.

    It’s my believe that Bill W. thought the same way, summed up by a brilliant quote (whether stolen or otherwise) of his… To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great [m]an, not too closely followed by those who claimed Him.”

    I don’t mean to be grandstanding for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I really don’t because what that book has lead me it is what I’ve been trying to lead the poor folks in that program to as well. This includes the new person, the head-knodding droolers, the socialized-in-A.A. parrots, the bleeding deacons, etc. But who am I to claim “enlightenment”? Well, how’s my life going? I think it’s imperative and necessary to get your own life in order and manage well. Yeah, I’m talking about financial well-being, materialistic things, being able to rub two pennies together, being able to drive a car to and fro… one that’s got four decent tires… one that doesn’t smoke… one that’s painted all one color… one that might not break down on a long trip, being able to provide for yourself and family and community etc., being able to put down those nasty cigarettes, being able to eat properly and groom yourself accordingly for those around you if not just for yourself, to seek physical well-being as well as keeping an eye on our internal beauty as well… I saw a great church billboard yesterday that said “Beauty is internal; you can’t photoshop that!.., being able to live in such abundance that you merely have no other choice BUT to give freely and graciously. But even in A.A., there’s too much ego. If you have a day or month or year or decade more sobriety than me, then you can’t hear what I say. You know more and more “sober” than I. But keep doing this stuff I’m doing because by God, I need this stuff, and to keep carrying the load and pitching those newcomers. Pay your dues… then one day… you can climb up here with us.

    Sounds ridiculous, but isn’t it true? Not just for A.A. neither.

    What I’ saying is that I refuse to set aside the spiritual approach. This is the part that really took fire in me. I’m no preacher. I’ve tried that. No one seems to want to hear it anyway for sure, even over here across the “pond”.

    I’ll read your book “The Sober Truth” and get back to y’all on this. But I encourage you to read a couple pages of one of my mentors, one the anti/XAers seem to love to ridicule and cast down as a quack. He may have lost his way in his later years, but I think he was onto something. I’m asking you to read the bottom of page 187 to the end of page 189 of David R Hawkins book “I – Reality and Subjectivity”. This one section reiterates the virtue of humility, surrender, and prayer.

    Keep in mind that surrender is the basis of the concept of “powerlessness over alcohol”, as well as “making a decision to turn our will and live over to the care of [G]od® as we understood [H]im®.

    • Thanks again for another detailed reply. Its late here and I’ve had a tough day at work so I will try to write a more detailed reply later in the week. I will mention one thing and that is the moralising which was talked about. Step 4 is a moral inventory and that is a key part of the 12 steps that leads to others about character flaws. That made me think that the founders of AA believed that alcoholism was a result of poor morals and not something that could happen to people who want to blot out life. Having said that we all know that getting drunk is not really socially acceptable (until we find ourselves in the company of other drunks which generally happens over time), yet we decide to do it. I think the idea that alcoholism is a moral flaw in our character is probably an idea taken from the Oxford Group. I think the link with AA and the church is quite strong, which I don’t have a problem with as the church often reaches out to people in an unfortunate position when the rest of society ignore them. I tend to think many things drive alcoholism, especially peer pressure and environmental issues in the modern world. Anyway I’m exhausted and rambling now, but I will re read what you have said and put a proper response on here!

    • Hello again Mcgowdog and others. I agree with a lot you say, especially the stuff about getting life together. I think that taking part in society really does help change the self image of somebody in addiction. I was reflecting on what I found at my first AA meeting which was in a poor area in London some distance from where I now live, which I went because I did not want to be recognised! I was expecting to see a bunch of broken down tramps and scruffy people, but this was not the case at all. Many of the people there were smartly dressed and well groomed, yet shared stories of living on the streets and of all kinds of deprevation. They had also mangaged to stop drinking! They had turned things around. There were a few scruffy people there but they were the few who had not managed to change yet, but were still welcomed to attend. This made a very big impression on me, as I felt that if these people who had lived on the street could change, so could I. I continued to attend meetings in this area fro some time and found them far more helpful than the more “middle class” meetings in my own area. I found myself being inspired by people who were far less fortunate in life, than myself.

      Many of these people had taken on a spiritual lifestyle and were happy to talk about higher powers etc. I felt so ill that I was ready to suspend my normal beliefs to attempt to get well at this point. I had been around many people in the music world who had strong religious beliefs and I always envied their piece of mind. That was certainly something I wanted but did not have. I also identified with many of the things that was shared in AA meetings about panic attacks and insecurity, and began to take note of the other things that were said and became a regular member for a while. I think that being part of the group could be considered a spiritual experience to be honest. I was around people with similar problems for the first time, who were trying to beat this problem. I did not find praying helpful as it made me feel self concious and rather stupid and in fact increased resentments, but I also tried meditation and some simple techniques such as metta meditation which really helped. I would not have used these techniques if I had not heard other people saying they were helpful. I still do this today and I find it helps keep me relaxed and keep problems in perspective. I do feel some spiritual ideas can help but I do not feel they are much of a solution on their own.

      I think many in AA simply rely on the spiritual side without really dealing with other issues and some people who are mentally ill can be really badly affected if they take on a spiritual solution at the expense of everything else. A combination of a crazy alcoholic being mentored by a crazy sponsor who belives the steps are the answer to any addiction issue, regardless of environmental background or the health of an individual, can cause dreadful consequences. I would agree that living a life with good moral values will help somebody beat addiction, and it will certainly lead to a better quality of life as people in society will respond to you in a different way. I think things in the steps such as apologising when wrong, are obviously good ideas. Even the idea of powerlessness can be helpful in the early days of recovery, although it can backfire later on, especially as most people do relapse. I do feel step 4 can actually crush people who are vulnerable although it can help others. This is one of the big problems with the 12 step approach, in that it is a one size fits all solution, and I think it is a mistake to send everyone to a 12 step program. I think that some people are not suited to AA and should be gently nudged towards a more suitable solution for them.

      I got quite a lot of negative cooments on my face book page by the usual nutjobs from the anti-AA world about this piece. https://www.facebook.com/lovinglife.fiftytwo/posts/1549451188642020?comment_id=1551266538460485&notif_t=share_comment

      I actually got called a stepper by one of the more crazy people who actually claims to be an addiction counsellor. It does show the problem of how useless some people are in the addiction industry, especially in America where there is not much regulation.

      “Laura Tompkins Who are we to expose the truth regarding the inherent DANGERS in AA and the 12 steps? People who do NOT want to see people rendered ‘powerless’ and ‘diseased’ and spend their lives defending a cult religion that demands you give ‘it’ all credit for YOUR decisions. That’s fucking who.
      2 March at 15:32 · 2
      Laura Tompkins Oh and that “I suppose you would rather I went on drinking …’ FALACY. NO. You would be the one doing the dangerous ‘supposing.’. Supposing that your spontaneous remission is somehow related to this cult religion. The responsibility lies with YOU. AA brainwashed you into believing that you were so fundamentally flawed that you couldn’t have made a choice on your own since you are nothing but a powerless, diseased, character defective with nothing but personality shortcomings and no access to God. AA gave you your life and therefore you better defend it even AFTER you have left and seen the dangers. For fucks sake man!!!! Don’t you steppers DARE put the ‘you’re-killing-alcoholics-it -helps-some-people-you-would-rather-see-me-continue-to-drink’ BILLShit our there. This is a LOGICAL FALACY with very little logic except to the ignorant and/or brainwashed. Stop. It.”

      Not a great advert for those who have left AA!

      I also got this response from Scott Stern which was great

      “People have different experiences of supports. Some respond to religious supports, others to peer supports, some to family supports, political supports, colleague supports, and so on. Who is anyone to judge the source of someone’s support system? Tearing down a support system can cause harm–something harm reductionists are supposed to stand against. The end to prove a point does not justify the means. I support harm reduction, and AA is a form a harm reduction in my opinion. There is plenty room for everyone to find a support system that works form them. It’s called freedom of choice.”

      He was then given some abuse by one of the more crazy anti AA people who has since edited his comment.

      I am sure you remember this type of stuff from Stinkin Thinkin and how things got out of hand. It ends up as simply a flaming war, that achieves nothing except bad feeling, and a few seconds of smugness for a self centred, self righteous troll. I can certainly see why the authors of Stinkin thinkin walked away from the site. There were some good people that commented there, but any site that sets itself up as “anti” in nature to something will always attract crazy people. What amuses me about the anti brigade, is that they consider themselves as anti-AA which means they feel empowered to critise and attack AA, yet they go mad if you criticise them. It does show their weakness off to everyone. I am not suprised that people do not generally stay part of the anti AA world for long as so many of the people are completely irrational that are taking part. Many of the comments remind me of those made by racists to members against ethnic communities. I don’t think that they have managed to get one AA meeting shut down so far after many years of campaigning and are simply ignored by most. That is the best way to deal with trolls, many of them have little going on in their lives and are prepared to argue with anyone.

  4. Couldn’t agree more with all of this!!

  5. Thanks again L.

    With all that I posted up there, I’m still looking for an end game.

    I still believe that there are good and bad A.A. meetings, but that doesn’t imply that good ones are without error and that bad ones didn’t help someone.

    My last sponsor, someone who I still see in that weekly home group, but just isn’t my sponsor any more… is the guy who thinks that A.A. can cure everything, including mental illness, depression, etc. I don’t agree with him, especially any more. We see eye to eye on few things now. But we agree on sponsorship. You do a set of steps, then you’re sponsor-free. He doesn’t sponsor me any more at all and I’m not his “pigeon”. I’m free.

    I say that to say this… I’m not powerless over alcohol. Not anymore. I’m recovered. I’m also not diseased. I suffer from no symptoms related to alcohol physically nor mentally. Period.

    And, that’s exactly what the A.A. book says about the matter. It says that we were powerless, not that we are. The book said that I lacked power and that was my delimna. Go one drinking or seek power.

    I sought Power, and I found it. I’m a power seeker. Who doesn’t need some power?

    Now surrender, prayer, meditation, realization of humility, etc. are age-old techniques to a better life, imo.

    Living in and staying in inventory is ridiculous. Finding some things that I’m hung up on and becoming willing to get rid of them and turning my attention towards my fellow people in a positive way doesn’t seem dangerous to me.

    The notion of A.A. folks is that many alkies are already loaded down with resentments and fears and old ideas anyway, what could be so wrong about offering a suffering alcoholic some hope?

    The biggest hope is this… my troubles are of my own making. They arise out of myself, this God that I need to appeal to is deep within me as well, so all I need for recovery is right here in front of me.

    Where A.A. louses it up is putting recovery on other A.A. members, the book, meetings, etc.

    I truly believe thay if Bill Wilson were alive and well today, he’d be all about other forms of recovery.

    All I’m trying to do is take the principles that A.A. showed me… not the ones they created/invented… and apply them and move along.

    A.A. ain’t the only game in town. It’s one of the cheapest, but that’s up for debate.

    I also want to come to the defense of some anti/XAers, they’re not all bad and they’re not all at fault. Some of them are very understanding of both sides and some were driven to where they are by sick A.A.ers. That’s been my observation.

  6. I certainly think that Bill Wilson would be excited about different ways of beating alcoholism, especially the Sinclair Method. There are certainly some good people who can understand both sides of the argument about AA but they are generally drowned out by the idiots that base themselves on the Orange site that have no interest in discussion . I actually got quite a few emails and messages about some of the recent comments I got. People would not comment about subjects as get realise they will just get flamed by the morons. I’ve been having a look at your site as well and there is some interesting things there as well as some good comments. I’m re reading an interesting book about treating alcoholism and addiction which talks about harm reduction techniques and the social side of attending 12 step groups. I will put something on here soon when I get time, but it really does show how a combination of solutions can be helpful.

  7. I don’t usually comment here but feel compelled to. I have, and continue to, appreciate criticism of AA because for all intents and purposes there is not enough. Although I validate your personal experience, if you want to know why (since your article asks) 12 Step programs are heavily known and others aren’t it is because of articles like this. We all know the “good” of AA but too many don’t know how AA can harm others instead of help them. I won’t debate what alcoholism is or isn’t. I won’t get into how I feel the support there is really, well, conditional if not hard to find unless you work the program. I will say I was there enough to know if I disagreed with AA the support disappeared. I agree sometimes therapy doesn’t work or “sink in” until you are ready to take it for what it’s worth. I would also say, since maybe you got sober in the UK (?) that in the USA it’s different. I’m from Ohio the birthplace of AA really and it’s also the home of SMART recovery now. But I’ll tell you exactly why the alternative groups are not being attended— AA IS A MONOPOLY. And if you deny that fine, but it doesn’t make it untrue. Follow the money. Whoever funds treatment what info are they looking at to create policy… who in fact is on the boards distributing funds? Two-hatters do exist. Also, speculation aside, to look at Audrey Kishline’s past and her last days and DENY that AA had a role in any of it is to erase a part of her life and her experience. So we can’t rule that out. And I have been in communication with those close to her so I don’t want to hear any b.s. that anyone knows for sure what drove her to suicide. But same with Williams, if we DENY Robin Williams involvement in AA impacted him then we’re saying AA only impacts people in a GOOD way— hardly a fair statement. Also, AA itself has publicly claimed in its medication brochure that their stance (or lack thereof?) on medications has caused death. Furthermore, AA former trustee George Vaillant, a prominent researcher, has proven AA kills more than any other treatment. Why is it wrong to “flame” AA but ok to “flame” the Orange Papers? The OP doesn’t run rehabs or rake in billions of dollars per year while rehabs do and AA (the MONOPOLY) profits from membership and the rehabs profit from money (and the boards, other agencies.) If you want to see this change and if you really WANT as much help available maybe it’s time to get honest about the monopoly and believe it when others say “AA made me want to die.” As Lance Dodes said, 5-8% will still benefit from AA despite this supposed “Anti-AA” backlash.

    • Thanks for your comment Juliette, although I do disagree with some of what you have said. We obviously have differing experiences of recovery groups, as I went to AA to try and help me overcome 25 years of heavy substance abuse after many attempts at stopping on my own and you went to avoid a jail sentence, as far as I remember from a piece you wrote on the fix. I wrote what I felt was a balanced account of my experience of the start of my real recovery and how AA helped me, as I found it helpful to hear other similar accounts in my early days and I state this was the reason that the CBT therapy worked better after being in AA, as opposed to before it when I had not fully acknowledged the extent and reason for my issues. I was also influenced to write something after reading the excellent Pete Soderman book https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/powerless-longer-review-pete-soderman-book/ which although written by an American and covering his own recovery in America, was along the same lines as mine. He also made use of AA without the higher power stuff and was motivated to recover and go on and get involved with Smart recovery. I should add that we still have a small home in USA (Los Angeles), but I did attend AA in New York, Portland, LA, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Vegas as I traveled a lot for work reasons in my early days so I did attend meetings in the USA. We tend to have more “speaker meetings” in the UK but I did not perceive massive differences in approach overall although each meeting does tend to have a personality that evolves over time and can certainly become influenced by strong personalities. I take it you did not go to any UK meetings?

      I agree that 12 step rehabs are not the best treatment that people can get and are often a money making machine. I certainly do not link to any 12 step treatment centres and am clear that many counsellors in the industry are of poor quality. I am also clear about my views on the steps, which I do not view as treatment or a complete solution. I am clear about the fact that you can meet undesirable people in AA and that 13 stepping can occur etc etc. However I still feel having a place to go can help many people in their early days and that social contact with real people helped me. This is something that the Smart community cannot provide at the moment and it states that AA can be used along side Smart meetings and self empowerment CBT methods in its literature https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/smart-recovery-handbook/

      I would recommend this book by Andrew Tartasky http://andrewtatarsky.com/site/ on harm reduction which talks about the many different issues that have to be taken into account in treatment and he includes accounts of combining a harm reduction technique with social contact in a 12 step group as well as talking about suicide prevention and what to look for in a patient.

      AA is not a monopoly as many other groups do exist but you are correct that they do not have the same numbers of members as AA. You are correct that they are up against policy makers with entrenched old fashioned ideas, especially in USA that also has religious views that are stronger than the rest of the western world. I do often complain that other methods do little to publicise their often more rational approaches and that they do not seem to be able to motivate members to start new groups in the same way that AA does. There is more media attention on AA but that is because AA is huge compared to other groups and reaches a greater percentage of the population if you look at the numbers, and so you could still say it helps more people despite being inferior. That is a sad state of affairs.

      I certainly reject the view that AA caused the two suicides you mention but would say that it failed to save them. Both people chose to be members of AA and that was the path they took. I can agree that AA can have a negative impact on some and also state that on the blog in many places. I have been critical of step 4 in this thread for example. I also find the idea of mentally ill people relying entirely on a faith based solution is horrific, but America as a whole pushes religious ideas through schools which can lead to people pushing God as an infallible solution. Many people are comforted by religious beliefs though, so that is another two edged sword. People can become suicidal during recovery and will often suffer depression especially in the early days as they attempt to come to terms with life without alcohol. This certainly happened to me, and it would be easy for me to point the finger at AA for this, as it was also the close to the time my anonymity was broken in a big way. However I wished to remain sober and sought outside help and was able to see what was really going on with me. This took some time and involved several types of therapy and some medication. The patient has the right to choose what treatment and a therapist should attempt to guide a patient to a solution that will help them (not simply AA type which I agree is often the case). Both Audrey and Robin have appeared to make these choices but sadly things have not worked out. I did not know Audrey personally but she asked to be friends on Facebook and also followed this blog. I was very moved by her book which I re read and she certainly is not being critical of AA in it or stating that AA was making her more depressed. She came across as a very sensitive person who could not cope with her past actions and that is very sad. I found the comments on some the fix site etc where anti aa people just steamed in and blamed AA were simply disgusting. I did not join in that flaming war as viewed it as a waste of time as there is typically no discussion on these boards only extreme people arguing and trolling, but I did talk about it on my own blog in some detail. https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/sad-suicide-due-alcoholism/ Some of the anti AA types attempt to use this to say that I do not wish to discuss suicides in AA, which is not the case, I simply do not feel it is fair or accurate to blame AA for every suicide among the alcoholics that join it. I feel this a rational response, not not one based on emotion.

      Like yourself I have a lot of time for Stanton Peele and though I don’t agree with all he says (especially drinking at football! http://www.thefix.com/content/world-cup-alcoholism-argentina) I do broadly agree with him and have found his books helpful. Even in later recovery I made a subtle change to my approach after reading recover and was surprised by the difference that his view on Metta meditation made to me – he calls it loving kindness. It was actually this that helped me get my views on AA into perspective! Anyway he writes a good piece here about AA and suicide where he talks about a young immature person committing suicide after being sent to 12 step and they lack of ability of 12 step members to predict suicide. http://lifeprocessprogram.com/lp-blog/does-aa-cause-suicides/

      I will copy it here:
      Does AA cause suicides?

      Further Reading

      Dear Stanton Peele,

      I have spent the last two hours on your your web site, which I found from the Smart Recovery web site, and I am incredibly, gratefully, hopefully impressed. It’s a sad world that does not make your name a household word.

      Did you become a lawyer to get inside the legal battles in regards to addiction treatment and mandatory AA meetings? I have watched beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, yet addicted people become bland, reactionary, sober people due to forced involvement with 12 step groups.

      My youngest brother, a 15 year old clinically depressed pot smoker, was required to attend 20 AA meetings in 30 days by an alternative high school for “troubled teenagers.” One of the last things he said to his friends before he committed suicide was, “staying sober is too hard.” AA had convinced him that smoking a joint was a fate worse than death, proved him powerless and addicted, and in his depressed state, he believed it. I wish I would have know about REBT, CBT, RR, MM, SMART or any of the other alternatives to 12 steps and “family systems therapy” back then…

      Thanks for reading and best wishes,
      Sonya Trejo


      Thanks for your most excellent message. Among the many valuable things you point out are the unacknowledged casualties from 12-step approaches. I always say that AA is like God — both only get credit for the good associated with their names. But there is a tremendous cost from the many downsides of 12-step groups — the guilt they inspire among those who cannot “get with the program,” their insistence on lifetime labeling, the incestuous relationships (often sexually active) that they encourage. Your younger brother’s suicide is far from the first I am aware of among AA members. We cannot say that AA causes suicide — only that there is tremendous “denial” among AA advocates that such things happen, and thus they are completely unable to anticipate and prevent such harms when they begin to occur.

      To illustrate, let me relate a story from one of my favorite research publications, the Star (April 6, 1999 — it is significant that this story would be unlikely to be featured on mainstream media). Robert Pastorelli is an actor best known for playing a house painter who never finishes painting the home of the title character on the TV series Murphy Brown (who was played as a successful Betty Ford Clinic graduate by Candice Bergen). His lover and the mother of his year-old child, Charemon Jonovich, shot herself in the head in front of Pastorelli.

      According to the Star, the two met at AA. “They frequently attended AA meetings together” where they “openly discussed their often volatile relationship.” (Think of the repercussions if the woman had killed herself while attending a controlled-drinking clinic!) The article described the dead woman as a high school athlete who didn’t “wear makeup, drink or go to parties” until she came to Los Angeles. She was 25 when she killed herself — Pastorelli was 44 — suggesting that she was not much older than 21 when she first attended AA and met her last lover.

      In general, placing young people in AA is scary, if not abusive. I once attended a suicide prevention program run by the professional in charge of substance abuse programs in my school district. I asked her how many suicides had occurred in our district. In her tenure of about a decade, there had been one she knew about.

      The boy who killed himself played on my son’s soccer team. A slender, gifted athlete, he floated around the field like the wind. When I heard that he had joined AA at age 14, I was shocked. He blew his brains out in front of his home during the season. I learned that his parents were divorced, his father lived in Japan, and his mother had remarried and had more children.

      My son said he understood why this boy committed suicide. He said he thought it was because he was so religious (the boy prayed before each game). I told my son: “Only when your religion is against you can it cause you to kill yourself.”


      Certainly that is a tragic story and I really do not think that young people should be sent to AA as a general rule. I am very clear on my site about the differences between support groups and therapy. Treatment is a minefield and there are many poor quality ex addicts and alcoholics out there simply pushing the support group that suited them on anyone who will pay them. This is true of people who are anti the 12 step message as well as those who are for it. With hindsight I was very lucky but I also feel throwing myself into recovery and reading as much as possible and looking at conflicting views helped me make valid choices on what treatment I should ask for and I have to say that AA was one of the things that empowered me in this way. I am certainly not saying that everything about AA is good and the idea of this blog was all about moving on from it. Every book I have recommended is not about 12 step solutions.

      I do look at stats and have quoted from the Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches by Miller and Hester, which as you probably know rates 12 step solutions as somewhere in the mid 30’s when it come to effectiveness of solutions. https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/handbook-alcoholism-treatment-approaches-miller-hester/
      I certainly did not know that when I joined AA! It also talks about matching a “client” to a support or treatment solution that will help them and does give some idea what type of person would respond to a 12 step group which brings me to why I reject a fair amount of what is written on the orange-papers. Orange fans often like to talks about AA success rate being as low as spontaneous remission which you can make various conclusions from. One is that it has no effect but others such as myself did find some aspects of AA helpful and had not remained sober for any length of time before joining and so it was certainly a factor in motivating me to stay sober. I don’t call AA a treatment and I don’t draw the same conclusion from Valiant, that it is AA attendance that simply kills without having a lot of extra information about the people concerned. There does need to be some decent research done on the subject.

      I am dismissive of the orange papers because I find that it is a smear campaign. The Nazi links are pretty stupid (even Ken Ragge urged caution there) and that many of his arguments are weak and conjecture. I feel That Lance Dodes is certainly more accurate in his book about AA. Many seem to believe everything written on the Orange site, especially about cults which again is not something that many people believe away from that site. I can see why people are drawn to it though, as many will feel stupid after spending years in AA believing in a higher power, so it is convenient to say they were in a cult. It takes away responsibility from themselves for being stupid enough (or sadly mentally ill enough) for some of their decisions and actions such as staying in AA for so long. He makes claims about brainwashing etc in AA which I do not feel is completely correct. It is an extreme site and has attracted extreme people, who seem to believe everything he says without question. This as dangerous in some ways as AA because it is obvious from the forum that not all are emotionally stable. I had to deal with a very unpleasant incident caused by concerns about privacy when I had my old forum thanks to the stupidity of a couple of orange papers people who I had considered friends at that point. I realised that I could not trust them and that somebody would get hurt as a result so I closed my forum as I realised that it would not work. I’m glad I did that and this site has been more effective without them. The stinkin thinkin site was also closed down for reasons caused by the anti AA crowd. In fact I was even warned by the people who setup the blamedenial stuff years ago to watch out for the antis as they are more crazy than the AA lot. That was good advice that I ignored at the time, which I admit was a mistake. People do get judged by who they hang around with. Some in the anti AA crowd simply remind me of racists which the way that they attack people on message boards, although I am sure they are often cowards in real life especially if they are on their own (most bullies are!). Many people would like to have a discussion on some of these matters but they have left any forum that allows the small anti brigade to post. I think the owner of the orange site is responsible for letting all the attacks get out out of hand on his site which he is too lazy to moderate. I feel that is irresponsible on a recovery based site and that his lack of concern for many of the people that use his forum has caused problems on other sites. I got many emails in the past from prominent anti AA people asking me to write to orange about certain people’s behaviour and in the end I did. I received no reply although I did on the 2 occasions I sent him some money to support his site, before I had read other more intelligent accounts of the problems in AA. I tend to ignore him, his site and his forum members, and generally attempt to use this blog to try and promote alternatives to AA in a sane way, without attempting to encourage hate or be overly negative.

      The anti AA world has not got a single meeting shut down and has not really influenced anybody in AA to make it safer. It has created some bad feeling and possibly put people off joining other groups. People contemplating recovery will not join Smart if they have heard about it from some nutjob gobbing off on the fix or elsewhere. It is interesting to contrast the poor behaviour of people who are very small in number (because it is sewer!) that take part on the orange forum and compare it to the calm supportive environment of most AA forums.

      The medication issue can be a problem in AA and that is why they have addressed in their pamphlet, although they could certainly go much further with this. I have said that many times on this site and elsewhere.

      I can certainly see that AA is not perfect which is why I chose to leave. However I do not project every negative emotion or problem I faced in early recovery on AA and have taken responsibility for my recovery. Many people throughout the world have had positive experiences of AA and that is why it has grown. The anti AA crowd want to destroy people’s support group or attack people with different views to themselves. I do not think that is harm reduction and said so on my own site!

      Many people move from AA which is often the first place they go to and then join a group such as Smart once they have become part of the recovery world and chosen to do some more research. They are not filled with hate for AA and are simply moving on in a way that is right for them.

      Sorry about typos and rambling I had to rush this!

  8. It seems to me that anti/XAers hate the very people in A.A. and that they’re pushing really hard to sell something.

    I just don’t know what they’re selling. It’s certainly not hope.

    I’d rather just do no A.A. than spend a lifetime bashing A.A.

    Rather than pissing and moaning how awful the Monopoly of A.A. is, get up and go “attract” folks to the alternative.

    But A.A. is a government conspiracy, isn’t it? I just don’t buy this. It seems so Orange to me.

    Just walk away from A.A. and do something else. Why can’t folks just do this? Oh that’s right. They do it all the time, but it just doesn’t make the 5:00 news.

    • I think most people do move on from AA after a period of time, and just get on with life and are thankful for beating alcoholism, with the aid of some support. There are those who are gullible and are taken advantage of by people who want to control others and who obviously feel that AA is bad, and there are people who were influenced by others to stop medication (although I have actually seen this in other groups), which has caused them harm. There are some bad AA groups as well (I went to one, then found an alternative). However I think that some in the anti world are projecting all problems that people suffer in recovery on AA if things go wrong and this is not always true, and that is the Orange type mentality. I also think that a forum such as the orange one will only attract extreme people and the members there think that type of mindset is normal because those are the only people they mix with. I did let off steam on stinkin thinkin etc and did write down the negative things about AA, but even in those days I gave it credit for the group support etc in my early days, and that was really helpful. I do not see it as a them and us situation when I look at AA. I don’t miss the meetings and I’m only still close friends with about 5 people from AA but I always like to see people doing well. Leaving AA can be difficult for some people and does require some adjustment, not everyone does well when they walk away, and if you do you really should be either very strong or have a different plan to follow, not just leaving it to chance. Quiet a few people who have left the anti scene are quite embarrassed about what it has become these days.

  9. This a great read and what i needed..

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