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.

10501726_822089837810008_4589753656845889443_nOnline 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).

1510397_270400103110422_1805343673_nSupporters 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:







27 thoughts on “How to Save the Steppers (Outreach Goals)

  1. Awesome writing! Energetic, logical, and to the point. Five stars! I hope you get an interview or 20. You should be the next talking head on this issue. Very well done! Cheers!

    1. Thanks for your enthusiastic response— I hope 20 other writers get 20 interviews each that would be awesome. The more writers the merrier, with similarities as well as differences.

  2. Reading this was somewhat of a bitter pill for me to swallow as I know in part I have been unintentionally a part of the problem Juliet described so well here. Today I am not afraid to be wrong, for it means that a higher truth has won out. And the truth Juliet has effectively spelled out here is an idea I think we all can get behind. She aims to raise the bar much higher when it comes to addiction treatment in the 21st century. I believe that if collectively we all strive to change our cognitive approach to this issue, using the same types of methods to change our thinking and our dialogue, that we would use in SMART to change our destructive behaviors, we will bring about the much needed paradigm shift that allows for lives to truly be changed. Lives that will be given the tools to overcome, and lives of valuable people that can then go on to do so much more for society than plan the next AA related event.

    1. Jason, thanks for your comment and I think all of us have been a part of this problem at one time or another. I know for myself it’s hard to stay focused on the real goal— getting the information and facts about the problems with AA and the other solutions available out to the public. I cringe reading comments threads where it looks like a war of attacks against AA or against people who oppose AA, and it makes the mission seem petty and unimportant. Who’s going to take any of us seriously if we’re wasting time battling trolls? The real goal is prevent more disasters and tragedies in AA, and we lose sight of that by creating mini-dramas and drawing people out for perceived pro-AA tendencies. Or even once I heard I was being paid by a Pro-AA organization to support AA- at least that is what the personal attack was made to look like. It’s hard enough to get non-AA articles published and when they are and they reach people it changes their lives. It feels great to know we’re helping others get over AA! We can still criticize and protest AA while sticking to the main issues, why we are against AA, and how we can help people in and outside of AA understand the harm AA has done. Love, love, love your comment! Thanks for all you do and your amazing YouTube videos!

  3. Awesome post and congrats on the award you rock!!!

    I am obsessing on many of the topics you brought up. I believe changing the language will help facilitate a shift in how people choose to implement change in there life. I was in smart meeting last night and I noticed a lot of people using the word recovery and that bothered me. I had to put some thought into it as to the why of my reaction to look at the word what do I find wrong with it this is what I came up with. I believe that word comes from the 12 step / disease model and using the word as a descriptor for oneself subtly subconsciously reinforces the disease / 12 step concept of substance abuse. To me it imply’s that what ever the behavior a person is struggling with is permanent, to me that is not an optimal long term solution.

    What I came up with is I am transitioning to a new way of living and thinking my struggles with learning to live with out my substance are temporary not permanent. That is how I am going to approach it for now at least hit me up in 6 months ask me how it is working I might tell you something different who knows.

    I disagree with the statement “AA can be detrimental to others”. I believe it is more accurate to say that AA will be detrimental long term, this is from a big picture long term perspective. Short term it can be helpful for support purposes long term it does not empower the individual to LIVE there life that is my opinion and what do I know I only have a PHD (Public High School Diploma) 🙂

    Thank you for writing this and I am looking forward to reading more of your work.

    1. Thanks for your comment and the power of words are important. I only said “AA can be detrimental to others” because despite some time spent trying to point out AA’s problems, many in AA insist AA helped them— do I credit AA? No. They do, and I see that as being detrimental to others if they can’t see that AA is harmful to others (even if they think it helped them). I have the same PHD, lol, that’s a good one, I’ll have to borrow that sometime. And glad the SMART meetings are helping you transition to a better life and I agree, you enter into a change, you recover, you end up “recovered” if anything. It’s definitely from the disease concept.

  4. Good stuff, Juliet – I think you make some very valid points. It can be tough for those , like myself, who were told to “tone down” or completely suppress any doubt or critique of AA during the YEARS spent in there – Once we find our way and the freedom that other options give us – there’s a sense of empowerment and at times – gasp- Anger – over being silenced and threatened with the Jails, Insanity, Death thing — so there’s a boomerang effect and a lot of that frustration winds up being projected onto the founders of AA , the O;d Timers, the vocal supporters that have a constant internet presence, and the “system” that rigged in their favor – It makes sense – but as you point out – it’s alienating and insulting to those still slogging it out in the rooms – those being subjected to coercive and abusive behavior – the last thing they need is to be called more degrading names and further labeled and marginalized – There needs to be tact, compassion, and dare I say – a more Loving way to go about it. I look forward to still having some fun and blowing off steam when I need to – but I DO want to be effective and help people – so here we are – Thanks for all that you do – I’ll stay tuned –

    1. Thanks Andy, great comment too. I still have that “Anger” you talk of. I had to think of people like myself, like you, like so many of us “slogging it out in the rooms” to calm down. Sometimes, I can’t, but no one is perfect. It’s even more important not to act like 2 AA members going throat to throat over ideological differences when you’re an ex-AA. I don’t know if it means becoming more organized or just working separately, harmoniously, side by side, everyone doing their part- writing, blogging, podcasting, doing activist work of any kind. Glad you’ll stay tuned. 2016 looks to be shaping up like a great year.

  5. Happy to see that the 5 of you have firmly resolved to turn over a brand new leaf this year.

    1. I’ve on the same leaf but thanks for your vote of confidence. We’re going to have a great 2016.

    1. If one person can change the world- 2 created AA- 2 created Hazelden- 3 is crowd, 4 is a double-date… Lol… I’m kidding findley, the fact you showed up to the party should make the count 7. Welcome onboard. It goes both ways my pal.

      1. And if one person lies about AA suing the family of K Brada, and #2, 3 and four are unwilling to repeat it, what happens to that lie? If it dies out, should she just go on to the next lie, hoping that at least some people will be mislead eventually?

  6. The number one question or response I see when pointing out that one AA does not really help a person change a behavior and two a 12 step approach, long term is harmful to the person. The very next question is “Well what works”?

    The challenge the becomes explain that there is a plethora of potential solutions and it is really what the person wants to accomplish. The 12 step conditioning is 1 or 0, black or white, right or wrong the person can not imagine that there actually exists “an easier softer way” (I had to use that phrase could not be resisted 🙂 ) how is an effective message conveyed?

    1. How is an effective message conveyed? Simply put, everyone (in AA or not) has to admit “Sometimes AA doesn’t work.” There, that’s established. Then, we can recommend other supports- SMART, SOS, WFS, LifeRing. If you don’t want a support group, talk to a therapist. Maybe you have other issues with mental health, deal with that and maybe the alcohol/drug abuse will abate itself. Then, use facts— 75% (according to the NIAAA’s largest study) recover without any formal treatment or support group whatsoever. Lastly, speak up about what works for you— changing diet, exercise, yoga, church, going back to school, writing, painting, a new hobby, concentrating on relationships— All of these things and more. What I think we have to avoid is AA/Not AA and get away from that black and white thinking.

  7. Really liked the article. There’s another factor to be considered– there are about 2 million AA members worldwide, a number that has been pretty static for some time. Contrast that with the estimated 4.7 million people in the United States who have Alzheimer’s– a truly deadly progressive disease.

    Simply stated, AA has been the tail wagging the recovery dog for far too long, and the fact that alternative secular methods should be shouted from the rooftops. Or whispered in meetings…

    1. I loved the movie Wag the Dog… NIAAA’s NESARC data survey revealed 43,000 claim to be in recovery/recovered but only 25% ever had formal treatment. Faces and Voices of Recovery puts the figure at 23 million in recovery/recovered. Only 2 mil in AA. So you do the math, right? Somehow, since the advent of AA, there are MORE alcoholics/addicts (NA, etc.) than there ever were. Is the solution part of the problem?

      1. That is really an interesting stat it does seem to track with other stats.

    2. Setting up and conducting a meeting with another guy at the county jail later tonight. I’ll be sure to mention the f2f alternatives. Those inmates who will be able to leave the county and want to do a 4 hour bus ride can attend a SMART meeting the owner of a treatment facility runs late Wednesday afternoon before heading home. Catching the nearest LifeRing would require an overnight stay and some Interstate travelling. SOS is at least 3 States away. While I’m at it I should list some meetings in NYC and Bulgaria, as they’re every bit as likely to make those.

      Or maybe I won’t waste the people’s time with fantasies of alternatives. Let’s do that here, shall we? There’s a Russian named Alexi that offers non-AA recovery in Minsk. We should tell everyone about him in great length, because what is not in the least bit possible to access is very important to mention. Shout it out over and over until word gets out about Alexi and the rest that is so very far away.

      1. You could start a SMART meeting or encourage them to start one when they get out. Same goes for SOS. There are no excuses except laziness.

  8. The only reason that people who care about recovery are currently not devoting their time to starting SMART meetings is because they are lazy, is that your claim? There could not possibly be any other reason? Simply put, all who are not starting SMART meetings are just lazy bums.

    You’re of course, welcome to your well though out opinion. I believe SMART’s failures are due more to people with well though out opinions of this quality than with laziness. And it’s misguided attempt to be the world’s cure-all for anything that ails individuals. An overestimation of the effect their solution was going to have when it’s applied to the wide variety of human difficulties.

    But yes, perhaps laziness is to blame.

    1. That’s over simplified, but yes, some are lazy, some are scared b/c there’s no community support, no rehab or court support, and they’re pushed out of being pro-active.

      I don’t see SMART saying they are “cure-all” when AA has cornered that market of being the “only” way for 8 decades now. Perhaps, “rarely has AA seen a person fail” is part of the problem. Where do they get that opinion from? SMART doesn’t say “rarely have we seen a person fail SMART” because that would be a lie.

  9. Given that SMART presents the solution they offer as an effective remedy for alcoholism, smoking, sexual-maladaptation issues, grief issues, codependency, gambling, opiate addiction, procrastination, curbing marijuana use, emotional issues, family issues, women’s support and many others, they should rightfully be the Big Recovery Monkey. Dealing with the entire range of issues they can fix with their solution, they should draw most people in with every imaginable problem possible, to be fixed with their one-size-fits-all solution.

    But they don’t, although they are unbound by any tradition that limits their self-promotion. Their attempted franchise operation in the UK is worth looking at if you’re unfamiliar with that mess.

    Nice try to lay their failure on AAs, instead of your earlier theory of universal laziness. Still doesn’t wash.

    1. Addiction is not just based on one substance or behavior— since it is ultimately a behavioral disorder SMART is right to explain that addiction covers many categories. Before the 12 Traditions, AA members were looking into franchising the AA name onto clinics and hospitals to treat alcoholics— but they axed that idea as not to draw the AA name into public controversy. Hence, today we have Hazelden and other 12 Step rehabs that carry the AA message without using the name AA on their company titles— Which is very dishonest but continues to this day by AA members employed in the field who open up private rehabs but name them “Sunny Farms Recovery” and offer AA meetings as part of a “paid” inpatient treatment. Once again, “lazy” is only one part of the problem. It is far easier to jump on the AA bandwagon since it holds a large monopoly and convenience of locations— like McDonald’s and Starbucks. It is far more difficult to exert more time and energy to start a new SMART meeting in regions where rehabs don’t even recognize SMART as an option and send clients exclusively to AA/NA.

  10. Some good thoughts on a key debate, Juliet. There are many factors, possible solutions and nuances to consider. For example, while I consider myself ‘Anti-AA’, is fully realise that the label may mark me as a fanatic to be automatically dismissed by the majority. Should I therefore say that I’m a ‘reformist’? Well, it would give me a bigger, more sympathetic audience, but given that I believe AA is wrong to the point of being beyond reform, I would surely being dishonest. For example, while I admire the atheist/free thinkers AA groups, I’m baffled by their insistence of associating with a toxic brand whose teachings and principles they have supposedly rejected. Tricky huh? So, I’m proposing two strategies, one for current members, and one for the general public.

    Firstly, for current members who may be unhappy with one or many aspects of AA eg the religious dogma, 13th Stepping, it may be an idea to guide them towards more liberal groups (should they exist in their area). SMART would be an obvious one, but there may even be a decent-enough AA meeting in the local area. My former home group was as liberal as they come – no BB readings, plenty of crosstalk etc. I was even permitted to advertise the SMART group I had set up in the same town! However, the vast majority of AA groups aren’t like this, but the Atheist groups would at least be an option for someone suffering in a hardcore group. It’s obviously impossible to convert the hardcore Steppers (and I’m not even sure I’d want to), but there must be at least a handful of waverers at most meetings who could gladly be pushed towards a more benign alternative. However, this wouldn’t really go far in changing the overall culture of XA…which is where my next point comes in….

    Secondly – and I think this is hugely important – is that anti-AA people may be better off spending less time trying to get AA to change (AA has made it perfectly clear for decades that it has no intention in any change at all), and expend greater efforts in changing AA in the perception of general public. One of AA’s greatest successes has been inserting itself into the mind of western society as the go-to place for anyone with drink and drug problems to get well. Not only this, but the assumption is that those in the program will receive caring, effective, science-based treatment. Now, while we all know just how far from the truth this is, the public – through advertising, and also importantly through constant positive references in popular culture – believe it wholesale. And indeed who can blame them, when they’d heard very little otherwise? Thus we see relapsers blamed by the general public for not trying, unaware as they are that the 12 Steps do not work for 95% of people.

    Now, were the public to be informed of XA’s crushingly low success rate, as well as their wholly unscientific methods, their openly religious approach, and their refusal to even acknowledge, let alone take responsibility for 13 Stepping rape culture, then the tide of public opinion would surely turn against them. To me, educating the general public seems to be the best and most effective course of action for the Anti side to take in challenging XA’s dominance of addiction industry treatment. If, for example – and it’s a BIG if – the heroine in a Holywood blockbuster got 13th Stepped and raped (playing a character, not in real life obviously!), or a famous politican went to a non-12 Step rehab and came out snging its praises, things may begin to change. The public may then begin to question why on earth prayer is prescribed for the treatment of a ‘disease’. Mauybe, just maybe, things may start to change, and we eventually reach a point where XA isn’t the knee-jerk default option.

    Too optimistic? Quite possibly so, but something along these lines needs to happen. The way to combat XA, in my opinion, is to starve it of new recruits, hence the growth of evidence-based recovery. That, in my opinion, is what us Antis should be working towards.

    Who’s with me? 🙂

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