AA Isn't What It's Portrayed to be Online

AA Isn't What It's Portrayed to be Online

By Hank Murphy 06/18/17

Do a little research on AA and you will come upon things like AA is a cult, AA does not work, AA only has a five percent success rate and on and on the list will go.

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AA Isn't What It's Portrayed to be Online
Don't fall for it--research more.

So there you are, addiction has taken over your life and even though you may not realize the extent of the problem you begin to consider looking for help. Perhaps you have tried to stop drinking and/or using drugs on your own and you notice that you obsess about getting loaded every day and eventually end up at the store buying your preferred beverage. After today I will stop, you tell yourself. When that occurs again and again, you decide to look for help—and where does one go for help with booze? This is when AA pops into your mind; after all, you have seen it all over the culture. In movies, books (Kurt Vonnegut mentions it in Slaughterhouse-Five) and articles in various publications.

At this point you may decide to research AA on the internet. That marvel of modern technology which has put humanity's accumulated knowledge within the reach of a keyboard has a downside as well. The drawback is that anybody can write anything without referencing reliable sources, or the sources they use can be slanted to prop up their argument. We saw that in the past election, where fake news stories went viral again and again. Or perhaps a person has an ax to grind because of their own personal issues. This may lead to talking about the fellowship of AA in an abstract manner, making it seem like all members behave like a particular one who someone had a conflict with.

When you do just a bit of digging, you will come upon things like: AA is a cult, AA does not work, AA only has a five percent success rate, you can learn to control your drinking, and on and on the list will go. There are valid criticisms of AA—which will not be addressed in this piece—and there are also things to be aware of and to protect yourself from. Let's take a look at some of those things. You will be told that:

You are powerless

The only issue with powerlessness over addiction is written in step one. After someone takes stock of whether they are addicted or not, it is up to them to take RESPONSIBILITY for their recovery from addiction. The goal over time is to develop a new way of living without turning to chemicals to deal with an uncomfortable inner world. The path to that varies according to individual needs.

I never once in my life met someone who was intent on winning an argument that there was no such thing as addiction, who spent even one minute having a conversation that helped me make it through the night without a drink. I met many in AA that did that for me though. Through helping each other, we found a power greater than our brains which were telling us to drink every day, and we got sober.

AA is a cult and you will be forced to do things

You will not be forced against your will to do anything at all. That doesn't mean that you won't have to set boundaries and say no to people at times. AA is comprised of people from all walks of life, and like all walks of life, there will be some that are sicker than others. You may come across people with gigantic egos and control issues that will try to boss you around, people who have dishonest intentions, people that have not dealt with their own inner pain and use AA to run from it at every opportunity. Trust your heart, and if someone is trying to push things down your throat, find someone else who accepts that you're finding your own path to recovery, with perhaps some suggestions here and there about what worked for them which you can take or leave.

A sponsor will take over your life and tell you that your life perspective and feelings are wrong

This is an issue with a lot of grey areas to explore. In terms of AA, a sponsor is someone who has recovered from alcoholism and will show the newer person how they did that by walking them through the 12 steps. I suggest you read a pamphlet called Questions & Answers on Sponsorship, which should be available in the literature rack. If not, you can read it online here

Sometimes in AA someone may try the “I am your sponsor” trap and then perhaps start trying to be controlling of your actions. Also I have heard people say, “I do not even have to like you to sponsor you.” To me this is a load of crap, because I really don't want to spend time around someone who does not like me. Eventually their contempt may come out and you will be hurt by it.

I have found the dynamic that worked for me is to have friends. I have a small group that I talk to about recovery stuff. We support each other, but as far as having a sponsor you call all the time, you can read my first piece on The Fix. It's about how my friend's dog is my sponsor. The dog's owner has 47 years of sobriety, so when I see my sponsor I talk to his owner. I like it that way and it works, so that is how it will stay.

My belief is that choosing a sponsor is a tremendously personal decision, and no one should make that decision for you. Find someone you can relate to, and if you so choose, ask them to sponsor you. Also, always remember that you and your sponsor are equals in terms of power. It is just one alcoholic helping another, and if they overstep bounds and start trying to control you, run for the hills. However, I do want to say that if you're getting loaded and lying about it, do not try to make the sponsor out to be the bad guy when they ask you about it.

AA will not help you get sober and it only has a five percent success rate

This is a comment I have witnessed all over the internet in various forums where someone is bashing AA. First, let's admit that people struggling with achieving abstinence from substance use is a testament to the power of addiction when it really gets going in a person's life. The analogy I will give you is that drug and alcohol use may start out like a gentle breeze on a spring day providing relief against the rough edges of life and the internal issues a person has. But if a person continues to put chemicals in their body day after day, in increasing amounts necessary to achieve the high they used to get from smaller amounts, soon it becomes more than just medicating your issues. At a certain point, a line may be crossed where the issues are irrelevant and the brain demands the chemicals as if your survival depends on it.

At this stage, the brain demanding substances for me was like hurricane force winds. Getting to this level of obsession took many years of abusing alcohol; it did not happen overnight. For those of us that experienced this, it is a horrible state of being to be trapped in. To have your brain screaming for a chemical that is ripping your health to shreds truly is hell on earth.

If you are caught up in full blown addiction, you have enough on your plate. Saving your life is the number one thing you should be concentrating on. I am glad I was not reading about the supposed success of AA when I was on my last run. I left an AA meeting and decided I would drink one 12-pack, and for four and a half months I drank against my will. I wanted to stop but could not, and everything I learned in the previous year was irrelevant to stopping. The obsession had me in its grips like a vice and would not let go. There are those who have never experienced this type of phenomena. Some of them are writing about cutting down or trying to control your drinking, and I do not listen to them.

I finally reined in that terrible drinking bout and did not write down my sobriety date for nine months. The obsession to drink had turned up so high that I did not think I could stay sober. I needed intense support to stay off the bottle the first year, and AA was the resource that was available to meet likeminded people day after day to help with that journey. I have been sober for over eight years and I did it without becoming a cult member, which many people accuse AA of online. I keep it really loose; I take what I need and leave the rest. As I grow as a human, I may take more, but that is my prerogative. No one is running my life in AA.

As far as percentages go, I know a lot of severe alcoholics that got sober in AA. I have also witnessed people struggle year after year; I will be honest and say I do not have the magic key they need to solve their addiction issue. Sometimes when Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, all the king's men cannot put him back together again.

It was a tremendous amount of work for me to get sober, and all I can tell someone is what worked for me. 

Look for your part in abuse you endured

This is a tricky one. I can only tell you about my experiences among my friends and in meetings. In almost 10 years of being in AA, I have only witnessed anything close to this two times. One was a man who made amends to a father who molested him, which in my opinion is not something anyone should be told to do. Another was a speaker who said his sponsor told him he needed to forgive his father who had molested him. This in my opinion is terrible advice and no one should be telling anyone to forgive someone that committed crimes against them.

Child sexual abuse and other crimes of that magnitude leave a tangled mess of issues in the survivor's life. Healing is a journey, not an event. People who push forgiveness on survivors of severe trauma may have issues with their own discomfort, with seeing the person in pain and not knowing how to handle it. In essence, they're trying to push something under the rug they are uncomfortable with. Just because someone is sober a number of years does not mean they have dealt with all their unresolved pain. Remember, you are in a pool of people who used drugs and alcohol to not feel up to the point it nearly killed them. Some are still running from their feelings in a different way; if you allow it, they may hurt you when you discuss issues they have no understanding of.

Healing from trauma is a very wide road and there is no one way to do it. People have the right to find their own way through those issues. AA is not the place, in my opinion, to look for help with them. I will say that in the majority of my time in AA, I do not hear people talking about looking for their part in some horrible experience in meetings. But I am not privy to what goes on behind closed doors with sponsor-sponsee relationships. This goes back to bad sponsorship. It does exist, so be careful and remember when you are in meetings that you are ultimately dealing with people that stopped drinking and that does not mean everyone has achieved a nirvana-like state of mental health. People may be wounded in a variety of ways, and sometimes that comes out in using AA principles to beat themselves up.

AA helped me to stop a drinking addiction that was ripping me to shreds. I have had my issues with it at times, even not attending a meeting for a year at one point. But the thing that kept me coming back is that little voice way down inside my head that says, “Hey, psst, it was not that bad. You have a lot of self knowledge now and you will not drink like you used to. Come on, maybe just a little weed? What can it hurt?" There it is, addiction lurking about in my brain. I keep it at bay with a little help from my friends.

Best of luck to anyone starting their journey to sobriety. If you feel AA is not for you, I hope you find something that helps in your journey to finding a solution to substance use issues. If you try AA, there will probably be some bleeding deacons that talk as if the Big Book has been handed down from Mount Sinai itself along the way. There will be a cast of characters, some mentally ill and untreated, some full of rage after decades of sobriety, those that are shy and do not talk, a few anarchists stirring up the joint, and mostly a whole bunch of average folks just trying to live without getting loaded.

Perhaps you will end up in a meeting with my friends and me. If any shenanigans go down with someone trying to bully a person who shares, we will be right there with our hands up to light them up. We do not play that game in the meetings I go to. The people I know believe recovery is a very big boat with room for all. I am glad they were there when I needed help. Because regardless of the debates online, if I kept drinking the way I was I may well be dead. Just like the 88,000 people alcohol kills annually in the United States year after year.

Will any of the people online who are bashing away on AA ever sit with you for one minute while you struggle with your addiction? The answer is probably no, but if you come to an AA meeting you may well run across some free-thinking alkies that will talk to you and understand your struggle because they lived it. Then, over time, they may also become your friends and you will talk about and do a lot more than simply talking about not drinking.

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