Why Addiction Recovery Should Be A Feminist Issue

There are so many different angles from which to criticize the current state of addiction recovery. Not only is it a culture, a permanent lifestyle, and a religious institution, but it’s an enormously profitable industry that thrives on its own failure (relapse is big bucks). But it seems that people who are participating in the progressive conversation on the big stage aren’t aware that addiction recovery is a parallel universe that influences popular culture. It’s imperative that progressive voices genuinely begin to challenge it, and I’m going to try to appeal to different arenas of the activist sphere and make a case for why addiction should be part of the conversation. Right now, I am hoping to put recovery culture on the feminist radar by offering a condensed version of this twisted world and the culture it has generated. I don’t have much of a feminist pedigree, but I hope I can make a good case for its relevance to feminist activism.

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog throwing tantrums about the fact that addiction gets no play among the skeptic and new atheist writers out there – people who actively combat quackery and religious influence in public policy. How does it escape these people that a whole branch of public health has already been handed over to the faith healers?

I have a few theories about that. But my favorite is that, despite their skepticism, they’re still a little superstitious about the topic: Addiction is such a complicated and elusive condition. Who wants to touch that with a ten foot pole? The reason addiction is such a mystery, though, is that our conventional understanding of addiction has its roots in religious philosophy – not science, psychology, or medicine – and it has not evolved at all in 75 years. Neither has the way we treat it. The vast majority of addiction facilities in this country employ the 12 Step program for spiritual enlightenment as the basis for their treatment. Things we take for granted about addiction, for instance that it’s a “progressive, fatal disease,” are completely unfounded, but they put the sharpest critical thinkers in a bind. Doesn’t everyone know at least one person who believes that their life was saved by accepting their powerlessness? How do you start challenging that if you think that someone could die of it?

“I’d be dead without AA” is one among many thought-stopping cliches that keep criticism of addiction mythology at bay. Add to this AA’s own persistent misinformation campaign, its unimpeached reputation as a benevolent organization, their noble insistence on anonymity, the public’s general ignorance, and the amount of time and effort it would take for someone on the outside to piece together a big picture. This mess has allowed a fringe religious culture to spring up around addiction and quietly influence the landscape in ways that I think would be of enormous interest to feminists. At least I hope I can make a case for it:

1. Alcoholics Anonymous is a 75-year-old program, cobbled together from the tenets of a Christian movement that started with the Oxford Group, and later renamed Moral Re-Armament (MRA). It’s the precursor to modern Prosperity Theology. Its founder, Frank Buchman, built this movement upon the principles of “absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love.” Any behavior that deviated from these principles is sin, which is a disease that prevents people from having a clear pipeline to God. This, and not medical science, is the origin of the conventional wisdom that addiction is a disease of the mind, body, and soul. These are the principles that lay the foundation of addiction treatment in this country. This is relevant because the foundational belief system of Addiction Recovery fetishizes qualities that women are supposed to possess naturally. Recovery is not an empowering place for women, who are already expected to embody absolute honest, purity, unselfishness, and love and who already berate themselves for not living up to this ideal.

2. The popular misconception is that the first step is to admit you have a problem. It’s not. The first step is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” In recovery culture “powerlessness” has been purified to mean: “We’re powerless over people, places, and things.” If you google the phrase “powerless over people, places, and things” you’ll pull up a slew of results, all directly connected to recovery. This version of complete powerlessness jibes with the iconic recovery Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” This translates, in recovery, to mean that one should not willfully try to manage his or her own life, rather one must wait for God’s will to be revealed – to “let go” of control. Stop trying to run your own life. Many of the AA ex-pats on Stinkin’ Thinkin’ tell stories of being discouraged from taking positive action in their own lives (spending more time with family, going back to school, relocating for a better job) and of being shamed for their life successes. This is relevant because it undermines personal agency. It may be that people who are entitled and expected to act must learn to accept that there are some circumstances that require them to back off once in a while, but an equal percentage of the population is still getting used to the idea that they can make changes. Twelve step evangelizes all over the world, in countries where the last thing women need is a disempowering philosophy designed to humble privileged European men.

3. In recovery, anger and resentment are taboo. To quote from Alcoholics Anonymous, aka the Big Book, they’re considered the “dubious luxury of normal men.” If you have ever had the temerity to criticize 12 step philosophy in a public arena, you’ll know that you will be swarmed with recovery evangelicals who pity you for being so angry and resentful. In recovery, accusations of anger or resentment are shaming, and when they say something like, “It sounds like you have a resentment,” or “Why are you so angry?” they’re speaking in a shorthand that translates as an attack on one’s spiritual fitness. This is relevant because anger is the engine of social progress – it is the driving force behind all reforms, and it is the natural, correct response to personal violation. It’s also something that women have not long had permission to feel. In recovery, people are taught that anger leads directly to relapse, and relapse leads to death. Anger is evidence that one has not achieved the spiritual enlightenment required for quality sobriety.

4. According to 12 Step recovery, we are to submit ourselves to a Higher Power. The 3rd step is, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Recovery culture highlights the “as we understood him” phrase for inclusive “it’s spiritual not religious!” purposes (and which is a different topic for a different time), but the relevant phrase here is “made a decision to turn our lives and our will over…”. The theory is that, when left to your own devices, you will always make poor decisions for yourself. It’s called “self-will run riot.” Addiction is a fundamental corruption of your core self, which therefore cannot be the force behind the choices you make. This is relevant because… obviously. But if you need more: 12 Step programs instruct non-believers that their higher power can be “anything” as long as its not you. God is “Good Orderly Direction” or “Group Of Drunks.” If you don’t believe that a spiritual force has a will for you that’s better than your own, you can submit your will to the care of the group.

5. 12 Step meetings are hierarchical. You’ve probably heard that no one is in charge, which is true. What that means is that there’s no oversight or accountability from the top tiers of the organization, not that people in the rooms don’t hold positions of power over each other in ways that encourage abuse. Old-timers are revered for no other reason than that they have more sober time, and newcomers are instructed, “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” To take direction, to follow suggestions, to have an “open mind,” to shut up and listen. There’s also the sponsor-sponsee relationship, in which one member, with no credentials or background checks, oversees another members’ step work, which involves hearing a thorough accounting of every sin the sponsee has ever committed. It’s called a “moral inventory,” and some sponsors insist on hearing their “pigeon’s” sexual inventory, too. This is relevant because addicted women – vulnerable, broken, and “willing to do whatever it takes” – are instructed to embrace their powerlessness, mistrust their own instincts (“Your own best thinking got you here” – another AA slogan), turn over their self-will, and suppress anger, while submitting to these completely unchecked hierarchical relationships.

6. You might be getting the picture that this is the perfect recipe for sexual abuse. Indeed it is. It’s called 13th stepping. Old-timers, who are like gurus in the rooms, prey on vulnerable new-comers, and we’ve heard countless stories from women who were told that sleeping with the old-timer would help their sobriety. Of course it happens that some long-sober women prey on new men, but considering that AA’s membership is about 85% white male with an average age of 47, it’s far more common the other way around. 13th Stepping happens in rehab facilities, between addiction counselors and clients, too. This is relevant because in any other arena (workplace, academia, etc), sexual relationships in a mismatched power dynamic are treated as sexual harassment. But there is no oversight to discourage this in AA. People are not trained; there are no standards. You’ll hear a couple of things from defenders: 1. That AA is no different from any other public place, and if you get yourself into a vulnerable position with someone there, you have no one to blame but yourself. Of course, when a woman walks into a barroom, she’s walks in with her defenses up. No one in the bar tells her that she can’t trust her own instincts. When she walks into a mall, she’s not instructed to take direction from strangers if she wants to survive. 2. That it simply doesn’t happen. They’ve never seen it. If it does happen, it’s so rare that it’s a non-issue.

7. In recovery, people are instructed not to take each other’s inventory, to “keep your own side of the street clean.” What this peculiar sobriety lingo means is that people are not to judge each other’s behavior. If you are violated in some way by someone in your meeting, you are not to worry about their behavior but on your own response to it. The instruction is to “look at your part” – what did you do to contribute to your own situation? In the real world, this is not bad advice. If I find myself in the same mess time and again, I’d be an idiot not to ask myself how I’m contributing to that. But in the rooms, this is taken to the point of absurdity. You must figure out how you are to blame for your own victimization, and let the person who grabbed your ass work out his problem for himself. This plays out in the most astounding ways, in which people who were molested as children or raped are instructed to drop their resentment and look at their part, even to make amends to their abusers for their part in it. Please listen to this popular AA circuit speaker on the subject of child molestation:

Medium: www.youtube.com
Link: www.youtube.com

This is relevant because women are still blamed for their own victimization outside recovery circles. People are still wondering what the victim did to bring this on herself: What was she wearing? How many sexual partners has she had? Was she flirting? Did she invite the man in? But, while we’re fighting for greater awareness in the real world, these debased notions are an ingrained part of recovery culture and are not about to change. And you’re not going to hear these stories, because addicts’ very survival is dependent upon the group and their willingness to “let go.”

8. Recently, a couple of NYC cops were acquitted on charges that they went to help a drunk woman and raped her while she was passed out. One of these cops immediately pled the 12th saying that he was a “recovering alcoholic” and stayed to counsel this incoherent woman about her drinking problem, in the middle of the night, while he was on duty. This reminded me of another recent story in which an AA member was acquitted on rape charges. He answered a call on the AA hotline from a desperate woman and invited her to his place for counseling, which entailed getting her drunk and having sex with her. She filed charges against him, which were dropped. Both of these women were considered untrustworthy witnesses because they were drunk at the time. This is relevant because women who enter recovery do so because they are having a problem with drugs or alcohol, which makes them extremely vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. And if they are raped by someone who takes advantage of their addiction, especially someone who’s supposedly there to guide them, it’s highly unlikely that there will be any consquences. Women who are wasted when they get raped can’t be trusted to provide accurate testimony – especially if they can’t remember the details. Most often, these victims are too ashamed to bring charges in the first place, and might not want to reveal their “slip” or risk being ostracized for challenging an established, respected member of the group.

9. Anonymity. AA’s tradition of anonymity was never implemented to protect its members. Its purpose is to protect the organization as a whole from having its members’ behavior reflect on the program. Every year, AA sends out an open letter to the media, thanking them for continuing to protect their sacred tradition, and the media seems to get some righteous satisfaction from saying, “Rob X, who’s name will not be revealed according to AA tradition…” Crimes in and around AA are common, but the media is complicit in obscuring the connection (consider, also, that AA members inhabit every arena of public life, including the media). Not even the Catholic Church enjoys such protection from the media. How would people respond if the Pope mailed out a letter like that every year? Members in the rooms are under the impression that anonymity is some noble institution, implemented to keep them humble (“principles over personalities”) and to encourage addicts who might be afraid to seek help. And you’ll often hear this mantra repeated at meetings, “What you see here, stays here; what you hear here, stays here.” This is relevant because in an effort to take some of the burden off the penal system, courts routinely shunt sexual predators and domestic abusers into AA (if they happened to be drunk or high when they committed their crimes), where they can deal with their “disease” or their “real problem.” So, domestic abusers are sent to be indoctrinated into a program that encourages them to think of their victims as responsible for their own violation. Sexual predators, who are required to register in the real world, are completely anonymous in the rooms. No one has to know that the guy making coffee for the group had his stalking charges dropped in exchange for 12 step participation. Anonymity has no place in a world where people are so vulnerable, where there are no checks and balances in place, where sick people take positions of power over other sick people, and where predators are rampant.

10. “To Wives” is a chapter in the Big Book, ostensibly written by Lois Wilson, the wife of AA’s founder. Alcoholics Anonymous somehow remains the primary text of both institutional treatment and 12 Step recovery, and “To Wives” is the inspiration for Al-Anon — which is 12 Step recovery for family members. Here’s an excerpt (I don’t need to explain why this is relevant, but we have got to ask how something like this can possibly remain at the forefront of any branch of modern mental health):

The first principle of success is that you should never be angry. Even though your husband becomes unbearable and you have to leave him temporarily, you should, if you can, go without rancor. Patience and good temper are most necessary.
Our next thought is that you should never tell him what he must do about his drinking. If he gets the idea that you are a nag or a killjoy, your chance of accomplishing anything useful may be zero. He will use that as an excuse to drink more. He will tell you he is misunderstood. This may lead to lonely evenings for you. He may seek someone else to console him–not always another man.
Be determined that your husband’s drinking is not going to spoil your relations with your children or your friends. They need your companionship and your help. It is possible to have a full and useful life, though your husband continues to drink. We know women who are unafraid, even happy under these conditions. Do not set your heart on reforming your husband. You may be unable to do so, no matter how hard you try.
We know these suggestions are sometimes difficult to follow, but you will save many a heartbreak if you can succeed in observing them. Your husband may come to appreciate your reasonableness and patience. This may lay the groundwork for a friendly talk about his alcoholic problem. Try to have him bring up the subject himself. Be sure you are not critical during such a discussion. Attempt instead, to put yourself in his place. Let him see that you want to be helpful rather than critical.
When a discussion does arise, you might suggest he read this book or at least the chapter on alcoholism. Tell him you have been worried, though perhaps needlessly. You think he ought to know the subject better, as everyone should have a clear understanding of the risk he takes if he drinks too much. Show him you have confidence in his power to stop or moderate. Say you do not want to be a wet blanket; that you only want him to take care of his health. Thus you may succeed in interesting him in alcoholism.

If someone gave me the job of creating a scenario where sexual abuse was sure to thrive, I couldn’t have done it better. Mainstream criticism of the recovery world has been taboo for far too long, and there’s no good reason for it. Traditional 12 Step recovery programs do not work. How could they? They are designed to inspire a spiritual awakening. Sobriety is evidence of your enlightenment, which is achieved by working the 12 Steps. You may know people who swear by it, but there are people all over the world who swear that quackery and faith healing work. There is no step out of the 12 that could be considered relevant to overcoming addiction or alcoholism. So, it’s no big surprise that the research shows that 12 Step treatment has a higher rate of binge relapse than other treatment options – even higher than no treatment at all, as a matter of fact. In one meta-analysis of 43 48 alcoholism treatment options, AA and 12 Step facilitation rank 37th and 38th in effectiveness. It doesn’t deserve the special pleading it has enjoyed. It’s doing more harm than good in the treatment of addiction, and as a social movement, it is retrograde. It has not kept up with any social progress over the last 75 years, and it has no plans to catch up, but it’s woven throughout mainstream culture. Women are being sexually harrassed, stalked, and raped in and around recovery because its basic principles protect predators and insist upon passivity from victims, whose sobriety and survival depends upon their willingness to betray themselves.

  • Jonny Quest

    Interesting post, FTG. Just my 0.02, but I really think you guys ought to make a PDF “book” of the “best of” Stinkin’ Thinkin’ for quick, easy downloading and printing, and distribution. Unless, of course, you intend to write a book on ST to publish. 🙂

    I never understood these women in AA who can read “To Wives” and not hurl.

    I also cannot understand how GLBT AA meetings can be packed to the brim. Well, actually, I can, but it is still sickening. AA is particularly dangerous to the GLBT community, IMO.

  • mikeblamedenial

    ftg- It has been accepted that the chapter “To Wives” was in fact written by Wilson himself over the objections of his wife Lois. Supposedly, he wanted Dr. Bob’s wife to write it, and opted to write it himself only after she declined.

  • Interesting Government Study “Treatment Outcomes for Women Drug Abusers.” Please note that the compilation of the studies was done in 1998, but the studies cited are much older. Interesting statements on how the subject population was selected that may have changed its outcome:

    “Approximately 60% of substance-abusing women who were eligible for enrollment in the clinical trial agreed to participate.”

    “Three factors have been observed to affect subject recruitment for substance abuse treatment research: (1) the motivation and willingness of substance-abusing individuals to participate in research; (2) the selection criteria of the research project; and (3) institutional constraints in selecting and recruiting potential participants (e.g., reluctance of referral network agencies to refer clients to random assignment protocols).”

    “Findings of high levels of initial impairment have several treatment implications:

    * intensive case management to address patients’ multiple social needs;
    * mismatch with group treatment emphasis for as many as one-third of patients;
    * need for intensive family therapy, given high levels of multigenerational family dysfunction;
    * importance of long-term treatment with high degree of structure;
    * guidelines for behavior and consequences for rule violations.”


    These are all studies done in the early 1990’s and being used to determine what is going on in 2011. 40% of the population did not enroll in the population studied. The population was picked only from female subjects who were referred (can be read as forced by courts or Social Services) for treatment.

    Does anyone else see that these reports can be heavily skewed by outside forces as to if they work or not?

  • Lucy

    Agreed on every point, FTG. Where do I begin with the anecdotes? From the unsublte ugliness of “TO THE WIVES” to foisting shit work like cleaning the club house on the female newcomer to the out and out regular ignoring of women in meetings to the rapes and assaults on the younger ones?

    Here was the one that shook me- A newcomer to our meeting was a female oil trader. She had an MBA and an undergraduate in engineering. Her treatment center counselor told her that she was drinking because she had neglected her “femininity” and told her she needed to quit her job and do something more womanly LIKE WORK AT VICTORIA’S SECRET.

    The woman left the treatment center and came to AA against the recommendation of the center, which she had paid nearlt 20 thousand to attend. She was hounded by them for being resistant to treatment.. She finally left the area and moved to another state because she was worried about what the center would do to her career.


  • @FTG: You raise a great question, and I say this as someone who is an active participant on a mildly progressive website (that’s all the political info I offer in this particular forum, folks), where I am involved in a community-moderated smoking support group. A few of this group’s regular participants are active A.A. members who are all self-described feminists. I like all of them, in as far as I never met any personally. I see a cliche here and a slogan there in the comments, but they are usually directed at one another, and I have no issue with it. They in turn respect and support my harm reduction approach, even as it now applies to smoking as well as alcohol abstinence.

    How do females such as this get around the issue of the lack of feminism within A.A., especially in its outdated text? My last six years in teh rooms were spent in a freaking progressive haven where I met a *lot* of feminists in both action and word, and I’m talking women that just weren’t to be fucked with, when it came down to equal terms between genders.

    So it blew my mind when one of them came up to me after a meeting on the 3rd step, where I expressed to the group unwillingness to go with this “turning it over” thing. She had double-digit sobriety, and was nearly in tears as she told me after the meeting “I don’t want you to die.” Yeah, no head trip there. I do believe it all starts when a person accepts the triple threat of powerlessness, surrender, and external dependence.

  • Sally

    Friendthegirl, I thought that was a terrific presentation. The writing, the pictures, the video – the whole works. When I saw the title I thought at first I should maybe wait because this particular aspect of the cult is what agonizes me the most. And women stick around in it , and I fell for it too. Deep down really just have empathy/sympathy for those still stuck, but when they get defensive and angry I start to get defensive and angry. So then comes the brainwashing bit and I get reminded that it’s all intertwined, so fucking demeaning. I stuck around for years trying to make it work because there is really just no where else to go. Anway, great topic and post, thanks!

  • I can see why FTG points to feminists as a group that should look into this. But really, most smart women I know, who would not ever even consider themselves feminists, would agree with everything that has been said here. I think what is problematic is this: these smart women are never going to walk through the dark heart that is AA. I wonder if what we all write–no matter how articulate–would truly make sense to an outsider. I mean, I get every single last thing. Which sucks, really.

    This was very well written and put together Miss ftg. Much thanks to you.

  • I am intrigued by the creator of the video. I have sen it before but the blog is in another language. It confused me. Is it a foreign anti AA blog? It seemed Swedish, but I only glanced at it it for a moment.

  • There is not enough written about this issue and it seems astounding and just gross that there is not. Here is one dated but well-written article which mirrors many of ftg’s points… http://www.jstor.org/pss/4316045 I guess it is pretty mwell known by recoverying feminists and anti aa people who are women. I had never read it until last summer. I remember being so excited to share it with this blog and though it was new to some a few ppl were like, oh yeah, that… 🙂

    I think if I were more conservative , I might think oh no feminism, or oh, lesbianism, but really i think even from a moderate or conservative perspective if one has any respect for women–or if one is a woman who is trying to care about herself– these points shold make sense on a very basic level.

  • mikeblamedenial

    Violet, the video was made by a very anti-AAer in Sweden.
    He did one on Bill and Lois with a soundtrack from South Park that is absolutely hilarious. See it on the list on the right side of the page.

  • One of the problems in raising public awareness to the problems in corporate AA is that often it is described using the language of AA , which a very small percentage of the population actually know. When writing to a large audience that has not had any exposure to the words of the prophet Bill Wilson, they do not understand the “powerless” of the 1st Step, what 12 stepping or 13 stepping someone, etc…. actually is. This article gives a good run down at explaining it. It is an extremely large topic that is hard to write about so everyone will understand it, especially when people do not understand the specialized language that the prophet Bill Wilson devised and corporate AA promotes.

  • Sally

    I shouldn’t have said “No where else to go” above. I don’t want people that are new to ST to mistake what I meant really meant to say (see addiction recovery resources/links on the right of this page).. But people are given impression that AA is the way. When I’ve reached out in the past, that’s all I heard. Go to a meeting, get a sponsor, try NA, try different meetings. No counselor, therapist, or doctor that I saw proposed anything else. Think SMART, Women in Recover, Rational Recovery, Science, Stanton Peele. Educate yourselves.

  • Sally

    mikeblame, I’ve looked 3 times and can’t find the Bill and Lois video. Can you point again please? 🙂 Thanks.

  • AnnaZed

    Bravo ftg, just bravo. Amazingly, I have a number of friends who are old strong lesbians who are steppers. I have never been able to reconcile this. Augusten Burroughs book Dry was a very amusing take on gay men in a stepper environment: http://www.amazon.com/Dry-Memoir-Augusten-Burroughs/dp/0312423799/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1307859325&sr=8-1

  • @Johnny, I think a series of contextualizing posts might be helpful, because my impression is that — even though everyone is intimately familiar with the subject — they don’t know how it’s relevant politically or socially. As I mentioned, I’m not well versed in current feminist activism, but I hoped that I was able to frame it in a way that those who are can take it and run. GLBT is way out of my sphere, so I think it would be great if you could do this.

    @WA, Thank you. Please do forward to anyone you think might take an interest.

    @mike, I figured that Lois didn’t write that. It reminds me of the captivity narratives I wrote about, in which ex-captives told their stories of redemption under the direction of the clergy, to make sure they hit all the right notes.

    @JR, studies make my eyes bleed!

    @Lucy, you are the reining queen of AA anecdotes. One day, I’m going to collect your comments. That one reminds me a lot of Z’s story, about how her 12 step/al-anon sponsor told her that all her accomplishments were evidence of her sickness, and encouraged her to reign in the elements of her life that gave her the most satisfaction.

    @bsmechanic asks, “How do females such as this get around the issue of the lack of feminism within A.A.” I think that people just don’t dare apply their critical faculties — no matter how formidable — to this particular subject. A few months ago, I was looking up diet industry statistics, because I had a feeling that they might jibe with addiction treatment statistics, and it turns out that they do. I found a website which cited the study, and so I commented on the parallels to 12 step treatment. Some of the commenters there were diehard members of Overeaters Anonymous, and were very defensive of the program, even though they were participating on a very feminist, body/self acceptance blog that advocates against the diet industry. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to pursue it there, but I would have liked to ask a few questions.

    @Sally, Thank you! I get what you mean about there being no place else to go. There is, but nothing else has the legitimacy, and the options require research.

    @Violet I know that some women have a visceral aversion to the term, and might be turned off by how I framed this. I really want to speak to the women who are on the front lines, to give them a springboard or a way to bring this topic into the public sphere. I imagine that, while most people haven’t experienced the dark heart, they still have evidence of it all around them and can still advocate. Maybe it’s my own myopia, but I think that this issue is enormous enough that most people have misgivings that they don’t know how to articulate, and perhaps don’t trust themselves to comment on.

    @JR In the post, I linked to an essay on the first step, written by B l A m E. Also, I think that you have a good point. This is one of those things in life that is just so wrong and demented that it’s almost impossible to process.

    @AnnaZed, Dude.

  • Rick045

    Thank you ftg, I think you should go ahead and add this to the ‘Essential Reading’ list.

  • mike, do you know that Swedish Anti AAer? OFten times there is an option to translate, but I did not see it. Obviously there are anti AAers in diferent countries: Thnk PRimRoase, for example, but I can be kinda obtuse… I am sorta ignorant about searching for ideas in other languages, too. SO there may be a whole other side (or sides) of this anti AA life that I have yet to be exposed to . I do know Harm Reduction has an international conference with what I am assuming are people who are not English speakers, right?

  • ftg, it IS indeed an issue that is enormous that ppl prolly cannot articulate. Thank you.

  • humanspirit

    Excellent article, ftg! One of the things that first struck me when I was unfortunate enough to encounter the bb was how incredibly sexist it was – even for the time it was written in. It was extremely difficult to figure out how this weird book could ever relate to the lives of men in the 21st century – actually impossible to figure out how it could ever relate to the real lives and experiences of women.

    Women (and men) have a long hard struggle out there in the real world over the last few decades to get people to accept that the abused is never responsible for abuse perpetrated against them, and this is now regarded as self-evident by all but a tiny reactionary or misogynistic minority. And yet this horrendous idea is openly encouraged in AA – even for people who have been victims of childhood abuse. Thus ensuring that victims are psychologically abused all over again. That people with such issues are ever encouraged or ordered to attend such a group is criminal, and I really do believe that if this aspect of AA was better known it would raise some very serious concerns among those who naively imagine it to be nothing than a benign self-help group for alcoholics. (But I guess this is the whole, frustrating problem – no-one out there *does* know that these things go on, let alone that people are told it they are essential for anyone wishing to stop drinking.)

    Much more to say about this, but not much time right now. Thanks again for this article, ftg.

  • Border Collie Mix

    FTG, I agree with so much of your article. I will be honest here and say I bend the program until it makes sense to me, that’s the only way I have been able to deal with the extremists and their robotic demands for assimilation. I have done enough therapy work to know that I habitually drank to try to control my depression and anxiety issues, so I’m better off not drinking because it became such an ingrained way of not facing my problems. I’m much better for that. I still attend my home group and am grateful for the people that encouraged me to look for what the concepts I was presented with meant in my own drinking and my own life. I didn’t stick with the robots but I am in the minority and that is a hard thing to do, especially these days. I guess I am just spewing that to show my own personal calisthenics in getting through cognitive dissonance as I have identified more and more as a feminist during my recovery, for right or wrong; I had no choice but treatment and AA because it enabled me to escape being “atticked” by my family (kept in their home drugged to the hilt on anti-psychotics except for the occasions I was able to escape long enough to obtain cooking wine from a nearby supermarket, this was the life given to my aunt and uncle by my Grandfather when they had “mental issues”). That isn’t an issue for here but it does show how people often have no choice but to take what is offered as an escape route no matter what.

    One thing I would add to your list is the way women are subtly encouraged to dress up their stories, especially their sexual past, in order to feel that they “qualify” properly. I really feel like we slut ourselves up in shares so that people will feel we are being honest, when we might not be honest in that at all. This really is self-degrading and chips away at self-esteem. I feel it has to be psychologically damaging, and also damaging to our outside relationships because it become such a habit that women often portray themselves in this light outside of “the rooms”.

  • causeandeffect

    ftg, excellent article. I do need to mention, however, just for accuracy’s sake, because I know you’re all about accuracy, the sentence that says:

    “In one meta-analysis of 43 alcoholism treatment options, AA and 12 Step facilitation rank 37th and 38th in effectiveness.”

    Actually should be 48 instead of 43. And, as Mike said, that Bill Wilson actually wrote To Wives.

    Having said that, thanks so much for this article, especially for pointing out that women who are sexually victimized have to where to go with their grievances, the men are absolved of all responsibility and the women are victimized again by being blamed for it. Many times they can’t even turn to the other women without being told to find their part in it. It’s one aspect of the overall extremely sick mind set that really disturbs me. I hope this article will find itself on the radar of feminists. We need all the help we can get.

  • Hi c&e, Thanks! I’ll fix the number. But I did use the word “ostensibly” in reference to Lois’s authorship of that punkass chapter.

  • mikeblamedenial

    The only chapter I like less is “We Agnostics”, since that was written under pretense, as well. It should have been titled “You Atheists”. Page 135 is the real drunk-killer, tho.

  • Lucy

    The NY Times reported that Rep. Weiner (so many puns, so little space) would be taking a leave of absence to seek residential treatment for his sexual behavior. Odds are he will decide it is “sexual addiction,” the prime defense for this type of behavior and not “bipolar disorder” which is what most psychiatrists would call it.

    When I was at The Meadows, several professional men were there for similare behavior. A football player had the habit of exposing himself to his team’s cheerleaders, and to Hooters waitresses, a NASA scientist couldn’t leave himself alone in the parking lot, etc. Each one was diagnosed with “sex addiction” and sent to AA and SLAA as a form of treatment and avoided any criminal charges or job loss.

    Supports exactly what FTG describes.

  • I hate “We Agnostics.” And what I hate more that that is the idea that it was somehow written for non-believers, as in “Oh, you don’t have to believe in God. We have this chapter for you right here…” It wasn’t written for atheists or agnostics, it was written for believers as a guide on how to coerce people into accepting god.

  • mikeblamedenial

    We have an inveterate exposer/spanker here in the local AA movement. Does leads, talks at length about his disease during comments, all from the pulpit of a born-again evangelical. Four public indecencies, one criminal trespass, and one theft conviction in the past 9 years, attending AA the entire time. They did bump up his last PI to a felony, so he will probably do some time.

  • andreasheinz

    Q WTF is wrong w/ Albert Ellis?
    A ask Aaron Beck

    Ellis is right w/ Niebuhr, tho

  • I updated the post — added #11.

    On second thought, I’ll put #11 here:

    11. In recovery, isolation from friends and family is common, especially as one’s commitment to the group deepens (daily meetings, socializing, service work, sponsorship). Isolation is supported by the unfounded belief that alcoholics are different (somehow both more broken, but also more blessed) from “normies,” who could never truly understand them. People in recovery learn that their spouses, friends, or family members can never know them the way another alcoholic or addict does. Members will even go so far as to advise each other not to share things from the meetings with their spouses, because they’ll just never “get it.” Furthermore, situations that might trigger a relapse are avoided because, while people are powerless over alcohol, alcohol itself is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” Powerless people have to be vigilant at events where alcohol might slip in through their built-in “mental blank spot.” Sadly, those dangerous situations usually involve family and friends, and AA members find themselves doing things like leaving Christmas dinner to hit a meeting. People come to believe that certain death waits for them outside the group: The alternative to the 12 Steps is “jails, institutions, or death.” If you were to ask any loyal NA or AA member where they would be without the program, they’ll will tell you that they’d be dead. Try it. This is relevant because this dynamic mirrors that of an abusive domestic relationship in which the victim is systematically isolated from her support system, made dependent, and gaslit to the point where she doesn’t trust her own ability to make decisions in her best interest. Threats of abandonment or rejection by an AA group are devastating, especially if one has no other support, and leave people vulnerable to predation and less likely to speak up if they are violated by someone with standing in the group. This should be an outrage to those who advocate for victims of domestic abuse, who often have substance abuse issues as well. Recovery wisdom undermines empowerment.

  • causeandeffect

    Great job ftg, excellent comparison. I hate to be picky, but you should link the word gaslit to your article on the subject. I say that only because I’d never heard the term. I was very happy to have found a word to describe that particular kind of abuse!

  • Sally

    The “We Agnostics” is awfully insulting. It might as well be titled “To the fools”

    “We were fooling ourselves” (We really can fly?) Do “simple little things” (acid or pray? both?). “Have the willingness to beleive” (uhh, how about no, what then?) “Honestly seek Him” (why?) “Miracle healing?” (How can you deny it?). “He disclosed Himself to us”


  • Thanks, C&E. I think I went off the deep end. But here’s a wiki gaslighting:


  • AnnaZed

    Gaslight is an absolutely terrific movie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036855/ of the play from 1944 with a luminous Ingrid Bergman. I daresay that the Wikipedia entry is errs on the side of seeming to be more erudite in citing the original play but that the colloquial use of this word has it’s inception at or around the popularity of this movie version. The use of lighting in the film is deeply disturbing.

  • andreasheinz

    cool Mike BD posts tho.

  • andreasheinz

    This crazy right-wing campaigns. Prez Obama doesnt fuck w / babys. THIS IS FULL SHIT:

  • It is like “We The Complete Idiots.” But what is so so horrifying is that I BOUGHT it. Hook, line, and sinker. I quoted it at meetings in a long drawn out way. I wrote down my fave. pats and taped these parts to my fridge. Jesus. X. God.

    I admit that I slutted myself up, too. I may have inferred that I was a sure thing, but the truth is.. Well, TMI for ST but “that major se-youknow what thing” happened AFTER I sobered up with a guy, yep, in AA.

    What a WASTE of time.

  • Remember, I got sober young, early twenties…

  • Sally

    I googled “alcoholics anonymous” and “pick up girls” the other day to see the hits. I know some are duplicates and what not, but people/non aa’s do know about the vulnerability, sad that they mostly are the vultures though.

  • Lucy says
    The NY Times reported that Rep. Weiner (so many puns, so little space) would be taking a leave of absence to seek residential treatment for his sexual behavior. Odds are he will decide it is “sexual addiction,

    OMG how stupid. Lets all twitter alternatives to Wiener. Smart deals with Sex addiction. Gambling.

    PG women are told to wear dresses. I cant wait till the New HBO series comes out to expose AA like “Big Love” did for The Mormons.
    I’m getting ready!!!

    ftg – great new post!

  • This is what I posted on ‘Why we were chosen’;
    On joining a group the participant has two over-riding anxieties:
    Will I be accepted?
    Will I be good enough?
    Hence the newcomer’s otherwise inexplicable ability to swallow the illogic (in the case of corporate aa) and to strive to gain positive strokes from old-timers who dictate the group norms.
    Practically the only way to approach a group situation without getting drawn into these behaviours is to keep quiet until more familiar with the group norms. In the case of an AA meeting the newcomer is not really given the option of keeping quiet; if they don’t quickly admit that they have a fictional disease they will experience subtle, and then not so subtle shunning.

    If they do admit that they have a fictional disease they are given exaggerated acceptance, which is what they are after, whether they really know it or not. I think this explains the fawning of some newcomers and also their enthusiasm to recruit. AA cashes in on this with the early admittance of being ‘an alcoholic’, an admission that is irreversible in terms of medical records. They tell the newcomer to tell everyone; family doctor, dentist (dentist?) family. They are praised for being brave when they fall into these irreversible traps.

    Hence the spectacle of educated intelligent women, seeking help for a problem with alcohol, fawning desperately to gain favour with male longterm AA members, putting their trust in them, and following their absurd and damaging suggestions. Including the suggestion that they do not look at anti-aa sites on the internet. These blokes would not get a chance in any other context to even meet these women, let alone bathe in their (open) adoration.

    Leave your feminism as well as your brain at the door.

    The anxiety and stakes are higher in a ‘recovery’ (hollow laugh) group than a book group.

  • There’s a discussion about this post going on over at mumsnet (welcome mumsnet!): http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/1235617-Is-this-a-feminist-issue

    And, last week, The Fix posted a little plug for a piece written by Kate Torgovnik called “Why Being Drunk Is A Feminist Issue,” which I didn’t see until today. I guess I was busy that day: http://www.thefrisky.com/post/246-girl-talk-why-drunk-is-a-feminist-issue/

    Torgovnik’s post went over like a lead balloon in the feminist blogosphere. Here’s a response to it on

    Feministing: http://campus.feministing.com/2011/06/10/why-being-drunk-is-not-a-feminist-issue/

    And Feministe: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/06/01/why-wearing-mini-skirts-is-a-feminist-issue/

  • When I say, ‘fictional disease’ ….here’s a little history on the deceitful way AA managed to get the AMA to claim alcoholism a disease:


  • I LOVE Feministe. Love that blog with my whole entire heart. I could not read the other link, the one about why getting drunk is a feminist issue b/c it seemed dumb. It seemed like the airhead with tacky clothes who might have sat next to me in WOmen’sStudies 101 wrote it.

  • Lucy

    The Fix article mirrors the incredibly racist, sexist, condescending and inaccurate opinion piece about Patty Baena –


    We poor and stupid women just can’t hold our alcohol or dress provocatively because we’ll be forced to have sex with our real masters, men,


  • Z

    *Great* post!!! 🙂

  • It would appear that AA is usually a Patriarchy type of society which can explain why women are treated the way they are in the meetings. This is obvious though out the writings of Bill Wilson, which are kept alive by the policy of corporate AA.

    “Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.”

    Source: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Patriarchy#Feminist_theory

  • bsmechanic said: I do believe it all starts when a person accepts the triple threat of powerlessness, surrender, and external dependence

    I agree, and it happens very early on, or at rehab.

  • The Patriarchial AA ritual of “sharing” and “powerlessness” is extremely damaging to women. The feminist movement looking to prevent gender based inequality should be looking at AA corporate policies which promote it.

  • The prophet and patriarchal tyrant Bill Wilson was the perfect organizer to make gender based inequality prevalent in today’s society. The followers and corporate organizers of Patriarchy should be held responsible.

  • wa- as I was leaving AA I looked around the room and saw intelligent, educated woman. And I thought..how can they listen to chapter 5 and believe this shit anymore.

    • LJ Mc Mahon

      because it works. After 30 years and coming out of dereliction knowing full well that somewhere in the next 6 months to2years and after 49 hospitalisations a treatment centre and AA gave me life.

  • Sally

    I agree JR “The followers and corporate organizers of Patriarchy should be held responsible.”

  • Sally

    “Show him you have confidence in his power to stop or moderate.”

    Interesting that the above is from the big book, To The Wives as ftg pointed out above………… He has the Power?

  • SoberPJ

    Good one Sally… Wilson and the crew obviously missed that one too …

  • Greta

    haven’t read all the comments, but thought this was an awesome post!! one thing that is just very striking to me is the inability to report any kind of a abuse or problem.. I have seen a few things that I thought were completely inappropriate, and there was nowhere to report those things or hold someone accountable for there actions.. now, the things that I have seen are fairly minor(although very hurtful to me and others in the long run).. it just makes me chilled to the bone to think of the dynamic that is set up for sexual abuse:(

    I also loved this quote and myself have had many many questions about the issue of ‘anger’ in meetings and how that pertains to women, in particular.. ‘ This is relevant because anger is the engine of social progress – it is the driving force behind all reforms, and it is the natural, correct response to personal violation. It’s also something that women have not long had permission to feel. In recovery, people are taught that anger leads directly to relapse, and relapse leads to death. Anger is evidence that one has not achieved the spiritual enlightenment required for quality sobriety.’

    again, excellent post.. I haven’t been here for a while but was very impressed with this article!!

  • re: wa’s experience with formwe wost major.

    i knew this woman who had years and years and was supposedly a feminist, even wearing tee shirts with gloria steinmen quotes. yep, complete with an illustration of a fish on a bicycle. anyway, she was the one who convinced me that the archaic writing in the bb was MY issue. it was MY way of letting MY diseasse run the show. she had years, and, years. and she was in a phd program in english. however, i know she prolly never got very far, b/c i cannot find her through google. if she’s gotten anywhere i would be able to find her, right?

    ‘i never really liked her. she was an astounding control freak. she was always at those gso meetings runnong everyone around. she was in th sponsor lineage i talked about the other day–the little peabody group. and she treated her sponsees like dog shit. in the end, this particularly fucked up girl flipped out at aa and renounced her. i have never been able to find this girl. she was from rhode island and was an extremely talented artist. there was local aa legend that she went back out and killed someone. i will not believe this. but i cannot find her either. 🙁 i would love to be able to talk with her again. i remember her raising her hand in a sea of ignorance saying IT DOES NOT WORK. man, people were like, YOU ARE IT WORKING IT.

    feminism just cannot work in aa. to say your a feminist and to adhere to aa principles does not even make sense.

  • Marya

    I ranted at a women’s meeting last night after reading the 12 and 12 because of its sexist language. It kept repeating the phrase that step six “separates the men from the boys,” and calling God by a masculine pronoun. I’m like, “This contradicts Tradition 1 — unity…not everyone in AA is a man, and not everyone has a male higher power.” I also brought up the fact that no where in any meeting is sexual harrassment discussed or defined. As a result, seeming “safe” guys with lots of “recovery” have acted completely inappropriately, and my guess is, they have no freakin’ clue they’re behaving in a way that makes women feel unsafe — which is why I showed up at the women’s meeting last night. What can I say? Anyone who might have agreed with me stayed silent after the meeting. The person who did approach me had been cured of her feminist objections by the program for the sake of her serenity. Really!?!? If the book had said, “It would be mighty white of you to apply step 6,” you bet your life there’d be outrage and changes would be made IMMEDIATELY. Racism = bad, of course. But sexism — that subtle oppression that women endure so not to look like angry feminists — why, little girly, that anger is a threat to your sobriety, stop getting your panties in a twist and get serenity by getting with the program. That attitude inflames me! I’m still at a place in my own sobriety where I want to stay in the program. I need community. But I’m not going to be quiet. I’m going to be proactive and try to change things from the inside.

  • Sally

    Hi Marya,

    “But I’m not going to be quiet. I’m going to be proactive and try to change things from the inside” ………………Although I think changing things from the inside can be dangerous for an individual, especially a female, I do commend you for your courage in speaking out 🙂 I think it’s great. 🙂

  • causeandeffect

    Marya, trying to change things from the inside is a noble cause, but to me seems unrealistic. I don’t believe AA will ever change. Still, you can join with massiveattack who has tried to do the same. She will be more than happy to hear from you.


  • causeandeffect

    Marya, please check out the Keep Coming Back series at the top of the page and antidenial’s website:


  • Lucy

    Marya, You are singing the same song I sang for decades in AA. (You know all know me! I was the woman who comforted the other women after the meeting saying, “Don’t throw out the message because of the messenger!”)

    Well, not anymore. AA is a sexist society built on enforcing stereotypes. It’s too screwed up to change from the inside out, and all trying to change it made me was tired and lonely.

    It’s an individual decision to stay or leave AA, but I am so glad I did. I felt freer than I had in my life.

    Whatever you decide, welcome here.

  • greta- report them to me. I am building a file/case..I am not lawyer. Just an advocate for those who have no where to turn with these problems. You are new on the blog right?
    I left AA 4 weeks ago after 36 years. Its just bullshit and I want noting to do or be associated with a culture or group that sits and does nothing while women in their fellowship are being raped. And actually I have a big problem with the wacky 1936 Chapter % readings over & over again and like MAyra says the jargon sexist rhetoric in the 12 & 12 , which btw I once LOVED so much. Guess I was drinking too much koolaid.

    PLease contact me directly, write or tell me your story. My file is over an inch thick!
    Actions are being taken to address all of this. We are all just not ranting here.
    There is serious activism going on here now.

  • c&e- thanks !

  • Sally

    I see this is getting some attention around the web.

  • Sally

    I didn’t post it on twitter (I don’t have that) but I posted it on my fb…

    The last time I posted something about drinking and anti AA my Mom called and ask me if I was drunk. It was really funny actually 😉

  • Antidenial–is he/she the one I got mad at about the food stamps? (I am not ever gonna bring it up again, I am just trying to establish who is who). I am wondering b/c I mentioned this website the other day, as I just discovered it; I gotta say…that website is pretty badass. 🙂

    And I am wondering if this website was in response to the unsafe NA/AA meeting that was in the park. THis was the situation that got everyone going on the radio? Prolly not, I mean, Fl. is a big state, right?

    RE: radio…Thinking about G2K, um, G200, I wanna get in your forum, miss you.

  • violet –
    yes this is the lady, the park, that the radio shows all began.

    It’s all antidenial’s good fault LOL!!!!! Good work antidenial!

  • thank you, stinkin’ thinkin’. All very well said. I have come to understand most of these things as well, in my 4 years of aa. i no longer attend aa. this is the first post i have read from you, besides your first page. I am beginning my own alcohol recovery support group for women in a couple months. thank you for your work. i will keep reading .


  • SoberPJ

    Hi Virginia,…. Go Virginia Go 🙂 I hope it is an empowerment and not powerless group….

  • I just want to offer up this Google search string of four words for your edification:

  • Maybe the escape character thingies will make the whole link clickable:

  • SoberPJ

    Interesting search … the whole sentence is ” No one wants to be angry enough to murder, lustful enough to rape, gluttonous enough to ruin his health.”

    Let me get this straight. The original 13th stepper that took sexual advantage of scores of vulnerable newcomer women and who smoked himself to death was preaching some kind of moral sanctity about sex and over eating. Uh huh. Glad to see he was worried about my overeating but didn’t give a damn about smoking himself to a suffocating death. Will the hypocrisy ever end with that guy? The more you look, the more there is.

  • Thank you, Virginia. I wish you the best with your new group!

    Ben, Oh holyhell!… Of course there’s that. Dang. That should be the real title of this piece. If you have an acct at Opposing Views, will you post that link there, too?

  • PJ, Also, the original 13th stepper confused sex with violence. He understood murder as the logical conclusion to anger, and rape as being the logical conclusion of lust. This is not sane.

  • SoberPJ

    Good thing he wasn’t lustful enough to rape. That would be bad and it would surely soil his saintful image. He was just lustful enough to prey on extremely vulnerable women looking for help with their drinking problem while his wife was working to support him. Where’s the harm in that ?… oh, wait.

  • Quagmire

    This article is posted on about every web site and blog on either comment on or just read. I think you hit the proverbial “head on the nail”, Ftg.
    Just a little to thick (drama) for me but not enough to discourage me from reading it again.
    Massive Attack, 36 years, WoW!!!!
    That had to be hard to walk away from or run…lol.

  • hjj

    I’m in AA and I’m a feminist. Being sober has actually made me more comfortable to say and be a feminist. If people in AA start talking shit about my beliefs and values, then fuck them. I also know many other feminist women in AA.

    Also, there are certainly problems in AA. However, because AA started, it has changed and saved a ton of lives. In all honesty, I can live with the male-centered language when it comes to that. If I didn’t have AA, I probably wouldn’t be living and/or wouldn’t be able to take care of my daughter.

    You stated that “if it weren’t for AA, I’d be dead” cliques. What if that isn’t a clique? Like, it’s true for me. That’s rather assumptious.

    “Recovery is not an empowering place for women, who are already expected to embody absolute honest, purity, unselfishness, and love and who already berate themselves for not living up to this ideal.” Are you kidding me? It has been an extremely empowering place for me. I actually feel heard and listened to in meetings, by men and women. I go to a meeting where there is childcare and I have people to call if I feel like I am going crazy. It’s actually one of the few places where I didn’t feel as though I was treated like shit because I’m a woman (of course, there have been a couple gross, sexist moments).

    I am also still an Atheist. As far as a higher power is concerned, I just remember that I can’t control everything and that’s it. It’s worked and I’m over 2.5 years sober.

    Agreed with you on the anger stuff. That PISSES ME OFF. Because I was SO ANGRY when I first got sober. I was ANGRY at men, in general. I actually said this in an open speaker meeting and there were men there. It felt good to say. But, I always want to say to people – it’s okay to be angry. Don’t brush it aside, it’s natural, be angry and let it go.

    Agreed on the shit about “taking other’s inventory.” Because sometimes I have to for various reasons and it’s not going to fucking kill me if I do. I’ve always heard the blaming shit, too. Which REALLY PISSES ME OFF. I was sexually abused as a child. I have also been abused and was asked by my first sponsor – what my part of that was (and I didn’t have a part). Also, when AA people say shit about “you’re just blaming your parents” well, you know what? Maybe I am because they fucked up (my dad was the sexual abuser) and it’s okay to blame him. He was a drunk abuser. Fuck him.

    I’ve also had concern about predators in AA which really freaks me out. It’s disturbing. I know in other 12 step groups, perps can’t go to those groups (like, incent survivors anonymous). My ex is a drunk and it’d be really triggering to see him in a meeting if he ever got sober.

    Some things, obviously, I competely disagree with you. Other things, I completely agree with. i’ve had similar conversations with others about similar topics. At this point, however, I choose to go AA and still continue to be a feminist. It helps me find sober support who can help me (I’m a single mom in grad school) and I’ve never felt more empowered by myself. However, I am in counseling and in a trauma group for women, which are helping as well. I think most women in recovery need that stuff.

  • quagmire-nope. when I was ready I couldnt stay another minute. The literature is insane. So much of it is complete bullshit. I will challange anyone to a debate about Chapter 5. It’s my favorate part in the BB to rip apart now. And The Traditions…don’t get me started.

    Virginia Smith- welcome! good for you. I have had one meeting of a new group last summer, but I have too much activist work to do first.

    hjj-welcome. You remind me of me in some ways. But eventually I felt that sitting in a meeting with non like minded people listening to lies read from AA literature was unhealthy for me. ANd I want Absolutely NO PART of a Group, fellowship, program…whatever you wanna call it that knows that people are people raped, killed, molested, sexually harassed, gaslighted sponsor power tripped etc …they can take their stupid “program” and shove it! Sorry…but too many I see with lots of years have low self esteem. AA eventually makes good people sick. You are there are 2 1/2 years. Your okay.

    But it’s a lie that you need to go there forever. It’s insane. Don’t believe the hogwash they dish out and I can see you don’t . WElcome here. WE’re a tough bunch here too.

    ANd you know why? None of us are drinking the fucking Koolaid anymore. I spend too many decades in AA to speak lightly about what is going on all over the country. By Gay woman, gay men, male predators and even woman predators.

  • Ben Franklin

    Hjj, the counseling and the trauma group have helped you more than AA IMO,

  • SoberPJ

    hjj,.. if you hold conflicting views with the AA dogma, there are three likely outcomes.

    1. You’ll simply go more nuts over time. The cognitive dissonance is not sustainable and something will give. It will be your sanity.

    2. You will convert eventually. Reptition is very powerful in a subtle way and there will be covert and overt attempts to get you to see things “correctly” . See http://www.morerevealed.com . He does a great job explaining the coercion techniques employed in AA.

    3. You will see the hypocrisy, deceit and manipulation with astounding clarity and leave. If you are an intelligent free thinker, this is your only option.

    Good luck with it all. I’m glad you stopped by.

  • AnnaZed

    I don’t think it can be said enough times; never ever bring a child to AA.

  • Lucy

    AnnaZed, I wanted to compliment you on the comments you made in Opposing Views.

    When I think of children who have parents in AA, I am reminded of that scene in “Thirteen” where the clearly self-destructive and suicidal kid wants her mother to stay home with her that night and the mom instead goes to an AA meeting, saying, “It works if you work it!”

    I took my daughter to a meeting once when she was still in a baby carrier. I got up to go to the podium to pick up my 5 year chip and I left the carrier on my seat, which was next to my sister. I remember the next scene in slow motion – a wobbling drunk carrying a cup of scalding coffee tried to take my seat and reached in to move the carrier. I sprinted back to my seat as my sister put up her hand to stop him, and got splashed with hot coffee.

    NEVER take children to AA. They don’t belong in a roomful of people who may or may not be drunk, and may or may not be pedophiles. No matter how you think you can protect them, it is just too risky,

  • Annazed, Yes. you are right, so, so so right.When I read that, I kinda felt like I swallowed glass, as you all now I usta bring my son. Fuck, do I ever suck to have done that. I could say, “Well, they all told me to and they told me I wold die if I did not go.” But really, it does not matter. I suck to have brought him.

    If there are any parents reading–if you’re in or outta AA or on the fence–listen to what Annazed just posted. I will repeat–and I know Annazed loves all capital letters: DO NOT BRING CHILDREN TO AA OR ALANON–EVEN IF THREE IS CHILD CARE–EVER. YOUR CHILDREN ARE NOT SAFE THERE, AT ALL.

  • Holy Shit, Lucy, I remember I had goosebumps the whole time watching THirteen. Thirteen is actually one of my favorite movies of all times. And I loved the depiction of the idiotfuck sponsor who was all like, “Ohhh, she’s fine,” when the mom was freaking out on the phone with her. That movie *knew* AA, well.

    That above mentioned story is amazing. I have a hazy memory of letting an airhead seventeen year old watch my son momentarily while I was talking to someone near the door that led to the inside of the Salvation Army in a city after a meeting. She was outside, smoking, near the fucking road. It was snowyslushy. And I remember thinking, is she really watching him? Really though, I do not know if I was thinking this then, or if I am imposing that worried thought today? i also remember leaving a baby carrier on a table, leaving to go talk to someone. I never understood the gravity of how dangerous it was there. But on a certain level, I id know. I just was not fully cognizant. No mother in her right mind would’ve let her son be in the meeting, nevermind outside with a clutch of smoking, young “soberlings.” It is so difficult to think back to that time.

    I am so glad our kids emerged, safe, outside of AA. I hope none of our children ever have to attend. I hope they will never, ever get caught up in the cult. i hope we’ve spared them that much. I do know that my son–now 12, is interested still in what is said on this blog. He is genuinely interested. He says little, but it is tone that tells me he approves of my conversations with all of you.

    The risk is never, ever ever worth it. Again, well put Annazed. And also well put, Lucy.

  • Is this the naive Sarah Graham: http://www.sarahgrahamsolutions.com/ from the Opposing Views comment section? Sorry if this has already been discussed… And, well, sorry my comment over there was a gross snarl of disagreements. You all know by now: I am an impulsive over poster who needs to *slow* down.

  • AnnaZed

    Violet, to my eternal shame I thought nothing of children being in and around AA, I encouraged sponsees to bring their kids if they couldn’t get sitters all of the time, even suggesting that their priorities weren’t in order if they wouldn’t. I spent Wednesday nights every single week for over a year at an AA meeting where a grotesque narcissistic dad brought his 10- year-old son to every meeting and I watched the wide-eyed, impressionable and thoroughly freaked out boy take in the crazy stories and the preaching and the testimonials. You see one night a week after school and sports practice was the only visitation that this dad (who worked hard weekends as a chef) had with his kid; so I thought of course that he should spend that one and only night in an AA meeting.

    [sick, I’m tellin’ ya]

    Oh, and yes I would say that that Recovery Professional Sarah Graham is one and the same. What a shocker, huh!

  • Lucy

    AnnaZed – In my old home group was a man who dragged his 16 year old to a treatment facility. He talked constantly about his kid and his kid’s “alcoholism.”

    The kid’s mother had ten years divorced the man over his drinking and gotten full custody of the boy, She was dying of cancer while the man was spending his time in AA meetings. She told the man that the kid was grieving, and that she didn’t think he was alcoholic.

    The father, of course, did not listen and made every single meeting about his kid “getting sober”. When the kid got out of treatment, his father dragged him to the meetings with him and talked about him like he was not in the room.

    The kid just sat there, looking off in the distance in a room full of adults, trapped by his ass of a father and the pain of his mother dying.

    I don’t think I ever hated AA more.

  • (Ugh. My first comment didn’t take. Attempt #2.)

    Criticism #3 (AA discouraging anger and resentment) could have other destructive ramifications for people struggling with alcohol abuse. People who abuse alcohol often have histories of physical or sexual abuse, and may have consciously or unconsciously started drinking to aenesthetize their pain. Confronting past abuse and working through anger toward one’s abuser is an important step in healing. By encouraging members to repress anger and resentment, such programs may inadvertently prevent healing from prior abuse.

  • Thanks, Ahab. Great point.

    The spam filter is really aggressive and random. If you lost something in there I can get it out for you. Just let me know, so you don’t have to re-write it. That goes for everyone.

  • It is a feminist issue but AA infantalises both men and women. Some people are rock bottom desperate when they arrive, but some are successful professionals who submit to the elders of the group like infant school children. There seems to be a Mummy and a Daddy in each group. I have seen an actor who was in an oscar winning film be led around and surrounded by people who are basically unemployable, just because they had been in AA for more than 10 years, and he was in thrall to them. He gave me lifts to meetins and told me lucky he was to have met them. They held a special men’s meeting just for him, lovebombed him to the end of the earth and he was deeply grateful. (He was only a tiny part in the film and I only know that because I googled him and looked it up, but still, I have never met anyone else in a film like that). He still goes, and is deep in service positions now.

  • I think that both men and women newly sober people worship the male elders, and try to gain their approval, and only womenseem to try to get the approval of the female elders.

    How does this work in al-anon, where there are more men than women?

  • Lucy

    Hyacinth – I think that you are absolutely correct that AA (and Al-Anon) infantilise their members and try to induce worship in direct proportion to the amount of time a person has sober. I also think that lots of people get to AA with very immature personalities and that they expect (even demand) to be parented by elders rather than treated as equals.

    The sickest elders encourage that dependence and, in fact, tend to be as dependent on being depended on, as the newcomer is dependant on them. They elders teach helplessness and then have helplessness modeled back to them by their minions.

    If anything, the dyamic is worse in Al-Anon because people tend to live with drinkers because they can control them. A discussion of opposing views in Al-Anon feels like a passive-aggressive fiesta between Norman Bates mother and Mommy Dearest.

    This sickness of dependency is, to me, the single most dangerous part of 12 step programs. It’s as if they give up their ability to take care of or think for themselves.

  • SoberPJ

    Also, elders learn how to have that definitive, know it all demeanor and way of talking. Kind of like a Walter Cronkite thing .. ” and that’s the way it is”. They have years to perfect the words, style and emphasis.

  • Actually, he, the actor, did give brilliant performances at every meeting. I was pretty sure for a while that he was only going to research his latest role, which was in fact playing an alcoholic. In big meetings, when there was not time for everyone to add their tuppence ha’penny, the chair would ask him if he wanted to speak, which he always did. And he always spoke very, very well, as I would expect of a Royal Shakespeare Company trained actor. It was like having a small night at the theatre each meeting. Not being sarcastic here. He told me that he was going abroad to film on a certain date, a few months hence, and I decided that I would not attend after that. Haven’t seen him for over 4 years and don’t expect to again but it struck me that someone who in any other circumstance would be of a far higher status than the AA oldtimers was craven in his deference. BUT he was not craven to the women oldtimers. That was how it seemed to work.

  • Rick045

    “The sickest elders encourage that dependence and, in fact, tend to be as dependent on being depended on, as the newcomer is dependent on them. The elders teach helplessness and then have helplessness modeled back to them by their minions.”

    I think that also applies to many well-intentioned sponsors. The sponsor is using their pigeons to validate their own beliefs, especially if they insist on leading them through the 12-steps. The steps themselves break down personal boundaries and create a dependency. The important thing from AA’s perspective is establishing that dependence. The whole process is more insidious than it appears precisely because it’s following a sanctified written formula.

  • Stepper No More

    I am so damned proud that my only sponsee, ever, fired me! He said in so many words that he wanted me to tell him what to do. I said I didn’t want it to be a hierarchical thing — I’d just be there if he needed someone to talk. (Btw, for anyone who might have read my other posts, yep, I’m a woman. Gay AA members often have opposite sex sponsors to avoid possible emotional entanglements, because talking about the twelve steps is just so sizzling hot.) After a few weeks, he dropped me in favor of one of those “What kind of toilet paper are you using to keep sober today” old-timers. I myself never had a sponsor, which naturally made me unfit to sponsor anyone else (thank goodness!) I made a few half-hearted efforts to find one, but the whole thing just felt so absolutely wrong, I couldn’t go through with it. That meant dealing with a steady undercurrent of disapproval at meetings, but it probably saved me from some of the more horrifying boundary violations I’ve observed in AA. What I experienced just going to meetings, making coffee, and “sharing” and crap, was bad enough.

    • MA

      SNM (sounds like S & M – ha!) – Welcome to the blog.

  • Stepper, couldn’t you have told him to go on a special mission to find out about people who were trying to kill alcoholics by spreading lies about AA online, starting with the orange papers and stinkin thinkin?

  • Stepper No More

    Thanks, MA. Probably should’ve thought about the initials when I chose that handle…
    Hyacinth, there were no websites critical of AA at that time — the internet as we know it barely existed. I have to remind myself of that when I think, “Why didn’t I see through it sooner?”

  • Because you were surrounded by people who told you that AA was not the only way. And only conference approved literature was allowed in meetings. And AA is (was?) generally seen as a positive force in society. And you didn’t know of any alternatives then. The question is, why do people stick with it now in the face of the overwhelming evidence that we are trying to shove in their faces? Not the ones stuck in endless meetings and service and under guidance of their sponsers, but the ones with whom we engage. That is what I’d like to get my head around. I didn’t realise you were new here. Hi and welcome.

  • Rick045

    @Stepper No More – I read your comments on the “Why I left AA” thread and agree with your observations on sponsorship and the steps. I also spent twelve years in the rooms and the first critical site I discovered was the old AA Deprogramming site. I regret that I rationalized and twisted myself around for as long I did, mostly for the sake of trying to “fit in”. I always had some vague sense of doubt about many aspects of the program, but was also terrified of trusting my own instincts. The fact that AA had the backing of those treatment industry “professionals” and many in the medical community was a big influence on me.
    I had the good fortune of finding a competent therapist along the way and that’s when things began to turn for me. He didn’t directly criticize my program involvement, but he wouldn’t accept AA platitudes for answers either. That psychological perspective was refreshing and invaluable in leading me out of the program-induced stupor of mental self-flagellation.
    Anyway, welcome to ST. I appreciate your comments.

  • Stepper No More

    Thanks, Rick045, and high five! I always felt like a bit of a program fraud because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that my drunkalogue was a tissue of lies. The events were real, but the narrative AA encouraged me to weave around them was false. I’m convinced that the sign of a competent therapist is that they don’t pressure you into turning your life story into a work of fiction…that just happens to resemble the stories in whatever self-help books are popular that decade. People can have emotions in common, but the events that shape us really are different.

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  • Excellent article – well written! I have been browsing your site and can tell you all are very passionate people! I have been in this addiction/counseling field for over ten years (counselor) and know first hand what many of you refer to here. I look forward to reading more of what you have here. Thanks for the alternative views!

  • Elexandria

    While reading your article, I started having flashbacks about a treatment facility in the heart of hill country in Texas. It was several years ago, and I remember riding with my sister in the car, being thankful that I still had some family that cared. After I got there, I was immediately asked to take my clothes off and started becoming prepared for a pap smear. I found it very unusual that I’d need a pap smear, this wasn’t my first time in rehab, nor was it was last, but it was certainly my most colorful. I was put on so much sedation, that I had a hard time trying to explain to them that I didn’t want to be there any longer. I believe that the physician in charge at the time, was molesting women daily. It was a 12 step program and as I progressed through treatment, more and more I was feeling violated. To make a long story short, I finally complained loud enough about leaving that a taxi was called. It whizzed me away to a liquor store and eventually a hotel from where I called my family. To this day, I forget about the experience in my daily living but occasionally something I read or see will remind me. Did I ever report it? No I didn’t. Why didn’t I? I was scared, hurt, and very anxious, not to mention all the drugs they had me on that created a fog around me. I questioned everything I said.

  • humanspirit


    Thank you for telling your story. This really was the most outrageous abuse. A smear test for assessing addiction???

    You might find it helpful to contact Massive Attack on this site – she’s an activist who is doing loads of good work in trying to combat sexual abuse in the 12-step addiction industry. I think we can all understand why you didn’t report it – it is for the same reasons why anyone doesn’t report abuse: Like you they are scared, hurt and confused, and are made to question their own sanity about all of it. It makes me so sick that there are predators who will take advantage of people whose only “crime” is to genuinely try to help themselves. It is even worse when one those people is in the medical profession.

    I really hope life is looking better for you now. Thanks again for posting.

  • SoberPJ

    Ya know, are we sitting on some kind of powderkeg and don’t know it? Follow me here –

    Only a small percentage of people that have gone through rehab or been abused in AA probably find this site.

    So, out of that small percentage, we hear an awful lot of stories similar to Elexandria’s.

    Also, the site probably doesn’t find all the criminal complaints that are associated with AA members.

    Does that mean there are are a huge number of abused, harrassed, raped, murdered, financial and career affected people out there? If so, we truly are witnessing the exposure of a monstrous societal problem. These aren’t just isolated incidences anymore, they are beginning to appear systemic. How many more are there that haven’t come forward or have or haven’t been caught? Because of its scope, this could be really scary.

  • hulahoop

    Elexandria, maybe one of the reasons you didn’t report it was because you though nobody would believe you. I don’t know even know you and I believe you. I am very sorry you had to go through all of that. Be sure to contact Massiveattack.

  • holy shit. elx, i believe you , too. sux.

  • a ndreashein z

    This is the most retarded Anti-Saloon-League crap I’ve seen for a long time. All your agenda is: Give the “addicts” more drugs and pills. Your motto: Unity. Your dream: More members nagging ENDLESSLY – getting nowhere.Your style: anonymous.
    You may read Mitch K’s Clarence Synder-story about these topics.

    No wonder the kids of such aa-freaks (thats you) smoke weed like hell.

  • MA

    Hi, a ndreashein z –

    I always get a chuckle when someone advocating an anonymous organization criticizes us for remaining anonymous. Nicely done.

  • MikeAugustine

    No wonder the kids of such aa-freaks (thats you) smoke weed like hell.

    Only on April 20th, ndrea, only on April 20th….

  • causeandeffect

    Elexandria, that’s horrible. I’m so sorry you went through that, and as shocking as it is, I’m not surprised. I hope that facility gets shut down and the perpetrators go to prison.

    MA, you mean ndreashein is against us? I can never figure that out: for us or against us. Wonder what kind of drugs that dude’s on.

  • AnnaZed

    a ndreashein z says

    Hi Andreas! Having a problem with that ole’ tricky space-bar thingy (while typing your own name)? ~ awesome intro there.

    Are you Andreas Heinz http://www.imagen-europe.com/en/charite-berlin.php the doctor and semi-academic author of a few (ok, one) semi-scientific attraction-not-promotion style stepper propaganda pieces (like this one http://tinyurl.com/AA-Propaganda); or are you just using his name to give yourself a doctorate and a semi-academic semi-scientific veneer of authority in your own mind? In either case the initial impression created by your posting handle just isn’t doing the job for you.

    I mean if you are him then congratulations on the Leibnitz Chair! http://www.nncn.uni-freiburg.de/nachrichten-en/leibnizchair/view?set_language=en

    Still, I don’t know MA; it’s a little hard to tell from this post even what team Dr. Andreas (if this is Dr. Andreas) is playing for. Let’s parse it (oh fun)!

    This is the most retarded Anti-Saloon-League crap I’ve seen for a long time.

    I’m going with option (b.) on the question of whether this is the semi-academic-semi-scientist-semi-writer Dr.Andres Heinz: it can’t be! It just can’t be because only American teenagers call things that are unfamiliar to them and that they don’t comprehend retarded.

    To the question of what team is Dr. Heinz swinging for I have to wonder because he is calling our postings and our site (I think, it’s a little hard to tell) Anti-Saloon-League crap and the Anti-Saloon-League http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Saloon_League was, of course, a prohibition era entity concerned with enforcement and expansion of temperance laws; ergo in a sense pro-AA, or at least on the abstinence side of the street (as it were). So, how is this site Anti-Saloon-League crap, and if it is ~ what’s the problem with that? Does he mean that we are actually posting from an anti-Anti-Saloon-League crap position? It’s hard to tell, but that just doesn’t sound sciency or semi-academic at all, even if English is his second language. It sounds more like your standard issue plug-ignorant AA doesn’t it?

    All your agenda is: Give the “addicts” more drugs and pills.

    Ok, definitely this sounds like the stepper team as we know and love them. All medications are bad at all times because to use medications prescribed by a doctor means that a person is not sober ergo an addict (why the quotes, I have no idea). Strange position for a German neuro-scientist to take though wouldn’t you say? So I’m still voting (b.) not the real Dr. Andreas.

    Your motto: Unity. Your dream: More members nagging ENDLESSLY – getting nowhere.Your style: anonymous.

    Now I am confused again about what position our Dr. Andreas is posting from because this is a description of AA (obviously) but he seems to be saying that unity, endless nagging getting nowhere, and anonymity are bad things.

    You may read Mitch K’s Clarence Synder-story [sic] about these topics.

    Then, he references the breathtakingly boring and really, really long story of Clarence Snyder who actually became a prophet (!) by virtue of being an AA http://www.silkworth.net/chs/index.html That definitely goes to the swinging for the AA team view (supported by the pug-ignorant team) and the hyphenating of Snyder-story goes considerably against his being an academic, even a German one. It’s a tough call though because basic AA sub-literate logic and writing often resembles the prose of people writing in English for whom English is not their native tongue.

    Still, I think this is a standard issue illiterate AA posing as a German doctor and I think I’ll stick with that analysis.

    No wonder the kids of such aa-freaks (thats [sic] you) smoke weed like hell.

    Yeah, even though aa-freaks would obviously (grammatically at least) mean AA members I’m pretty confident that he means AA-critical-freaks but the word critical was just too hard. Add the middle school punctuation errors and I’d say that it is safe to call this a comment intended to be critical of the views expressed on this site created by a fervent AA member.

    The real question is how did this rube ever come to know of Dr. Andreas Heinz enough to think that posting as him would add more gravitas to his arguments? Maybe he picked up on some of Dr. Heinz’s advice here: http://sobersources.blogspot.com/2008/11/alcoholics-have-problems-recognizing.html or maybe he’s just some Harley owner from Southern California who is also named Andreas Heinz and has an ongoing resentment against his keyboard space-bar, it’s hard to tell.

  • Andreas is going to be really embarrassed if he ever bothers to learn English.

  • annazed = awesome.

  • Sally

    oh my. Good investigation!

  • hey, annazed and all of you… andreas poster, here, too… http://stinkin-thinkin.com/2010/07/24/a-message-from-donald-t-quinn/

  • WastedSpacer

    “Anti-Saloon-League crap” – I vote for an AA old-timer. Like really old. Can’t handle a keyboard, or written English, and tries to show off his education by referencing an ancient group nobody has heard of. And as AnnaZed points out, clearly gets it backwards. Those double negatives are so tricky when you have a one-track mind… or is that twelve-track?

  • AnnaZed

    @WastedSpacer ~ Oh yes very old, and most likely an AA history buff. In AA circles that is what passes for erudition so in his mind he is an academic and as we know adhering to the 12-steps makes you much smarter than any doctor, professor or priest could ever be. Bill Wilson said so.

  • Wow, this is (sadly) the first I’ve read really in terms of the Al Anon side of things, but it certainly explains a LOT. Has anyone else here been harassed by people seemingly not in recovery culture only to realize they are actually al anon? It took my final rehab to learn enough jargon to realize that these weren’t just colorful terms being used by some VERY offline attacks–that extended to my facebook.

    All are married now to “recovering” hard-core AA/NAers. And still very bitter and angry little people. Since anger is verboten in their little club, however, they lash at at anyone entering recovery culture they can find. It’s just fine to take it out on someone as long as you’re doing it to motivate their recovery.

    Yes, I have much to learn, but this was what led me here in the first place, looking up the terminology I’d been insulted with. None of it is used outside of stepper culture. Not a thing. Does this fit a pattern here? Because while these al anons were all female, they certainly aren’t being helped, merely kept happy about their current stepper spouses. Just an observation here.

    Anna, so very true. I love it when they rip you down for your education and tell you to focus on your husband’s needs in the next breath. Wonderful way for the men out there who actually DO feel ratty about being less successful or who have less of an education than the women they meet to exert power over them & take them (ok, us) down as much as they see fit. I’m not entrenched in feminism myself, so that above is a “there might be something to this” statement on my behalf, but it seems at least a viable stereotype of men in recovery culture–and why wouldn’t it be? If someone feels utterly powerless and has no self worth at all, what better way to ameliorate that sense by the cheap learning that constitutes an education in “the literature”?

  • AnnaZed


    Welcome to the fray!
    (if you have been here for months and I haven’t yet addressed you previously, my apologies)

    “…None of it is used outside of stepper culture.”

    This last ::alas:: is not really the case though. You will realize it when you become attuned to it. Stepper jargon (both the AA and the AlAnon varieties) is thoroughly entrenched in American culture and to some degree all Western culture now. Once you become sensitive to it you will notice that the recurring themes of steppism run like a virulent virus all through the world around you.

    Listen for the white-hot buzz words: disease, powerlessness, codependency (that’s a really, really, really big one and is used to vilify, corrupt and then dissolve families, marriages, business partnerships, professional careers, adoptions, lovers and any other type of human affection and mutual support) hitting bottom, denial, spiritual not religious (that’s even a choice on internet dating sites as a self descriptor) and many, many more.

    You will notice these concepts treated as accepted truth in newspaper articles, movies, workplace conversations, school textbooks, television shows and political discourse. It’s very insidious.

    Persephone, once you become sensitized to the all-enveloping, non-reflective acceptance of these concepts you would be forgiven for thinking that you are not in fact in exile, but still in hell.

  • WatchSurvivingStraightInc

    chocoholic, workoholic.

  • Thanks, and yes, I’m pretty new here, just not (obviously) to this garbage. It took months, in fact, for me to even allow my irritation at the term “dry drunk” to lead me to google, which in turn led me here via Stanton Peele & YouTube. The fact that I refuse to be in their “hell” is actually the thing that seems to most annoy them. My insistence that they are responsible, as people who claimed a position of authority, for a few people who ended up dead (not blaming them directly, as people, but as having conveyed the very message that made them feel that worthless) has frankly angered a great many people.

    I found this interesting, however, due to the fact that I still have no desire to be the “perfect & devoted suburban wife and mother”, in fact I am still in tears that I cannot sell this monster of a house. “Accept life on life’s terms”? No, sell the bloody house once you can. or wallow in it.

    I ended up rather accidentally with a minor in Women’s Studies (tons of credits which counted toward a double major in two rather unrelated subjects), and that education made me extremely aware of the socio-linguistic methods used (as most of my studies were in linguistics) in political movements, as well as abuse of logic, which runs rampant in a segment of women’s studies departments–to their detriment, actually. But I agree with the underlying message of equality and ending gender based inequality in so many areas, so I had to wade through the morass of “jargonites” and their semantic acrobatics–while the rest of the time studying these very uses of language.

    I don’t even have my PhD yet, am CERTAINLY no expert on this, but it is my training and the bulk of my education. I spotted it rather quickly in 12 step circles, but it took a while for me to prove that “my best thinking got me” where I am today, not just where I was when I had to get thrown into their world. The idea that I’d not in turn study them half to death would not work with my brain. I suffer from “terminal nerdiness”, you see.

    Thanks for the comment, and no, you hadn’t missed me, and even if you had, this site is HUGE!! In a great way! I mentioned this elsewhere, maybe not here, but my husband’s master’s thesis (anthropology) centered on the linguistic anthropological analysis of subcultures and the importance of language in these groups, his research on one unrelated subculture to this topic, so we’re already invested in this kind of research and analysis. And I’m here to learn.

  • Persephone, I have always wanted to do the kind of analysis your husband did, but focused on recovery culture. The language we use to talk about addiction and recovery are so loaded — even the words “addiction” and “recovery” loaded. It’s impossible to use them. I don’t think we’re going to see progress until we abandon the lingo.

  • SoberPJ

    So, people that study the use of language must go nuts over how the 12 Step ecosystem munges words. It bothers me to think that right now I have concepts around word definitions that are not accurate and they affect my world view. These inaccurate definitions create my underlying responses to external stimuli. Example, this teller is messing with my serenity, I need to get to a meeting.. ohp, can’t get angry at the guy that just hit my car, I’ll give him a hug instead. He looks like he needs one. …

  • Interesting! Here’s the first paragraph of a St. Jude’s press release:

    AMSTERDAM, N.Y., Sept. 13, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — In his book, “Addiction is a Choice,” Dr. Jeffrey Schaler states, “Addiction is a fine old English word meaning commitment, dedication, devotion, inclination, bent or attachment.” Using this definition, addiction can either be positive or negative. Today, the meaning of addiction has been transformed to imply sickness, disease and loss of control.


  • Yes, the language is everything….and this is one that sticks in my craw a bit. I’m one of those nerds who never even went in much for socio-linguistics–before. But when someone shoves incorrect etymologies at me, I’m sorry, but in that realm I am actually more qualified than the steppers. “Fine old english word”, excuse me? This man has access to google at the very least. My Latin is paltry and rusty at that, but even I am aware that this is not etymologically English in any stage of that one language, nor any Germanic languages.

    Just from one google for “etymology dictionary” I found just this:


    Note the brief history of usage in terms of substances prior to the 20th Century notions of “addiction”. Very telling. That words aren’t given new meaning in the context of social movements is a notion based in ignorance, and something every single commenter (not troll) I’ve noticed here has become very aware of. Only fools who wish to manipulate via semantics seem not to notice that the use of language IS a defining characteristic of our species and not something any critically thinking human is blind to. It is what makes us human.

    Of course, the mere notion in 12 step thinking that one can somehow become an “expert” in an experiential process such as ridding oneself from destructive habits and/or substances seems to be the crux of this way of thought to me at this stage in my learning. It IS experiential, there is a psychology to it–generally–but this makes no one an expert, though attempts to hide in the semantics of it rather proves a general lack of knowledge as well as a sense of belonging in a culture of political movement.

    OK, sorry, rant over I guess, thanks for putting up with that tirade….lol….check that definition for the etymology in the link in the link for “addict” also, and “addicted”. Use in terms of narcotic dependence began c. 1910. Modern notion, as are all of these ideas.

    Friend, SoberPJ, thank you so much! Cannot tell you how much this means to me.

  • AnnaZed

    Persephone, that didn’t read like a tirade to me, very apt.

  • causeandeffect

    Persephone, I’m very excited about how your education in linguistics can benefit this blog. I hope you keep posting because I feel this can be very helpful in deprogramming. Just for fun, check out the addictionary at the top of the page.

  • Oh, how I wish I could edit that…..apologies again. I see that this man was making the point I had moved into.

    Inserting foot in mouth now.

    Re-read that above, and that is nice to see. Guess I’m a bit sensitive over these language hijackings by steppers and far too excited that people here find them just as offensive. It’s not a linguistics thing particularly, that’s just my background. Too many fields in academia and even those we follow as hobbies study this for academic pursuit or just for fun that it amazes me I haven’t found a study on this yet.

    I do know a woman (since college, and someone who “refound” me while I was in rehab to “refriend” me) who it turns out is al-anon. At least partly. After marrying one active user/drinker then marrying an ex-junky “in the program”, I noticed some odd things on her blog–after noticing some odd semantic arguments she threw at me on the phone–all involving terms and phrases with which I was unfamiliar, but which she assumed people would know at the level of meaning she had given them.

    One I just must ask about, as I’ve seen it here (we’re both just old punks, so discussion of “scenes” comes up frequently in her/my old circles of friends. One bit I noticed here recently I have seen on her blog (libel-blog), the phrase “tourist to the scene”–as in “YOU’RE JUST A TOURIST TO THE SCENE!” in regards to club-goers who aren’t as wonderfully hardcore as she is. Is this stepper jargon?

  • Swamibedpan

    Great to have you on board. I am also very interested in this subject but have no academic background with it. I would love to see you pull apart a stepper the next time one trolls in here with the dogma.

  • causeandeffect

    Persephone, I haven’t heard that one, but it may be her way of expressing the slogan “Around AA not in AA.”

    Damn, I’m really looking forward to your contributions here!

  • AnnaZed

  • Everyone ‘in denial’ is pressurised to ‘recover’ from a ‘disease’ that doesn’t exist. I think Slate mentioned Munchasen’s. They are under huge pressure to suffer from Munchasen’s syndrome, if that exists. Everyone ‘in denial’ deserves an apology.

  • Rick

    @Persephone, I’m not familiar with the “tourist” comment, but I agree with causeandeffect. Steppers are always on the look out for ways to spiritually “one-up” the next guy.

  • One of the all time most pathetic and dangerous AA groups ever is based out of Chatham NJ. They are called the Sponsorship Group and their leader is Jim B.

    Dictator Jim B. and his disciples have been ruining the lives of young women since at least 2000. To call what they do “13th Stepping” would be a compliment. Imagine a group of people with no medical or psyciatric training that tell people how and why they need to stop taking necessary medication! It’s a disgrace. People have suffered and in some cases are dead as a direct result of this groups actions!

    Jim B. and his disciples at the Sponsorship Group all have SG tatoo on their wrists and live by the rules of Jim B. He takes advantage of people who are in need of help. He should be charged with mental abuse and should have to register as a sex offender.

  • causeandeffect

    Welcome Megan. That group sounds like an offshoot from the Midtown group, although it happens everywhere, every day in AA to one extent or another. It’s a world where perpetrators of all kinds get a free pass and the victim is blamed and told to find their part in it. Please see:


  • Thanks, I’m so new at pondering the full impact of 12 step thinking that I am tending toward spouting off seemingly at random on various aspects of everything they do. I’m REALLY leaning on you all who’ve had a bit more experience actively dealing with it all.

    Another thing I have noticed, and has gotten worse in the last year-2 years especially is the sheer amount of mental illness diagnoses thrown at women I see going through the programs (all of it, detoxes, rehabs, treatment centers, etc.). The one that really bugs me the most is “Borderline Personality Disorder”, the existence of which is highly contentious.

    I don’t know, this seems reminiscent of the “Hysteria” DX epidemic of the late 19th century/early 20th. I have no stats on this, and the ones that exist probably aim to show that “dual diagnoses” are common and aim to prove that people in treatment/”recovery” were all mentally unbalanced in the first place. The willingness to be open about their dxes on the part of women, however, I find staggering. Psychiatrists who see a patient one or two times then branding them as Bi-Polar and convincing these very vulnerable people (who are already having the idea that they have brain diseases which are incurable, all the things we all already know they do, blah blah) that they need MORE continuing psycho-therapy and pharmaceuticals for the rest of their lives is one of the more dangerous outgrowths of recovery culture IMHO.

    In terms of feminist theories as well as rightful damnation, the old-school hysteria DXes are now viewed as ways to discount any woman who didn’t fit into social roles as defined up to that time. This is vilified now, rightly so. But right under their noses women (just saying, just what I’ve seen) are told left and right they have “personality disorders” in treatment. I’ve heard too many old-timers & counselors bring up Borderline, however, regarding patients who just aren’t willing to submit to step theology. It takes no DX, the label is really enough to discount the unhappy & unwilling.

    Somehow everyone else suddenly “discovers” that they’re bipolar (and need a mood stabilizer) in treatment. Not to discount that many people are bipolar and what not, but it seems a bit too convenient that that many people, mainly women, in treatment “discover” they’ve “always been bipolar”. This is a huge aspect I see also as a VERY feminist issue. I realize you all have probably talked about this to the nth degree, but I had to mention it in terms of this post.

  • Elisa

    Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute — Sylvia Plath

    Are women still afraid of the dirty word feminist, oh dear. Sigh. bring on the marble laden boot

  • AnnaZed

    @Elisa ~ Not sure if you we going for a funny there dear, but for the record Sylvia Plath doesn’t speak for me.

  • mikebush busshe
  • Betty

    Very good points about the bipolar and borderline dx’s. Disorders of all types seem to run rampant suddenly. Maybe it’s not a feminist issue but it seems to me that doctors are very quick to slap an adhd/oppositional defiant disorder label on young children so quickly. If they’re not able to fit in and flourish within the confines of traditional education for example. They’re labeled disordered. Give ’em some pills, tell ’em they’re powerless and tell ’em to work harder to do what the others do.
    It’s not the rehab’s fault, it’s yours.
    It’s not the school’s fault, it’s yours.
    It’s not the program’s fault, it’s yours.
    All of it appears so interwoven. Am I just paranoid or are we all headed down a really dark path?

  • Dianne

    Ummm… it’s my understanding that Lois did NOT have any part in writing that chapter. She asked her husband Bill, and Bill said No. Possibly as “Lois’s Revenge”, to this day, the AA Big Book is not Al-Anon conference approved literature. That’s not to say that Al-Anon literature doesn’t have its own questionable disempowering commentary, but at least we should look at “To the Wives” through the eyes of a 1940’s white man, not his wife.

    • Hi Dianne, I just wanted to point out the word “ostensibly” in the first sentence of my entry on “To Wives.”

  • Well, I think you would be more effective if you didn’t come from the angle of AA being so negative. Also you need some fact checking. But I do believe that there needs to be a feminist perspective in AA.

  • bsaunders

    That audio about child molestation is horrifying.

  • Meghan

    Hi there, I can’t seem to find a contact form on this page, but I’m interested in interviewing the author about women and addiction… If you could get in touch with me I’d appreciate it.



    • massive

      hi meghan her name is Ilse Thompson go to Face book or write to me and I will tell Ilse to email you. Monica makeaasafer@gmail.com

    • Hi Meghan, You can contact me at ms.ilse.thompson at gmail

  • SoberInSeattle

    Bill’s wife didn’t write Chapter 7, “To Wives”. Bill wrote it himself. He didn’t trust Lois to put the right words in.

  • Alexa White

    What a wonderful find. A non-AA site that admits the truth that AA harms many, many people, but especially damages women. Margaret Gold, a very cool feminist mom, businesswoman and more just released a Kindle only book, “Lose the Booze” that focuses on no shame, empowered strategies for making good decisions about alcohol use. Her focus, is not exclusively on women but several early readers mentioned that her message speaks to them as women who had been through the meeting verbal abuse and shame cycle.

    • You may like Lance Dodes new book “the sober truth”, or Gabrielle Glasers – “her best kept secret”. They are both very AA critical and Gabrielle’s is aimed at women. There are other books I have found useful on my blog here http://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/book-reviews-recovery/ including the recover book by the owner of this site and Stanton Peele.