The Beauty and Horror of AA, Part 2: Less Beauty, More Horror

By Dillon Murphy 08/09/15

The spiritual bullying of AA's Pacific Group needs to be destroyed. It is a horror show that utilizes fear and control as psychological warfare on desperate people.

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The truth is that almost everyone in AA has to, at some point, start talking about the 12 steps. It’s unavoidable. It’s part of the deal. It’s the “program.” It’s what you learn after you are able to finally put down the bottle. For those of us in AA that have actual drinking problems, like myself, this is the biggest conflict and the main reason folks like me leave after the first year. Not because I suddenly want to drink my life away again, but because if I want to “keep coming back” I’m going to have to start talking in a code of nonsense and mystery that almost everyone that speaks it knows is total and complete bullshit.

Dare I claim to be so arrogant as to pretend I’ve had a “spiritual awakening?” If this is a process of one alcoholic listening to another then why fudge it up with all this God nonsense?

I walked into an AA meeting one lonely winter day, surrounded myself with a “group of drunks” when I had the “gift of desperation” and I became able to realize I didn’t have to drink and that was going to be OK; I was going to be OK. I was broke, unemployed and unable to find a way out of what, by that point, had become a round-the-clock drinking problem. I was an alcoholic, meaning I drank all the time. It was not normal. It was not safe. I was able to embrace the “one day at a time” concept and began to slowly live in the world without the booze. I was encouraged to be grateful for the small things in life. I learned that I needed to take responsibility and keep moving forward. The genetic predisposition was undeniable so the disease concept had relevance. All of that stuff is good stuff. Helpful stuff for this drunk. I’m even hopeful that my story can help another. Will I 12 step someone? Dare I claim to be so arrogant as to pretend I’ve had a “spiritual awakening?” If this is a process of one alcoholic listening to another then why fudge it up with all this God nonsense?

My “gift of desperation” (one of the many clever AA ways to make the concept of God more appetizing before they shove it down your throat) was so raw that had the Church of Satan been having free meetings down the block (that somehow presented themselves as a solution to my drinking problem) I would now be a “member.” I would be a little concerned about seeing the word "Satan" up there on the wall after I started to get some clarity. I would be creeped out that the word "Satan" was being used over and over and over again in the “literature” that I was reading aloud from. I would start to wonder what the fuck is all this "Satan" stuff and do I really need to start pretending (fake it till you make it) that it had something to do with my drinking problem which is why I’m here? “Serious alcoholic turning around neatly” is how these devil worshippers that I thought were my friends would make it OK. “Some alternate thinking adjustment is necessary” is what they would assure me that I needed to maintain my non-drinking life. And if I was all "Say what?" they could give me an example of a celebrity that spouts this stuff, and claims to not have had a drink in 20 years, so it must be true! Famous people believe it!

Often, folks are in AA for the way of life and have contrived a little drinking story just to satisfy that annoying guy who is at the meeting because he thought it had something to do with alcohol. 

Is this an extravagant example? I think not. The fact is, AA is not just populated by people that drank, let alone had a drinking problem. Often, folks are there for the 12-step way of life and have contrived a little drinking story just to satisfy that annoying guy who is at the meeting because he, apparently, thought it had something to do with alcohol. Having had a hard time in school, not feeling comfortable in one’s skin or just being bat-shit crazy are all requirements for membership. This is where AA gets its “cult” reputation and why it is only part of, if at all, the way to address a person’s drinking problems.

The cult image of AA is alive and very unwell in Los Angeles at the infamous PG group. Whatever one’s concept of God may be, when it comes to the Pacific Group, God is most certainly not in the house. Clancy is, and is always thanked right after God in the endless mind-numbing “belly button” birthday celebration/faux Oscar speech (it is LA). It is so cold, so robotic and so joyless that my heart breaks for anyone that stumbles into that meeting looking for help with their drinking problem. The best thing I can do to help another alcoholic is to tell you to stay as far away from it as you can. Them and their sister organization, the Atlantic Group, were once referred to by an idiot friend of mine (who attends) as “the Harvard of meetings.” (Suggesting a graduation and a glittering career?)

I got to experience the spiritual bullying of the PG recently and let me tell you it needs to be destroyed or at the very least dropped by the AA GSO as a meeting. It is a horror show that utilizes fear and control as a sort of psychological warfare on desperate people. From the oppressive banging of the unusually large and cartoonish gavel that will almost certainly serve as an instant reminder for anyone that’s ever been in front of a judge of that deep shame and self-loathing one feels when their drinking has gotten them in trouble with the law to the abusive “secretary’s break” where the plea for money was not so much a request for a donation but a “lesson in economics 101” by a guy that made it clear they were watching who put five dollars in and who did not. They were “sort of in the red” he claimed. He was an ugly little fucker (on the inside) and used intimidation to solicit money so they could afford “rent” in a local synagogue. Oh, and they had to keep paying for the donated coffee.

Of course the man himself makes money off his speaking engagements at AA meetings, often getting flown in and his hotel fees covered. Plus, he gets all that free labor through his “sponsees.” Nothing makes a man or woman want to drink less than being told to clean up an old pervert’s garage. One alcoholic helping another, my ass. Con job is what it is. The members are so completely disconnected from the best things AA has to offer like humor, tolerance and allowing one to “find their own way” that within minutes of being there I heard rumblings of yet another suicide. Yeah, suicide. Nothing is more upsetting to me than the suicide of a person that is in the process of trying to change their life for the better. The PG encourages these suicides by discouraging outside help and forcing its members that have to take prescribed medications to lie about it if they want to stay members. I know, I have friends that will justify their needing the rigidity of a group like the PG but almost all of them have been forced to keep secret the scientific help they, I assure you, absolutely need. It’s the will of one man and it is everything people fear about AA. More than that, it is unhealthy, soul crushing and will make AA’s spiritual “malady” much worse not better. 

So, the question becomes for me, and anyone that thinks like me, what next? How do I “live in the solution?” It seems to me that if you decide you want to stay with AA because hell, it worked, then maybe you should be there so that the next guy that walks in with a serious drinking problem will know that there’s at least one person there who can relate. I can tell him to stay away from the PG. I can show him where the agnostic meetings are. Most importantly, if he decides he wants to go to step meetings or Big Book meetings, I can remind him that almost everyone in the rooms is full of shit when it comes to that stuff, that no one knows how it works and that I’m not drinking today.

Dillon Murphy is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012.

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