You’ve likely heard these terms before: Steppers, Non-Steppers, Ex-Steppers, 13 Steppers, Pro-AA, and Anti-AA. Each of these terms are divisive between only 2 worlds: The world of AA and those opposed to AA. What about everyone else? How do we educate the rest of the world fighting to end addiction about the problems in Alcoholics Anonymous? Furthermore, how to we reach out to those in AA who feel there is no way out, are unaware or deny that there are crimes occurring in AA meetings everyday? The more people argue about labels and terms to describe ourselves in relation to AA, the more people we are ignoring who need our help because our attention is focused on personal attacks instead of working to change the system.
There are reportedly 23 million people who identify as “in recovery” or “recovered” and as of this writing, the majority of them (an estimated 21 million) are not in Alcoholics Anonymous. That leaves approximately 2 million who identify as 12-Step members or participants. Most alarming is roughly 90% those seeking services and support for addiction to alcohol or other drugs are only directed or mandated to attend 12-Step meetings. A mission of A.A.R.M.E.D. with Facts is to reach out to as many as possible about the dangers of Alcoholics Anonymous: Religious abuse, mental abuse, 13 Stepping (sexual abuse), highly effective brainwashing strategies (slogan chanting, threats of death), the perplexing unwillingness of the organization to implement safety policies across the board at every meeting, and much more.
For decades, those working to expose the dangers of AA have been mainly composed of highly respected professionals (Kenneth Anderson- founder of HAMS harm reduction for alcohol program, addictions expert Stanton Peele who informs us addiction is not a disease- and definitely not a spiritual one, and William Miller and Stephen Rollnick- founders of Motivational Interviewing), writers like Charles Bufe who wrote the classic book Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult of Cure, and the brave outspoken individuals who were harmed by AA and AA members and left the program behind. Some participate in SMART Recovery, SOS, or Women for Sobriety. 75% of the American population are not involved in any support group. Those opposed to the 12-Step program include very harsh critics, dedicated to raising awareness about non 12-Step options, drawing parallels between the meetings and cults, and labeling themselves “Anti-AA.”
What is the meaning behind “Anti-AA” and what are the pros and cons of using this term to combat the monopoly-hold Alcoholics Anonymous has over the healthcare system and the justice system? Let’s define what Anti-AA is supposed to mean: People against all forms of harm and abuse in AA, violent and sex offenders preying on vulnerable people in meetings, demeaning sexist literature, coerced attendance for DUI offenders, violations of church and state because AA is highly religious, and the lack of facts and refusal of AA to inform attendees of other solutions for alcoholism without AA. The Big Book used at meetings was written in 1935 and has not been updated. Members are not encouraged to read non-AA literature. Some members become so engrossed with the AA teachings they become closed minded, or even defensive and argumentative, about non-AA recovery options.
Online message boards discussing problems in AA attract both current AA members and those opposed to AA often with people on one side impetuously attacking the other side. Whether it’s framed as “Anti-AA” vs “Pro-AA,” “Stepper” vs “Non-Stepper/Ex-Stepper,” or “Spiritual” vs “Science.” What concerns me when a former 12-Step member is sharing their experience of being hurt by AA, like I did in my guest blog titled “When A.A. Hurts,” back in 2014, is when an AA supporter attacks the message. Their bias blinds them to accept that AA can be detrimental to others. What also concerns me is when an ex-AA member resorts to the same verbal abuse towards 12-Step members which ex-AA members found harmful in the AA members they left behind to find real support from others. In order to combat the problems we encountered in AA we need to steer clear of making personal attacks against AA members online and offline. A level-headed approach rooted in facts will be far more effective in educating AA members about the dangers in AA, possibly leading to reform in AA, the rehab system, the justice system, and community recovery organizations.
I was a former AA member. Many of us who now oppose AA are former members. We have observed the sexual harassment and exploitation of members first hand, at times we ourselves were targets. Monica Richardson’s award winning film, The 13th Step, has documented the horror stories of survivors of AA abuse. Richardson has been a staunch advocate for safety of AA members, making personal appearances at meetings to speak about member safety and adapting safety policies in meetings. Her work shows that one can be opposed to the 12-Steps and still reach out across the aisle to those who are still in AA and may be looking for the right inspiration to leave AA behind for other solutions. We accomplish this by sharing facts, our experiences, and our working together to change the system. In my opinion, it is impossible to change the system without a certain level of cooperation with AA members who can also be our allies. They can talk to others struggling in AA to try SMART Recovery, for example. I’d rather have more open-minded AA members than more closed-minded AA members, which will change AA from the inside and shrink AA down to size— and make for safer meetings.
We are also finding allies in harm reductionists and harm reduction advocates, such as Families for Sensible Drug Policy, creator of harm reduction psychotherapy and founder of the Center for Optimal Living- Dr. Andrew Tatarsky, and Faces and Voices of Recovery (which lists HAMS and Moderation Management as mutual aid resources).
Supporters of harm reduction, moderation, or other abstinent-based supports do not collectively label themselves terms like “Non-Stepper” or “Anti-AA” and that is for a good reason: We have to stop framing arguments around just being against AA and start speaking out more about being pro-solutions. If we resort to inner-group fighting among ex-members, using the term “Pro-AA” as an insult or personal attack against anyone who is reaching out to AA members who are feeling stuck, being abused, or sexually preyed upon then we are not helping people who used to be us before we were ex-AA members. Here’s an example: Imagine how harmful it is for a teenage girl being sexually harassed in AA, who is pressured to accept the 12-Steps or miss out on school or be kicked out of a foster home, who hears an ex-AA member accuse her of being a cult member. It’s not the teenage girl’s fault she is being forced into AA, it is the fault of AA and other members, the rehab and legal system, for not preventing young people from being harmed in AA meetings. Instead, we need to ask members if they’ve been harassed or abused by other AA members, and what if anything their meetings are doing to stop this from happening.
Sadly, in general, the term “Anti-AA” comes across as “Anti-Help” to people who have no knowledge of the problems occurring in Alcoholics Anonymous. This approach is closing doors to conversations with people in the media, government, legal system, and healthcare system. When AA members hear a person say, “I’m Anti-AA,” they basically hear “I’m Anti-You” and take it personally before you even get a chance to speak out about the problems in AA. Tact is everything. Attacks are what abusers do.
So what is a better term to use to help save the steppers and educate the public? “Pro-Solutions,” maybe? “Anti-Abuse,” is good too. This year, I’m steering away from labels whenever possible. I am not against those who use the term “Anti-AA” as shorthand to identify themselves and their activism against Alcoholics Anonymous, but I am against using “Anti-AA” and “Pro-AA” as personal attacks against individuals. I am against the organization of Alcoholics Anonymous because despite numerous reports, allegations, and accusations of abuse, rape, child molestation, and murder by the hands of trusted AA members against other AA members the organization refused to accept responsibility. The organization is silent on the matters yet will send AA lawyers to court to fight charges against AA. Grieving families and abuse victims challenging AA are betrayed by an organization that claims to be “spiritual” and a fellowship based on personal responsibility.
I’m fully prepared for a backlash for writing this blog, yet my new year’s resolution is to avoid engaging in the backlash, continue to be anti-abuse and anti-cyberbullying, and concentrate on the work ahead instead of engaging with negative people. Personally, I need to keep my own anxiety and PTSD issues in check and recognize when my buttons are being pushed, step back, and focus on my own health and work. There’s always a time to be angry, to be sad, to share some comedic relief, to vent, to scream, to cry… Other times, I need to leave strong emotions out of my work and stay focused on reaching out to others who have been hurt by AA.
It’s 2016, and Alcoholics Anonymous is still a self-absorbed, narcissistic organization caring only about self-preservation and protecting itself instead of its members. We need to offer caring and protecting to members who are still being hurt by AA as well as continue to fight the corrupt system that allows for abuse to happen unchallenged in meetings that offer no safety to its members.
Special Announcements!The A.A.R.M.E.D. with Facts blog was named one of the Top Recovery Blogs of 2015 on Ocean Recovery Centre’s website. Click the highlighted link to see the complete list- mine appears first because it’s in alphabetical order (but I can’t resist saying “I’m number one!” lol). Criteria for their choices included:
- Giving smaller bloggers the attention they deserve. (Quality of the blog not just the audience reach.)
- Covering stories- such as opiate & cocaine related deaths- often personal stories, interviews, and without pay to educate the public.
- Having guts of steel, preventing relapses, and sharing personal stories with complete strangers at risk of being stigmatized themselves.
- Bloggers with close family members with addiction and bloggers with ‘to the point’ suggestions on kicking addiction.
- Frequency of updates, original content, emotional impact and depth of content.
Given that the above blog I posted was concerned with labels I thought I’d repost Ocean’s description of my blog here: This blog is run by Juliet Abram. Juliet is a writer and artist. She is also a former court-mandated attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. Juliet’s blog is anti-AA. Her activist cause for 12-step alternatives in Ohio is the AARMED with Facts blog. I guess like it or not I’m going to be called “Anti-AA,” which is why I felt compelled to write about labels and the effect labels have on fighting the AA monopoly as ex-members.
Here’s the a video I helped make for Jason Bartley’s channel about the slogans of AA and how ridiculous they sound compared to the reality of the problems occurring in AA: