AA and The Treatment Industry

I’ve been seeing reviews of The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations around lately, because the Tea Party is using this book, and specifically, the Starfish model, as its organizing principle. The quote that keeps popping up is this:

The title is based on the contrasting biology of spiders, which die when their heads are chopped off, and starfish, which can multiply when any given part is severed — a trait the book’s authors posit is shared by decentralized entities ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to Al Qaeda to Wikipedia. — Politico


It’s always fascinated me how easy it is to find analogies in nature, for just about any phenomenon. The rhizome and the taproot work well here, too. And I’ve always likened Alcoholics Anonymous to a multi-level marketing outfit, which seem to me to spread like rhizomes. Also, I can definitely see Brendan Koerner’s analogy to an open source program, though it might be more accurate to compare it to a computer virus. I don’t think he could have actually said that, though. AA has it built into its structure to develop both symbiotic and parasitic relationships with outside entities, insinuating itself into every facet of public life in such a way as to maintain its integrity (and by “integrity,” I’m talking mechanics, not character). See, for instance, Bill Wilson’s own vision. Here, he is discussing the reason why AA needs to be receptive to outside agencies, and it is mostly because “most of the work and the money will have to come from elsewhere.”

More than anything, the answer to the problem of alcoholism seems to be in education – education in schoolrooms, in medical colleges, among clergymen and employers, in families, and in the public at large. From cradle to grave, the drunk and the potential alcoholic will have to be completely surrounded by a true and deep understanding and by a continuous barrage of information: the facts about his illness, its symptoms, its grim seriousness.


Now who is going to do all this education? Obviously, it is both a community job and a job for specialists. Individually, we A.A.’s can help, but A.A. as such cannot, and should not, get directly into this field. Therefore, we must rely on other agencies, on outside friends and their willingness to supply great amounts of money and effort – money and effort which will steer the alcoholic toward treatment as never before. – Bill W. “Let’s Be Friendly with Our Friends: Friends on the Alcoholism Front

This is a brilliant model if you are interested mainly in self-preservation and self-perpetuation. But it’s not a good model for more complex entities, with brains, who participate in evolution, in the light of day. It’s a good model for systems that want to spread underground, but not so much for, say, an oak tree.

The recent reviews of this book are timely for us here, because we’ve been wrestling a bit with a paradox, which is that Alcoholics Anonymous is not a monolithic entity, by careful design, but is also, obviously, the foundation of a multi-billion dollar addictions treatment industry. The subject comes up often enough, and AA members are always quick to remind us that AA doesn’t make any money, and isn’t responsible for what the addictions treatment industry does – or what the courts do, or what addictions counselors do, even what AA members do and what they ignore. Furthermore, if there are AA members who straddle the fence (two-hatters, see MA’s post on the Knickerbocker Paradox) between AA and other entities, they cannot act in their capacity as AA members. Even within the structure of an AA group, an AA member has no official agency, and cannot speak for AA. Saying, “I don’t speak for AA,” seems to be a point of pride for people who know that’s exactly what they’re doing.

The buck never stops. There is no brain. But, this lack of accountability is just a technicality – it’s the design – and it’s just stunning that a movement, whose core principle is “rigorous honesty” would embrace such technicalities, allowing it to carry on without the weight of conscience. It allows for flippant dismissals, such as the single despicably flippant response to this post on the Friends of Bill forum: Is AA My Safe Space?

At the risk of careening off into the absurd on greased wheels, I’m going to indulge another analogy:

Together, the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are kind of a perpetual motion machine. It’s easy to dismiss Bill Wilson as all kinds of defective character – philandering, doped-up, megalomaniac, whatever… but the man was visionary when he constructed this machine.

Alcoholics Anonymous operates by mining and refining a motherlode of raw material (alcoholics) that fuels its mining and refining operation. The 12 Traditions function to maintain the integrity of the system, while insinuating itself and placing cogs in every facet of public life where this raw material can be mined. The 12 Traditions allow AA to develop symbiotic relationships with other entities who have found a cash cow in AA (addictions treatment, see Engish Rose’s post, for example). And, they allow AA to foster parasitic relationships with outside entities, who are looking to recycle this raw material (courts). Regardless of the nature of the relationship, the perpetual motion machine of Alcoholics Anonymous will not be compromised by the entities it attaches itself to – no friction! And, as Wilson says in the above quote, the entities with which it co-operates will be the ones to make the commitments and take the responsibility. By implication, these entities will also take the fall if anything goes wrong, leaving AA unscathed. And most importantly, they’re the one’s with the money. AA will remain intact, uncommitted, and unaccountable.

For spiritual reasons, of course.

Looking at the Traditions as a business model, I believe, brings them into sharper focus:

Tradition 6.) Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. An A.A. group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to A.A., such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the A.A. name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A.A.- and medically supervised. While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An A.A. group can bind itself to no one.

Tradition 7.) The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.

Tradition 8.) Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we may otherwise have to engage nonalcoholics. Such special services may be well recompensed. But our usual A.A. “12th Step” work is never to be paid for.

Now, the other element of this model, The 12 Steps, takes this raw material and refines it. In other words, Wilson’s program takes chaos and creates order. Alcoholics become members, and spiritual evangelists, who organize themselves into groups. Groups organize into intergroups… I think what Wilson did with the 12 Steps is amazing:

  • He found a vast and perpetual audience of vulnerable, broken, and thus, receptive, people, for whose attention no one else was vying.
  • He tapped their most fundamental emotions: fear of isolation; fear of death.
  • He made AA an simple, fundamental choice between life and death.
  • He ratcheted this fear up by adding superstition into the mix – which also adds the element of unaccountability and absolution.
  • He made what seems like an unholy mess into simple black and white.
  • He provided a bite-sized formula, a “simple program.”
  • He quelled those fundamental fears by incorporating community and purpose – meaning of life – into his program.
  • He provided mortar for this foundation in the form of confession – a human bonding agent – which generates an even deeper feeling personal investment.
  • He made evangelism part of this formula.

It’s been a long time since I studied the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but I remember learning about how, whenever the Romans would conquer new people, it would add their gods to its pantheon. The practice kept everyone placated. It wasn’t until the Christians joined the family that things got complicated, because their monotheistic, One True God religion didn’t allow for any compromise — and they were obligated to spread the Good News. My sense is that the 12-Steps are non-denominational on purpose – not because AA is not a religious organization, but because this practice of incorporating all religious beliefs just allows for another layer of disentanglement. It’s another safeguard against friction. (It’s also interesting that Christian AA members have branched off to create their own AA groups).

I cannot think of anything else (except religion) going on, at the time of AA’s founding, in this country, that could have provided Wilson with the framework that has made Alcoholics Anonymous so successful – and, of course, by successful I mean successful as an organization, not as a successful program for curing alcoholism. AA has been wildly successful at perpetuating itself, but not so much at fulfilling its promises. The reason, of course, is that perpetuation is the point.

As long as I’m on a roll with the analogies: Alcoholics Anonymous is like the Burger King of all religions. They say you can have it your way, but you can’t go to Burger King and get a Big Mac. And you can’t work the Steps with a Higher Power that doesn’t take backsies on self-will and character defects. In other words, if you’re working the program, you are fodder for this machine. The machine is designed to process you, clean you up, and put you to work perpetuating itself, either inside or outside The Rooms. Even if you, yourself, are a perpetual relapse machine, you’ll do – as you keep cycling through the rooms, through the courts, through rehab, and back around again. If you eventually “get it,” fine. If you don’t, also fine.

As Wilson’s own words, and as the Traditions themselves, make clear, Alcoholics Anonymous has – and has always had – every intention of being the foundation of all alcoholism-related ventures. AA means to thoroughly inform and infiltrate hospitals, rehabs, courts, schools and families. Its stated intention to do so, coupled with its refusal to become entangled in any of these entities, serves to both reinforce its reputation as a strictly altruistic entity among its members and the public, and, more importantly, to prevent itself from getting mired in accountability.

If you don’t believe that Alcoholics Anonymous actively pursues relationships with outside entities, you should have a peek at the pamphlets it has made available on its own website.  Here’s a random sample:

There’s “If You Are A Professional…” which starts: “Cooperation with the professional community is an objective of A.A., and has been since our beginnings. We are always seeking to strengthen and expand our communications with you, and we welcome your comments and suggestions.”

The pamphlet, “AA as a Resource for the Heath Care Professional,” opens by explaining to doctors that one of the symptoms of the incurable illness is “denial.” It authoritatively offers all kinds of groundless “facts” about the nature of alcoholics, and advice on how to refer people to AA and how to counter objections. And it points out that “the health care professional who works closely with Alcoholics Anonymous in his or her community is in a key position to provide leadership, education and support in an area which will pay great dividends in the quality of care and rates of recovery of alcoholics.”

AA’s guidelines for “Cooperating with Court, D.W.I. And Similar Programs” is especially interesting in the way it runs roughshod over the Traditions and the misgivings members may have about violating them:

The sole purpose of this Twelfth Step work, then and now, was to carry A.A.’s message to the still-suffering alcoholic. To fulfill that purpose, A.A.s have learned how to share A.A. Information within court systems.

Probation and parole officers, as well as judges, often require people involved in alcohol-related offenses to attend A.A. Meetings. Some A.A. Members find it difficult to accept this “outside” policy in light of our Third Tradition, “The only requirement for A.A. Membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Perhaps it is helpful to remember that our Traditions apply to us, and aren’t affected by the regulations established by outside institutions – we cooperate without affiliating. By adhering to all Twelve Traditions, many groups welcome each newcomer regardless of how they got to the meeting.


From page 89 of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous: “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail… You can help when no one else can… because of your own drinking experience you can be uniquely useful to other alcoholics. So cooperate; never criticize. To be helpful is our only aim.”

Therefore, as long as carrying the message helps those of us already in A.A. Maintain our own sobriety, this kind of message carrying is a success.

This whole pamphlet is well worth a read, because it blatantly plays AA members for fools. It is the epitome of convoluted rationalization, and makes a mockery of rigorous honesty. This pamphlet cites the very Traditions it violates to support its violation of every single one of them. In short, it is an exercise in bald-faced cynicism. Just reading through the above excerpt should set bells off in your head. For instance, why does it help to remember that “our Traditions apply to us” when considering that you’re seeking to facilitate coerced attendance? Does that mean that, as an AA member, you are in AA by choice, but you have no obligation to anyone else’s ability to choose? And if people are coerced, that’s none of your beezwax? Even if you are directly responsible for this coercion, by violating the Tradition of attraction, not promotion? And, if you can’t get right with all this, maybe you should just consider that your 12th Step work is so important to your own sobriety that it should trump any pesky pangs of conscience you may have? If altruistic reasons won’t work on you, then maybe selfish ones will?

Maybe, the question is more like, “Why would AA engage in this type of blatant manipulation?” Occam’s Razor dictates that the answer has more to do with AA’s self-interest than with the sobriety of its members. The courts are a the motherlode.

I could go on quoting from AA’s own literature, and Bill Wilson’s own words, to demonstrate how AA has a vested, and stated, and, indeed, desperate interest in the addictions treatment industry, and how its very well-being and survival depends upon it. Simply put, AA is designed very precisely to spread and thrive, underground, via its relationships (or “cooperation”) with outside, public entities. That AA members feel righteous about the fact that AA doesn’t profit from, nor lend its name to, any outside entities is tragic, because it allows them to play their role as fodder for this juggernaut, with a clear conscience.

At the top of this heap, there are a handful of people making a lot of money and wielding a great deal of influence in schools, hospitals, courtrooms, media, and treatment centers. At the top, you’ll find AA members holding the highest positions at treatment facilities, and you’ll find clergy members holding the highest positions in AA. In the middle, you’ll find all kinds of people making money hand over fist, promoting the 12 Steps (not as AA members, mind you, just supporters of the 12 Steps: technicalities might not be meaningful, but they’re important). You’ll also find public servants, medical professionals and counselors doing the best they can with the conventional wisdom and training available to them. And at the bottom, you’ll find millions of still suffering alcoholics cycling in and out of AA, rehab, drug court, AA, prison, AA, rehab, AA, drug court… And you’ll find members being abused in meetings as a matter of course, because there’s no accountability at this level, and because AA members are not responsible for the fact that their 12th Step work involves offering AA as an option to the courts. In fact, accountability is discouraged (“Find another meeting.” “Find another sponsor.” “It’s your own fault if you trust the people in your Group Of Drunks.”). Self-censorship, which is the most effective form of censorship, is encouraged here, (“Look at your part.” “Take the cotton out of your ears and stuff it in your mouth.” “Clean your side of the street.” “Don’t think; don’t drink; and go to meetings,” “Stinkin’ Drinkin’ Thinkin’” “Anger is one letter away from danger!”).

It all seems like an enormous clusterfuck — a whirlwind of crazy, incompetence, shocking disregard, sadism, willful ignorance, and doublespeak. But the whole mess transforms into an elegant design, when you look at AA as an efficient, primitive-type organism, whose purpose and survival is, simply, to spread underground, feeding off the visible landscape.

What I wanted to do here was to make it clear that AA exists because of its relationships to the outside entities that it “cooperates” with; and it does cooperate very aggressively. This is my answer to all the hairsplitting that goes into separating AA from the treatment industry. In short, AA exists because of, not in spite of, it. It depends on it, and has supported and driven its growth from the beginning. It seems very clear to me that this is how AA has functioned and thrived. And it’s no accident that trying to pin down AA is like trying to pin down sand, but it’s easy enough to get a handle on the big picture, and demonstrate how AA and the whole 12 Step treatment industry are “co-dependent.” AA really does mean it when it suggests that your sobriety is incidental.

  • Z

    Ha! And here people were worried about Communist conspiracies and infiltrators … actually Bill Wilson had this big infiltration plan! 😉

  • DeConstructor

    I would think an equal amount of criticism should go to the alleged "real"medical industry who remains no only too quiet on this issue, but allows, misrepresentation of so-called facts to remain less than clearly rebutted.

    The silence of these entities, is deafening.

  • Z

    And — great post. So: what do you think the founders were up to — what does AA get out of this? Or is just existing and proliferating like a primitive organism all it wants? Or did Bill W. just want to see whether he could exert mind control from beyond the grave — or what? 😉

  • Hey, Z. Well! Idunno. 🙂 Really, I think the motive is as simple as their deep sense of purpose and belief in what they were doing.

    Decon, I agree. Maybe you could write that post.

  • Commonsense

    I disagree with your statement "It all seems like an enormous clusterfuck — a whirlwind of crazy, incompetence, shocking disregard, sadism, willful ignorance, and doublespeak."  I think "IT IS an enormous money-making clusterfuck — a profitable whirlwind of crazy, incompetence, shocking disregard, sadism, willful ignorance, and doublespeak."

  • SoberPJ

    The worst thing that could happen to the amorphous blob is a pill solution that could be administered by family doctors that actually worked for patients. It wouldn't have to work for all of them, just 20-30%, and AA would crumble. Because AA membership has been flat, I think it is already happening to some degree. If you add up all the people in step alternative programs plus the current pill solutions of Antabuse, Campral and Naltrexone from a worldwide perspective, some damage is probably already being done. If science delivers another one or two pills that work well-  and that seems likely –  the party is pretty much over. Losing marketshare is just plain painful to deal with and the whole 12 Step complex would have to contract and shed jobs and facilities. It won't be pretty, but why would I spend $30K for treatment if my doctor can give me a pill that takes away my desire to drink? What if it became over the counter? Not likely, but an interesting thought, and why not?

    Back to the topic, I think Bill W got what he wanted – fame, money and a steady supply of women to feed his ego. He showed all those doubters that he was the number one man. As for the people in AAWS and GSO and all the district offices, I think they are just people trying to make a living and helping out to spread the Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous. If there is any. 

    If you want to see the most recent returns for AA orgs, search on "Anonymous" at http://bartlett.oag.state.ny.us/Char_Forms/search…    There is some interesting information buried in their tax returns and they are not exactly the picture of financial health.

  • Susan

    What struck me immediately is how grim it all sounds, this continuous barrage of information society is supposed to subject everyone to.

  • tintop

    The Medical field has been largely silent on this matter. Addiction is not given due attention; and, the treatment business is given a free pass.

    There are medications now available that seem to get good results.

    And, several important factors have to be noticed: the severity of the problem; underlying issues; methods other than 12 step; groups other than AA.

    AA is mostly obsolete and 12 step is largely obsolete.

  • tintop

    There is one thing that the apologists for 12 step and AA do not understand: If 12 step/AA actually had a success rate, AA would make sure that everyone knew it. AA does not have a success rate, and AA knows it.

    • Jeremy E.

      Anonymity, is a spiritual foundation.

  • Rick045

    Excellent work ftg, just excellent,

    Those human frailties that Bill appealed to (or took advantage of) in those twelve steps aren't so different than what many other religions capitalize on. Desperate people will always be attracted to simple answers and grandiose promises. A plan for living. Some of that is just very universal, and one reason that AA may never disappear completely. If Bill could be described as brilliant, I think of it as a clever con-artist kind of brilliance, sort of an intuitive knack for reading human nature.

    I believe he had plenty of help in devising the organizational structures that came later, the traditions, the service manual, the twelve concepts. One thing I've found in actually trying to read through some of that stuff is that for an organization that "ought never be organized", it is very organized.

    I've been thinking for a while that the way this shit pile would be dismantled would have to be through the court system, but that article in the Washington Post made me think more about the role the media might play in the process. Transparency it the biggest enemy this organization could ever have. Maybe people really are starting to pay more attention now. I sure hope so.

  • humanspirit

    FTG This is a brilliant article. I especially liked this part:


    He found a vast and perpetual audience of vulnerable, broken, and thus, receptive, people, for whose attention no one else was vying.

    He tapped their most fundamental emotions: fear of isolation; fear of death.

    He made AA an simple, fundamental choice between life and death.

    He ratcheted this fear up by adding superstition into the mix – which also adds the element of unaccountability and absolution.

    He made what seems like an unholy mess into simple black and white.

    He provided a bite-sized formula, a “simple program.”

    He quelled those fundamental fears by incorporating community and purpose – meaning of life – into his program.

    He provided mortar for this foundation in the form of confession – a human bonding agent – which generates an even deeper feeling personal investment.

    He made evangelism part of this formula.


    If I would add anything to this, it would be the concept of powerlessness.


    Just my two cents for now – I think the most insidious and fiendishly clever aspect of this is the 12th step evangelism. Steppers are not working the program well enough and therefore endangering their own sobriety unless they go out and recruit new members. This must be why they panic so much and get so aggressive when they encounter any questioning or opposition.

  • Z

    Rick045: "…that article in the Washington Post made me think more about the role the media might play in the process. Transparency it the biggest enemy this organization could ever have."


    Yes. It's various forms of media and "spreading the word" that Wilson used. I think this article should go out to various magazines of different types, magazines where people read about fashion, architecture, hunting, whatever it is they do, and also about the latest medications and pop psych fads. ! 😉


    The thing is that this all fits with the self help movement generally, and with fundamentalist Christianity, and with New Agey stuff that in fact resembles fundamentalism in a lot of ways and uses similar slogans. This is why it has as much power as it has. All of that stuff needs dismantling and that's a big job, but other big jobs have been done and anyway we've already started.


    A friend tells me something that's both daunting and revealing — that these 12 stepping ideas and the conformity and obedience they promote are part and parcel of Western culture generally and US WASP culture in particular. Basically, she says, they're a form of social control and they're in our "common sense" whether we're "Christian" or not as individuals. That, she says, is why 12 stepping holds people in its grip.


    That comment helped me feel less silly for having fallen prey to it. It makes the project of bringing it down look more daunting, of course, but also more important … because the powerlessness concept, as Primrose suggests, is powerful and is all too widespread.


    Also, re Primrose's comment on the 12th step, just above — yes. It seems the whole program is about conforming or being insane/dying. So nonconformity is death, which is scary, and even being exposed to nonconformity is utterly terrifying.


    Another friend explained something similar to me about conservative Christianity. You are not supposed to think, she said, because some thoughts might be wrong or destructive, and since you are powerless and inherently sinful, you will not be able to distinguish the thoughts you want from those you don't. You can get corrupted easily and will fall into utter mayhem if you do; this is why you must not think.

  • humanspirit

    z says:

    A friend tells me something that’s both daunting and revealing — that these 12 stepping ideas and the conformity and obedience they promote are part and parcel of Western culture generally and US WASP culture in particular. Basically, she says, they’re a form of social control and they’re in our “common sense” whether we’re “Christian” or not as individuals. That, she says, is why 12 stepping holds people in its grip.


    I think this is very true, but it's not just a Western phenomenon. Having lived for some years in an impoverished area of China, I saw exactly the same things at work there. It was "common sense" to believe China was the greatest country in the world and that Chinese culture was superior to all others. It went without saying. It was "common sense" to believe that the CCP was acting in the interest of all Chinese people and that any opposition was just a form of being anti-Chinese. Etc., etc.


    Having said that, just as in the west, there were people who questioned this "common sense" , i.e., the prevailing ideology, some of which did just not ring true to ordinary people and did not coincide with their actual experience. They were just smart enough not to say it openly – they could quite seriously have been facing "jails, institutions or death" if they had done.



  • Z

    @hs – great points & useful! I'm not at all convinced by the western-non western binary, and I think it's more useful to think of all of this as part of totalitarian thought generally. I keep coming back to FTG's references to Newspeak and Orwellianism generally; I think they're really a propos and I was amazed not to have seen it that way myself before… it's EXACTLY what goes on.

  • humanspirit

    Z – Yes, this is a fascinating subject. For our ancestors, belief in gods and demons was common sense, and you did all you could do to placate the gods and avoid the demons. These people were not stupid – for them this was a fact of life. More recently in western history – even after the Enlightenment – it became common sense to think that the poor and uneducated were inferior human beings, and that people in non-Christian countries were uncivilized savages – this was the basic idea that gave "legitimacy" to colonialism. And even more recently, it was "common sense" to think that women were fundamentally inferior to men, that they were incapable of  higher forms of thought or creativity or any kind of real contribution to society and were therefore not worth educating. It was common sense that the man was the head of the family (come to think, there are still people who think that now!). To give just a few examples.


    What concerns me very deeply about AA, though, is that they don't actually talk in terms of even prevailing common sense. For example, everyone who stupidly lets themselves get addicted to a chemical substance at some point in their life is deemed to be congenitally diseased, defective and basically a deeply, irredeemably  flawed human being who needs to practice, for life a religious program invented by a fraudulent salesman in the 1930s. They tell people – and really believe themselves – that the only alternative to practicing the 12 steps is an inevitable return to addictive drinking.Which as we know can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.


    My common sense, obviously informed by the culture and society I was brought up in, tells me this is complete bollocks.

  • tintop

    To play – not really 'play' –  there are a lot of people who do not accept this 12 step business.  The short time that I was in AA told me that.  Many, if not most, did not buy it.  Most of the people in AA were not getting drunk.  I listened to them and:  a small  number were struggling with mental ills of one sort or another or the insults of life [ and not getting drunk]; many were going as  some sort of 'insurance' or 'talisman'; many were going out of habit; very few were 'true believers'.    I left in 2005.  I expect that I would meet none of the those today in 2010.   I expect that no one who dies from the effects of alcohol ever attend AA.  

    I strongly suspect , but cannot prove, that most of the people who die from diseases caused by drinking would not qualify as 'real alcoholics'.

  • humanspirit

    tintop This question of 'real alcoholics' is exactly one of the deceitful mindfuck tricks AA plays on people.

    They are very happy to accept anyone who wants to give up drinking as an alcoholic when they first get involved in AA. If the person in question says they are not the kind of alcoholic defined by AA, they are "in denial".  AA people will tell them this, even before they know anything about them or their particular history of drinking.


    At first people are told, "Only you can decide whether you're an alcoholic". Then they are told they definitely are and are in denial if they don't accept that label.


    But, if that person gets over their drink problem – or even a very serious addiction to alcohol – without AA, suddenly they weren't alcoholics in the first place!


    Can anyone in AA really justify this to themselves? At the very least, they should make up their minds.


  • tintop

    Not 'making up their minds' is a good evasion for AA.    All that evasiveness belongs to AA.   To those people, there is nothing to justify.

  • I did leave out the "powerless" part — dang! It's important! I also  missed a couple of other things, like total, lifelong immersion in the program, and the direction for newcomers to attend 90 meetings in 90 days.

    The "don't think" element is so important/interesting, too. MA and I were talking about this yesterday, in terms of politics — specifically, the overturning of Prop 8 (woo!). It's just so hard to believe that people believe the obviously ridiculous things they say with such conviction. I mean, how can they not be deliberately lying?

    For instance, an AA member will say something like…: "Take what you want and leave the rest." And we think, "How can they say that?" Can you really be considered sober if you refuse to work the first step? Will you still be considered an AA member if you decide to reject fellowship altogether? Refuse to attend a single meeting? What if I'm sitting in a bar with a beer in my hand, and no intention to quit, but with a keen desire to quit drinking? Does that desire make me an AA member, if I say it does? Even if I take no further action? And if I then take this aphorism to heart, and reject meetings, all steps, sponsors, every word in the Big Book… Obviously, it's an absurd thing to say that you can take what you want and leave the rest. Certain things are required. Don't they know that, when they say that? Why won't they say what's required?

    Like hs mentioned in the Randi thread, there's just no room for thinking through an idea to its logical conclusion. The Higher Power as Jupiter is a great example. With this kind of short circuitry of the brain, how do these people even remember to brush their teeth in the morning?

    That's probably why the vast majority of AA members who post here will, unselfconsciously, say exactly the same things in the very same way: "It's spiritual, not religious. Take what you want. If it works for you, I'm happy. Why are you so angry?"

    Definitely, I think it comes down to what you guys are saying — that it's just how an authoritarian mindset operates. I think this behavior is driven by utter faith in the black and white nature of reality, and comfort in the idea of hierarchy and the idea that one has a place in it. Everything else is just a detail that either supports the truth or doesn't. I mean, whether a detail is true or not is irrelevant, and, therefore, so is the question "are they lying?" I don't think they're lying; I think they're offering a jury rigged toehold on the faith-built monolith that keeps the whole world from freefalling into chaos and meaninglessness.


  • tintop, I agree that most of these people do not buy into the whole program — it is, as you say, a touchstone. And as such, anything can work, as long as they believe it will. But they believe it will, and so, whether or not AA makes sense to them, they believe in it, and they'll act accordingly, which means proselytizing.

    I do agree, though, that there are some who really do get that there's something wrong, but have still found a niche there, and can navigate the bullshit.

  • Z

    Authoritarian mindset, yes, and also what tintop said a few weeks ago, disordered personalities.

    All of these logical short circuits are ways to trap and frustrate anyone who's trying to think or talk seriously.

    I just realized you have to listen to them and not take them seriously, treat them as you would the ravings of a lunatic or someone's drunken rant.

    It's the people who make the mistake of believing them when they say it's a coherent program that only works when taken seriously who get into trouble.

    I was a sucker for that and believed them when they said that if it didn't make sense it was because I didn't get it.

    After all, in school, which I'm good at, that tended to be true: keep studying and doing the exercises and after a while you find you have acquired a new field and a new set of skills.

    And medical advice had always been like that, too: do this program, do the whole program, and you will heal (fortunately all my diseases and injuries have had standard treatments that worked).

    So, when the 12 steps are presented as a trusted treatment program that works if you do the whole thing, why NOT give them a chance?

    I am just too trusting, not suspicious or cynical enough, I think. Also, I think my problem was not having enough of a problem. I was sent to ACOA because I had alcoholic parents, but not because I had many ACOA characteristics. So, trying to come to believe that really, if I weren't in denial, I'd realize I had these characteristics, and that really, I needed this program, etc., was precisely what drove me over the edge.

    Perhaps, had I had a drinking problem and gone to AA, it would have been clearer to me why I was there and what I was looking for, and therefore what I should avoid. And yet, to judge from what people say on this site, many ended up having the same experience as I did in ACOA/Alanon.

  • Z

    Primrose: "What concerns me very deeply about AA, though, is that they don’t actually talk in terms of even prevailing common sense."

    Well yes, that's good to keep in mind. But what concerns me is that they somehow get a pass on this, they get to be considered "right" anyway, and that this logic ends up invading other common sense. "Everything is just as it is supposed to be." "There are no coincidences — everything happens for a reason." Etc., etc., bleah.

  • humanspirit

    Hi Z – It was humanspirit making those comments, not Primrose (I don't have a problem with this, but I wouldn't want Primrose to be held accountable for anything I say!)

    Yes, they get an absolute pass on it. How did they manage it? Reading some of the comments on the Washington Post thread, you get a really clear idea about how these people are living within their own isolated little bubble, and how – pathetically – they think that quoting AA slogans and quoting AA "truths" is going to have any kind of effect on rational people in the world outside AA.

    Stay cool, Z and take heart. The more such issues are discussed on mainstream threads, the less they will be allowed to get away with it. I live in the UK where health care is paid for out of general taxation, but if the US medical insurance companies start to catch on to the fact that 12-step rehab that they pay out big bucks for just does not work . . .?

    And yes, the AA line that there are no coincidences absolutely stinks. So God just decided on a whim to kill thousands of innocent people in a flood in Pakistan this week and let thousands of babies die of preventable diseases around the world. Maybe God was too busy attending to the demands of a few selfish AA members in the rich world and giving them a daily reprieve from alcoholism to worry about anyone else.

    I don't think that AA will be construed "right" when what they are doing is truly exposed and held up to public scrutiny.

  • Z

    Ah, my secret is out, I confuse Primrose and humanspirit — I'm sorry!

    I still think AA senselessness infiltrates what should be common sense, though, and this is what worries me the most. "Live and let live" comes to mean "Don't stop injustice," and so on, and so forth; people decide that "the wisdom to know the difference" is the assumption that nothing can be changed; etc. etc. (Perhaps I just notice this to the degree I do because passivity and passive aggression are so common in my profession, so that the slogans are used in ways that are very convenient to the authoritarian types….)


  • humanspirit

    Z "Live and let live" is one of those al-anon slogans which can be translated as "Don't do anything to help anyone until they get to AA." And then the last thing anyone in AA will do is to let anyone "live and let live".


    Passive aggression really sums up AA. They are all so humble and spiritual and grateful . . . until anyone dares criticize their program, in which case the inner rottweiler comes out in force.


    What's your profession, by the way? I'm a lexicographer by profession, and have sometimes had a chuckle to myself when steppers have asked me something like "Well, do you write the dictionary then?" (when it comes to talking about things like "religious" vs "spiritual"). And then I have to confess that, well yes, actually, I do "write the dictionary". Not on my own, obviously, and there are many dictionaries out there. But this is why I get so distressed about the way the 12-step people twist the language to suit their own ends.  My profession is about getting clarity of meaning. Their version of "rigorous honesty"  is very far removed from any definition of "honesty" that I would ever allow into any dictionary that I was editing.


    Sleep well, darlin', and please don't let them get to you.

  • Z

    🙂 I'm a university professor. I teach languages and literatures, so I really, really care about words. Many academics are VERY passive agressive.

    Right now I'm getting the links I put up during the summer on my Twitter account,  off, in case there are any AA or Christian types in my classes and they find my Twitter account, get offended. Here are two:

    Maddow show, guest discusses the rotting of the American brain via the wingnut brand of Christianity, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbgVV2ql5MM, he says you have to just ignore/move past these people, you can't talk sense with them … and Peele on 12 Stepping as the national religion, which is what worries me … http://www.peele.net/lib/ragintro.html
    But: these fools can't get to me now! I'm going to watch interesting movies for class on the Internet! 😉

  • Z, So weird, but I confuse those two, too.  (Prim and Human.)

  • humanspirit

    Could be because we're both Brits and you intuit something "foreign" (in the same way) about our English and the way we express oursleves!

    I think it was Winston Churchill who called the US and UK 'Two nations divided by a common language'. But united in common endeavour on this site, I think!

    (See, I just got a red wiggly line under my Brit spelling of 'endeavour'. I often just give in and go with US spellings, which is why my 12-step programme usually becomes the 12-step program.)

  • Ez

    I had always heard it was Mr George Bernard Shaw.

    As an American living in London I had to learn to navigate the minefield of common words with different meanings…i.e pants

  • humanspirit

    Ez And I always thought it was Oscar Wilde, but when I just looked it up to check before writing that, the first credit went to Churchill. Maybe he'd heard it somewhere else and was quoting it  and it got mistakenly attributed to him.


    One that cracks up a lot of rude-minded Brits is the different meanings of the word fanny.

  • Ez

    don't forget 'fag' for cigarette either

    and speaking of fanny, the word bum for fanny gives a whole new twist being to the pjrase 'being given the bum's rush" (tossed from a bar).

    Hoover for vacuum, bonnet for hood, boot for trunk, except when it's Boot's the Chemist. LOL…yup, seperated by a common language

  • nomoresteps

    AA is filled with prophets isn't it. I don't believe in the Disease concept for a minute. Although I can see how effective it is at pushing AA's agenda.

    Bottom line, It's about a Choice.

    I once had a discussion about Free Will with a PHD who owned one of the local Outpatient facilities. It was comical, he used all the normal AA'isms but his best one was, your best thinking got you here. I argued that My worst thinking got me there.

    Anyway after an amusing discussion, my closing question was, when you set up this place, how important was it to the insurance companies that your program was based on the 12 steps for reimbursements? Obviously, he said that was the only thing they cared about.

    I settled into the lecture for the night, and wouldn't you know it, the topic for the night was on Free Will and and how we have Choices and how our worst thinking got us there? The very thing I just argued and he defended with AA'isms.

    I left that night and have never returned. Some are sicker than others and those are the ones at AA every night stuck in the problem.

  • darfieldboy

    I came across this:


    It is an article about how the 12 steps conflicts with basic counselling philosophies. If these authors recognise this, then why are the 12 steps so ingrained in the treatment industry?

  • SoberPJ

    dfb… that's a great article, but I always wonder why people even have to re-interpret the 12 steps and replace them. Why can't there be three simple steps or one or none or twenty two ? What's up with the even dozen thing? Is it because there were 12 apostles, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 eggs in a dozen?

  • ez

    Step one: go over the costs and benefits of the behavior. If you find it what you are getting costs way to much, stop.

    Step two: Don't drink. No matter what. No matter what self permissions you dream up. No matter what. EOM.

  • tintop


    cost. There is no research and development. Just plug in 12 step, and you have a program.

    The hired help are steppers/AA people. PHds and MDs cost too much. steppers with a CACD from a community college will do nicely.

  • tintop

    ez, you are correct.

  • Duchess

    Yes, A plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it & call it, call it what ever you like, it's all very "Alice in Wonderland & down the rabbithole & maybe even thru & beyond the looking Glass. Friendthegirl hope you are a real person, ? not just a data gathering programme. No disrepect but there are some evol bastards out there, l enjoyed your meta analysis of the AA programme. I had n't quite seen the pyramid selling scheme angle so clearly before. Also remember 1930's cultural influence of Dale Carniege coming through in Bill's ideas,or were they Bill's really ? so anyhoo not just religious influence. Add a little or a lot of facism/eugenics all the isms. plus physics -rocketing into the 4th dimension or was it the 5th ? Ahh objectifying gives one a refreshing detachment don't you find .& to think I was once an AA Buzz Lightyear .Thanks Toy story. Shame on me for being a sucker. However forgive me I digress, One needs to find an answer to the Why that explains the "clusterfuck " that AA is, in all it's many facetted technicolour.

    I'll go out on a seeming tangent here & suggest Bill Wilson may also have bitten off more than he could chew with his " Sobering up via spirituality & passing it along to others" business venture. He's up at the big house playing with the big boys (Mr Rockafella) & they play hardball, might 'splain why he got so "head in hands depressed for 8 years. That has never really been explained has it? , just why did that ultra successful chap get so doggone down for so long? but hey maybe he tried to communicate a meta truth to us. A code if you like .Maybe that's why one of the slogans is "Think Think Think" Prehaps he even seriously considered suicide but given that the "solution" the final solution for alcoholics much like their jewish counterparts at the time (1930's) diabolical though it was & still is could be delayed hopefully, indefinitely , ergo productivity , not sobriety, productivity would be the aim . Certainly puts all the life & death stuff on a whole new plane. Us " chips" off the old block (12 x 12) takes on quite sinister connotations when one approaches it from the polar opposite. The dehomag has a lot to answer for. & it certainly explains the awful gothic script in the slogans & banners. Hell it even explains the banners. Arbeit Macht Frei would n't be out of place. ^ The out of proportion numbers of sober blondes in AA ! "Blotting out the intolerable reality hopeless feature etc.

    Also consider if you would : Is any alcoholic ever really anonymous? , has any alcoholic, a real one, that is, been anonymous since the 1930's? You know who you are & so do we . Prehaps a out in the open formal registration of alcoholics would n't be a bad idea, especially now only 5% are attending AA , prehaps a more stringent application of Himmelfahrt . sorry I mean "Abandoned to God" I recall that oft quoted saying when I first went to AA " Why me & the response " Why not ?" reminicent of that old WW11 joke , The nazi officer says to the concentration camp prisoner who's pleading not to be gassed (spoken with german accent) " It's a question of mind over matter " (slapping prisoners face with gloves) " We don't mind & you don't matter"

    To conclude "Playing for Time", a great movie, from the book by Fania Fenelon/ starring Vannessa Redgrave. Prehaps that might be Bill's biggest crime or maybe he was more of a greifer. Tip of the iceberg, more will be revealed. Incremental disillusionment, every illusion smashed at depth.

    I realise this vision may seem negative & flaky but to rectify status quo & stay sober. needs must correctly identify what is so . I have joined Amnesty international.

    Here's a quote from Buckminster Fuller " you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something , build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

  • ftg, happy holidays, hope you are having a great trip. The more I read your site, the more I love it. So many other resources out there besides AA. Thanks again!!!

  • diablo

    @ ftg,
    This is an amazing read. You are very speech-endowed.

    @Duchess, thanks for your take also.

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  • Jeremy E.

    Those of us who are actual addicts, who’ve worked the “Program,” stayed sober and carried this message may disagree with the ill-informed and inexperienced opinions of those who’ve never struggled with addiction.