Susan Cheever’s Sanitation Campaign

As for profiting off its intellectual property—the crown jewels of any corporation—AA declines to do so. — From Susan Cheever’s “No Money, No Problems” at The Fix.

What is Cheever doing? What is her interest in cannonizing Bill Wilson and so aggressively rewriting and revising AA’s history? Why is she reframing AA’s motives, tailoring and omitting facts that are common knowledge to anyone who knows anything about AA?

AA already has the stellar reputation. Bill Wilson has already been mythologized. It’s already conventional wisdom that AA is what you do.


  • KellyRyan

    Poor Susan, daddy was in AA and she needs Hazelton to sell books. Too bad, she didn’t read Kirkpatrick, Marlatt, Kasl, Denning, Fletcher among others.

  • SoberPJ

    Yeah, she’s simply not relevant without her keen “AA perspective”. What would she do without AA to keep a light on her? I thought the comments in the thread were interesting too.

    I am tiring of this whole debate. I am entering a phase where I don’t give a shit about what that tiny corner of the world does. They are so far removed from reality and have such a high opinion of their position in life that it is more like a tragic comedy than anything that should be debated. Similar to drinking, it is my choice to stay away from them.

  • SoberPJ

    Oh, and I find the timing interesting in that GSB of AA will file their 2010 tax returns soon .. I wonder if she is aware of any surprises in the numbers? Or, if she has come here and read “Follow the Money” and needed to set the record newly straight, which would include some embellishments. Ya just never know with those people.

  • I like this statement from Susan Cheever:

    “The General Service Board “suggests”—no requirements here—that meetings send in 40% of their income to help with administrative expenses. In New York City, for instance, those administrative expenses include the office at 475 Riverside Drive, which is staffed by volunteers and 11 paid workers, including an archivist. Many meetings don’t send any money, and that’s fine. ”

    With the claimed world wide AA membership of 2 million people and an aggregate attendance rate of one meeting a week the “suggested” weekly revenue of $800,000 or a yearly revenue of $41,600,000 a year can be achieved. As Susan Cheever notes many meetings do not send in any money, but the possibility of excessive tithing to the AA corporate office at the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside in New York exists. AA corporate revenue at the Interchurch Center with 11 paid employees would be $3,781,818 per paid employee per year if the designed “suggested” tithing were strictly followed.

  • SoberPJ

    “Many meetings don’t send any money, and that’s fine.” Uh huh..that’s why GSO sends those pleading and demanding letters to send in your money because they desperately need it. But, if you don’t want to send money, well, oh, that’s fine. My ass. All books and pamphlets are paid for up front and any philanthropy that happens, happens at the individual or group level, but AAWS gets their money for sure.

  • humanspirit

    Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me could go onto this thread and point out that AA’s profits don’t necessarily come from from donations from meetings, but from the sales of its literature, especially of the big book. Also that AA (or whatever they call themselves at corporate level) is a hugely litigious organization. (My feeling is that this is why the SR website doesn’t have their cute little 12-step drawing any more: they could have been served with another cease and desist order as they were when they used to refer to Al-anon in the title of one of their forums.)

    The thing that pisses me off most about this, though, is that Cheever contrasts “AA” with the very expensive rehab centers. The rehab centers ARE AA, and charge huge amounts for indoctrinating people into AA’s 12-step program rather than providing them with any kind of proper or effective treatment in return for their tens of thousands. How is it that she’s failed to notice this? Why, as an AA advocate, hasn’t she highlighted this widespread breach of whatever tradition it is that says “AA should never be for profit” and why hasn’t she been fighting this heresy? I guess this is just another example of stepper-style rigorous honesty, which is nowhere near honesty as any normal, decent person understands the term.

  • If Cheever knows about the history of AA’s symbol, she surely knows the story about how AAWS sued that guy in Germany, and even declared itself free to act outside the bounds of the traditions in order to do so. If she doesn’t know that story, I will eat my hat.

    It’s just plain dishonest of her to use the first story to prove AA’s inherent altruism, when she knows that AA will sue someone into destitution.

    What is going on?

  • causeandeffect

    Eh, it’s just a dig deeper in your pocket ploy. In NYC the donation is $2, don’t you wanna donate like a sophisticated NYer? Oh wait dig a little deeper cuz “When a meeting secretary walks off with the treasury, or skims money from the collection box, the crime is usually met with a shrug of the shoulders.”

  • That makes sense, c&e. AA surely needs an unofficial spokesperson for this kind of shilling. I guess it’s no skin off Cheever’s ass to act as the outreach person — it fact, it’s an opportunity to get her name out there.

    It’s real nice of The Fix to provide the platform.

  • SoberPJ

    I may have missed this, but at least the Fix gave some airtime to the feminist issue

  • I saw that, PJ. They also brought up the question about whether smoking is compatible with sobriety right after we did. They read ST.

    Back when they first launched, one of their editors wrote to me to ask if I had any ideas for improving their site and reaching more people. I suggested that could dedicate some of their space to addressing life after addiction — helping people get back into life, and out of recovery. He never bothered to write back to acknowledge or thank me for taking the time to respond. A few weeks later, when they were publishing a piece by Stanton Peele, I was helping Stanton proofread it. This same editor was part of our email loop. He wouldn’t acknowledge me — not even a hello — even though I was sending corrections and had greeted him directly.

  • Considering that they’re trying to court and exploit a12 Step audience, I don’t mean to imply that they’re ripping us off at all, but I’m pretty sure they’ve culled ideas here and there from ST, which is fine. That’s what the internet is for (though it’s just decent to hat tip your sources).

  • SoberPJ

    If they are steppers advancing that agenda, they play by stepper rules and manipulate and deceive at will.. Don’t expect much civility from them, but do expect them to be cunning, baffling and truly rude. You are not their friend, nor can they use your stature to further their cause, so don’t expect much more than the leech routine from them. Sad, but true.

  • I did notice that Cheever has started to tie themes to popular movies in her statement:

    “The “greed-is-good” maxim popularized by Michael Douglas in Wall Street has been exposed as an empty hoax. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and America’s once-vast middle class struggles just to hold on.”

    Cheever appears to be referring to the 1987 American drama film released by 20th Century Fox which was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Michael Douglas (Gordon Gekko the crooked stock broker), Charlie Sheen (Bud Fox the young stock broker that is enamored with Gordon Gekko) and Martin Sheen(Carl Fox, Bud’s father who gets caught up in the whole shenanigan’s and nearly bankrupts the firm that his friends rely on because of the grasp Gordon Gekko has on his son.).

    I find the analogy Cheever used to describe this scenario a form of poetic justice. Well we already know who the son and the father are that this analogy relates to. Who can we pick for Gordon Gekko, the flamboyant Stock Broker who in the following sequel of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) Gordon Gekko says ” Someone reminded me I once said “Greed is good”. Now it seems it’s legal. Because everyone is drinking the same Kool Aid.”

    Anyone have any ideas who could play Gordon Gekko in AA (they can be alive or dead, this is Hollywood remember) ?

  • humanspirit

    I thought the whole point of “Wall Street” was to expose what empty bollocks the whole get-rich-quick capitalist thing is. (Never watched it, personally, as I have an allergy to Michael Douglas that I no doubt need an AA spiritual awakening to overcome.)

  • Of course Bill Wilson wasn’t alive to be influenced by the 1987 movie “Wall Street” that Susan Cheever uses as an analogy for AA, and coincidentally is eerily similar to Charlie Sheen and his father Martin. Wilson could however have been influenced by the 1929 movie “Wall Street” where “a steelworker turned ruthless tycoon whose tough business methods leads a rival (Philip Strange) to commit suicide.” Then using one of the standard excuses when this happens to someone in that AA tries to make them hit bottom, you get this type of scenario:

    “reaction to his rival’s suicidal jump from a window ledge was changed from a sneering “I didn’t think he had the guts” to the more respectful “I didn’t think he’d do it” due to derisive laughter from the film’s crew.”

  • humanspirit

    PS. If I were ever to do a fourth or fifth step (which is never going to happen) my irrational feelings towards Michael Douglas might figure hugely. I’m not sure why this particular issue was never predicted by Bill Wilson, and if not, why not?

  • Wow. And some more wow. Whoever posted as “Warning”, dinner’s on me.

  • PJ, I dunno what this guy’s deal is, but it definitely ranks high in my top rude encounters with random people.

  • I can not understand Susan Cheever’s statement “The “greed-is-good” maxim popularized by Michael Douglas in Wall Street has been exposed as an empty hoax” as it relates to AA and Bill Wilson.”Greed is Good” is something that is practiced on Wall Street that is not admitted in “politically correct” statements. Where did Cheever pull this idea from? Corporate AA has 11 paid employees that by design can bring in over $3 million a piece a year. While it is true that only the very top make $100,000 a year, what do they really do for it, besides get people to volunteer for free and get wined and dined by the people who really profit from the 12 Step Industry? Better yet, how do they talk people in to giving their time to support their lavish (albeit sober) lifestyle from people who are struggling? It kind of reminds me of the old tithe practice where if you give enough you are guaranteed a place in heaven. Of course in AA they just tell you that you will find your “Higher Power” and you will find Spirituality.

  • humanspirit

    And maybe, one day, someone in AA will explain to us what the f*** stopping drinking has to do with gaining “spirituality”.

  • hs:

  • SoberPJ

    Well, I thought it was obvious… you see when you are full of spirits, you are not spiritual, you are spirit-filled (yeah, yeah, that’s it), and that means you are without spirit, you see. So, when you stop drinking you NEED to get spiritual to not drink anymore and if you aren’t spiritual but still don’t drink, well, you really aren’t in the club. And then, when you get spiritual enough, you actually become full of shit, or shit-filled. And if you get really spiritual, well, that means you can lie and deceive your little heart out because you are so much better than everyone else and they need to be tricked into seeing the truth so they can get spiritual too. But the best news is, if you stay ahead of them in the line, you can always claim to be more spiritual than anyone behind you. No matter how much of an angry, deluded prick you become. It’s simple really, for complex people.

  • humanspirit

    Thank you for the enlightenment, PJ. I can now appreciate what a “simple program” it all is and how it relates to anyone stopping drinking.

  • Spirituality depends upon which definition you use. Bill Wilson most likely used the 1913 Webster Definition, the current definition or Susan Cheever’s definition which appears to be finding and chanting Bill Wilson in church basements.

    1913 Webster Definition of Spirituality:
    1. The quality or state of being spiritual; incorporeality; heavenly-mindedness.
    A pleasure made for the soul, suitable to its spirituality.
    2. (Eccl.) That which belongs to the church, or to a person as an ecclesiastic, or to religion, as distinct from temporalities.
    3. An ecclesiastical body; the whole body of the clergy, as distinct from, or opposed to, the temporality.

    Current Definition of Spirituality:
    1.the quality or fact of being spiritual.
    2.incorporeal or immaterial nature.
    3. predominantly spiritual character as shown in thought, life, etc.; spiritual tendency or tone.
    4. Often, spiritualities. property or revenue of the church or of an ecclesiastic in his or her official capacity.

    Susan Cheever’s definition of Spirituality:

    ?????????? (it could be linked to the 4th description of the current definition)

  • SoberPJ

    hs .. you’re quite welcome .. glad to be of service … and there is more where that came from 🙂

  • humanspirit

    Well, as a lexicographer of over 20 years (dirty job, but someone has to do it), I would say most of those definitions are pretty lame.

    Wait till next time I get the final editor pen on the entry for AA in any dictionary I have anything to do with.

  • @human Spirit-Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me could go onto this thread and point out that AA’s profits don’t necessarily come from from donations from meetings, but from the sales of its literature, especially of the big book

    These are the facts from PRASSA last meeting March 2011 where the business was held…
    6 million of the 12 million taken in comes from the sale of BB from Prisons, Rehabs and treatments Centers.

    Trust me I havent see a person buy a BB in a meeting in 20 years, no 25 years. EASY.
    It’s not like we can relax but the tide has turned. AA Alternatives are out there alive and well and with all of your help things are changing. Not just on WALL Street but on the firing lines of Bullshit made up rehabs charging 25 grand a month for faith healing gobblee gook.:)

  • Looking for courses on Spirituality, I found an interesting place you can get a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate Degree from in California and Minnesota. For the mere price of $1,995.00 when paid in full at the time of enrollment you can enjoy putting some of the following letters after your name:

    Bachelor Of Divinity, B.Div.
    Master Of Divinity, M.Div. (Ordination: Reverend or Minister, student’s choice Practitioner’s Certificate)
    Doctor of Holistic Life Coaching, D.HLc.
    Doctor Of Divinity in: (D.D. or D.Div.)
    Philosopher of Metaphysical Life Coaching, Ph.D.
    Philosopher of Pastoral Counseling, Ph.D.

    Just thought it was interesting……. how much can you make writing books and articles on faith healing anyway?

  • AnnaZed

    JR, you are not quite right about the structure of AAWS corporate. The people who work there are not on commission or diving up the take. That’s ridiculous, that’s not how it works. Most of them are just secretaries and stuff making normal salaries. However, the top guys make the quarter to half million salaries that are typical for administrators of massive nonprofits and various advisers and professionals (like lawyers, advertising agencies and lobbyists) are compensated in the hundreds of thousands as well. As a corporate entities AA World Service and its General Service Office exist primarily as a protectors and disseminators of copyright (in the form of books and pamphlets) and employs or gives a good livelihood to about 100 very well compensated people. Susan Cheever’s characterization of this organization is complete bullshit.

  • AZ- I agree, I was going by Susan Cheever’s definition if it were true. Cheever was the one that said only 11 people are paid in AA at the 475 Riverside Drive Interchurch center and the rest are volunteers. The thing is that many people will believe what she said in that article, I was just ripping her statement apart to show the absurdity of what she was trying to say.

    When you look at the tax returns for AA World Service, AA General Service Office and the Grapevine they do have roughly 11 people on the payroll listed as employees. The other people you are talking about I believe are under the expenses columns and you can not easily identify them. I believe that you would have to go to their Tax forms, but since they are for profit, they are not available. Of the three corporations formed to “protect and disseminate” only one, the Grapevine is actually loosing money.The Grapevine is also the only one that has a “pay for performance” clause on its Tax forms for determining the yearly salary of the person in charge of the Grapevine. I believe that position is most likely being watched very carefully.

  • By “for profit” I mean the lawyers, lobbyists, etc…… are the ones you can’t find the actual salaries for because their Tax returns are not published. Also AA only has to list the highly compensated employees. Maid service is probably done by the center itself or AA contracts for it. In New York, I am sure they may have “runners” or other personnel who they employee that they do not list.

  • Rick

    @Massive, I remember reading that at one time, half of all big book sales were bulk sales to treatment centers, and the single biggest customer was believed to be Hazelden. I believe that was in “Cult Or Cure” by Charles Bufe, and the source he cited was Ernie Kurtz in “Not God”.

  • Mona Lisa

    My thinking is this. There has been an awful lot of AA-polishing lately. At first I thought it was just the 75th anniversary thing, but the anniversary was in June so it’s gone on too long for that to be it. No, I think what is happening is that the 12 step monopoly is in true danger (not just from the skeptic community, either, the clinical community is also starting to question the One Size Fits All idea), so the pro-monopoly community is pulling out all the stops to slow the bleeding.

  • Sally

    I hope you are right Mona Lisa!

  • Sally


    At least Gordon Ghekko (“Wall Street”) didn’t try and hide his narcissism and pretend that he was a prophet doing a HP’s work.

    I can never personally decide what the worst aspect of the cult is.

    Right now my disgust is focused on how much unworthy praise and honor AA receives, when actually Bill W. and crew should have their faces posted along side of the rest of world’s most notorious criminals.

  • SoberPJ

    I agree they know they are under significant pressure as an organization. There are probably quite a number of people that say something like, ” we can’t just sit here and let them attack us, we have to do something ! ” And so they do. From Mondotuna to Cheever to Lorre to Clancy and thousands of points of darkness in between. They fight the good fight for their beloved american institution. And they are losing.

    On the biz side, just to be clear, there are three legal entities involved in tax reporting –

    1. General Service Board of AA
    2. AA World Services ( GSO is a subset of this and not a reporting entity)
    3. AA Grapevine

    Returns are here –{DCE742A2-61A0-4650-BBE1-F2BAE0843B9D}

    Susan is such a brain dead bag lady. From the 2009 return, the consolidated salaries total –
    $1,879,538.00 and if you divide that by 11, it gives $170,867.10 per person. Yep, that certainly represents a vow of poverty. Also, GSB has at least $16 million in assests. It’s ok, fiction writers aren’t required to know how to count. I also think their physical manufacturing and distribution arm is purely nepotic and highly controlled, meaning it does not accept outside bids from competing vendors. There is most certainly money here and a lot of it is cash. We all know how well cash mixes with sober liars cheats and thieves.

  • Well I did say it once before, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) breaks up monopolies for the good of society and prevents false advertising that promotes monopolies to protect the consumer and LOWER prices in a free market. The FTC has gone after such companies as AT&T and Coca Cola. The main problem is that AA claims it is “free”, however on closer examination a LARGE percentage of the members go through one or more sessions of 28 Day Rehab currently at an average of $1000 a day.

    When looking at advertising for Rehabs it is often mentioned that they do Interventions and claim that is the only way to stop a destructive addiction. AA, even though they have a politically correct disclaimer, do the same thing. Both AA and Rehabs claim that failure to go through their programs will result in jails, institutions or death. The problem is that once you make the mistake in trusting either AA or a Rehab, they start the processes in place for you to hit bottom if you ever attempt to leave.

    AA, because of the publicity that it generates (and also claims it doesn’t advertise in a politically correct vague statement) has formed an unfair monopoly on the Addiction Recovery Field.

    Does AA directly advertise? The answer to that is complex and has to do with vagueness again. AA directly sells the manuals used to promote this monopoly and the students and industry professionals that make a good living off of faith healing advertise for them. AA itself makes the vague statement that it never lends its name to professional entities, in reality Rehabs are not using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous, they are using “12 Step” based, program, etc……

    I believe that the monopoly that the 12 Step industry has on addiction is an unfair practice using deceptive advertising. With the help of television evangelists like Dr.Drew Pinsky showing the craziness and failure rate to people who are not ware of what goes on in these sessions, the public is becoming very aware of what is going on in 12 Step Rehab. It is only a matter of time before the voting public becomes aware that these rehab Guru’s are killing many of their patients and being paid very well for it.

  • Lucy

    If the old adage is true that a good writer considers her audience when she writes, then Cheever most certainly wrote that hackneyed book as a hagiography to be exclusively pandered to AA members. And she certainly towered as an example of regional Northeast snob telling the rest of the world how smart, sly and charming a New England Yankee could be as he was saving the world.

  • AnnaZed

    @SoberPJ ~ The breakdown is more likely 8 staff ** ($70,000 salaries average with managers probably higher and secretaries, clerks and mail room people much lower) and three executives with salaries in excess of $400,000 each. This is actually a typical big player non-profit entity corporate structure. Probably very few volunteers there were the big money is.

    Good point about the cash though (ha!) and the nepotism and AA connections of the printers and distribution entities. Gotta reward some of those hundreds of thousands of blue-collar AAs somehow.

    **I read a story once (I think at Gawker but I can’t find it now) written by someone whose first job in NYC was as a staffer at AAWS. She and two other impeccably honest (also bonded) girls from the Midwest sat opening envelopes of cash (typically as little as 3 to 10 dollars per envelope) and counting it in a counting room all day long every single day. She said that none of the lower staff were “alcoholics.” This was a low pay but secure job like being a bank teller, which is what she was back home. No way in hell were “real alcoholics” no matter how long in the program let anywhere near that counting room. She found the whole thing amusing and utterly bizarre.


    “No way in hell were “real alcoholics” no matter how long in the program let anywhere near that counting room”

    The ole shoulder shrug doesn’t cut the ice when it comes to home for the big boys.

  • “Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me could go onto this thread and point out that AA’s profits don’t necessarily come from from donations from meetings, but from the sales of its literature, especially of the big book.”

    I followed this when I was in AA and reading the AA Grapevine, circa 1988-1992, there were a couple of stand-alone articles on this, as well as news blurbs in the fine-print “news” section of a few pages in the back of the magazine (“boring” stuff most Grapevine readers surely never read anyway). The printing of literature was technically supposed to be “at cost,” the printing operation (I forget exactly what it was called) was supposed to be “completely self-supporting” on its own and financially separate from AAWS, but for decades money had been (and no doubt still is) funneled into AAWS from literature sales to make up for “shortfalls” between what groups sent them and what they “needed” even though this was a clear violation of Traditions (since treatment-center money buys big books and the money supports AAWS, treatment centers could theoretically tell AAWS what to put in or take out of the big book). Grapevine writings said how “this needed to stop” but maybe it’s just that AAWS is an imperfect organization run by people, and it’s all about “progress, not perfection.” Looking back, this might have been a way to guilt groups (the few who actually read this part of the magazine) into sending in more money – “AAWS is running a deficit and is breaking traditions by getting money from big book sales, all because we’re not sending in enough money!”