Open Letter to AA Members

Last time I wrote here about how AA members describe themselves as “still sick,” which is a peculiar selling point for a program supposedly designed to fix sick people.  I myself would never be an AA member based on their “treatable, but not curable,” basis alone.  If someone has moved on from unstoppable drinking then they are no longer exhibiting signs of addiction.  Nobody ever comes down with a “little bit” of alcoholism. There is no “dry drunk.”  If being agitated, moody, angry, or anxious was a sign of addiction then every human would have it.

Today though, I want to offer every happy, contented AA member an open letter of sorts:

Dear AA Member:

Congrats to you and I am happy AA worked for you- I would never take away your experience and beliefs about how well AA has worked for you.  In fact, affirmative personal testimonies, such as yours, make up the bulk of evidence sited for how effective AA works.

AA is considered an “evidence based” practice, but unlike hypnotherapy or acupuncture, all negative outcomes are suppressed.   People who achieve sobriety in AA tend to become overzealous satisfied customers.  I wonder if it is because they’ve replaced their individual ego with a kind of group narcissism, by defending AA and denying any flaws exist. So, AA member:  I urge you- I dare you- to be open minded to making changes to AA that would help more people.

I don’t judge AA without judging myself first.  I used to become defensive and angry at AA members because that was how they reacted to me.  I was passive aggressive.  I attended AA to please others and kept on drinking because I lacked conviction and assertiveness.  I was reluctant to speak up at meetings because even if someone agreed that AA didn’t work for everyone, they would disagree than anything other than AA worked.  You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  Ask yourself:  How do I react when someone expresses an opinion different than my own?

Some in AA will go as far as saying if a person can sober up without AA then they probably aren’t a “real” alcoholic.  This thinking has led people into thinking they should go out and drink more than they used to drink to become a “real alcoholic.” Others think their sobriety will be threatened if they express any doubt or criticism about AA.  After all, a symptom of their ‘disease’ is refusing to work the 12 Steps.    AA has actually created more alcoholics by convincing people who’ve had a few bad drinking episodes that they’re doomed to become forever drunk.   It is also dangerous to tell people they are dishonest, lying, morally inept people at their very core- even when they’re sober- even before they ever took their first drink.  Ask yourself:  If AA is not helping someone, will I offer suggestions other than AA? Or will I make up some excuse why I can’t help them?

It is dangerous to tell women to accept the sexist literature.  In the AA Big Book,  the alcoholic is a man who should be “wearing the family trousers.”  [page 131 Big Book] Chapter 8 is titled “To Wives.” Look, a man doesn’t want to hear himself referred to as a “she” any more than a woman wants to be called a “he.”  AA’s acceptance of sexism opens the doors for members to accept other abuses of male power, like rape.  I know, blame the rapist- but in AA, where misogynistic attitudes are re-enforced, and members’ are apt to blame themselves, it is harder to testify against sexual crimes in AA.   Not to mention the abuse of “anonymity” reduces the likelihood of witnesses coming forward to report crimes.  Without any written rules against sexual harassment- and literature that is extremely sexist to say the least- it’s not really a mystery to me why men find women targets in AA.  I’ve heard members tell me that the amount of rapes in AA are probably about the same as anywhere else— like rape is just something we must accept in general, everywhere, without getting upset about it.

Ask yourself: Is there a real positive benefit to sexism in AA literature that would be lost if it were changed?

These changes in the literature would not alter the AA program.  Creating safety measures would not topple over the core beliefs held by AA members and the 12 Steps.   We gain nothing from arguing but we gain a lot more by finding solutions.  As much fun as debating  safety measures is, the real question is: What is there to debate about?  I didn’t know preventing rapes and other abuses were open to debate.

I understand that rocking the boat agitates the water, but anyone who’s opposed to safety precautions in AA is not someone I need to have like me anyway.  So ask yourself: Do you have the courage to speak up for yourself?

Thanks for reading,

Juliet (or your name here.)

P.S.  I would not want to belong a group that is stagnant, stubborn and incapable of making improvements to help more people wherever possible.  As a woman, I would never pass on AA literature where women are inferior if not invisible.  Lastly, because AA doesn’t like working with other alcoholism experts whose views are different than their own, it is clear AA ignores new, important information about treating alcoholism.  And that is a message I cannot carry to others.

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14 thoughts on “Open Letter to AA Members

  1. You’re not involved, yet remain obsessed with what you see as very damaging and harmful in your desire to justify your continued drinking. No one cares if you continue living the drinking life, with many of it’s varied adventures continuing to add to the suffering you’ve already inflicted on yourself. Go forth from disaster to disaster if you prefer, but try harder to not effect and damage the innocent you’re dragging with you through your messes.
    Somehow you’ve been able to ignore the good results experienced by many that you couldn’t help but observe during the short time the courts forced your attendance. They are minimized in favor of the offense you took from the dated style of some of the literature and your frustration with the criminal/justice system in forcing your attendance. That Bill wrote “To Wives” from the outlined ideas he received that were prepared by a member’s wife is such a very huge deal, and those you saw living sober and well by participating in AA are not worth mention or consideration. It’s not even the reality of their sober lives is discounted, it’s more as if they don’t even exist in your consciousness, that you couldn’t look around the room to see AA working well for people, that you never noticed their kindness and concern that you get a chance for a better life.
    The practical answer to the universal newcomer desire to mold AA to conform to their ignorance on the subject is…sorry, but few whose lives, families, jobs, community standing and futures have been rescued from the kind of life you’ve already experienced much of while drinking are very interested in how alarmed you are.
    Our fortunes, and the lives of those we help better themselves are far more important to us than your continuing drawn-out angst and your massaging of the many past offenses you’ve taken where none was meant.
    You cannot run from or excuse what you’ve done, and doing that will continue to fail as a solution. You can’t lay the responsibility off on others for the harm that you have caused and will continue to cause on the shoulders of those who were once willing to help you change your course in life for a better one. At some point even your children will no longer buy that lie.
    They will place the blame for the life they’ve been forced to lead just so mama can have another drink squarely where it belongs. That unavoidable future event will probably not make the best chaser for the first ones, but 3 drinks alters everything and even that awful and inevitable conversation won’t seem any longer a possibility. For a little while.
    I suppose those who need AA will get along without your recommendation. In turn I would never recommend anyone who has experienced the kinds of awfulness you’ve lived through bring more of the same upon themselves by continuing their drinking life. At some point it may make sense to you to try hard to stop again, given the circumstances you find yourself in, again. If you cannot do that, again…then you’ve already seen where that can happen for those of us who can’t keep ourselves sober with yet another simple and very firm decision. Each time you are forced by the circumstances you’ve placed yourself in to show up to get the heat off, AA may make a little more sense to you. Speaking from experience, that can become a very tedious process.
    Open letters are great. One also may get to read what they’ve tried very hard to keep themselves blind to.

    • Jim B, thanks for your opinions although I find you aren’t well educated on sexism, rape culture or male privilege. Actually I am very involved in setting the facts that AA does not provide straight. Sexism (like in the Big Book) permits a sexist, rape culture. Did you know that? Do you look up information about it and try to learn about it to educate yourself and others what they can do better? Here’s a little article for starters: http://www.tolerance.org/blog/rape-culture-lives-close-home

      There is as much justification in your need to berate or belittle myself or others for their choices not being abstinence. Even though NESARC data makes us commonplace, and the ‘norm’ so I’m actually a boring statistic. (read here: http://www.thecleanslate.org/self-change/substance-dependence-recovery-rates-with-and-without-treatment/)

      I had more “varied adventures” juggling the tyranny and abuse in AA than I deserved to live with. You can read about that in my comparison to NPD here:
      http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/addiction-in-society/201405/woman-fights-aa-alcoholics-anonymous-narcissist

      It would be disturbing and sick of me to continue to subject myself to abuse- on purpose. Wouldn’t it? Meanwhile, I find it very unhealthy of you to wish disaster unto me or anyone else. I don’t know if you have compassion or empathy for others. Can you be kind to others who think differently than you do? Isn’t tolerance a virtue AA speaks of? Because I don’t see much of it from many who are name-calling doomsday wishers in AA.

      The better my life has become, I expect little support from the negative minded people of AA. They can’t help it, I suppose, if the psychology of AA demands them, in their minds, to put others down instead of being nice. Unlike yourself, I believe those who think AA has helped them, and I wish them all the best. Do I think they are short-selling themselves and exposed to some extremely negative self-messages? Yes. And if they are scared to leave AA due to bullies or depression, etc., I’ll hope stories like mine make their transition away from AA less traumatic and harmful. Exposure to AA, even after leaving AA, has caused MORE binge drinking. http://www.thecleanslate.org/alcoholics-anonymous-increases-binge-drinking-brandsma-study/

      I feel this is due to the “AA or die,” messages and powerlessness etc. I am not powerless, Jim B. I saw depression, suicide, more DUIs, domestic violence, and even murder by AA members while exposed to AA’s meetings. That didn’t make me feel any better about AA. On the contrary, I found very little genuine good due to AA’s teachings at all. Some of the nicest AA members I met were not die-hard fanatics about AA teachings and had healthy social lives outside of AA. They didn’t preach or memorize the harm from AA literature and teachings. They helped form alternative meetings in Ohio and were a big part of helping me run the SOS meeting that was once here.

      Courts should never mandate a manipulative form of religion that is not medically sound to anyone. The abuse in AA is real- perhaps you have never seen it- consider yourself lucky and/or ignorant to the ways of the con-men/con-women in AA. Bill’s chapter “To Wives” literally says it was written by the “we” the wives… Bill was not a wife. How do you justify the lies, Jim? I’m curious. By all accounts his wife Lois was hurt Bill did not let her even help to write it. Plus, that chapter’s insistence a wife should allow her husband to do x,y, or z as she is called a wet wag and other sexist terms is extremely wrong. Don’t you think that sexism is wrong?

      I write about the only positive AA supporters or members I can honestly say seem healthy- those who haven’t believed in or teach others that they can’t think for themselves. Those who understand the sexism and bad psychology of AA are wrong. Minimizing the real problems in AA is exactly why you’ll continue to have ex-AA members and those who will read about addiction and alcoholism in depth, via research studies and alternative programs that exist. AA hides all this information from its members and the public- they don’t care for facts, or science, or treating women with dignity and respect.

      Perhaps none of this bothers you, however, how is that helping others who it does bother? AA did not restore my life, if it did for you, great, but how can you deny AA’s problems? My life got worse for a time after AA shows me I’m a fool to ever return there. I am not you- again- why compare our experiences? Your angst is coming through, not mine. Yet you seem to have no excuse for putting down me, or others, who’ve been hurt and seem to want to do nothing to prevent more from being hurt. What is your excuse? What’s AA’s excuse?

      It wasn’t until I took an honest appraisal of the “help” AA gave me and how it didn’t work for me- and made me worse- that I saw any improvement. The truth set me free. I spoke up that AA triggered me negatively all around- not just with drinking- but with my attitude in life, my feelings, and my actions across the board. If help is contingent on others browbeating, manipulating, and putting others down than I don’t want that kind of help, JIm. I won’t fall for the “misery loves company” advertisements. I will defend both my kids, especially my daughter, from sexism and anyone who denies its harm.

      The only one in this conversation who thinks my life solely revolves around drinking is your viewpoint. I found this true in AA, it was constant, daily reflection about alcohol and drinking- or not drinking so to say. But it was a fixation, an unhealthy obsession, with drinkers and people who drink. These sober, happy AA’ers constantly spoke or tore others down who drank outside AA. It may surprise you to hear I don’t think of alcohol all day, and don’t drink all day, every day. The obsession is gone- because I’m not in AA or any group that would require me to constantly think about that as the sole focus of my life.

      If I were to bring myself and my story back to AA- I’d be expected to help others as a sponsor wouldn’t I? Same story- just I’m not in AA- and somehow you’d like to discredit my value to be able to help others? That is weird how my story would help in AA, but not outside of AA?

      My hope for you, is that you stop dwelling on others’ drinking, not drinking, your not drinking or drinking, and alcohol in general. There are so many bigger issues in the world, right?

      I decided to reply- and I approved your comment, Jim, I didn’t have to- because I am hoping you’ll see how combative and attacking your post has come across. AA make sense- if I want to depress myself and continue to abuse my mind with their teachings. I speak up against all abuse- what’s abuse to me may be helpful to others. Guess that’s what makes everyone different. Control freaks, egomaniacs, narcissists need their egos deflated. People with past histories of abuse do not need that. I’m speaking from experience, and each time someone says the books are hurtful, insulting and sexist I hope you hear them out. Instead of brush it off- if your aim is to be helpful to them, Jim B.

      I hope, sincerely, you understand the time I took out of my day to reply to you. I don’t know if you’ll reply, but please consider it. We may one day reach a strong compromise although we come from two different belief systems. Although my ultimate hope for you is to see where you can be helpful while critical. I am critical only where I see a problem that needs to be fixed- I’m not a name-calling, God-hating, prayer-teasing, AA-basher. I bash all problems, wherever they may be.

      Thanks for your letter.

  2. Thanks Jim Wikel. Also, it was brought to my attention I should post a startling fact about the AA Big Book’s overwhelming sexism here, so I’ll post it now:

    The Pronoun Count from the Big Book-
    She- 14 times
    Him- 95 times
    Her- 15 times
    His- 116 times
    He- 171 times

  3. Jim B., I think your sexist, mumbled ramble proves Juliet’s point. If one doesn’t buy into the AA ideology surely they must be destined for a life of hellish drinking. I find it unnecessarily repulsive that you feel the need to attack her parenting and at the same time dismiss the sexist language in the fellowship you so love. I am a proud survivor and escapee from the 12 step stronghold. If you plan on attacking me fine, but you should know I remain abstinent, not that it matters, so you’ll have to go after something else.
    I have changed the words when reading the steps to include Him or Her when referring to a Higher Power. Despite being ridiculed for doing so, know body got hurt and the sky did not fall. Jim, or anyone, please tell me what changing the sexist language in the Steps do to harm the program. That alone would not be enough for me to come back, but it would go a long, long way in making the 12 steps safer and more credible. When the 5th Edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous comes out, wouldn’t it be nice to have a modern, non-sexist version? Would that threaten AA? Why?
    Thanks.

    • Wow. That you were “ridiculed for” including Him/Her in the description of the Higher Power is a huge part of the problem. I recall the chuckles from the crowd when others said “he/she/it” as if it was hilarious God could be a female. Just hilarious. How sad. God cannot be a female pronoun, and neither can the alcoholic in the Big Book’s chapter steps- 164 pages geared towards men. “please tell me what changing the sexist language in the Steps do to harm the program….” It won’t harm the program. It would improve it somewhat. I always felt the “next right thing” included eradicating sexism where possible. AA is wrong to continue to keep their sexist literature alive, harming the psyche of the reader whether they are aware or not, it permits other forms of abuse as well. Allow sexism, allow harassment, etc. When will AA draw a line and speak up for women in their meetings?

  4. I can do the neuroscience of the disease of addiction. It is a permanent condition that can be managed because it is rooted in dopaminergic memories that lead to the same compulsions as loss of temper and panic, but related to artificial experiences that are perceived as places of safety when under stress. Believing that we are loved and safe keeps the high / flight system from triggering, but no one can say they will never panic or never loose their temper. People with PTSD histories with dopaminergic drug behaviours have a life long condition that can only be solved by the experience of belief that they are safe and loved. Given that what one person believes is loving of them is different to another’s perception, and that the ultimate dynamics of love unfolding in the universe are always going to be beyond something that everyone will agree on, using the concept of a ‘Higher Power’ makes sense. The 12 steps is not the only way to achieve homeostasis in the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems, but it is one of the best. Article like the one I read above are always written by people who hold large prejudice but small understanding. The comment about narcism is universal. When ducks or chicks are hatched with a teddy bear or doll as their only form of contact, they will choose to follow this toy everywhere as if it were their parent. The idea of loosing contact triggers fight / flight responses. We all do this around are personal philosophies / spiritual beliefs because our identities and safety from existential angst are reliant on them.
    NA and AA have saved more people with addiction from death and suffering than all other interventions combined together. They are not the only way, but they deserve their place within society as trusted and respected mutual aid organisations.

    Please note that I offer no negative comment about anything else.

    • Adam, thank you. I do not have an immediate link to address the neuroscience, but from conversations with addictions professionals I can tell you dopamine is responsible for rewarding everything from sex, video games, exercise, and any other enjoyable experience. With drug use (alcohol included) it is any “rush” or “high.” I was previously diagnosed with PTSD but no longer need treatment for that. I do see period of heavy drinking and drug abuse in my life as connected to self-medicating. “Given that what one person believes is loving of them is different to another’s perception,” strikes me with the word BELIEF. While I value the unknowns and mysteries of the universe- and love a great ghost story and am fascinated about the potential of life beyond this one- I have no proof of a God and do not see discussion of God or beliefs of HPs crucial to my own personal recovery. (No pun intended, but more power to you if this works for you, of course.)

      The problem with HP is usually becoming overly dependent on something external to fulfill you or fix you. This is similar to the addictive belief that a drug will do this for you. For this reason, I do not buy into the HP as there is no internal locust of control. Also, at meetings where tensions get high over God discussions, I see these debates and clashes of belief systems to be purposeless. Someone will always be offended over someone else’s HP and I find this to get in the way of searching for real underlying roots to addiction issues. I favor secular options because all faiths are welcome but the topic of HP is not required at meetings. It doesn’t mean secular meetings are ATHEIST meetings. Any faith is welcome, or none at all. It is like going to a public school versus a religious school.

      I wrote this article as someone with previous experience as an active AA member. As a feminist for gender equality which in our society contributes to alcoholism. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4086912/

      The Big Book is prejudiced- it is sexist. Pointing that out does not make me prejudiced. If anything, there is bias towards men in the Big Book. Why is it wrong to point that out? AA and NA have worked for few, they are actually in the minority. The majority of addicts/alcoholics recover through natural remission and the largest study is the NESARC data of which I recommend you familiarize yourself with: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh29-2/131-142.pdf

      When we send younger alcohol-drug addicted people to AA/NA what we may well be doing is thwarting natural remission and causing increased binge drug and alcohol use. Which is why AA (NA uses different books) and its Big Book’s sexism is compellingly odd. Sexism increases alcoholism and then you go to AA and are exposed to more sexism? I fail to understand the improvement made in our lives there. Also, powerlessness is a BELIEF that leads to increased binge drinking. http://www.amazon.com/Heavy-Drinking-Myth-Alcoholism-Disease/dp/0520067541

      http://www.philosophyinaction.com/blog/?p=10252 A review and more about the myth of powerlessness/ loss of control

      IF belief in powerlessness is helpful to you I will not argue the point that it is not. I can only tell you what I have come to believe and share that experience and hope. As such, AA and NA already have a large space in our society and there needs to be a voice for those who have not benefited from either group’s teachings. I do thank you for your comment.

      If you’re interested, I’d love for you to sign my petition urging AA to end the sexism in the Big Book:

      https://www.change.org/p/alcoholics-anonymous-stop-printing-the-sexist-version-of-the-big-book

  5. I have been continuously sober for 41 years ODAAT (come Oct 14) thanks to AA and God, as I understand Him. My sponsor used to say that the meeting were ‘conversations’ and that working the 12 Step program was how we are ‘set free, restored and made whole (as in wholesome).
    The Steps which come originally from the Oxford Group are also about ego deflation in depth. This is particularly relevant to the alcoholic who can lie in the gutter looking down his/her nose at everyone else.
    AA does NOT claim to be the answer for everyone, but seems to help more people – who WANT it – than anything else. Of course, unfortunately, where groups of people get together bad things happen, inside and outside of AA, and should be/ and are/ addressed by older members.

    I know that not everyone feels comfortable in AA and handle their drink problems in other ways. I wish them well. But I wonder why people who list a string of AA ‘faults ‘ bother to do so when they say they want nothing to do with the Fellowship ????

    For those of us AA members : Stay POSITIVE. You have a gift to help some other person (a man for a man and a woman for a woman) out of the depth of alcoholism. If they have a spouse and five children, grandparents and other in-laws, you may have saved a life and changed more than a dozen more. Not a bad option for a one-tine derelict person like me.

    Because of circumstances I only get to the occasional meeting now but I still work the program in my daily life, My wife and children and now my grandchildren have/are enjoying the benefits of my sober life. Peace reigns as long as I remember to count my Blessings and to KEEP IT SIMPLE. When I point the finger at anyone else there are three of my other fingers pointing back.

    • First, congrats on 41 years of sticking to a major life changing decision. I understand you feel AA and God are to thank for those 41 years of abstinence. However, I hear hardly any self-praise, and no sign that any of your hard work or determination had anything to do with those 41 years abstinent. (I’ve heard in AA faith without works is dead, so a pat on the back is due sometimes, right?)

      I point out the flaws in AA similarly as AA wants each member to point out character defects in each individual. In the Illustrated 12 Traditions, tradition 4 goes into group “ego” and how AA groups cannot flinch from looking at their defects.

      “As always, freedom brings responsibility. Because each group is autonomous, it’s up to each
      group to avoid any action that might harm A.A. And there have been such actions”

      So I can name only a couple of people who still talk to me today that I met of the hundreds I’ve met in AA today. What fellowship encourages friends to abandon friends if they disagree with AA?

      Why can’t a spouse, friends and family be a supportive fellowship? Why do we look at the roles of loved ones as separate from AA and not supportive of recovery the way AA can be?

      So when I point out AA is sexist, I look at how I may have been sexist myself. I look at how, as a woman, I’ve been sexist towards women, and how I’ve ignored problems women have had, or have treated my female friends. If another woman tells me the AA Big Book is sexist, I tell her, “Yes! It is! Let’s work to change it.” I don’t tell her, “deal with it.” I don’t tell her she’s “childish” to react to being mistreated as anyone would react.

      I point out that sexism is the foundation of abuses towards women. Also, sexism increases drinking in both men and women. How can AA offer the problem as a solution? Why can’t people ask of AA to treat them as they would like be treated?

      Instead AA says you are in the gutter, what do you know, why should we listen to you? Rarely do we fail, if we do it’s because you are dishonest, therefore you are a liar. I have found little psychological help from AA’s books. If truly one suffers from an inflated ego, and grandiose narcissism, and is unable to see where they’ve been wrong, then I concede the steps would be helpful for that type of personality.

      Some alcoholics are narcissists; not all narcissists are alcoholics. Depression is not narcissism turned inward; depression is being devoid of ego and the absence of narcissism. So many gray areas in between. Either we admit where AA has faults and improve upon that, and be honest about alternatives and their pros and cons, or we deny our real responsibility: Helping people with substance abuse problems. That’s real simple.

  6. I’ve been a member of AA for over 10 years and I do credit the fellowship for playing a great part in helping me stay sober. As a male member of AA I cringe at the sexist nature of the literature. When female members ask for help, my wife who is also in the fellowship points them towards non AA approved literature. “A Women’s Way through the 12 steps” is one of the books I think.

    The founding members of AA had their faults, but I do believe they would have encouraged AA to evolve, update literature and incorporate new, evidenced based research, on addiction. The fact that AA has stayed still saddens me. I have raised these issues in the past within AA however there seems no appetite to change.

    Regards

    Matthew

    • Matthew, I believe your desire to change trumps most if not all of AA’s credit; as much so as it would seem quite odd for anyone to blame themselves and not fault AA for failing at AA. I always wonder why AA gets the credit for successes in the rooms but gets not credit for the failures? Anyhow, I truly appreciate your insight that the AA literature is sexist. I was lucky to interview the author of “A Women’s Way through the 12 Steps” this year (http://www.thefix.com/content/interview-dr-stephanie-covington)… What is irritating is although books written for women are available they are not AA conference approved. Furthermore, these books attract people to AA even though they are not AA. Therefore, those using women-friendly books, or atheist books, are still supporting, joining, and carrying the “AA message” which is books that are sexist and religiously intolerant.

      In short, they are useful books, but they are “not” AA. And I also believe AA is not “a program of change” and I agree, the founders wanted the program to continue to evolve and it has not. There definitely seems no appetite for change. Love your comment, and thanks for stopping by to this blog. 🙂

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