Saving the World

I’m responding to one of Danny’s comments here on the front page, because I have been wanting to address some of these points anyway, and because I think it merits its own discussion.

In response to this comment, from Danny (here):

You guys have a whole past-time, cottage industry going here based upon hatting our fellowship. Do you at least have SOME familiarity with the Big Book after which the fellowship is named? I have to wonder.

I asked,

Do you honestly believe that we’re here passing our time hating on your fellowship?

And Danny said:

Some seem that way. Not all do. I don’t ‘get’ the motivation. Would you say that the motivation behind a site like this is a “noble” one?

It seem like, “AA didn’t work for me so it won’t work for you either – and I am going to expend my efforts to prove that to somebody.”

Is this like a “I am going to save the world by exposing the truth” kind of phenomenon?

Am I even close?


Danny S – RLRA
Real Live Recovered Alcoholic


’Morning Danny,

A lot of things don’t work for me, but I don’t spend my free time stomping around trying to convince everyone that those things are bogus. (Completely OT, but that just made me think of an angry letter to the editor I read once: This guy wrote in to say that the lottery was a scam because he’d been playing for two months straight and hadn’t won anything yet.) We get that a lot here, “You must have failed at AA, and now you’re just disgruntled and probably still drunk.” That’s one of those Unofficial, Unofficial AA Slogans I wrote about. We couldn’t possibly have a beef with AA unless we failed it. It’s a lazy way to dismiss criticism.

Here’s the noble cause:

AA is fucking enormous. If the treatment industry were a microcosm of the whole country, AA would fill the niche Christianity fills. And like Christianity, which has a mighty sense of entitlement to assert itself and influence every facet of society – public schools, court rooms, the Constitution, people’s private lives – AA/12-step has a similar sense of entitlement within the treatment industry. And it is also treated by the treatment industry with the same… Idunno… unquestioning, kid-glove indulgence that Christianity enjoys. In general, people treat Christianity with respect, even if they don’t believe it. It’s kind of funny how rational people, or people who are not Christians, will so rarely – in the arena of public discourse – call bullshit on someone’s religion, even when their opponent’s religious belief is at the very root of their demented approach to public policy.

 Nobody wants to stand up and lambaste AA anymore than anyone wants to get on prime-time news and tell Christians that their religion is ridiculous and that it has no place in government (unless you’re Christopher Hitchens). If you do that, you become the immoral, godless crank, and the uproar is enormous. How long do you think it will be before our country is ready to elect an atheist President? As it stands, we just don’t take anyone seriously unless they have faith in some in strange, random, unprovable,  supernatural event – among many random, strange things they could possibly believe.

In the treatment industry, public criticism of AA and 12-Step programs is rare, and for the same reasons. It is always very delicately couched – AA is just a given; it’s conventional wisdom, mainstream. I wonder how many times Ann Landers, for instance, has suggested AA to her readers, without knowing anything more about it than that AA is what drunks are supposed to do. The treatment industry is bloated with AA, and this is a horrible result. AA is a “miracle;” it’s a belief system; it’s a spiritual program. But it is not addiction treatment, anymore than Intelligent Design is science.

In order for science to consider Intelligent Design seriously, even just to engage in a debate with ID’s proponents, science itself would have to abandon its rigorous standards; the conversation would require that science actually redefine terminology in order to find some common ground for discussion. This has already happened with AA. The treatment industry takes the utter unaccountability of AA seriously. Terms like “spiritual disease” are rarely questioned. And the result of this has been disastrous for so many people.

Further, AA’s unaccountability and lack of responsibility for what actually happens in AA meetings, and the treatment industry’s dependence on, and unquestioning acceptance of AA, has generated some awful AA gestalt, which is like The Grey Goo . People are not being treated for their addictions in AA; they’re either becoming part of the goo or getting run over by it. As MA pointed out, we’ve seen the damage it does to people — its epidemic.

Compared to the giant machine AA has for support, and the doe-eyed acceptance it receives in general, and the millions of members and meetings, we’re really small potatoes. AA is not the underdog; it’s the Gold Standard. AA enjoys a place at the head of the grown-ups’ table, while its critics are viewed as the turds in the punchbowl.

But when we criticize AA, hold it up to the light of day, the response we receive from AAs is so interesting. You’d think they were being persecuted. An enormous institution with this much influence (yes, I know AAs deny this) should be immune from criticism? Can’t handle a little ankle biting? They do not welcome the muckrakers? They have no interest in doing a fearless moral inventory, rooting out abuses and ineffective elements, in evolving? No desire for accountability? Why? Why are the members who question what goes on in meetings told to take the cotton out of their ears? No checks and balances? No standards? Critics must have failed the program that cannot fail.

So, yeah, I’d say that our mission here is noble. We have a mess. People are being harmed in AA because it mimics the dynamics of an abusive domestic relationship* – and it is The Norm. Is wanting to “expose the truth and save the world” a ridiculous pursuit? The way you phrase that makes it seem that doing so is quixotic, silly, childish, deluded. I guess it’s the “and save the world” part. How about we leave off that part, and put it like this, “expose the truth, keep the conversation going, and hope it leads to reform.”


*UPDATED because, amazingly, while I was writing this, AnnaZed sent me a link to this piece from, which goes into detail about what I mean when I say that AA mimics the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

Many a newcomer will immediately feel comfy and cozy in the rooms of AA simply because the dynamics of the group mirror that of the newcomer’s dysfunctional family of origin.

    * Don’t think, don’t feel.

    * If you do feel, be advised that certain feelings are not allowed.

    * We know what’s best for you.

    * You don’t know what’s best for you, and we won’t even ask your opinion.

    * The family is correct, it is your feelings which are screwed up.

    * You must honor and respect us. You must be grateful for us. We gave you life. You are not allowed to be angry at us.

    * “Ouch! It hurts!” you say — “We’re only doing this because we love you” — they respond

    * “This doesn’t make sense!” you say — “Do it because I told you so!” — they respond

    * We will love you only if you do “this”, “that” or “the other”… we will love you conditionally

    * Don’t speak the truth — We can’t handle it.

    * Be sure to always pretend that everything is allright, otherwise the family will fall apart.

Sound familiar?

  • speedy0314


    while i find i disagree with hitchens on a lot of issues, the plain fact of it is that christianity (or judaism, islam, hinduism, buddhism, jainism, AA, scientology — any religion or religious practice) HAS NO PLACE in government or government-associated practice — at least not here in the good old US of A.

    that's written right into the constitution (1st amendment, any one?) & it's regularly violated by judges, district attornies, EAP organizations, insurance firms, treatment facilities, etc. who enforce AA attendance as part of their mandate. i don't need to list the circuit court (or lower court) rulings that have found AA to be 'religious in nature' nor do i have to note that the supreme court has repeatedly refused to hear appeals of these rulings — thereby implicitly upholding the ruling that AA is religious in nature at a federal level.

    for every blog like this there are probably at least 100 12-step sympathetic websites where balderdash like danny's & the like gets free & uncritical publication. (never mind an endless supply of brain-dead 'huzzahs'.) AA/12X12 sympathizers who come here & post about being 'hatted on' (one of the most gloriously knuckleheaded typos in web history), are playing the 'martyr card' & it's beyond ridiculous.

    it's not AA's regulation population worldwide that's an issue (i.e., even if you generously double AAWS's 2008 worldwide estimate to 4 million members, it's still a piddly drop in the bucket when considering the WHO's conservative estimate of 80 million 'alcohol dependent' sufferers). it's the fact that a thoroughly faith-based, scientifically unsubtantiated (which shows outward contempt for science, reason, & modern medicine) 'solution' has wormed its way so thoroughly into the civic life of this country & managed to make a 'cottage industry' in & of itself without doing a damned thing to quantitatively solve the problem that's at issue. that fact that a non-science/non-medical-based tent-show has somehow become the premier 'solution' for a widening health problem is a big effin' problem.

    danny is a relatively harmless bacteria compared to the big, ugly fly in the ointment that is dr. kevin clark who heads up hazelden (among other charlatans who openly & actively endorse the 'minnesota' 12X12 model). or rep. jim ramstadt, nitwits like oprah, dr. phil, & dr. drew.

    as long as those jamokes are around selling snake oil by the barrel in the mass media & as long as government is complicit in extending 12-step's reach, i'm happy to keep on with my hitchens-like ranting & hatting.

    peace, love, cheesecake, hatting on mother theresa & henry kissinger,


  • H

    danny needs to get a grip.

    • speedy0314


      my advice — leave before that miracle.


  • H

    I really don't care whether he gets a grip or not.

  • AnnaZed

    I don't know, I wonder. I wonder if over the last few days Danny has started to actually think about what he is doing and what it actually means and what it means to the society around him.He's a thoughtful, if indifferently educated, person. He works in the "helping" industry. He cares.

    His last rambling garbled posts showed signs to me that he is starting to crack, seriously.

    As to that link about the similarities between AA and dysfunctional and abusive families; I was just so very struck by it and how cogent it was. I had been trying to formulate something like that in something else that i was writing and there it was, damn ~ hit the nail squarely.

    It reminded me particularly of how toxic AA can be for women who have been in abusive relationships or had abusive childhoods (most particularly girls who have been sexually exploited) and have alcohol or drug abuse problems and concomitant intractable self-esteem issues. AA is pretty much a prescription for suicide for them and certainly offers nothing in the way of self realization and nurture of independent thought that they so badly need.

  • speedy0314


    i take no issue with your assertion that "people are being harmed by AA". more importantly, though, people within and without AA are being lied to — about the nature of 'alcoholism', about the 'solution' for alcoholism, about the 'illness/allergy' of alcoholism. lies tend to fall apart of their own accord after some time.

    1 – the commonly accepted myth that alcoholism is "a chronic progressive disease" has never been scientifically proven; more to the point, leaders in the addiction field (dr. nida volkow, dr. mark willenbring, dr. joseph volpicelli, among many others) have gone on record stating as much & even media personality dr. sanjay gupta (in his recent CNN special "Addiction") reiterated the point that the modern perspective is to view 'alcoholism in a continuum, not as a chronic, progressive disease'; the most successful example in his special (the member with the longest term of sobriety — 7 years) was a gentlemen who did not use 12 step methods at all but instead stuck with naltrexone; the longest length of sobriety among the three other 12 step adherents featured in the special was just under 2 years (1 was lucky to have a few weeks at a time)

    2 – AA's distinctively 'faith-based' 12 step 'solution' has wilted in the face of every rigorous scientific study; according to the cochrane medical review (7/2006) "No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems. One large study focused on the prognostic factors associated with interventions that were assumed to be successful rather than on the effectiveness of interventions themselves, so more efficacy studies are needed."; the AA/12X12 'solution' is more PR than it is science or medicine

    3 – whatever the semantic purposes of using the 'disease' or 'brain disease' terminology are for medical & scientific professionals, i'm in no position to quibble; if using the terminology helps fund research & stem the tide of a rising public health issue, i'm all for it; that said, AA's notion of 'spiritual disease' is an absurdity that doesn't even warrant argument; dr. silkworth's positing of an alcoholic "allergy" is easily put to bed by the sheer scientific fact of the body's own propensity for endogenous ethanol production; those suffering from an allergy wouldn't be able to stop with or without god's help as alcohol would always be (at some level) in their circulatory system — they would constantly be suffering an 'allergic' reaction

    the nature of alcohol/drug dependency is complex. but it is not an impenetrable 'mystery' as 12 step true believers continue to blather on about. this 'mystery' discourse ensures that AA & its faith-based nonsense gains whatever traction there is left in the treatment field & the public conciousness. like it or not, we live in a scientific society & 'mysteries' have a way of working themselves out — given enough time, research, & money.

    AA's time is running out. the strongest adherents of 12 step find themselves tripping over their own words when interviewed about advances in research & rehabilitation. hazelden's dr. kevin clark came off looking like a world class imbecile denying the efficacy of naltrexone on gupta's program when the evidence couldn't be more apparent & compelling.

    let cheesecake danny wear his 'hatted on' martyr's shawl. he is like the self-proclaimed 'barbers' who used leeches & bleeding to cure the diseases of the dark ages. AA has yielded the discussion to the intellectual likes of him & mcgowdog. i am more than happy to meet their rhetoric with my own in an unbiased public forum.

    nice job,


  • speedy0314


    by way of example"

    ""Much of what we thought we knew about alcoholism was based on middle-aged people, primarily white men in treatment programs and Alcoholics Anonymous, but the NESARC data are turning what we thought we knew about alcoholism completely on its head," Dr. Willenbring told reporters attending a press conference here at the American Psychiatric Association 162nd Annual Meeting."

    for more, go to:


  • AnnaZed

    My understanding was that the whole "allergy" myth had been exposed long ago and that only the most poorly educated or informed AAs continue to mouth it. Granted, that's a lot of people, but still.

    Speaking of cheesecake, I was told recently by a doctor friend of mine that the whole myth that one small amount of alcohol (say baked in a cheesecake for example) would have a devastating effect on an abstaining drinker, let alone toss him off the wagon like the guy in the famous cheesecake story, (I may on another day go into the underpinnings of that story which have to do with the men of those early AA groups blaming practically everything on their wives, but that's another conversation) was simply pharmacologically absurd.

    He said that the truth about that story, and other admonitions like it (I was told in AA not to wear perfume because the alcohol would seep into my skin and "trigger" me, mouthwash is often blamed for relapse) was because many early AAs were taking antabuse which would cause them to be violently sick to their stomachs if they ate say a serving of tiramisu with it's flavoring of Marsala wine. Now, these early AAs were big on refusing all types of medication and having silly arguments about the use of aspirin or even alka-seltzer making a person "not truly sober." So, naturally, they couldn't admit to taking a drug (antabuse). The whole bizarre and silly myth about problem drinkers struggling to maintain abstinence being triggered and going on binges after eating cheesecake was created to keep those wives vigilant about ingredients so that the old man wasn't set off ~ not on a binge of drinking but a night of puking (though the wives weren't told that, of course, they were to be constantly on guard against ingredients that might send hubby off the deep end and on a bender which would ~ naturally ~ be their fault).

    That's all that is, pretty dumb actually, and more than a little sad.

  • I know quite a bit about AA history – don't call myself a "historian" like some do but I know enough to hold my own – and honestly never heard of that cheesecake stuff before. I have my own experience with home-made cheesecake that punched my clock out on an occasion years ago – but that's it. Do you have any background sources on that cheesecake "history" you bring up? It sounds an awful lot like my own REAL experience – and not some old tale of AA yore. Thanks


    Danny S – RLRA
    Real Live Recovered Alcoholic


    My experience with cheesecake – an old article – if intetrested.

  • speedy0314

    just in case anyone is interested on the basic mathematics of 'the cheesecake phenemenon', here goes:

    per the FDA:

    1 gallon vanilla extract
    35% alcohol by volume
    70 proof

    the standard 'cheesecake' contains:
    1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
    approximately 0.167 ounces (actually 1.0099 tspn)
    yielding an alcohol content of 0.00365 PER PINT of cheesecake (i.e., an 8 oz slice of cheesecake contains an alcohol content of 0.00731 percent)

    the average level of endogenous ethanol in a non-drinkers' body:
    roughly 0.004 percent (CBAC equivalent)

    "pharmacologically absurd" indeed.

    bringing the hat,


  • H

    I must be missing something, as this 'discussion' makes no sense at all.
    I have no interest in aa. Whether it stands, falls or sits in a chair: I have no opinion. My interest is this: that this society develop rational methods – methods which have a replicable basis in fact and logic.

    • speedy0314


      yup — you're missing something. don't worry, though. one side of this ridiculous debate will get tired & we'll move on to the nitty-gritty.

      in the meantime, i have to admit that this is kind of fun.


    • AnnaZed

      "…that this society develop rational methods"

      Methods for what? Subject, predicate … the usual still applies regardless of which side of the argument you are on.

  • H

    For the subject at [apparent] hand — 'alcoholism'. Most people who get shut of it, get shut of it on their own. And, they do eat cheesecake. Which is almost as good as chicken soup.