Last year, we posted a story about Herbert Jones, a deluded 12-stepper who showed up outside of a Portland, Maine AA meeting with a sniper rifle and a load of resentment toward pedophiles. Obviously, we don’t condone his actions, but I do give him credit for his strategy. I mean, if you are deluded, and your goal is to snipe off a pedophile, randomly spraying bullets into a crowd of AAs is like shooting fish in a barrel. You’re bound to pick off at least one, maybe two.

Recently, under a plea agreement, Herbert J was sent to a mental hospital, where he will hopefully get some proper treatment. There was no disagreement between the judge, prosecutors or the defense attorney as to whether or not this guy is mentally ill. I doubt anyone reading the facts of the case would disagree. He was, after all, receiving messages directly from God, and believed that he was on a divine mission at the time of his arrest. I doubt any reasonable person, understanding the facts of the case, would disagree with the fact that this guy is deluded, and that he needs psychological help.

This case brings up a couple of interesting points. First, it illustrates how AA is harmful in ways other than simply being ineffective at addiction treatment. I have no idea whether this man is an alcoholic or not, but I can say with certainty that it was not his primary concern. He is, through no fault of his own, bipolar — and he is not unlike many others who attend AA, and who suffer from any number of mental illnesses or emotional and psychological distress. These are the catalysts, the underlying reasons, for drinking problems which are left untreated by someone who addresses their addiction with 12-step snake oil. I’ve seen estimates that up to half of those seeking treatment for alcohol and drug dependence have underlying disorders such as depression and PTSD — conditions which are caused by such things a chemical imbalances and child abuse, and can be treated with medication and proper psychological counseling, but are treated in the rooms of AA with spiritual voodoo. When the voodoo does not work, the victim is blamed for not properly working the program, thus exacerbating any underlying condition. In the case of Herbert J, it was potentially fatal.

It is safe to assume that virtually everyone sitting in an AA circle is addicted to the sauce, at least to varying degrees – and it is safe to assume that there are multiple paths which took them to that circle. For many, their real problem is not alcoholism, even though they may have become alcoholics. Drinking for them is simply a symptom of an underlying condition, and a way of coping or self-medicating their way through life. My suspicion is that Herbert J might be one of those people. It is sad to imagine that this man, who needed real psychological help, was told the reason he felt as he did was because he is selfish and spiritually deficient. It’s even sadder to think that there many like him, as we read this, who are going through the same nonsense. Three weeks ago, a Massachusetts AA, who is also bipolar, confessed to stabbing another AA to death.  According to this woman’s roommate, medication may have played a role in this killing. I would not be surprised if it is actually lack of medication that made her snap, and I have no doubt that if she has been in AA long enough, someone, somewhere along the way, likely dissuaded her from taking her prescribed meds.

It also brings up another interesting question: When a person speaks for God, or God speaks through a person, at what point does one cross the line between rational and crazy?

I once read a moderator over at the Sober Recovery forums describe how they used to place an empty chair in their AA meeting room, which was designated for God. That made me chuckle, but it weirded me out a tad. We often hear AAs speak for God, or interpret an event on God’s behalf — “I was in my kitchen, really having a rough time, debating whether I should go to a meeting, when I spotted the bottle of cooking sherry above my spice rack. I had decided then and there to pour me a glass, when suddenly the phone rang. It was my sponsor, who read for me a couple of passages from the ‘Big Book’, and I let the moment pass. Those things don’t happen by accident. God was looking out for me.”

AAs are good at this. Anything that cannot be explained, can be explained through providence. Just last week, one of the newest members of AA in Kentucky – a radio DJ with a fetish for kiddie porn named Roy Baldridge, aka “Dusty Dan” – was quoted in court as saying of his arrest and sentencing (which included AA attendance), “For me it was the best thing that ever happened. It was something I called out to God for, and be careful what you ask for, he answers in interesting ways.” How thoughtful of God to allow those children to be subjected to sexual abuse, and to allow a distribution network of pedophiles, just so He could answer Dusty Dan’s prayer!

Fundamentalist preachers get into this God interpretation often. It’s like sockpuppetry for God. It’s godpuppetry. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell got into the act after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 – and John Hagee, a whackjob preacher out of San Antonio, was kind enough to offer up God’s rationalization for serving up hurricane Katrina: “All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.” Apparently, there was a gay pride parade planned for that upcoming Monday, and it pissed God off to no end. The obvious thing for Him to do would be to kill or displace a few hundred thousand innocent, God fearin’, church goin’ people who had nothing to do with any parade.

Of course, this godpuppetry does not just happen with AAs and other fundamentalist religious fanatics, although they are no doubt better at it than any people I have ever seen. I’m sure that as Dusty Dan stood in court, explaining how this is all part God’s devine plan; and as Rev. Hagee droned on about God’s issue with the “dykes on bikes” and men parading around in assless chaps, others shook their head in agreement. Just read any firsthand account of survival of anything from a fire to an avalanche, and you will likely hear a summary of God’s thinking. Even sports figures get into the mix, thanking God for their victories, and pointing to the sky when crossing home plate after a home run. Just once I would like see the loser of the Super Bowl blame God, or see a player stand in the batter’s box after striking out, look up in the sky and shrug his shoulders, as if to say, “Hey God…what the fuck!?” — or have some tornado survivor standing in front of her spared home, thanking God for saving them, and then pointing to the torn down trailers on either side of her saying, “…but He smacked these sinful bastards pretty good!”

We can speak for God, and come across to others as lucid and rational. I remember a conversation at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, when my sister, a dyed in the wool southern Baptist, droned on about how my wife and I met, and how unlikely it was, and how it had to be the hand of God that put us together. All the while, the other people sitting around the table were each nodding their heads in agreement. This type of thing happens all the time, and when someone speaks for God in this way, it isn’t just accepted — it is encouraged. No logical thought is ever considered. The funny thing about this story is, I met my wife, who is a nurse, at a hospital while visiting a family member. I later asked my sister why God didn’t just arrange for me to bump into her at a coffee shop, and instead went to the trouble of giving a loved one a heart attack, just so the two of us could meet. That went over like a lead balloon.

Now, the general consensus would be that someone like my sister, or a person who survived an accident or natural disaster, is not crazy when they speak for God. It is also the consensus that a guy like Herbert J is mentally ill, and when he claims God told him to snipe a few bad apples, no reasonable person would take him seriously. Somewhere between my sister and Herbert J, the line between “normal” and “crazy” blurs. The more one is subjected to godpuppetry, the more jaded one becomes to the crazy — and the more detached a person is from this type of thing, the more objective they become to what is rational, and what is not.

Frank Buchman and Bill Wilson, like every cult leader, understood this. Even most AAs understand this, at least intuitively – which is why new sheep are told to “quit thinking” and “fake it ’til you make it” when they enter the program. Until a person is fully indoctrinated into any religion, the lunacy of it sticks out like a sore thumb. Once we are in it, normalcy is turned on its head, and we don’t realize this fact. It is simple to see simply by looking at other religions. Mormons believe that God is in the form of of a man, who resides on another planet with his many wives. They believe that native Americans are the lost tribe of Israel, and that they have magic underwear which will protect them from harm. Most of us (I’m assuming the ex-drinkers who read this blog are not Mormon) can see the absurdity of this, and we can even get a chuckle out of the whole thing. My sister even shook her head in disbelief when telling me how “Mormons think they can baptize dead people!” Of course, she never thinks to consider the idea of talking snakes and burning bushes and virgin births, to be odd, because it happens to be part of her own religion. Likewise, AAs do not, cannot, see the crazy in their scripture of white light experiences and spiritual faith healing.

“Crazy” is a relative term, and it’s relative to how detached from any sort of dogma a person happens to be. I believe both Herbert J and the AA who left an open chair for God are both nuts. One just happens to be more benign than the other. Still, delusion is a lot like pregnancy: there really is not any such thing as being “sort of delusional.” Whether you interpret God’s message as an actual voice, as with Herbert J, or as a ghostly spirit that haunts ‘Big Book’ study sessions and has a fetish for keeping alcoholics sober, you’re still tapping into the same keg of delusion. The only difference is the amount of, and the type of, harm it causes.

– MA

  • Mike

    Wow, excellent post @MA. For my part, I used the concept of Providence, or luck, or fate, or whatever as a way of avoiding my own responsibility in events or as a means of not having to think critically about why "A" might have lead to "B" & "C". AA's are especially prone to such behavior because they are often intellectually (if not physically) lazy. Deep down I never believed in divine intervention or whatnot, but was more than willing, as part of the group of course, to silently nod in agreement as such ideas were proffered by others. Part of this had to do of course with group-think and conformance (maybe cowardice too), but in the end I think it was just plain laziness on my part. Or maybe I was just plain nuts at the time. Who knows?

  • Primrose

    Well said, MA. I remember being on the edge of crazy conversations where any tiny event, much less significant than a sponsor ringing, say a rainbow, or a particular song on the radio, ('One day at a time, sweet Jesus') was taken as a personal cosmic sign. Most notable was the reverence with which this kindergarten logic was received.

    For example, one hardline aa moved to a local town, contacted aa, and found that he lived just round the corner from another aa. This unremarkable fact was dragged out again and again as an act of God. My daughter, aged 6, could explain this. She would say that if he hadn't moved in just round the corner, then no one would remark on it, so you can't have it both ways. She doesn't believe in 'luck', because she is logical.

    There were a couple of Americans who attended this group, and I have to say that they were by far the worst for this misty-eyed awe at random banalities, but they were held in high regard and the natives aspired to their bland twuntish levels of brain removal.

    You get a lot of the same nonsense from the New Age crowd. Tintop said that some people actually want to be in a cult, get a positive from the woolly science-free logic.

    There was a little girl I knew who wanted to be the May Queen very badly. Really badly, and the position was decided by a lottery. She said she spent all night wishing and, by coincidence, her name was pulled out. So from then on, and I tried to explain the flaw to her, she was convinced that she had been chosen on the strength of her all-night wishing session. She was 7, but the logic is the same for the adult aas.

    It is logic of ignorant medieval peasants in the age of the printing press, or even in internet.

  • I have this acquaintance — a meth addict who used to carry her Bible around with her everywhere. She is now grateful in recovery. I don't think she carries that Bible around anymore…

    Anyway, she told me a lovely story one day about how God intervened in her life. She was at rock-bottom — throwing things around her house, enraged over how low she had sunk, sick and tired of being sick and tired — when she grabbed her bong, intending to shatter it. But, when she whipped it across the room, God did not let it shatter — not even a chip! She told me that this was God's way of letting her know that He did not want her to give up weed.

  • AnnaZed

    Two words: parking place

    What is up with AAs and God and the gift of parking? I must have heard that specific grateful spew 1,000 (I'm not exaggerating) times.

  • Primrose

    I've heard the parking place outside of the cult. It falls into the intersection of the cult and the new age lot. But isn't it wonderful when it DOES work. Don't you think it is worth it just for those times? (Are we talking about visualising parking spaces or am I missing something?)

  • Lucy

    Well-written, MA.

    Oh, and it isn't just parking spaces that become holy in AA, folks. Have you forgotten about the mysterious forgotten paycheck that shows up in the mail the night he or she runs out of money, the broken heater/AC that suddenly works when there is no money for repairs, the drunk who is spared when he veers across the median and kills four people (I actually know him), etc.

    AA is a place where delusions are encouraged (if they make AA look good) and where the marginally responsible learn to be fully helpless. They cheer the person who can't keep a job, and tell a woman with small children that she isn't spending enough time on her program.


  • Z

    http://www.emotionsanonymous.net/ — the site has misspellings, too. And is quite bizarre.

    @Primrose — it's praying for parking spaces. Then when you find one, God has answered your prayer, so you start learning to trust in God. It's low-stakes practice, it was explained to me. Later, you'll learn to expect more from God than a parking space.

    I've always been able bodied so really needing a parking space near my destination hasn't been an issue in my life. I don't relate to the desperation about parking so many people seem to feel.

    (I also don't relate to road rage, which the 12 steppers all apparently experienced a great deal before they 12 stepped. I've lived in a lot of big, traffic filled cities where you have to stay calm and alert to drive, you can't afford to freak out the way people say they do.)

  • DeConstructor

    As far as the mormon thing I have quite a bit of experience, and the parallels between the LDS faith and the AA faith are astonishing.

    Many people are aware of the baptism for the dead ordinance in the super secret temple ceremonies (Most of the ceremonies are simply stolen from the Masons) This became publicized after the LDS church started going down the rosters of Nazi concentration camps baptizing victims of the holocaust.

    Many people are not aware that other ceremonies are also performed (such as marriages, to keep the allegedly polygamist thing going) for the dead.

    Here is a few that have been performed recently.


    Clark Gable sealed to 5 spouses

    Rita Hayworth sealed to 5 husbands 1998

    Rex Harrison sealed to 5 wives in 1997

    Audrey Hepburn 3 spouses- sealed to 2 on the same day in Sept 2009 St George Temple

    Ernest Hemingway..sealed to 5 spouses.. some he was never married to

    Marylin Monroe sealed to 3 husbands..2 of the husbands (a)Joe DiMaggio has been sealed to other women

    King Henry VIII sealed to 14 spouses.. some of which he had executed, some were mistresses, concubines .

    Emma Smith sealed to Joseph and Don Carlos Smith ( joes brother)

    Joseph Smith 229 women have been sealed to him

    Mary Mother of Jesus sealed to 2 men .. Joseph and God the Father

    Harold B Lee sealed to a woman he was never married to while his wife was still alive

    If you have been divorced many times the likelihood that you will be sealed to all your exes is very high

    baptism for the Dead

    Jospeh Mengle Nazi Doctor recently baptized

    Joseph Georbles Hitler propaganda Minister rebaptized several months ago

    Saleem Al Haznih (sp)… sept 11 hijacker that crashed into pentagon

    President Obamas Mother

    Billy Grahams wife , Ruth Bell Graham while her husband is still alive..

    Mother Teresa

  • true believer

    I used to tell sponsees that had bad things happen to them that they should not label the terrible occurrence as bad until they had allowed plenty of time to experience the ultimate outcome of Gods will. This works pretty well unless your prospect dies due to jails, institutions, or death, or in the case of one friend ends up in “the giant man diaper”. As a church group one put it, I had made God my own personal sugar daddy. When I was in AA, the loss of a job, loved one, pet, or personal belonging, was just God working in my life. It was my job to keep coming back to see what the ultimate prize was.

    Today I would tell the prospective non drinker something different; that sponsorship is a deadly business, that people will suck you dry if you let them, that I refuse to use AA as anything other than an intermediate support group for not drinking, and that there are alternatives to AA to help moderate or stop drinking.

    I see God puppetry as dangerous. It is an opportunity for cult members to manipulate others to their will. It is a dangerous belief system that could alter the actions or choices of another human being. God puppetry is a dangerous cult characteristic. In AA I took license to meddle in the lives of others as a sponsor. This was none of my business and unhealthy for all concerned. It was never my intention to hurt another or to be hurt by projected experiential advice. The clever slogan, “in my experience” when used with “Gods will” had the power to change minds.

  • @ True Believer: It is cool to see a former sponsor with your sort of awareness. I never sponsored, as I was usually in chronic relapsing mode. However, when I was asked I always refused. Thank God, as I have no idea what I would have told people.

    I am consistently impressed with how other people—FTG, MA, and all of you–are able to remind me of the insanity I thought was normal for years. I lived in a world of constant low-grade miracles, as I “knew” there were in fact “no coincidences.” I have been to a few rehabs and a few mental hospitals. Not to brag ☺. During my last stint, I returned home for the weekend to visit my son and then husband. It was rocket derby weekend (an activity for boy scouts) and the ex and son had created a rocket that in my opinion did not look as great as the other rockets. The ex old man was (and is) particularly messy and is not the handiest. My mind immediately went to catastrophe mode, and I believed that my son’s rocket would come in last, or worse, not even take off. So, as a good chronic relapsing AA-er I started praying. I bartered with “my higher power,” saying I would stay sober and go to AA if my son at least placed. And, WHAT A MIRACLE!, he came in 1st. For quite some time, I believed that God had entered that rocket derby. This faith was not even up for question.

    With some sanity under my belt, as I have been to only two Alanon meetings and one AA since February, I see things differently now. This is also with the help of this blog and others of its ilk. And it is also because I have read extensively on the negative aspects AA and other 12 step programs. I am informed; I am no longer closing my eyes and believing the first voice that whispers in my ear.

    I do not believe that my higher power entered the poor town, crappy gym and blessed me sober and my son with a 1st place trophy. Come. On. Eileen. I believe now that my ex, though creepy and abusive in many, many ways, loves my son whole-heartedly. I believe that both of them slaved over that rocket. And I was not there to critique the paint job that would have thrown negativity over the whole project. And I also believe that the man who was shooting the rockets may have giving my son’s an extra push, as he knew what was going on with our family. (Meaning: he knew my son's mom –me–was in rehab.) My space derby belief is not about me and God or me and my higher power. It is about my belief in myself. And it is also about my belief in the fragile love that this broken, screwed up family of mine has for each other. And this is something I am protective of, and I will never let a ridiculous 12 step program take credit for it. And I will not let a 12 step program influence any decisions I make around my family.

    I shared the last MA post re: pedophiles with my ex, who I still spend time with, just about an hour ago. His response was, “The sniper should have taken fire at the VA shelter in Boston.” I mentioned in another post (in response to something Gunther had written) that the ex had lived here. Just to explain, the VA homeless shelter in Boston houses homeless vets. In addition, they received a grant to also house pedophiles who have been recently released from prison. He told me that having had the experience of living with pedophiles, he would never ever even think of bringing our son to an AA meeting. He said that before this experience, pedophiles almost seemed to be a fairy tale like, mythical creature. Imagine a creepy fairy if you will. But in fact, he realized while living with them, one cannot tell if another is a pedophile at all. (I realize this is obvious when you really think about it, but really, I felt the same way as the ex.) Pedophiles are not super creepy looking Woody Allen types who wear ridiculous flippers and clear public pools, like in the movie, “Little Children,” based on the Tom Perotta novel. They are people that look normal. And they often are sitting next to you at AA. OK, well, not often, but maybe more than rarely.

    I have a friend from middle school who just wrote a memoir about his experience being molested by his adopted father. He came forward as a kid, and then retracted his accusation, as his brother was terrified that they would be placed in a foster home. When he retracted his accusation (or, the truth), things got much worse. He parents accused him of being a “druggie” and he was then sent to the “Scared Straight” program. HE WAS NOT AN ALCOHOLIC OR DRUG ADDICT. They just wanted him out of the house. THe child molester was in and out of AA. I sat next to him at a local AA meeting years ago in the college town where I grew up.

    I can relate to my friend's upbringing on a chilling level, as my mother, after I smoked pot maybe five or six times, considered rehab for me. I think she wanted to sort of copy her Alanon friends. She wanted that connection. In fact, she did want me out of the house. I think one reason, is that I was 16, I was adorable. I was so tiny, and I had very pretty long blond hair. My mother was pretty unattractive back then. Her thirties were here ugly decade. I was in her way of gold digging.

    For years, I thought it was my fault that my mother did not want me around. I have that personality type. I think there is another type. This sort of person is perhaps born with less vulnerability, and would get that they rocked no matter what. They would not struggle as I have, with this sort of parental rejection.

    There are people as well, like a particular AA attending acquaintance I have. He has a daughter my son’s age who he has NEVER, even when faced with relapse, brought his daughter to an AA meeting. Some people just know it is a stupid, unsafe thing to do. I have brought my son to countless meetings, and have even left him in his seat alone while I went to use the bathroom. I HATE that I have done this. But I know I will not do it again.

    I hope everybody–all of you X AA-ers–are having a wonderful long weekend.

  • DeCon, that blows my mind.

    Also: @Z: http://www.emotionsanonymous.net/ — the site has misspellings, too. And is quite bizarre.

    It is bizarre — and definitely a candidate for inclusion on this website: http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

    Formed by 'a' Group of indivual's who found "a new of Life" , by 'working' the 12-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, AS-adapted 4-People w/Emotional 'issues' as 'problems' in Life.

  • Z

    @Violet. I always thought that the reason I sought that icky psychotherapy I sought was to deal with the effects of emotional/verbal abuse and neglect — effects which I managed to keep at the margins of my life but which did still hamper me.

    This was a legit reason to seek help but I have only recently realized what the real reason was: having been told I was "crazy" since I was about 2 years old. Every instance of taking normal care of oneself, i.e. washing hair and things like that, was arrogant and crazy; doing well in school was required, but actually taking an interest in the material was arrogant, crazy, and hurtful to my mother who requires one only be interested in her; etc. etc. … and I was told so often that when I grew up and could afford it I should seek psychoanalysis and saner that in fact that is what I did; this may be why I allowed said analysis to do to me what I allowed it to do.

    All of which is not to exonerate 12 stepping or to say it was my fault. To the contrary: the meaning of it is, 12 stepping is not good for people.

  • Z

    @Violet. P.S. I also got pushed out of house early on. This was for being relatively sane.

  • Lucy

    I worked for an LDS company for 7 years. I would say two things about comparing them to AA members. First, while they are both "outsider" organizations with their own language and practices, the LDS encourage hard work, education and achievement rather than sitting around talking about their feelings until their eyes roll back in their heads (which is what AA meetings sound like to me now). Second, the LDS Church (and mainstream Mormons) disavow their polygamist crazy spinoffs and their negative image (that's what the SLC Olympics were about) because they desperately want to be considered a regular religion. AA seems to want things to go backward to the halcyon days of Bill and Bob

    Otherwise, a cult is a cult. They both want to help us, whether we want it or not.

  • Z

    "hard work, education and achievement rather than sitting around talking about their feelings until their eyes roll back in their heads (which is what AA meetings sound like to me now)"

    YES. That infamous 12 stepping shrink I had was AGAINST hard work, education, and achievement, they were coping mechanisms designed to hide from reality and promote "denial" … and if you were an achiever and/or able to think and act rationally, then you were necessarily "unfeeling" … it is SUCH a crock, it's unbelievable.

  • true believer

    Would one of the AA members that frequent this site please tell me the purpose or benefit derived from the slogan “better them than me”? I was speaking with a friend today that reminded me how AA folk will spout that slogan when a fellow member dies from drinking. Is this slogan designed to reinforce the disease concept? Is this slogan spouted to make the survivors feel superior in some way? Do those that use slogans or sayings think at all? Would you use that slogan to comfort a family member of the deceased? What sort of thought does this saying provoke?

    How about the slogan “he died sober”, I’ve heard this slogan used but not in the same context. They never say, “He died sober, better him than me”. If they died drunk in AA then AA failed them. Perhaps someone in AA should have told them to try anything available to help them stop or minimize the damage being done by their destructive habits. Instead all I have heard “in the rooms” are the parroted phrases; you didn’t find us by accident, non-alcoholics don’t ask weather or not they are alcoholics, if you be like us your only other options are jails, institutions, and death. This coercive indoctrination is an undeniable cult characteristic.

    Please AA members, stop killing those that come to you for help. Please stop taking advantage of people incapacitated by drinking and drugs to expand your group. Please use rigorous honesty to explain that in AA one size does not fit all, that there are alternatives to AA. AA is a religious cult, it is undeniable, the god as you understand him clause does not change that fact. Some benefit from quasi-religious cult membership, for them AA is fine. Others that can’t accept your concepts or beliefs can become trapped in AA and frustrated by their longing to conform. They meet people in the program that they like, people that appear to want to help them. For them this conflict is deadly. It may not be a question of constitutional dishonesty. It may be more an inability to accept concepts completely against their personal constitutions. In any case I won’t be a part of the side that can’t reason outside the groups rigid doctrine.

  • Z, thanks for reading. 🙂

    Re: doing "too much" or "living real life": Peeps in AA thought I was destined to relapse b/c I was working PT and going back to school PT. I felt like well, PT plus PT equals FT. So… actually it is a reg. amount of work… They were like, that is TOO much. WHEN will you fit in meetings? After a year and a half of sobriety, I bit the bullet and decided to do some online dating (don't laugh:)) I am super, super shy, so it was a decided risk. I felt like I needed to do this, as the only other men I was meeting were through AA. Not a great place (no offense to the guys on this blog–you prolly are just fine…) The Diss. Id. Disordered sponsor FREAKED out and asked me, "What kind of man are YOU going to attract with only one year of sobriety?" Lord. Not to be mean, but this woman was prolly one of the yglies women I have seen in this town. I was not really looking for a bf, I just needed dating practice and felt like I was being pretty proactive. I did not listen to her, and it ended up being a great learning experience. Her hubbie, btw, she met after about two weeks going to of AA. ITo give her credit, they have been together since. My thought is that he uses her b/c she owns a house. I think he was homeless in the beginning. I also think he has mild M.R. (and she has two masters degrees), and he leers at women throughout every single meeting. It goes without saying that she should not have been giving me this advice. N.B.: she was fired from a job–sober–for kicking a student. I may have mentioned this before. And then volunteered at an elementary school as an "amends." She only volunteered this one year. I think the truth got out and she became a fired volunteer, though I am not positive. Ohhh, the advice you get and the people you meet at AA. Lovely.

    My point: I am not really an achiever. I went to a state school, I am a Library School drop out (though I love defining myself this way), I am back in school–but not for anything super glam. In my family–I am the scapegoat and underachiever. It is taking me forever to get cert. to teach, meanwhile the little sister is soaring through med. school. Deciding to like myself–getting away from AA–has made me OK with this. AA did not help with this. They thought I was the over achiever. This did not do much for my motivation. They said things like, "You are going to school to hide from yourself." Um? Actually, I am going to school to have a meaningful career and b/c the fear of living in public housing has been known to wake me up at night.

  • Primrose

    This is why I don't want any aas banned from this site. I hope some of them get the message about their cult and the damage it causes.

    Incidentally, how many people do die sober in aa? I have not come across one, but I have come across plenty who died of alcohol, due to the self fulfilling bs that they have been duped into believing.

    I read somewhere that only 1.5% make it to 30 years sobriety, so perhaps some of these hardcore, long term loons do manage it; the rest either get out and manage to get these loathsome beliefs out of their system, or get out and feel they have failed and drink themselves to death rather than go back to that brain dissolving arena.

    The joy that culties take in deaths of their own is chilling. Chilling. Anonymous of Course seems the most reasonable.

  • i have met many people who have died sober. many of them were controlling and creepy. but had risen to heroic status. there is one i knew who was slightly controlling, but mostly a sweet guy. in a city that is small, but well know there is a bench dedicated to his service right in the square. Mostly these are old, retired peeps… These are the peeps who chair all the anniversary meetings. The ones whose story you can basically recite.

  • Z

    @Violet “You are going to school to hide from yourself.”

    Yes, I was told I had an (interesting!) job to "hide from myself."

    I told the shrink money from that job was paying him.

    He didn't like that too much.

  • SoberPJ

    The "overachiever" label was a self-description used by someone in a meeting once. "I'm an overachiever", she said. I thought, "right, and that's why you're sitting in a meeting of AA – all that overachievement brought you here." It made me question the concept of overachievement. Who sets that standard? Are Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison etc,etc. overachievers? Or, just achievers? I came to the conclusion there is no such thing as overachievement. Everyone lands somewhere on the spectrum of accomplishments in life. Some do a lot, some very little. That is life. Encouraging someone to be in the middle of the conformist pack makes no sense to me. It's great for the government and big corporations because you are easier to manipulate. But, to me, the goal in life should be use all your talents to the utmost and accomplish exceptional things if you can. To have mastery over some aspect of existence whether you are a teacher, mechanic, scientist, waiter, home maker, musician, writer or whatever. Go for it. Carpe Diem !

    To change one's life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.

    ~William James

  • Z

    @Sober PJ: YES!

  • Hopefully your James quote is not from the infamous –Varieties of–just kidding. I have never even read –Varieties– . In fact, I have thought it actually might be quite good. I have heard many people in AA also refer to themselves as "over achievers." I have heard them say things like: "I was a human doing, not a human being." I just wanted to say, "LISTEN TO YOURSELF. For the LOVAH GOD!" BTW, as an tryingtoacheiver, I am starting a class that I had a semester to do–it is due next week. What a blast I am having, HA!

  • Z

    "Varieties of…" is a really interesting book, and it's pleasant to read.

  • Mona Lisa

    RE: "Better him than me"….if I had to pick the single most obnoxious statement I heard frequently in AA, that would be it. I went to the wakes of five people (one a former sponsee) who killed themselves when I was in AA (there were others, but I didn't get to the services for them all) and I heard that statement made at every single one. Even when I was fully in the thrall of AA, I found that statement creepy to the max, and I'd sidle away in disgust.

    Next in line in terms of Yuck Factor is "some must die so that others can live."

    Excuse me, I need to take a shower now. Just writing about this makes me feel dirty.

  • lxb

    What is the meaning of "some must die so that others can live" — is it like thinning seedlings or something? If it is so, why must it be so?

  • Commonsense

    lxb – I don't think that "some must die so that others may live" has much meaning to the one saying it. I believe that is usually the case for most of the so-called wise AA sayings. They provide an appearance of deep and mysterious for the shallow and confused. Same for those heads that bob up and down upon on hearing such nonsense.

  • true believer


    Thanks for the alcoholic death slogan variant, I wonder how many there are.

    "My experience" in AA was bad, here is what I think.

    “Some must die so that others may live”. I remember hearing that slogan in AA, it was always followed by dead silence. I think someone hit on the answer to the slogan quandary in an earlier post; slogans are designed to stop thought and communication. A quality slogan, especially one that rhymes, is the last word in recovery. It is the definitive answer, the irrefutable slam dunk against all objections and considerations. It does not need to be helpful, healthy, or true, it just needs to win the argument.

  • tintop

    "some must die so that others may live" is trash talk. the answer is: "all die. You choose your death, I choose mine. have a nice day."

    It is the argument of an arrant fool. That kind of trah talk is one reason that I left. I do not want what AA has; the aa train does not stop at my station.

  • humanspirit

    @Z says "Deciding to like myself–getting away from AA–has made me OK with this. AA did not help with this. They thought I was the over achiever. This did not do much for my motivation. They said things like, “You are going to school to hide from yourself.” "

    I find it criminal that anyone should be told this. How can there be anything negative whatsoever in working hard to get qualifications and skills and improve your situation? How can that be "hiding from yourself" (whatever that particular piece of nonsensical psychobabble might mean) .

    Thinking about this, and some of the other stories here about Steppers' views on "over-achievers", it seems to me that all this stems from a deep enviousness on the part on those saying such things. They really don't like to see ex-alcoholics getting on with their lives and getting happy and successful without AA – after all, they've never managed to do this themselves. They really do want to see people stuck there with the losers, as it guess it justifies their own position.

  • Lucy

    I never met an overachiever in AA. I met lots of people who talked about be reprimanded for not getting to work on time, who took mental health days to come to meetings to talk about bosses who expected them to work, who were having their wages garnisheed for back taxes and/or child support, and who were married (ala Bill) to someone else who worked because they couldn't. I did hear people refer to themselves as "overachievers" and I also heard people say things like "my most recent ex-wife" and "my latest disability check" and "locked out of my apartment."

  • tintop

    Some are 'stuck'; some are where they want to be. AA can be a good place to 'hang out' for the remainder of their lives. Because they have sold themselves short, and AA is the best they they can do. or, so they tell themselves. Which is fine, if that is the life that they want to live.

    Some are 'stuck' in a dissatisfied way; they do not care for aa all that much, but can't or won't think of anything better.

    Some are on the margins of AA and always have been. They just go out of habit/inertia. Some use it as some sort of sounding board; to get things off their chest. There are lot more people in aa than those 'aa police'.

    I think that it is impertant to realize that most leave AA. No one knows what they do after they leave. Nor, is it known why they leave.

  • humanspirit

    Hi tintop – I didn't mean to imply that everyone who goes to AA is 'stuck' there, or indeed that AA members are necessarily losers. I just suspect this is true of those who try to discourage others from getting out there and making a good life for themselves. Why would anyone want to do this, unless they're jealous of people who manage it?

  • tintop

    HS, you did not imply that. I just picked up on what you wrote, and described some of the behaviors that other aa attendees presented to me.

    My guess is that someone who has always sold himself short may have a predispostion to offer discoraging words. It is what they know, as it was done to them.

  • lxb

    @hs they're jealous for sure.

    And I read something in one of the papers today, about the "politics of self correction" as an inadequate response to the current situation. It resonated — "politics of self correction" as a 12 stepping kind of thing.

  • cherokeebride

    I find this whole conversation about achievement in AA interesting, particularly because the majority of people who are in the two meetings I (have) to go to are either nurses or some sort of healthcare worker. I always wondered about this – whether it was particular to the groups I chose or particular to AA.

    The only thing that stood out to me as similar in terms of achievement is that one guy announced he quit his job because his sponsor told him he was too stressed out. Excuse me? I thought NOT having a job was stressful, not the other way around.

  • SoberPJ

    It's all about not drinking and "going to any lengths" to not drink. I've seen one able bodied person unemployed and living in a camper in their mothers driveway, but hey, he's sober. Bill Wilson was terrified of alcohol, like it had some sort of magic and that comes through in the program. His concepts on alcohol were totally anthropomorphic.

    "alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful" – ahhh, no.

    "As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm…" a king?

    "for alcohol is a subtle foe " – the problem is my behavior, a liquid is not a foe.

    " alcohol was a great persuader." – fantastic writer and orator, that alcohol.

    " Alcohol was my master" – directly told you what to do, eh?

    " recoil as if from a hot flame " – wouldn't want to get too close to an inanimate liquid.

    " then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen – Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair " – I admit I didn't like it much the day after, but terror is going a bit far.

    These excerpts sound like they need one of those danger soundtracks from the 30's. They are so dramatic.

    You can't be too cautious when it comes to fighting magical things, so give up that high paying stressful job, leave your non-step family, give up all you have, give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. What else could matter?

  • tintop

    an awful lot could matter. If you decide that it does. But, you have to take that decision that an awful matters besides AA.

    There is no need to make a mountain out of a molehill. Do not drink, no matter what [ aa says the same thing: do not drink even if your ass falls off]. See what happens. More likely than not, your life and your mind will begin to clear up. If not, analyze the situation with a clear head and eye. What are my goals and objectives? How do I set about getting where I want to go? determine what is right — then, go ahead.

  • Rick045

    "How can there be anything negative whatsoever in working hard to get qualifications and skills and improve your situation? How can that be “hiding from yourself” (whatever that particular piece of nonsensical psychobabble might mean) ."

    There's nothing wrong with any of that in the real world. Much of the negative attitude against those things in AA comes directly from the literature. The Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve are full of examples of how "we" let our desire for success and material things drive us to drink. ("we" meaning Bill Wilson) Those things are seen as examples of "self will run riot", selfishness, pride, etc. The same message is reinforced constantly through slogans; "your best thinking got you here", "some people are too smart for this program", "utilize, don't analyze", "your mind is a bad neighborhood". People are constantly admonished in the rooms to not let anything come before the program.

  • Z

    tintop: "My guess is that someone who has always sold himself short may have a predispostion to offer discouraging words. It is what they know, as it was done to them."


    And I see — the idea is operating that 12 stepping has to be #1 and has to be huge. And that the desire for "material" success will drive you to drink. And I guess that success for Bill W was all status type stuff, so any type of success is considered mere status seeking in the 12 step movement, and is expendable?

  • tintop

    I expect so. I sus pect that status – respect – was a important to Wilson. Although he did take care of the money side as well – ultimately. I suspect that the inability to acquire either the status/respect or the money is what led Wilson to drink.

    I would be speculating if I connected Wilson's personal dynamics with aa dynamics. An interesting rumination, but I doubt that would lead anywhere useful.

    I think that it has more to do with a fear of success or a fear of the distress that success or striving for success can bring to some.

  • Z

    Conformity of the shamed Northern European type, it always also seemed to me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jante_Law

  • tintop

    There is some truth in that.

  • Rick045

    @Z, Success or ambition in themselves aren't necessarily considered bad as long as a person puts the program first, and always gives credit for any success to the Program, (and god of course…) Personally, I found the attitudes in the rooms (as in those slogans) to be more severe than the literature appears. I agree with tintop in thinking those attitudes are based in fear, maybe a fear that a person who ventures out will end up leaving the program.

    A couple of examples;

    "The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over concentration on financial success. Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found that we could not place money first. For us, material well being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded."

    big book, pg 127

    "We must quite as careful when we begin to achieve some measure of importance and material success. For no people have ever loved personal triumphs more than we have loved them; we drank of success as of a wine which could never fail to make us feel elated. When temporary good fortune came our way, we indulged ourselves in fantasies of still greater victories over people and circumstances. Thus blinded by prideful self-confidence, we were apt to play the big shot. Of course, people turned away from us, bored or hurt. Now that we're in AA and sober and winning back the esteem of our friends and business associates, we find that we still need to exercise special vigilance. As an insurance against "big-shot-ism", we can often check ourselves by remembering that we are today sober only by the grace of God and that any success we may be having is far more His success than ours."

    twelve and twelve, pg 92

  • Z

    Good God (so to speak). So success is always superficially material and/or narcissistic, and you have to give it up or put it off so that you can follow this stripped-down God they have? Also, they seem to associate, or even equate success and one-upmanship.

    But it's true, what my 12 stepping shrink was so upset about re my PhD and all of that, was that it had been done without Alanon or ACOA.

  • Rick045

    @Z, yep, you got it. I hate to admit that it took me as long as it did to fully appreciate just how superficial and downright childish the whole thing actually is.

    I returned to school while I was in the rooms, strictly vocational stuff because my employer required it, and I wasn't about to give AA any credit for that. All I ever heard from anyone there about it was flack for not making enough meetings…

  • Z

    Well it's been said here before that the point of it all is the perpetuation of the program, not any other results, and this seems to be a part of that (as does the zero tolerance for dissent — another point that's been made before).

    What still strikes me is that 12 step is so "fringe" (not part of the "real" world) and at the same time so mainstream. So it is sort of this moving target. I think it's via this mobility that it gets some of its insidious power.

  • They hate to hear about thriving 'ex-alcoholics'. There is no such thing as an ex-alcoholic; you are stuck with it for life, and only lifelong membership of the cult, working the steps, getting a sponsor, being a sponsor, deceptively recruiting, etc will prevent you from 'jails, institutions and death'.

    If someone who has left aa went back to a meeting, looking obviously well, and clearly not needing the cult in the slightest, they would be dismissed as never being really alcoholic in the first place. Fine, then why was so much pressure put on them at a vulnerable point in their lives to admit that they have a disease that doesn't exist? What about the current batch of vulnerable newbies who are currently being pressured to admit that they have a disease that does not exist? Shouldn't someone be at hand as a physical demonstration that the cult (depressing enough to drive one to drink, in itself, frankly) is NOT the only way at all?

    What would happen if eg Mona Lisa, Z or SoberPJ attended meetings and contributed the methods that had worked for them? What would the meeting say? They couldn't be banned, could they, because the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. I am not suggesting that they go, but what would be said if they did? I just couldn't go to a local group because I look well and quite energetic, and I would stick out like a sore thumb. Also, I would stick out and may be perceibed as rude because I would not be able to look reverent during the cobblers. Next time I am staying away I might try and go to a non-local meeting, just to keep in touch with what's going down in the rooms.


    The above is an account of Mark E Baum accepting his 5 year token with a speech criticizing aa's nonsense. I am dying to know what the reception was; does anyone know?

  • Mona Lisa

    @Primrose: I just passed an anniversary and thought about doing exactly that….going to a meeting, standing up to get a chip, but then giving back the chip and saying that I don't want it because it would imply that AA was responsible for my continued abstinence from alcohol. I thought about reminding the assemblage that they had predicted my immediate relapse upon my departure from the rooms three years ago, that their dire prediction had not come to pass and that I would show up every year on my anniversary to report that they were still full of shit. I would then go on to reveal several points of common AA wisdom that have proven to be lies following both research and personal experience, and finish by calling out a few choice people: the woman who told me to go off meds in my early days when I was having panic attacks; the men and women who tried to 13th step me, the one who succeeded and the ones I know of who have succeeded with others; the financial abusers; the liars; and the ones who say they are sober when they are not.

    But I didn't do it. When I really thought about it, the idea of walking into that bunch of loons made me sick.

  • true believer


    I took 14 years at a meeting and said this. " I would like to thank you for not hugging me and smothering me with your love bomb. If you are new and the steps seem ridiculous to you it is ok, they are. If you are here on a court card or with a recovery home I feel sorry for you. If AA were open minded it could provide support for a short period of abstinence or tell you of other possibilities of sobriety support. Instead, a potential solution has become a punishment."

    It went over well, I have never had so many people come up to me at the break and thank me. Later I was convicted of being a bad example and killing the meeting. I quit before the miracle, many friends said they wanted to go back to the meeting after I gave it up. I'm glad, it could have been a real mess. I am not willing to sacrifice myself publicly for the cause. Someone else can be Jesus and get on TV.

  • Ez

    I was watching Cobert the other day and he did a segment on the Loonapoloser's at Beck's Serenity rally in DC. He had a clip of Beck talking about how this flock of geese flew in a V formation just as the thing began and he KNEW it was a sign from god.

    Better than a parking space.

  • Z

    Well, this is a popular, not a scholarly book but it's in the vein of what I'm interested in: the way in which the AA ideas are based not just in shallow religiosity but also shallow "self help" … so that "self help" and 12 stepping feed into each other and both shape and limit what "common sense" and "truth" about how one ought to conceive of oneself, the world, and the interrelation of these: http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/Sham/