I found this letter to the editor posted on The Durango Herald, and was going to give it the old “Balls!” treatment, but after reading it over a few times, I found that I couldn’t. It appears to have been written by someone who has experienced a lifetime of incredible despair, and who ultimately found some peace by attending a 12-step program. Further, his problems seem to stem from a bleak and relentless depression (among other psychiatric complications?), and addiction as well. 

While I consider individual members of AA and other 12-Step advocates to be fair game — because, even though they insist that they don’t speak for AA, they do. They are the only ones who do. They’re the face of AA. As I’ve said, they’re the front line. These are the 12-steppers, the sponsors, the ones telling each other how it’s done. And Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t exist as an accountable entity; it has deliberately placed that onus on the shoulders of its members. So they’re the ones I address. As far as I’m concerned, they don’t get to hide under GSO’s or AAWS’s skirts, because GSO and AAWS have hiked their skirts up and run away screaming toward the horizon with their asses on fire.

Someone like this writer, who has so clearly spent a lifetime falling through the cracks in our mental health system, has found himself thriving in a 12-Step program, and feels that it has saved his life. And I’m not going to argue about that. There is a dearth of options for the people we throw away or pass the buck on (as H points out, it’s often used as a dumping ground). So, he’s just not fair game for me in the same way.

He begins his letter,

Years ago, Julie Jones and Scott Singer killed themselves in vain. Years ago, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Susan Smith and Andrea Yates killed others in vain. In the last two months, Christopher Alan Wood killed his wife and three children, William Parente killed his wife and two daughters, Kerby Revelus killed two of his sisters. James Harrison killed his five children. Devan Kalathat killed his two children and three other relatives. Michael McLendon killed his mother and grandparents. Jiverly Voong killed strangers. Many people despiritualized, enraged by psychiatric drugs, kill themselves and others. 

But there is hope. California psychiatrist Christian Hageseth III went to jail for prescribing Prozac to John McKay, who killed himself. [Hageseth — a bona fide quack –didn’t go to jail just for prescribing Prozac to the teen, but for illegally filling prescriptions over the internet].

So, it’s clear to me that this writer is a zealot only incidentally. For him, these tragedies represent a failure in the whole psychiatric system. And yeah, the connection requires an enormous leap, but because of where he’s coming from, he obviously feels very connected to them, in a “there but for the grace of God go I” way. And that, in itself, is an enormous tragedy.

There are a few alarming messages in this letter.

The first is that there only two options: debilitating addiction to psychopharmaceuticals and 12-Step. Death or life. Soul-killing over-medication and assembly line psychiatry versus love-bombing. If those are his choices, it is no wonder he is so ferociously against one and just as ferociously for the other. It’s black and white. The crime is that, for him, there were no other options made available to him (and he is one of us who needs the guidance). The virtual monopoly that 12-step programs have on the treatment industry is utterly unjustified, and he is a living example of exactly how fucked up that is. It’s like buying something at the thrift store because it looks pretty good next to the rest of the crusty crap in there. There is no good reason for our addicitions treatment industry to look like that.

Second is that while a 12-Step program may have been his ticket out of the psychiatric maze, it is not equipped to deal with mental health issues. That is not what it’s for.  And his main issue is, specifically, his mental health. He says that he, tragically, existed in a system that let him slip through the cracks for 30 years. Clearly, whatever group he joined abdicated their responsibility by taking this on, as only the prideful can.

Third, because of his black and white position here — and also, because of his 12-step indoctrination, which has surely encouraged his complete abstinence from all psychiatric medication and supervision — he is evangelizing for the anti-doctor-prescribed-medication faction of AA.

The mandate of all alcoholics, illegal and legal drug addicts: quit using or die.

This is his cause. As a 12-stepper, he is fighting against all psychopharmeceuticals, in favor of

the 12-step course in the mental tools for growing up equally worth loving taught in schools, community centers, psychiatric drug rehabilitation centers and prisons. Or keep drugging people, even children, into killing themselves and others.

Fourth, because 12-step enjoys such a stellar reputation, this paper irresponsibly printed this letter without qualification or hesitiation. Like most, the editors are surely unaware that 12-Step programs have nothing to say for themselves as far as recovery rates go. I’ll say it again: 5%. They have a 5% recovery rate. 5%. Did you get that? 5%. One more time: 5%. And in case you missed it, read this. And this.

This letter is just so tragic. I hope, despite my suspicions, that the 12-Steppers he’s joined up with have the presence of mind to encourage him not to, as Speedy says, throw the baby out with the bathwater. I hope that he doesn’t end up sponsoring others whom he will encourage to go off their medications. I hope that with his newfound clarity of mind and feeling of acceptance and adulthood, he will get his feet under him and explore the wide world of recovery options available to him.