Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Watch Out The First Step's A Doozie!
Before I start, I would like to make it clear that I have never thought that AA fails in it's purpose. I think that AA is very beneficial to a person's fight against alcoholism. Nevertheless I am aware that this post may rub some people the wrong way. But I stand behind everything I say here.
So what do we know about Alcoholics Anonymous, aside from what, in my experience, is a lack of anonymity? People seem to proudly wear it like a badge of honor, and why not? The program has helped millions to stop drinking. And then it goes even further. It helps them stop drinking again. And again. It never stops helping. And the people never stop needing the help. And the help is always there, or maybe it's never there.
AA has been around since 1935, always with the primary purpose of staying sober and helping other alcoholics stay sober. It started as a non-denominational movement, but employed a twelve step system of spiritual and character development, a system still in use today. AA states that they desire to "bring about recovery from alcoholism through a spiritual awakening". It is this spiritual element that I feel is one of the reasons AA fails as a long-term solution, as well as going against one of the twelve traditions adopted in 1946, to include all who wish to stop drinking.
If you are an atheist or agnostic, you cannot even get past the first step of admitting how powerless you are over alcohol, and in the need of help from a higher power as the only thing necessary to recover. Unless you lie to your sponsor, it's impossible to move forward in the steps designed to facilitate a recovery from alcoholism. There are simply no accommodations made for those who have no belief in any type of spiritual being in power over them, the very foundation of the entire organization. Perhaps this is one reason why, by their own data, over half of their members drop out in the first year. Another reason may be a weariness from constant struggles to remain sober. Or it could possibly be that a percentage of them come to the realisation that they do not need the group to succeed. Maybe it's the daily notation of how long it has been since the last drink, like a backwards countdown growing heavier on the soul as time passes.
When I was in Narcotics Anonymous, there were many times I had to attend AA meetings when those I attended were unavailable. It really doesn't matter, they're all the same. But with minor differences to account for things like substance of choice, social group, or religious inclusion. Even stronger than the higher power aspect, I had objections with the notion that I was, and always would be, completely powerless in this situation. This counter-enlightenment philosophy is the other main reason I feel AA fails as a long-term solution. As long as people believe they are powerless, they will be. But if you teach them that they have the strength and capacity to make these choices by using their own power and reasoning, you show them that with help, time, and determination they will find doing it on their own easier, eventually leading to the loss of the 'crutches' that got them this far. No grown person who isn't handicapped is powerless over controlling their actions.
AA also has rules that are simply 'frowned upon'. I do not believe these contribute in any major way to what is wrong with AA, but they certainly don't help. The rule about not dating another group member is sane enough for me, but in groups I attended it was strongly encouraged that I "lose" my friends that were not in some form of recovery. In this same vein, it was not a good idea to be found in any place that serves alcohol, going so far as to say "quit your job" if you handle alcohol, such as being a waiter or grocery store cashier. These play into the whole powerless theme, which is a fallacy. Yes, addiction is very powerful, but it is not some sentient beast you battle. Addiction can create a pattern of thoughts or desires in your mind, but ultimately it's your mind that controls your actions, not the desire itself.
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, which many times is true. But unless you have severe mental problems, you can't fail to recognize that , simply put, dogs are not people. The human mind is incredible, and it can be used to change negative patterns of behavior, if you have the time and patience to do so. People do it all the time, at any age. Don't you dare let someone, many times a complete stranger, tell you what you're not capable of doing with your mind. I don't know you, but I have full confidence that you can do it.
One last thing that I felt was very counterproductive to recovery was the fact that all we talked about was alcohol and/or drugs in NA. Constant talk about using, trying not to use, how to use, the way it felt when using, where they got it from, or how many hours exactly it's been since the last drop of sweet nectar/devil juice. The more meetings I attended, the more I thought about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. But once I stopped, once I tapped into the inner strength we all possess to simply do or not do something, half the battle was won. Sure, it takes practice, it takes perseverance, but don't believe for one minute that it isn't possible. Your 'higher power' may be there to give you strength, but you are the one that takes the actions. Otherwise we would have groups of people who are 'powerless' over drinking Windex. Perhaps serial rapists, in lieu of jail time, would find redemption through their higher power in Rapists Anonymous. These are actions, not feelings. We can control them.
Alcoholics Anonymous supports positive thinking and meditation, but where they fall short is in the application of these processes to improve yourself. Instead the repeated message you are telling yourself is that you do not have the ability to do it on your own. And it works. You begin to believe what is being said, causing it to become true. But imagine how effective you can be by turning it into a positive message of strength and control. It starts with one small step: changing the message.
I would like to sincerely apologize if anyone has been offended by this blog. I am sorry, not for the content, but because I truly do not mean any offense to members of AA. I just believe that those stuck in an endless cycle of recovery have not yet come to the realization of what they can accomplish. What I write is of my own opinions and experiences with AA and the mental health industry. AA is a great starting point to help you break the shackles of alcoholism, but why replace them with other shackles? Shackles that can still reach the bottle. If you take the time to investigate, I am 100% sure that you will find this entire blog to be true. Well, everything except the first two sentences.
Up Next... A Palette Cleanser.
UPDATE: In a few more posts I will share a reply I received regarding this subject.