Shock Us To Our Souls

[I updated the title of this post because it was grating on me. When I read this article, I thought “Now here’s a guy who wishes he weren’t too smart for AA.” He found a way to make it sound smarter.]

From The Guardian:

A Healthy Nudge? No, Shock Us to Our Souls

This is not a plea for the legalisation of street drugs, nor is it a flippant counter to vague public health measures that have been described as “window dressing” and “lacking in detail”. What I would suggest, however, is that the best method of treating alcoholism, smoking and obesity is a religious one.

The basis of Bill W’s recovery was the renewed sense of purpose that his religious experiences offered and, in his 12-step plan, he stressed the need for AA members to surrender themselves to a “higher power”. This higher power didn’t have to be a deity; what mattered was that people believed that, while they were not in control of everything, they lived in a meaningful universe. It was the classic prescription for a way out of the “age of anxiety”: if he or she wanted to survive, the recovering alcoholic or drug addict had to learn what Alan Watts calls “the wisdom of insecurity“.

  • speedy0314


    wow. just … wow.

    talk about 10 pounds of bulls**t in a 5 pound bag. messr. burnside jams everything but crystals & aromatherapy into this barely coherent screed. he's taking a pounding in the 'Comments' section — seems most Guardian readers know dreck when they read it.

    i spent virtually every day of my high school senior year blotto on mescaline or acid & never once saw [g]OD™. did get muscle cramps in my cheeks from laughing so much.

    experience, strength & hallucinogens,


  • Special Ed

    Charles Manson used a lot of acid, too. In fact, it was the primary mortar that he used to build his family. He'd give them acid and start preaching. After enough sessions, his family was willing to "go to any length" for him. It's powerful stuff, esspecially when given to already psycologically vulnerable people. I know that if I were trying to start up a cult, regular trip sessions would be a fundemental part of my appoach. Not saying AA is like the Manson Family, but it is interesting how so many people follow Bill's path, even when they know that he was tripping on very powerful drugs when he saw his white light.

  • raysny

    I commented about an hour ago:

    The author writes: "This higher power didn't have to be a deity…"

    Right. It just has to be something you pray to, that answers those prayers. Bill Wilson explains how once a person starts getting better by not drinking, it will become obvious that this "Higher Power" is really God:

    "You can, if you wish, make AA itself your 'higher power.' Here's a

    very large group of people who have solved their alcohol problem. In

    this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not

    even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even

    this minimum of faith will be enough. You will find many members who

    have crossed the threshold just this way. All of them will tell you

    that, once across, their faith broadened and deepened. Relieved of the

    alcohol obsession, their lives unaccountably transformed, they came to

    believe in a Higher Power, and most of them began to talk of God."

    (Twelve and Twelve, Step Two, pg. 29)

  • SoberPJ

    " Relieved of the alcohol obsession, their lives unaccountably transformed,"

    "unaccountably transformed" means it was some kind of mystery because they can't account for how it was transformed. hmmmm….

    "hey, I heard you stopped drinking yourself into a vomiting, semi-comatose blackout every night and your life got better."

    "Yeah, really wierd isn't it ? My life has been unaccountably transformed since i stopped doing that. I just can't figure out how THAT works. Must be my new higher power, you know,… the guys down at the sober hall. They're magical. "

    I can't stand it. I went out in the woods today and burned a paperback Big Book. A Program For You and a As Bill Sees It. For the record, As Bill Sees It burned faster and brighter than the others. But, the Big Book cover gave off a nice green hue.

  • Special Ed

    "I went out in the woods today and burned a paperback Big Book."


  • SoberPJ

    Whaaaat ? I'm saving the hardcovers for another trip 🙂

  • Hi Speedy!

    Ray, the comments over there are hysterical. The consensus on that article seems to be "What is this I don't even…"

    PJ, that sounds like a Robert Frost poem in the making.

    Finally, I hate the title of this post and I might change it.

  • causeandeffect

    Oh PJ, that's just NOT FAIR!!! I can't be laughing that hard! People are trying to sleep around here!! Too funny, too funny. Gotta go check out these comments.

  • Z

    The comments are hilarious.

  • Commonsense

    @SoberPJ – I put my Big Book, coins, and chips in a paper bag and tossed them in the garbage can over a year ago. I knew the coins wouldn't burn and the chips would probably just melt and leave a mess.

  • SoberPJ

    There should be a Big Book Burning campaign ! People take videos of their Big Book burnings and put them on YouTube. Or, maybe just a thread on what people have physically done with their recovery paraphenalia. We already have a burning and the trash on this thread.

    What people do with their physical 12 Step shit is probably an important part of the process of "clearing" your life of this stuff. Then again, the stories might only have a few themes – burned it, tossed it, gave it away, mailed it to Kenya …. wait, that's it ! Mail all your shit to some unsuspecting bloke in Kenya. We can all send it to the same guy! I can here him now, "What is this shit?" Honey, call CNN, we have a story !

  • darfieldboy

    But it's the comments that are really worth reading!! For those in the States The Guardian is a moderately left of centre daily paper. It's the "spiritiual" home of what we call trendy leftys, and the paper does not do religion very well, hence the comments from readers.

  • Commonsense

    @SoberPJ – I would recommend mailing all the stuff to Nigeria. You know, the people that keep sending me 419 scam e-mails about all the money that I have won or about wanting to just give me money. They could really use some rigorous honesty!

  • SoberPJ

    Nigeria it is !

  • Mike

    @SoberPJ: "There should be a Big Book Burning campaign ! "

    Uh, thanks, Herr Goebbels, but I think that would make us worse than the other guys. The BB has every right to exist. So does this website.

  • SoberPJ

    @ mike,.. I see your point. However, there is a difference between governmental censorship and a citizens desire to make a statement, but it may be hard to separate the two in public opinion once the deed is done. It does get people's attention though. A little public controversy goes a long way when trying to publicize a position. News outlets don't do stories on " Man throws Big Book in trash.". But they might do, " Hundreds of ex-AA members burn Big Books in protest." … film at 11….

  • true believer

    Mike & PJ,

    When I left AA I went to an AA fringe BBQ meeting and burnt all my literature. Even though the group was comprised of non conformists, the group stared in shock as I hurled my AA library onto the fire. Sure, book burning was made famous by the Nazis, which make it appropriate in this instance. If you read Orange, you’ll find that much of the propaganda technique Bill Wilson used were a direct result of consultation with real fascists. As far as AA having a right to exist the same as this site I have to disagree. This site does not have a deceptive doctrine. This site is pure, unadulterated group conscience. I say tit for tat, we need to publish a web printable pamphlet that exposes the truth about AA. This way the disgruntled AA member who comes to this site will have something to print and burn.

    Let’s let literature carry the message of stinkin’ thinkin’.

    “AA is deceptive and dangerous and there are other options”.

    -You do not have to go out and try controlled drinking should you not like AA.

    -Arriving at an AA meeting is not proof that you are an alcoholic.

    -You have many options other than Jails, Institutions, and Death.

    -There are many predatory criminal types attending AA meetings who have found the meetings through the courts. New attendees should be on guard for sexual and financial advances.

    -People come to AA through different sources. For the court appointee, the groups leaders may be seen as a social workers and meeting attendance as punishment for a crime. For the medical referral, AA is a mental health venue where social and sexual relations are inappropriate. For the casual attendee, AA may be a social club.

    I would be all for a thread on this board to collect suggestions for a printable tri-fold pamphlet.

  • AndyM

    Alan Watts is a pretty strange person to quote in support of a spiritual cure for addiction and alcoholism, considering that he died prematurely after many years of serious alcohol addiction. To be fair to Watts, I don't think he ever aligned himself with any movement to cure addiction anyway, nor do I think he saw spirituality as a health issue.

  • Mike

    @Tb: " As far as AA having a right to exist the same as this site I have to disagree. This site does not have a deceptive doctrine. "

    I think AA DOES have a right to exist, just like any other religion. I do not believe people should be forced, implicitly or explicitly, by any governmental entity to attend AA. Burning books, pamphlets, etc, speaks to me of a form of thuggery and censorship that can easily get out of hand in any society.

  • LUCY

    This article gives a bad name to acid by comparing it to religion and AA.

  • Z

    True Believer, say this to Gunthar on the boards, he has that outreach area and is looking for phrasing to put in letters, pamphlets, etc.

  • true believer

    I do agree with you Mike, my point is that AA should not exist as it is.

  • true believer


    Wouldn’t it be better to start the thread here on the main blog with a wider audience?

  • LUCY

    And Alan Watts would turn over in his grave if he knew he was being used to prop up Bill Wilson's cult. Watts didn't like any religion that stoked fear and guilt, and he hate proselytizing.

    This whole article reminds me of Bill's appropriation of the Herbert Spencer quotation about having contempt prior to investigation as a way to castigate non-believers into joining AA. The original quotation relates to plea to toss religious superstition for scientific investigation, not to tell people that thinking and doubt are wrong.

    It's yet another example of misleading bullshit from someone trying to spread a cult. had it been written by Tom Cruise or John Travolta abount Xenon, it would have never gotten into the newspaper.

  • AndyM

    That article left me with the impression that the writer had nothing to say, but would say it anyway. Pompous, verbose ("resacralising quotidian experience"???!) and pointless. If he is yet another undeclared stepper journalist, it's really the most inept plug for aa I've seen to date. Presenting Bill W as an acid-head religious guru doesn't seem like a very good advert for the cult on the face of it. Maybe he just couldn't think of anything else to write about.

    Mr Burnside does seem to have a very sour outlook on life, though, and he seems to expect the rest of us to identify with his perception that everything about life is "boring" unless we take refuge in booze and drugs, overeating and computer games.

    Actually, as I understand it, the government initiative that was the pretext for the article didn't really claim to be a campaign for tackling hard core addiction anyway. It

    seems to be more an attempt to educate the public about healthy lifestyle habits on the basis that anybody can develop health problems from bad habits and prevention is better than cure. Personally, I'm glad that this pragmatic approach hasn't yet given way in the UK to the 12 step ideology and the disease concept of addiction. Whether it will prove effective and pay for itself in reduced treatment costs in the long term remains to be seen.

  • AnnaZed

    I am going to have to side with the "not a fan of book burning" voices. In my mind is used to be the actors on the extreme right that went in for that sort of thing, now for some reason my brethren on the left have become the more vociferous censors of thought. I'm not liking that. That said as an individual expression of contempt (usually post examination) I'm all for Big Book bonfires. Totally a schizophrenic position, I know.

  • People burn things all the time, for their personal symbolic reasons — cutting ties with an ugly past, letting go of a relationship, or making wishes. They burn pictures and love letters and diaries and string… The Big Book represents more than just a bunch of ideas for a lot of people — it represents a betrayal. So, for that reason, I can support burning a symbol of that betrayal. No one can burn the flag or the Bible, or whatever. Those things will exist no matter how many copies are burned in effigy.

    A fascist book burning is motivated by the desire to intimidate, suppress, and control other people's thoughts and access to information. That's completely different, but there's no getting around the fact that an organized book burning is, itself, symbolic, or shorthand, for fascism.

  • true believer

    My big book burning was an emotionally charged comment on the deadly censorship of thought that occurs in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    “If you don’t fit in here, go try some controlled drinking” is a deadly statement to make to a vulnerable person with a drinking problem yet it happens in the rooms of AA every day.

    Can I find better ways to get my thought across? Yes, I engage AA’s in conversation about the group and educate those needing help about their countless options, which by the way, include AA.

    The only caveat I have is that the AA attendee be informed of potential dangers, inconsistencies and other options for help.

  • Mike

    I suppose picketing meetings would be the most peaceful way to protest the fellowship, and it would definitely get attention in the press. I can just imagine the fun that the late night comics would have at the X/Anti-AA'ers expense however.

    Ultimately it will be the medical practitioners, especially the therapists who will turn the tide by stopping referrals to program. Book burnings won't accelerate this outcome.

  • Special Ed

    A person burning their own books is fundementally different fromt he government burning books. Burning ideoligical literature can be powerful way to make a statement.

    Now as far as melting down medallions goes, I wouldn't do that. A lot of bars will give you free drinks for AA medals. If you aren't going to use them yourself, you could always give them away. Indeed, if I were still on the sauce and it was not dishonest to hardworking barkeepers, I would buy a whole bunch of one-year medallions from Central Services and go pubcrawling. A one-year medal probably costs less than 50 cents a piece if you buy them in bulk, and each one is probably worth a $5.00 martini in some joints.

  • humanspirit


    – “resacralising quotidian experience”???! Yes, I liked that one too!

    I couldn't resist commenting on this article. I also made a point of posting all of the 12 steps in my comment, as I really think most people just do not know what they are about. (I do this on mainstream threads whenever I get the opportunity! :))

    It really does piss me off so much, genuinely, that the 'big book' – which pretends to be 'rigorously honest' and autobiographical – completely misses out the fact that BW was treated with hallucinogenic drugs to get over his withdrawal. I always thought it was a bit of a disconnect that when it comes to the point where you know he's decided to stop drinking – because of this bloke coming round and 'quietly' (vomit) telling him he'd got religion – you don't hear any more about how he actually managed it, which is what I imagine most people reading that book would be most interested in. After that abrupt hiatus, he goes completely away with the fairies and starts burbling on about God and spirituality. OK, you can see why it was in his own self-interest to keep this quiet – but why does AA not tell all their members that this is how it actually was? It wasn't God that got BW off the sauce, it was his own determination and will-power – and a hefty dose of chemicals!

  • BusBozo


    Now as far as melting down medallions goes, I wouldn’t do that.

    I use them as a ball mark on the greens when playing golf, very easy to see! Alas, they seem to have a tendency to fall out my pocket when riding in a cart. I have lost at least four of them, none have been turned in to the pro shop, kind of curious to me.

  • Rotten Ralph

    What AA literature I had went into the paper recycling bin some time back, and is no doubt now a cardboard box for Chinese junk! Very appropriate, I think. Someone had given me a Big Book, which I promptly gave to someone else. No matter, as few actually read the turgid thing. I am baffled by those who leave the program, but still keep its literature around to quote from; to me, it would be like having a dead skunk in my library to remind me of what “stink” really means!

  • howlermonkey

    @Rotten Ralph – LOL. I was wondering what that smell in the basement was! I still haven't gotten around to disposing of my BB copy, but I'm sure as hell not keeping it around for reference. Yikes!

    Re: burning. I'm definitely in support of burning AA lit as a personal or small group ritual. If it helps to liberate yer soul in any way, no harm in that. But I also agree that any sort of organized book burning would be bad PR.