Yesterday, I was reading a thread on soberrecovery.com that really made me feel sick. Every day, I read things all over the place that make me feel sick, but I think this one instance in particular led me to the beginning of some epiphany – it hasn’t reached the point of complete transcendence yet (maybe I’ll be raising the dead in the marketplace by the end of this post), but it’s there at the edge of my brain, so I’m going to tease it out a little bit.

The thread I was reading was just another instance in which a stepper voices a concern about the program and is landed on with both feet by the rest of the tribe, until the wayward stepper scrambles to get back into the fold. This member’s concern was for her anonymity, which she justifiably values, and which she feels had been violated on several occasions by members of her group who called her out in public (grocery store, restaurant…), identifying her as a member.

The responses were predictable and on script. It was an epic display of coercion, gaslighting, threats of abandonment, and passive aggression — all couched in love and concern. First, they questioned her interpretation of “anonymity” – as if the Big Book had been translated from some ancient text in a dead language that only scholars could accurately interpret, and “anonymity” is some approximation of a concept that we just don’t have an accurate word for in English. See, it really doesn’t have anything to do with privacy: it’s about “humility.” They directed her to consider her “part” in the situation. They tell her that at this stage of their recovery, they don’t care if anyone knows, because they’re not ashamed… They even question her involvement in the program.

 You know how it plays out.

Anyway, since we started this blog, I’ve kind of had a little personal taboo against going after people on support boards. Occasionally, I’ve pulled a particularly egregious quote from somewhere, but I’ve been holding back on just ripping into random 12-steppers’ comments on public boards, because I felt that it wasn’t really a fair fight.

They didn’t post their comments expecting that they were going to end up in one of my posts. These are just innocent members, people doing what they feel is the right thing, trying to stay sober and work their program, spouting off what they’ve learned. And, also, what concerns me most, ultimately, is the addictions treatment industry, which uses these deluded people as fodder for their perpetual motion machine. The final element that has held me back is the fact that all of these online AA groups are closed to criticism and debate. If their intention was not to debate – with the likes of me, MA, and the other reality-based commenters on the blog – then it’s not fair for me to thrust them into a debate, especially without their consent or knowledge.

But this thread changed my mind. Here’s why (aside from the obvious conclusion that if “anonynimity” is just a vague approximation of our modern word “humility,” then I am under no obligation to respect their pseudonyms and moderation policies):

These AA members are on the front line, not A.A.W.S., Inc., which is not accountable in any way, whatsoever. It doesn’t engage. It is not responsible for anything that goes on in meetings – and it doesn’t get involved except where its bottom line or corporate identity is concerned. It cannot and will not be engaged.

Like any successfully functioning multi-level marketing outfit, A.A.W.S., Inc., leaves the recruiting and training to the lowest levels of the business, and also the burden of responsibility, and then reaps the finacial rewards. It will provide product and strict marketing guidelines to anyone who associates themselves with its corporate identity. But its members are treated as independent contractors, and, therefore, A.A.W.S., Inc. is not liable for anything that these contractors do. That’s how these businesses work. It’s brilliant, really.

And since this is the way it does business, AA and other xA members are just going to have to be responsible for handling the criticism, too. They can protest to Kingdom Come that thus and such is not AA, but until A.A.W.S., Inc. takes the initiative to define itself, to standardize the “program,” to oversee what is and what is not AA, to root out the dysfunction, then AA is only what the individual members and individual groups make it, and nothing more.

So, I’m not going to hold back any longer. If the only people who are going to speak for A.A.W.S., Inc. are the independent members, then their protests that “That’s Not AA” will not wash. There is no AA. Lemme just say that one more time: There is no AA.

And as long as there is no AA, then what these members put out there as AA, is AA. What happens in every single meeting all over the world is AA. Whatever some nut says on an AA board is AA. Annazed’s experiences with Santa and Wild Bill are AA. The woman who was raped after calling an AA hotline – that’s AA. Until A.A.W.S., Inc. becomes responsible for what happens in meetings and trains their sponsors, then AA members are going to have to answer for whatever other members say. These are the people who are defining AA. So, they’re the ones I’m going to address.

The gloves are off.

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