Bombshell! Higher Power Stymies Recovery

Put me DOWN!

Put me DOWN!

In January, Time reported on a new study that concluded that people in “spiritual” recovery programs suffered a greater incidence of depression within the first four months of beginning, compared with people in secular programs. If you Work the Program, I guess this is when you say, “That’s bullshit and you know it! Denial is not a river in Egypt! Sputt, sputt… pbbbbth… ” It’s also where you say, “What am I gonna believe? Science or my lying eyes?” And “People who work the steps are genuinely happier people.” And then you say, “What are you trying to accomplish by removing people’s last hope!?”

Anyway, it’s very, very interesting. I’ll try to find a source for the original study that doesn’t require one to pay $30:

Battling Addiction: Are 12 Steps Too Many?

In last month’s Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, University of New Mexico addiction specialist William Miller and his colleagues presented findings from two controlled trials in which patients underwent drug treatment. Some of the patients received spiritual guidance as part of the treatment — learning such practices as prayer, meditation and service to others, all of which are central to 12-step programs. Others received secular psychotherapy. Because of the enduring popularity of AA and similar programs that involve a spiritual component, Miller and his team expected the patients in the spiritual group to do better than those in the secular group. They were wrong — at least in the short term.

While both groups eventually benefited relatively equally from their treatment — abusing substances on fewer days — it took longer to see improvement among those in the spiritual group. What’s more, those who received spiritual guidance reported being significantly more anxious and depressed after four months than those who got secular help. Those problems abated at about the eight-month point, but because substance abusers are at high risk for suicide, some worry that it may not be a good idea to put them through demanding spiritual calisthenics in the early months of their recovery.

These results make plain sense to me. As is par for the course with A.A., their directive to hand yourself over to God’s will is contradictory. There is nothing spiritual about Steps Two and Three. They are the opposite of spirituality:

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

If you’re a Christian (disclaimer: I’m not), you have to believe that this is the kind of crap that Jesus came here to rectify. He kicked the ass of Leviticus and replaced it with The Beatitudes and The Golden Rule — he fought for this. He fought against the kind of panty-sniffers who would go around clutching a Big Book and spouting aphorisms, gaslighting broken people. Sincerely turning yourself over to a Higher Power means accepting your God-given birthright of self-will (Intention), and using that as your foundation to create your reality.

There is no God in A.A. It offers the opposite of God — as is consistent with its offering the opposite of everything it says it offers. It offers religion. As M.A. points out in his post, they know they’re dealing with broken people, and the method is to open the door and then wear them down:

When dealing with such a person, you had better use everyday language to describe spiritual principles. There is no use arousing any prejudice he may have against certain theological terms and conceptions about which he may already be confused. Don’t raise such issues, no matter what your own convictions are. – The Big Book

In other words, eventually, these people will “get it,” no rush… just ease them in. This is gaslighting. It’s sanctioned crazymaking. And this “program” — with its 3% suicide mortality rate and its 0% success rate, is pretty much all we’ve got here. A program, which has no other purpose than to perpetuate itself, like a multi-level marketing outfit, is our go-to guy.

If you go listen to Bill Wilson on youtube, you will hear him say that the survival of the group is paramout. That’s nothing if not religion. Just because they say it’s not, and just because they say you can turn your life over to your pet rock, and just because they say that any of this makes sense, doesn’t mean it makes any more sense than saying that you can “take what you need and leave the rest” and “work the steps or die” at the same time.

The thing is that when you offer people “hope,” while simultaneously stripping them of their own self-will (power, intention), you’re deliberately setting up a soul-sucking scenario that legitimizes the very dynamics of a classic abusive relationship, and this will certainly foster depression. Perhaps these poor people are depressed until they “get it.”  And perhaps, once they “get it,” they are accepted, and once they’re accepted, the depression lifts.

I swear, if Jesus himself walked into an A.A. meeting, they’d tell him to take the cotton out of his ears, so that he can take some direction from the wormholed brain of the resident knucklehead oldtimer as he tells his drunkalog for the hojillionth time.

Now, if you take a different approach, which tells a broken person that they can heal, can overcome, and take complete control of themselves, that they can make a decision and choose to use a whole array of tools (of which God might be one), you’re honoring their spirituality and thus their humanity. And you’re giving them an exit strategy. (In A.A., there is no such thing as recovery.) They have hope combined with intention, and can see themselves actualizing themselves without the mediation of alocohol or religion. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Real freedom.

A.A. uses religion because its ultimate goal is to perpetuate itself — to protect the group. And if you think the fact that A.A. meetings are free, open to all comers, you have got to take into consideration that there are people who are very invested in your free meetings. Drug and alcohol counslors are trained in 12-step recovery, and recommend it as a matter of course; courts send people to A.A.; rehab centers use 12-step programs as their foundation; 12-step recovery is taught in higher education… There are people getting rich off of A.A. It is an enormous business that some people are very invested in — your depression be damned.

  • I'm not a bit surprised people in twelve step programs start out more depressed. It is very hard to honestly face one's own flaws. I have to wonder what kind of secular programs they are referring to, however. If they are referring to the ones where they give you a little pill, and then when the pill doesn't work anymore they give you another one, and then when that has too many side effects they give you some others to counteract those… well yes, I bet the first few months are pretty easy.

  • mike

    dear Shen they are probably referring to something like this

    There are many ways of recovering but unfortunately some of the better ones are not that well established at the moment compared to the 12 step movement. Many people have major problems with 12 step and it does not contain the answer for many. It may work for the particularly arrogant and those that have been violent to others and have lived disgusting lives which is true of many in recovery but not for more sensitive types who may find it rather traumatic to re visit the past.

    I have found that other more common sense approaches have helped me more than working a faith healing programme based on the traditions of the appalling Oxford group. I have not needed to be prescribed any antidepressants since leaving aa and live a much more fulfilled life.

  • Mona Lisa

    Could be, too. Or maybe Or

    In any event, AA is pretty far down the list when it comes to efficacy, Shen. If you want to engage us here, it's important to know your facts, 'cause dogma doesn't cut it.

  • tintop

    shen — I am sure that you mean well. But, no thank you. The aa train does not stop at my station.

    I planned my work and worked my plan.

    Have a nice day.

  • Z

    "It is very hard to honestly face one’s own flaws." But Shen, all of life involves doing that and any therapeutic, religious, school, athletic, etc. program requires it. You don't improve unless you do it. That doesn't mean you have to put up with verbal and emotional abuse, as in the 12 step movement — which isn't good for people and doesn't help them progress, but which is why, I strongly suspect, people get so depressed so fast in 12 step programs.

    This is one of the best posts in this whole site, I think, and I hadn't seen it before, so I'm glad Shen's comment brought it into the foreground again.

  • speedy0314

    @ shen:

    "If they are referring to the ones where they give you a little pill, and then when the pill doesn’t work anymore they give you another one, and then when that has too many side effects they give you some others to counteract those… "

    oh, THAT program — the unnamed, 'Strawman' program that exists entirely in your head. yeah, that program kills trillions of alcoholics … nationwide … every day.

    thank the [g]OD™ that can be anything you imagine that AA's around to save people from the clutches of all those destructive, entirely imaginary OTHER programs.

    just as an aside — you may want to work on a particularly glaring personal flaw of your own. you know, the one that castigates others for not seeing the obvious difference between 'religion' & 'spirituality' ("twelve step programs" being defined by their strict adherence to the principles of the later) then wonders openly about contrasting 'secular' programs (i.e., programs that aren't "specifically or overtly religious" — Merriam Webster, baby!).



  • humanspirit

    Of course people in 12-step programs get depressed. They only have to get as far as step 2 to be confronted with a highly dubious and nonsensical statement, presented as truth, and be told that this is the only way they will achieve their much-desired aim of getting sober. (This is quite apart from having being told that they are insane in the first step.) They are then told that, because they have had addiction problems, they are not fit as human beings to argue with this rubbish.

    It is criminal that this nonsense should ever be imposed on people genuinely trying to deal with addiction problems, and I'm convinced it does a lot more harm than good. By all means let steppers get on with practising their religion (or their 'spiritual program' – whatever they like to call it amongst themselves). But they should absolutely not be allowed to get away with pretending that is any kind of program for dealing with alcoholism. It is irrelevant to alcoholism. Its one and only aim is to achieve a 'spiritual awakening', and it is hugely arrogant of steppers to assume that this is what most people trying to stop drinking want.

    The only 'flaw' people need to face up to at this point – if that's what it is – is that they stupidly allowed themselves to get addicted to a chemical substance. And most people have already accepted this by the time they get anywhere near a 12-step program. Any other of their 'flaws' – or virtues for that matter – are completely beside the point and none of anyone else's business. It will no doubt help people to then go on to explore what led them to drinking etc. so much in the first place, but, believe it or not, Shen, this may well not necessarily be anything to do with their 'flaws' at all.

  • humanspirit

    PS – Sorry – I meant 'being told they are "powerless" in the first step'. They are, of course, not told they are insane until the second step. So that's all right then.

  • SoberPJ

    How could I have been so blind ! All I wanted to do was control my drinking. I didn't drink every day. I drank too much on a lot of occasions and that was wrong. I was surely headed in the wrong direction, but I needed behavior modification, not a worthless mountain of spiritual gobbledegook ( scientific term, I'm sure). I was forced into a program that included AA to get my license back. I had no idea there were alternatives. Over time, I bought into the AA nonsense hook, line and sinker . I am so ashamed, and I still need to learn how to actually control my own behavior in certain areas. What a waste of time. Now, THAT's depressing.