A rather good summation of the harm done by AA, written by Stanton Peele, caught my eye.
Mr Peele summarizes to four harms done by AA :
- AA denies reality.
- AA overemphasizes its own success.
- AA rules out other, often more effective, approaches.
- AA’s underlying temperance message actually creates alcoholism and addiction.
My personal objections to AA and my reasons for leaving the program are mostly centered in #3. The AA approach is faith-healing, plain and simple. “God did for us we could not do for ourselves”. An approach that I personally reject. I am an atheist, plain and simple. There is no god to do anything for me. Meetings of believers, in a group with a program that had its genesis in theistic Oxford Group principles, are a waste of my time and energy.
Point #2 is interesting. AA does overemphasize its own success. “It works if you work it”. The people in the program get slippery here. A personal anecdote. My old sponsor used to say “If you stick around long enough you will be stepping over the dead bodies”. He said this proudly. The troops seemed to eat it up and almost revel in it though. Another, later, sponsor said to me “Jack, look around the room, how many of these people will be here in a couple of years?”. My answer was “A handful”. He was delighted by my perception. What is this line of thinking? “It works if you work it and we who stay are the few who are constitutionally capable of being honest and working it”? What is the appeal to this? Is it they are like Navy Seals? Most fail at becoming a Navy Seal, the few that remain are the most hardy and should be deservedly proud? This from a program that has service, one alcoholic helping another, as a root principle. This from a program where members pride themselves on “Ego Deflation” and “Doing god’s will”.
A few years ago I was having a Sunday lunch with an AA friend. We had spent a fair amount of time together doing AA commitments and we had the same sponsor. We had a lot of parking lot discussions on AA, life, and just generally shooting the shit. We shared many of the same struggles with both drinking and the AA program.
During the ‘god discussion’ (it came up often with us) at our lunch we came to the topic of my atheism. My friend declared ‘Jack, atheists just want to do what they want to do’. My friend was an educated, well-spoken, and rather accomplished individual. I was taken aback. *blink* *blink* *stare*.
I know many in the AA program and many theists believe his statement on atheist morality. So, a friend, a man that knew me, an AA, a man that I had helped, and who had helped me—says this to me and he believes it.
It was an important moment in my growth. The idea that it was time to move on, from AA, from an ideology that I did not believe in, crystallized.
My name is Jack Games. I am a former AA member.
I went to my first AA meeting in January 1995. I don’t remember the last meeting that I went to. It was in the late winter or early spring of 2012. In April 2012 I moved from Philadelphia Pennsylvania to New Orleans Louisiana. I know that I have not been to an AA meeting in New Orleans
The event that catapulted me into AA was the death of my son, Michael, in October 1994. Late in 1994 I started seeing a therapist. I was told that I was going for help with my ‘grief’ issues. The therapist was a recovering alcoholic and a member of AA. It did not take long for the direction of my therapy to change from grief issues to my abuse of alcohol. It was recommended that I attend AA.
So on a Saturday in January 1995 I went to a meeting. On my own. I simply picked a nearby noon meeting and walked in. I remember that first meeting. It was strangely compelling. I knew that I had problems. I knew I drank too much. I knew I was lonely and hurt. There were people there and they welcomed me. Was I an alcoholic? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what an alcoholic was. I got a sponsor pretty quickly and went to a few meetings with him. I dibbled and dabbled in the program for about the next 4 years. Sometimes in, sometimes out. I was not allowed to drink at home. I continued with various therapists, a couple of psychiatric admissions, and attempts to hide my occasional drinking.
In the summer of 1999 I separated from my wife and we were finally divorced in 2001.. I moved to a horrid little apartment in Bridgeport Pennsylvania. From 1999 through 2003 I drank. I didn’t really do anything except work and drink. Weekends were a blur. I drank heavy from Friday afternoon until the wee hours of Monday morning and then went to work. Maintenance drinking during the week was a 12 pack every night. It became a 12 pack every night and then a couple more beers and or shots in the morning to get my hands to stop shaking so that I could get to work only an hour or so late.
In the winter of 2003 I was really starting to lose it. Panic attacks were coming frequently. I Was in a perpetual cycle of withdrawal symptoms and finally, later in the day, some relief when I could really drink.
On Sunday November 2, 2003 I walked into the 6pm meeting at the Flourtown Center in Flourtown Pennsylvania. Something had to change. I never forgot about AA during my 4 years away so I went back. I got a sponsor, I did a short stint in rehab, I did a 90 in 90. I got a home group. I made friends.
I got into service. I was the coffee guy for a beginner’s meeting. I became the annual co-chair. I became the annual chair. I got involved in intergroup as the treatment facilities coordinator for Montgomery County PA. I became the Zone Coordinator for Montgomery County PA. I was on the steering committee at Philadelphia Intergroup. I chaired meetings, took commitments, hosted a weekly meeting at a rehab, was a volunteer van driver at a local rehab facility, and started a new meeting.
I did the steps twice in a men’s AWOL group and also worked on them with my sponsor one on one. I sponsored a few guys myself. I know what to say in a meeting and when to say it. I can speak AA. I have read most of the AA-approved literature. I can front AA pretty well. I just don’t believe in it.
That was how things continued for about 6 years. Was I sober? Was I happy, joyous, and free? Well I didn’t drink. I was unhappy. I liked everything about AA except for the 12 steps and the meetings. I didn’t believe that I had a disease and I was certainly not powerless. The meetings were boring affairs with the same people either mouthing the same platitudes or the same complaints. I liked shooting the shit in the parking lot before and after the meetings with a couple of the guys and that was about it.
I came into AA as an agnostic and through the help of the rooms became an atheist. I didn’t much care for the god who cared about drunks and not about children with cancer or children who were starving. I read and thought and became very comfortable with the idea that there simply was no god.
I don’t think I made it to 7 years without a drink. I drank. I drifted away. I drifted back in. I got a new sponsor and made some new friends. But I never really made it back. I just could not buy into the program anymore. But I hung around a few years mostly because I liked a few of the people and enjoyed seeing them. The program to me was complete horseshit.
Eventually, as I said, I moved to New Orleans Louisiana and started a new life here. I am happy. Do I sometimes struggle with a drink? Yes. But I am getting better. I am free. I can make choices and they are my choices. Neither a disease nor a god has anything to do with them. They are my choices and I own them, both the good and the bad.
My best thinking did not get me into AA. My worst thinking got me into AA. My best thinking is that I am a capable and responsible adult who can control his own behavior and do something positive for himself and those whom I care about.
I took the 14th step into the clear light of reason and that is how I choose to live today.
A good read from cult buster.
According to a critical analysis by Chris Curry”There are a lot of reasons that I chose to get into the field of addiction treatment. But the main reason was that I could never understand why organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous retain such a glorious public perception, all the while having success rates of approximately 5 per cent after one year.” To read more of Chris’s writings on a separate pageclick here.
Chris manages the HealthyPlace.com website and blog: The largest consumer mental health site, providing comprehensive, trusted information on psychological disorders and psychiatric medications from both a consumer and expert point of view.