Any group or organization contains a certain percentage of crazies and wingnuts, and if you were to take a sampling of the Alcoholics Anonymous membership, they would be no exception. Of course, their percentage of these types is going to be higher, as they actively recruit felons and social misfits. Still, even taking this into account, a random sampling on any AA group (at least the groups to which I have been exposed) will show a great percentage of members to be normal people who just happen to have drinking problems.
The obvious question, then, is how an organization composed largely of everyday men and women can be so dysfunctional. One reason is because AA is, in many ways, not unlike any other organization, and the vocal minority is often placated simply to shut them up. We all know how that goes, because we’ve all been there: OK, OK! I’ll eat your shit taco. Just quit your bitching! Often the loudest is the most crazy, and most opinionated. Think about it – have you ever seen a dispassionate conspiracy theorist? This makes sense — but why is it that with AA, unlike other organizations, a small group of crazies become not just a vocal minority, but become the leaders of the organization; and the ones who run the show? They move beyond simply being placated, to positions of leadership within AA’s social structure. There is a reason for this, and it is what I’ll refer to as the lucidity filter.
Most people leave AA within a short period of time. There are a number of reasons for this, chief among them being that the religious, dogmatic nature of the organization is not what was advertised. To them, the dogma and irrationality of the program becomes too much, and they make their way to the door quickly. Others may feel the same way, but they are willing to disregard these things for a short time, because they want so much to become sober. For those who have crossed that emotional Rubicon toward sobriety, they are willing to do virtually anything to avoid going back to where they once were. They are told “take what you want and leave the rest”, so they hold their noses, ignore what they can, and focus on their sobrieties. Eventually, they cannot take it anymore, and when they reach the conclusion that “do the steps or die” is a myth, they filter themselves out, and leave. I know many readers of this blog fall under this category. Over time, even the hangers-on who stayed longer than a year fall by the wayside. The filter catches all but the true believers.
AA is more than the ‘Big Book” and a set of traditions. AA has an unwritten set of traditions and social mores. Some of these can be seen in the slogans that are used ad-nauseum. Other things, such as the unwritten hierarchy and social structure of the fellowship, are less obvious. Status within AA is determined by time in the fellowship, and time in the fellowship requires a person to maintain either a certain level of delusion, cognitive dissonance, or both. Because rational people are filtered from the fellowship, many of those left standing are the least rational, and the most inclined to be at least a little “off” – and, because those who run the show by way of leadership and sponsorship are the ones with the most time in the organization, they are also the least rational or balanced in the group. Now, this does not apply to 100% of the old-timers, but it does a apply to a large percentage of them; and as I mentioned earlier, it is the crazy, vocal minority who will be placated.
I thought about this last night after the meltdown we had from an unbalanced old-timer who visited our blog yesterday, and I thought about it again this morning, when I read this article from the Akron Beacon Journal. It profiles an old school, AA zealot. He reminded me a bit of our friend from yesterday. From the article:
“The true believer, when invited to discuss his cause, is a sight to behold. Take Jon S., as we shall refer to him, in keeping with the second word of Alcoholics Anonymous….” and:
“As he spoke, Jon S. zipped back and forth from book to book and paper to paper, reading entire paragraphs as he attempted to prove his points. Given the opportunity, he would have gone on for days. And, in a sense, he did: Following our conversation, he sent me eight e-mails, two handwritten letters and a newsletter with notes in the margins.
Most of it was overkill, because everything in his verbal arsenal essentially pointed to one message: Alcoholics Anonymous has gone to hell and needs to get back to its roots.”
Like many religions, AA is broken up into factions of conservative and liberal denominations. Jon S. is of the more dogmatic variety of AAer, who believes nothing is better than a good dose of “tell it like it is”. These types are the scariest (and most common) of the old-timers. Nothing is worse than a blend of irrationality and tough love. He was even able to toss in a nice touch of homophobia:
”Gays are certainly welcome, but why bring it up at a meeting? Why is a man standing up there crying about losing his lover?”
This guy featured in the article, as well as some of the wingnuts we have featured here or have visited us, are examples of who is in charge. They are that vocal minority of people who become such a high percentage of old-timers in AA because they made their way past the lucidity filter.