Response to criticism of the 48 Hours episode on Karla Brada. I originally posted this on the 48 Hours Facebook page, here.
I’ve been writing about addiction, AA, and the 12 Step addiction treatment industry for several years now. Not only that, but I’ve been witness to and on the receiving end of much vitriol from AA members. So, I imagine that my motive for responding will be questioned – go for it. But, I want to make clear that – while I would never recommend AA because I find the whole 12-step behemoth to be a perpetual money-making machine (yes, I understand that AA meetings are free) – I also understand that AA is the right thing for some people. And I honor that.
I want to address a couple things here.
The argument that anyone who enters AA is just as vulnerable as they would be in any other public venue is profoundly inaccurate, for several reasons:
- It has been drummed into our cultural consciousness by trusted sources – from Ann Landers, Dr. Drew, and reality TV to family doctors and therapists – that AA is the only true solution to a debilitating addiction and that the only other options are “jails, institutions, or death.”
- Most people maintain a certain healthy wariness and personal boundary in public places. People do not go to bars or grocery stores at their lowest, most vulnerable point, specifically to bare their souls to and seek help from the people there.
- When one enters a public sphere, one is *not * told *not* to trust his or her own instincts as they are in AA meetings (their “alcoholic brain” – i.e. – “Your best thinking got you here.”).
- Nor is one told to trust the people one meets on the bus or the mall; while in AA, newcomers who have a hard time turning their will over God are told to start by turning it over to G.O.D (Group Of Drunks).
- Nor is one instructed to trust the guidance of a sponsor – an Anonymous stranger with no formal training.
I understand that there are so many people with a deep investment in AA who feel enormous gratitude for their recovery – so this protective mama bear response to such exposure is to be expected. Over the years, I have seen so much cold-hearted defensiveness and outright denial from AA members when confronted with glaring problems that result in the victimization of vulnerable people: Victims of sexual, mental, emotional, or financial abuse in the rooms are told to look only at their own role in their victimization; victims and their advocates are accused of being angry, resentful, or intoxicated. (For evidence, you need look no further than the responses to this episode.)
Considering the recent exposure of Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, this 48 Hours story is particularly timely. The cases of Ghomeshi and Cosby have resulted in a public soul-searching about the protective infrastructure we erected around these abusers in order to maintain the wholesome and inspiring stories they reinforced to us about ourselves. How did we allow this behavior to fester? Before the soul-searching, however, came waves of denial, victim-blaming, speculations about dastardly motivations, and accusations of fame-whoring.
Members’ investment in AA is – I’d guess – much deeper than anyone’s investment in Bill Cosby’s legacy. People who credit AA with saving their lives or the lives of their loved ones – and don’t forget the people who make a living off AA and 12 Step programs – are defending their very survival or livelihood. Perhaps they have been complicit – or turned a blind eye – toward abuses they see in the rooms, abuses they’d never tolerate in any other situation. And, remembering their own complicity, take an even more ferocious position against exposure and, thus, accountability.
The fact is that AA Members – and AA’s own board – are taking a position against providing newcomers with information. That’s it; just information – information vulnerable people need to make informed choices about their own well-being. Look at the vitriol ignited by the suggestion of such a simple reform. Information.
This information, however, exposes and undermines too much. No one wants to feel that they’ve been duped, coerced, or complicit in others’ having been duped or coerced. Perhaps AA members and defenders who have their hackles up could consider that AA is nearly a century old. Times have changed, but AA has not. Won’t. Our social awareness and understanding of addiction has evolved, but AA and AlAnon is still including the outrageouly sexist and outdated chapter “To Wives” in the Big Book, without caveat – among other outdated notions.
We all love stories about grasping neurotics and curmudgeons who finally get just a little more compassionate and accepting of change. We have been telling this story over and over again, since people have been narrating the human experience – think of your own favorite movies or novels. You may accuse those of us who advocate for reform of being drunk of having alterior motives that will result in the death of alcoholics. If so, you must also consider the demise of the wider population of those who are turned off by AA’s collective dementia. If AA has saved your life, please honor it and pay it forward by acknowledging its weaknesses and brightening the light for those who might find community and comfort there.