These Are Just Suggestions

People in AA lie a lot. Most often it is a flat-out lie, but often they will lie by omission, and by deception. Among their favorite lies is “these are just suggestions”. They tell newcomers this to rope them into the group. It is a bait and switch tactic that is common with any cult. When you hear someone say that AA is “attraction, not promotion”, this is another lie that can mean many things. In the case of this slogan, it means they attract people into AA by not promoting the truth about what they mean by “suggestions”.

The following quote was taken from an AA zealot’s website. Here she gives an accurate description of what AAs really believe while they are sucking people in by saying it is a program of suggestions:

Obtaining and maintaining a “Spiritual Way of Life” means to me that I “MUST” do the things pointed out in the Big Book (the Book called “Alcoholics Anonymous”) It says in this book that there are only suggestions there. However, someone has counted the “Musts” and there are about 122 of them.

The “suggestions” in the Big Book, are things I MUST do if I wish to obtain and maintain a spiritual way of life without drinking. It is like this: these are “suggestions” in the same way as if I am in an airplane about to jump because it will crash land (like me before sobriety) “it is ‘suggested’ that I pull the rip cord.” – Linda AA zealot

Next time you hear an AA say “these are just suggestions”, remember this: they are lying to you.

  • H

    Well, spiritual means whatever one wishes it to mean.
    Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce were spiritual.

  • AnnaZed

    Oddly enough this post is the one where I say something good about AA; to my way of thinking about the whole thing AA does in fact contain a very significant and powerful kernel of truth, an actual basis and structure for helping people to just stop drinking. If only AA could be reformed in some way so that the basic really helpful aspects of the thing could be utilized. I am pretty sure that the atheists who are described as being AA members pretty much utilize this core sensible set of ideas and struggle, lie and over-think themselves around the rest.

    The way I see it, the central great idea that Wilson and his friend had was sound: (1) find another problem drinker ~ or better yet a bunch of them ~ to talk to each other and maybe together you can support each other enough to not squander your life getting drunk all of the time, or at least for that day that you are taking strength from the other person or persons. (2) Try to put some thought and action into not being such an asshole.

    That's it, the whole entire magic program; and that, my friends, I think does work miraculous things for people who have problems overcoming their desire to drink. Drink dependent people they are called and they need to depend on something else. The something else is a group of people who don't drink, or try not to. It is miraculous, but it is not a miracle. It's called a support group, and maybe Wilson and his pal actually invented that, I don't know.

    If they had just left the damn thing at that they would in fact have created a great thing.

    More than once online I have paused while considering an answer to a desperate, fragile "I just can't do it alone", "I've failed again and gotten drunk", "help me!" post and wanted to say "go to AA, go now and go for a few months, just ignore what they say but go there anyway, that way you will have somewhere to go where people don't drink." Yet, I can't bring myself to give that advice because I know what the person will find when they get there.

    Unfortunately, Wilson's megalomania and the fall-out from his drug induced hallucinations while taking a hallucinogenic quack cure made him feel that he had to turn the whole enterprise into a religious revival meeting. He just couldn't leave well enough alone, probably they were all just bored and Wilson's well documented narcissistic need to be the center of attention resulted in his messianic ravings being taken seriously by a bunch of shaky, frightened desperate men who were trying to hold on to a few days of sobriety. The stuff about jails, institutions and death has a massive amount of truth to it. My own father died in a crummy apartment across the street from a bar, having moved there as he moved from one crummy place to one even more crummy so that he would no longer need to drive to get to the bar. That stuff is real, it happens to people who can't stop drinking on their own, and that is a LOT of people.

    The stuff in the steps that has been codified into a goofy set of religious nonsense has a core of helpful truth to it as well. Most people who abuse alcohol abuse the world around them as well. They drive cars while inebriated, they tell stupid lies about having "the flu" to get out of work while hung-over, at the very least they take time and energy away from those that they are involved with to go to that buzzed, drunk place where they aren't interacting, aren't helping and aren't responsible. the idea of spending your new sober time on trying not to be such a selfish jerk is a sound idea. People who drink too much don't have a monopoly on being selfish (I think that realization is the source of the whole notion of the "dry drunk" ~ I have heard people who have never had a drink in their lives described as such, and I think it just means "selfish jerk"). I think it's a good thing for people who have stopped drinking to put some serious effort into being contributing members of the society around them. I even think the "being of service" to AA itself would be a good thing if the organization could rid itself of the ridiculous religious crap.

    So, the whole parachute thing also has a grain of truth to it. If only (ah, sigh, if only!) the organization could rid itself of the ridiculous and embarrassing religious nonsense, and the destructive notion of powerlessness and the crazy controlling gurus, and the predatory members ~ it would be a great thing, but I don't see how that can happen.

  • H

    I agree with all that. There is a kernal of truth in AA.
    I do want to point out that many who drink too much are not just 'being assholes'. Many have , or should have, a mental health diagnosis. The primary problem is the mental suffering/mental distress. That is an important reason for destructive drinking. I think that underlying cause needs to be addressed. AA cannot do anything about that. It is not equipped to deal with it.
    For some, quitting drinking pretty well clears things up. Changes in life style and associates are made and it comes round right. For some, it is more complicated. They need competent professional help. They do not need to buy the elixir sold by AA.

    • AnnaZed

      I know!

      For one thing, that is what is so terrible, horribly wrong about courts sending people to AA instead of for real actual treatment with real actual doctors (you know, the kind that cost money).

      In addition, for a really large percentage of people in AA; once the smoke begins to clear as they sober up the sick person emerges and when they do they are told that they are "powerless over their illness without God" (in what world is religion prescribed for mental illness by government agencies?) and that they are "not sober" if they are taking meds. It's a prescription for disaster as has been demonstrated time and time again.

      • Dave

        I'm not sure where you get your info from, but I believe that A.A. doesn't "prescribe" religion. There are many types of people with many types of belief systems, some that even denounce "God" that have gotten sober. I'm on several differant prescriptoins for my mental problems, and I as well as other recovering people I know believe we are sober, as long as there is a need for the meds.

        • speedy0314


          jeez, when was the last time you read your big book?

          from chapter 5 "how it works":

          "This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom."

          simply because the above doesn't align itself with any established denomination doesn't make it any less "religious". and, as you well know — if you've actually read the book, there's plenty more where that came from.

          just out of curiosity — do you consider the medications you take to be powers greater than yourself? after all, they manage neuro-chemical imbalances you are (so to speak) 'powerless' over. would you talk about them in that way openly at a meeting?


  • H

    yes. " people who go visiting in other people's lives" [ a line from a TV police drama].
    AA is a dumping ground. It is free; the authorities can pretend to take action. AA gets new people to occupy a chair. Only a few need stay to keep it going.
    The authorites gain a lot from this symbiotic relationship. So does AA.
    But, AA membership is flat or actually falling in the USA. The professions are paying little more attention; there are medications for destructive drinking that can work. There are more professionals paying more attention to dual diagnosis. It is far from hopeless.

  • friendthegirl

    Right on, AZ.

    In its present incarnation, AA isn't a support group — and I don't think AAs see it that way either. I think they ridicule the idea. The primary purpose of fast-and-loosing people into the program is to perpetuate the program with "suggestions" and "take what you want", not to get people sober. "True sobriety" is a perk of working the program — and anything less than "true sobriety" is a death sentence. I've heard a lot of nutty things from these people, but the primary one is "AA doesn't get you sober." It's more like a way of life that requires one not to drink? Something like that…

    Anyway, like you said, there is something enormous and miraculous about getting together with a group of other people who are on the same path, doing the same difficult thing and supporting each other in that. I wish that's what AA was. You're right — it should have stopped there.

    Dang, it's really a mess. I mean, I do think that some people really, fundamentally, need to have the steps and complete structure. Some in people — in general — need rules in order to feel safe in life. These are the people who feel that the legalization gay marriage is going to yank the ground right out from under them. They need universal truths. And then there are people who are so profoundly broken by addiction (even to the point of brain damage), that a clear structure and plan is necessary for them to work their way out of it. I get you: it would be great if we could, in good conscience, direct these people to AA, "Just go till you get your feet under you…"

    When people ask why we "bash AA," my first answer is that the more we talk about it, the more we tear up the floor, the more people we can draw into the conversation, the more likely it is that something will happen. Perhaps the taboo against attacking a "benevolent organization" will be lifted; conventional wisdom will shift; perhaps, at some point, the treatment industry will take note; alcoholicis will take note… Maybe AA itself will take note, and start taking its own program to heart ("taking what works and leaving the rest; performing a fearless moral inventory on itself…).

    Saying "these are just suggestions" is one of the most insidious things they say. They are "just suggestions" unless you want to get "truly sober." And of course, the suggestions are steps into complete dependence on religion and abdication of self.

    I would love to see AA reform, somehow. Here are my suggestions (not that I'm holding my breath):

    1. It could get honest about what it is (and what it's not), and accept a more appropriate place in society;

    2 it could actually evolve, and become a real leader in addictions treatment (it already has the audience), and stop with the "if it ain't broke" bullshit — it is "broke." AAWS itself says that it is not bound by the traditions. If that's the case, then there is nothing stopping it from abandoning it's hands-off position and get accountable. Start training sponsors, weeding out the damaging practices (telling people to go off meds, for instance). That way, when someone says, "That's not AA," they're telling the truth.

    3. Because it's a religious institution, it could align itself with some mega-church, and become the recovery arm of, say, Pastor Warren's church. AAWS doesn't hold itself to its own traditions, so why not?

    I think those are things that AA could do to ensure its survival and respect. And I hope that they do one of these things. Not likely…

  • H

    It is not likely.
    "If you are satisfied with the results you are getting — keep doing what you are doing."

  • Littlebuddy

    Bill Wilson realized he had to include those loopholes in the literature declaring that everything could be considered a "suggestion" because he knew he was simply repackaging the Oxford Group's brand of cult religion.
    Bill was recruiting drunks into the Oxford Group before he ever codified those ideas into what became AA. He admitted in his later writings that his motives for including that language in the big book were based on the lessons he learned during those early recruiting efforts.
    When AA members repeat the idea that everything can be considered a suggestion, their motives are the same as Bill's were when he wrote the big book. It originated as a recruiting ploy, and that's what it still is.
    I don't dispute the author's assertion that it can be considered a "bait and switch" technique, but I think it's important to consider it's origins because the sacred "164 pages" of the big book have not changed in seventy years.