Alcoholics Anonymous Member, Former Kirtland Airman, Michah Henry, who killed Josephine Laweka and Marvin Garcia

Alcoholics Anonymous Member, Former Kirtland Airman, Michah Henry, who killed Josephine Laweka and Marvin Garcia, while driving drunk.

Court-ordered AA attendance is a problem for the obvious reason that AA is a religious institution in its own right — not just religious, as they say, but A Religion, which they don’t say. At this point in the debate, it’s just plain dishonest to argue that AA is not religious, because that is a fraction of the truth about AA — making such a claim is a hair-splitting sin of omission. They say that it’s not religious because they don’t promote any one recognized religion, as people generally understand religion. In other words, because it’s not Christian, say, it can’t be considered religious. You can believe in whatever higher power you choose; you can take what you want and leave the rest (unless you’re a real addict who wants to get sober, in which case you will surrender…). But you better believe.

This point has been hashed over so many times, and arguing the point with them is fruitless. There’s none so blind… But, aside from this constitutional issue regarding court-ordered AA, another issue that I’m interested in is anonymity – which is so important, it’s half the name.

Since we started this blog, I have had a fantasy of producing a regular AA Blotter, which, because I’m an alcoholic, I just can’t seem to follow through on. I google news reports regularly, and every day will find several stories of people who have been ordered to attend AA meetings, complete with their full names, locations and photos. Of course the whole scenario in which someone is ordered to attend AA goes against several of AA’s own traditions, and I wonder how they justify these violations:

Tradition #2:  For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

By accepting a court-ordered “member” and agreeing to sign for proof of attendance, AA is effectively shifting authority from God to the court, and then accepting the authority, by proxy, for themselves. Totally uncool.

Tradition #3: The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

This is the most obvious one. Clearly, desire is the foundation of choice. Without individual choice, or the desire that motivates it, the requirement is completely blown. The court-ordered attendee cannot be considered an AA member. Desire has got to be paramount to AA, and the willful choice to walk through the door is the only evidence of desire there is. A choice between jail and AA is not really a choice, and every fundamentally honest person knows that.

Tradition #4: Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

By fostering a partnership with the courts, some AA groups have trashed the 4th Tradition, which negatively effects AA as a whole, especially those groups who take these traditions, and the basics of AA seriously and, thus, denounce the affiliation.

Tradition #6: An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

A country’s government is nothing less than an outside enterprise, and AA actively lends (promotes) its name and service to these institutions. Despite the fact that some individual groups don’t, the rest remain accountable to the traditions and do so enthusiastically. Should not AAWS, Inc. step in an regulate how its name is used?

Tradition #10: Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Every single day that I read a news story of a drunk driver sentenced to AA meetings, I see AA’s name being drawn into public controversy. Because the court is necessarily an open book, a public institution, there is no way to suppress information like this. And citizens freak out: “He killed a child, and you lowered his bail because he’s been in AA for two months? WTF?! Etc.”

Tradition #11: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

Another obvious one: there’s nothing in a policy of attraction that could justify accepting a court-ordered attendee, nor in promoting meetings to the court system. Not only that, but the very fact that someone has been ordered by the court to attend AA means that their sentence is a matter of public record — forget about “personal anonymity at the level of press.” Anyone who lives in a small town and reads the local Bee, will know that so-and-so will be sitting in the local church basement for an hour, five times a week.

So, I got on this jag today because I read a story about Paula Poundstone, who, back in 2001, was ordered to attend AA for driving drunk with her kids in the car. She says, “I was actually court-ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous on television. That pretty much blows the hell out of the second ‘A,’ wouldn’t you say?”

Yeah, I’d say. And I wonder about this. Anonymity is supposed to be sacred, a cornerstone. How does AA justify, not just allowing itself to be used in a way that blows so many of its traditions, but allowing potential members to have their anonymity, and the anonymity of other members, compromised in this way?

I understand that there are plenty of old-timers out there who will say that their first experience with AA was court-ordered, and they are grateful that they were pushed through the doors. But is it AA’s policy that the end justifies the means? Are they saying that it’s OK to compromise the basic traditions of their program if doing so might “take” for a few people and simultaneously give them some positive press? Am I missing something?

I know this request will prove fruitless, but I would appreciate it if an AA member could enlighten me here. How important is anonymity? And is an individual’s anonymity worth sacrificing for the perpetuation of the program? Are some parts of The Twelve Traditions more important than others?

I think that, on this blog, we tend to hit the ground firing both barrels, and so I don’t expect much feedback from AAs, but I am hoping for some regarding this issue in particular: How is court-ordered AA compatible with your understanding of anonymity in AA? If you and your group do not honor court-ordered attendance, do you feel that AAWS should put the kibosh on signing attendance sheets?

-ftg