We had a long year in 2020, and the racial tensions that reached a crescendo on January 6th, 2021 have been bells ringing louder and louder in my own ears. Where are the people talking about systemic racism perpetuated by the 12 Step Treatment Industry?
Many systems intersect with AA: Healthcare, Education and Corrections to name just three. The Justice system, the fourth system, sentences people to attend 12 Step meetings. No AA meeting is an island, in other words. I made a diagram how this works, how people outside of AA are affected by AA members:
Everyone wants individualized treatment, whether it’s for depression, anxiety or drinking problems. Individualistic treatment in that way you see yourself recognized in ways you can truly identify with. Also, everyone wants to be treated relatively the same- which initially seems contradictory. It isn’t contradictory. It’s the entire basis of AA literature- to find yourself in the Big Book. Only it doesn’t work out that way, because the book is old and written for white men in the 1930s. It is not a book highly recommended by experts who do not want to induce sexism and white male exceptionalism onto patients.
The reason the phrase is Black Lives Matter [BLM] is because, like the way the Big Book is written, people want to be equally represented, fairly represented, and not treated as less-than in society as well as in the rooms of AA. Giving a pamphlet to People of Color [POC] is the 2020s equivalent of “separate but equal.” It is not the same, especially for women and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer [LGBTQ] members of society. The pamphlets socially outcast all the social outcasts, quite literally.
If you identify as a white man you’re basically not going to be singled out and have to do extra work to identify with the main literature. White men are the norm of AA. That is the typical alcoholic, probably mid-thirties, straight, perhaps married with children, and male. And white. And how do I know that? The separate pamphlets to the African American and LGBTQ members make that clear.
I know, AA is not a political organization, but how many politicians are in AA? How many lawmakers, lawyers and judges? We won’t know unless they break their anonymity.
Systemic racism carries over into all parts of society. AA cannot simply contain the systemic racism and then expect people outside of AA to not perpetuate the same cycle. If AA took a stand against systemic racism, imagine how that thought change could benefit society as a whole? Yet, AA states to its members to go forth and practice these principles in all their affairs. Is one of the principles the belief white men are the social norm of society? That’s dangerous. Thoughts are powerful. This is stinking thinking. What happens in AA doesn’t stay in AA if you’re practicing these principles in all your affairs.
Similarly, systemic racism carries over to school books that explain slavery from a white-nationalist perspective of “state rights” when in actuality slavery was an institution based on the presumptive beliefs non-white persons were not fully human- reportedly 3/5th a person. Systems of Government and the 13th Amendment, racial profiling by police and the fact black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police while the black population in America is only about 14%.
Therefore, if it’s ok for AA to treat groups differently than the real “identity politics” conservatives can’t seem to stand is carried over Systemically, though the System of AA and the vast network of treatment centers and sober living homes that use the AA literature. Various systems of thought overlap other systems. I guess I’ll just come out and say the first step is admitting you’re wrong, and AA is racist.
It is past due time AA decides who matters, and looks into if the complaints are not just arbitrary (they are not).
The system perpetuates itself outside of AA. AA has been used in majority of treatment centers for substances abuse by all genders and races- therefore it is a huge, gigantic social system. People who are AA members live among us all, and work with us, and raise families. It is difficult for me to believe the people responsible for running this massive organization that is available worldwide is oblivious to the harms of sexism on women. It’s more difficult to believe people responsible to AA literature are oblivious to the systemic racism of using literature where white men are the “norm” and everyone else is a special-interest group.
I still often wonder what “radical changes” (supposedly) most members of AA are against making? It’s a line in the Big Book that always grated my zen-cheese. Is it being against talking about drugs? Is it being against talking about the alcoholic’s wives [One of the chapters is infamously devoted to helping the alcoholics’ wives deal with their husbands. It’s cleverly titled: “To Wives”– It was not written by wives, it was written by Bill Wilson, one of AA’s co-founders who died from emphysema. The steps don’t work on smoking, at least not for the co-founder who wrote the steps in like a half hour, under the influence of strong sedatives.].
While AA grew, instead of incorporating diversity into the main literature, it made a condescending show of developing special interest groups. And it really divides, rather than unites, people who are to go out into the greater outside world and practice AA principles of common welfare in all their affairs.
Denying people meaningful change is wrong. People do not want special treatment, they want the same treatment. White men already have AA books, and everyone else gets a pamphlet. Why can’t men read about women more? Why can’t white people read about black people more? Surely, integrating more examples builds a healthier society. AA has strong societal influence on the rest of the world. AA is still (at the time of this writing) the most widely-used “self-help” group that is quite open and honest about not being a self-help group, rather, a fellowship. It’s not a treatment, we know that.
Folks say AA is a microcosm of the outside world. That says a lot. I don’t fucking get it.
It’s 2021, so nine years ago, about 2012- was around one the last times I was at an AA meeting. I walked in and to my left was a display of literature, some for sale like Big Books, and some for free like the display of pamphlets. I looked at the pamphlet, with the block print: “AA for the Woman” and immediately felt repulsed; angry; disgusted. I flipped it around so the title was no longer forward-facing. I refused to sit through a meeting and see that fucking pamphlet insulting me. It’s not overly critical it’s called standing up for myself.
The first mood I should NOT have in a “support group” is feeling so markedly different I need a pamphlet. There is even a pamphlet for “Do You Think You’re Different.” Because of course there fucking is. I may be grasping at stars here. But maybe I’m not. Still, I carry with me these feelings that I didn’t fully belong. That’s how many feel in AA. It gives people who are the “norm” a very specific psychological permission to think of everyone else as the “others.” That can only distort the ego. It is totally white male privilege. The only group that doesn’t have to look harder to find themselves in AA are white males. Everyone else gets a pamphlet. It still fucking bothers me other people are still being told to adapt to the literature instead of having the literature adapt to them. I know how people who point this out at meetings are treated like social pariahs. These are not radical changes, I assure you.
I don’t know how others cope with feeling exclusion in various social systems, but the additional therapy and help showed me none of this is normal. What AA is set up to be is not for everyone and does not mirror the society we live in today. Yet, it does spread AA psychology, the thoughts associated with systemic racism do not stay in AA when the meeting is over. Can we spare people the extra layer of bullshit, please, though? I’ve accepted I cannot rid society of AA, but I cannot accept the systemic sexism and systemic racism AA projects into the rest of society. Because of that, I won’t shut up about it.
Whether I like it or not- AA is part of my history, the fabric of my life story, for one thing. Why can’t I talk about AA after I stopped using AA? People in AA still talk about drinking after they stopped drinking (haha). I guess I’m still curious what these “radical changes” are and curious why a 501(c)3 non-profit like AA is both able to identify the specific groups not integrated into the main text of the Big Book, and unable to integrate these special groups into the Big Book.
I’ve been bullied in the past for bringing social injustice up, called an AA basher, while merely pointing out that a person’s identity is important. It is obviously important enough that AA makes all sorts of pamphlets for “special interests” which is remarkable for two reasons. 1.) It recognizes the absence of specific populations in their main literature; and 2.) It proves that if AA can take the time to print so many extra documents that the material necessary to include in the Big Book or 12×12 already exists. Heck, they even gender God as a He/Him/His.
The main point is, when you go somewhere for help and they hand you the main text book and then – as an after thought – they say, “but there’s also pamphlets over there, like, that pertain more to you specifically.” You won’t find a pamphlet for the White Man in the display.
Brief note: My sincerest apologies it’s been years now since I posted a fresh update. Good news is, AA doesn’t keep me up at night thinking of what new I can say. My inbox still gets messages from readers and this topic I feel is— unfortunately— very timely. I assure you I don’t have to write about AA anymore- only if I want to. That’s the real freedom.