AA is getting a bad rap lately
I’m hoping I can change that rap. Over the last few months AA has been in the media and not in a good way. When I saw Gabrielle Glaser this past March on CNN discussing her most recent article in the Guardian, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous”, I was super irritated. Who the heck was she to eschew a “way of life” for millions of alcoholics and addicts in recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body? I don’t know why she felt it was her duty to take on the AA organization as a whole and discount what an amazing social movement and Recovery Fellowship it actually is. This Fellowship helps people and saves lives. Period. If it’s used properly of course. I should further state what AA is not:
It’s not a speed dating venue, it’s not a place to go meet your new neighbor, it’s not a place to go looking for drugs, it’s not a place to further your career and reach your sales quota, and it’s also not a place to find a babysitter.
AA is a place to get and stay sober. More on that later.
Back to Gabby and her irrational AA article. I’m so grateful that Jesse Singal wrote a counter piece entitled, “Why Alcoholics Anonymous works”. He went on to say, “Glaser’s central claim that there’s no rigorous scientific evidence that AA and other 12-step programs work is wrong. Glaser is simply ignoring a decade’s worth of science.” Further on in his piece, Jesse gets input from an addiction specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, “No, that’s not true,” said Dr. John Kelly. When Glaser’s argument was run by him, he countered, “There’s quite a bit of evidence now, actually, that’s shown that AA works.” Further Kelly said, “In recent years, researchers have begun ramping up rigorous research on what are known as “12-step facilitation” programs, which are “clinical interventions designed to link people with AA.”
Well, thank goodness Dr. John Kelly and Jess Singal were around to back up some of Glaser’s BS. According to an 2010 article in Wired by Brendan Koerner, “the 200-word instruction set has since become the cornerstone of addiction treatment in this country, where an estimated 23 million people grapple with severe alcohol or drug abuse—more than twice the number of Americans afflicted with cancer. Some 1.2 million people belong to one of AA’s 55,000 meeting groups in the US, while countless others embark on the steps at one of the nation’s 11,000 professional treatment centers. Anyone who seeks help in curbing a drug or alcohol problem is bound to encounter Wilson’s system on the road to recovery.” Brendan’s article further goes on and list the pros and cons of AA and why it works for some and not for others, but the basis of his article was that it works, if you work it and if you want it. It’s also not the only method to get sober, it just happens to be the method that worked for me and one that I truly believe in. So of course I’m going to be an advocate and supporter of the 12 step program.
However, the most disturbing piece I saw recently was about the new documentary The 13th Step. I had heard about this film through the recovery community and didn’t want to give it more than a second thought until I read Amy Dresner’s article on the The Fix. Amy who has been in and out of recovery for the past 20 years (currently she has over 2 years now in AA) wrote a review about Monica Richardson's documentary, The 13th Step, a film about predators in AA. Amy goes on to write, “This film interviews a slew of women who have been sexually abused by men in AA, as well as the family members of women, like Karla Brada, who have been murdered by AA members. Brada met Eric Allen Earl in AA. He had nowhere to go so she took him in and was dead by his hands four months later. After the fact, her family dug into his history and discovered he had 22 years of criminal activity including eight restraining orders and a stunning 52 court-orders to AA. Brada’s family are suing AA for wrongful death.” Additionally she wrote about Julie, “Julie knew a guy in the rooms of AA for three years and he invited her over for coffee at his home, only to slip a date rape drug in her tea and assault her. When Julie complained to her sponsor about the incident, she was met with “Well, what was your part?” I was less than thrilled when I read this and even more so as to who the hell Julie’s sponsor was? But that’s not the point here. The point is that AA may not be the healthiest environment to walk into, but not all of AA is an evil breeding ground for criminals and predators. I’d like to see the documentary that focuses on the real recovery of AA and how it does help alcoholics and addicts regain their lives back. How families are mended back together, how marriages are saved, how parents learn to be parents again and how sober citizens finally can get a chance at a true and sober life. Where is that documentary?
I highly recommend reading Amy’s piece, and as disturbing as it was, it really annoyed the crap out of me. Not Amy's piece, but the content of the documentary. I’m actually sad that AA isn’t a safe place for a newcomer, or anyone ignorant to the 12 step environment, to get sober. I get that AA has these sick freaky dudes and we are not a group of healthy folk , Well Peoples’ Anonymous it is not.
When I found out, in my first 30 days of recovery, what 13 stepping was - I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that men, who seemed to be so nice and supportive towards me, wanted to take advantage of my vulnerability and ignorance. I was a shell of a person when I walked into the rooms, so to have my sponsor tell me what 13 stepping was, I was just mortified. I had this old dude who kept asking me out for coffee and I was so naïve as I didn’t know how to say No. My sponsor told me to tell him “No way” and to blame it on her. Verbatim, she told me to say, “My sponsor said there is no reason for you and me to have coffee outside the rooms, so no thanks” I was so relieved that I didn’t have to be rude to him. I was actually worried as I didn’t want to hurt his feelings! Crazy talk! Same thing could be said for the “hugging” that goes on at meetings now a days. I’m not a hugger if I don’t know you. Just because I met you at an AA meeting, doesn’t mean we are friends and we can hug. What is with that? Dudes just think that women are open game to hugging if you say “Hello” to them at a meeting. I’ve come a long way since my early sobriety and figured out early on who was “safe” in the rooms and who wasn’t.
Amy goes on in her piece to say that AA is a breeding ground for predators and sick people, which makes complete sense. AA alone is not a remedy for our disease and what ails us. It’s not a cure all for everyone and most people in the Fellowship, like myself, need to seek outside help for other issues. The 12 steps, sponsorship, meetings, service, and the Fellowship are all fine and dandy, but they don’t work for everyone. It’s true that most people who come into AA are not just addicted to alcohol – they can be dual diagnosis; either drug dependent, mental disorders, eating disorders, sex addictions, adult children of alcoholics and other co-dependency issues are wide and varied. AA is a place for sick people just trying to get better and if everyone who came to AA had a genuine desire to get sober and do what is suggested, I’m sure we wouldn’t have all these predators and sickies trying to get one over on us.
I myself was 13 stepped by a sponsor. Not in a sexual way, but in a manipulative and deceitful way. She was very well respected in my Fellowship, well regarded as an AA pillar to many. She sponsored a lot of women, she was asked to speak frequently at speaker meetings, she held a women’s meeting out of her home, she had a good rap and she ran a really great program. She was the deal. I wanted what she had. BAM! She was a fraud.
I started noticing some holes in her story, “from the podium” and started asking some questions about this and that and soon after so did a few other folks and lo and behold, it turned out that most of her story was a lie and she had also been embezzling money from one of her customers. Soon the local authorities were on to her and she was sent to an out of state prison for a few years. So, yeah, there was a bad apple in the bunch, but it didn’t deter me from wanting to be in AA. Nor did it make me flee AA and join another sober Fellowship. I saw this person for what she was, a con artist. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a great place to come if you want to take advantage of people.”
I’m not one to say that AA is the only way to recovery as there are other programs out there, SMART, SOS, WFS, Celebrate Recovery, spiritual advisors, meditation, yoga and white knuckling abstinence. What I am saying – and this is just my rant and my belief, is that AA has worked for me unequivocally. It works if I work it. It’s a program that has helped shaped me to be a better human being. It has also helped millions of other people and it’s a place where people come back to. It’s a place where we will welcome you back whether or not you relapsed for 2 days or 2 years – we just want to help you. At least the majority of people I know in AA do. The majority of people in AA are good, honest, helpful and caring individuals. It’s the 13 steppers, 2 steppers and bottom feeders who aren’t there for their sobriety. They are there for themselves and what they can get out of you. They are the folks you need to stay away from. They are the bad apples of the bunch and my advice to anyone would be to trust their gut. Guys with the guys and women with the women – at least for the first year until you have some sober time. The unsaid rule of “don’t date in your first year thing” was a great yard stick for me. I started dating right after my year and let’s just say I was able to start working on Step 6 pretty easily after that. I should also out myself a bit here and say that my now husband and I started dating when I had a few years and he had 9 months. So, yeah, I guess anyone could say that I was a 13 stepper! In my own defense, we had a very communicative, open and loving relationship where we both kept to our own programs. This is also not to say we haven’t had our ups and downs in our marriage, because we have, but at least we have a unified belief together that AA is where we want to recover and that we feel lucky that we get to walk this journey of recovery together as we both want to live a sober and full life.
At the end of the day, I have to believe in the foundation of the program and how Bill W. wanted it to be, “an easy program for complicated people”, and “Rule 62, just don’t take ourselves too damn seriously.”