I’m responding to one of Danny’s comments here on the front page, because I have been wanting to address some of these points anyway, and because I think it merits its own discussion.

In response to this comment, from Danny (here):

You guys have a whole past-time, cottage industry going here based upon hatting our fellowship. Do you at least have SOME familiarity with the Big Book after which the fellowship is named? I have to wonder.

I asked,

Do you honestly believe that we’re here passing our time hating on your fellowship?

And Danny said:

Some seem that way. Not all do. I don’t ‘get’ the motivation. Would you say that the motivation behind a site like this is a “noble” one?

It seem like, “AA didn’t work for me so it won’t work for you either – and I am going to expend my efforts to prove that to somebody.”

Is this like a “I am going to save the world by exposing the truth” kind of phenomenon?

Am I even close?


Danny S – RLRA
Real Live Recovered Alcoholic



’Morning Danny,

A lot of things don’t work for me, but I don’t spend my free time stomping around trying to convince everyone that those things are bogus. (Completely OT, but that just made me think of an angry letter to the editor I read once: This guy wrote in to say that the lottery was a scam because he’d been playing for two months straight and hadn’t won anything yet.) We get that a lot here, “You must have failed at AA, and now you’re just disgruntled and probably still drunk.” That’s one of those Unofficial, Unofficial AA Slogans I wrote about. We couldn’t possibly have a beef with AA unless we failed it. It’s a lazy way to dismiss criticism.

Here’s the noble cause:

AA is fucking enormous. If the treatment industry were a microcosm of the whole country, AA would fill the niche Christianity fills. And like Christianity, which has a mighty sense of entitlement to assert itself and influence every facet of society – public schools, court rooms, the Constitution, people’s private lives – AA/12-step has a similar sense of entitlement within the treatment industry. And it is also treated by the treatment industry with the same… Idunno… unquestioning, kid-glove indulgence that Christianity enjoys. In general, people treat Christianity with respect, even if they don’t believe it. It’s kind of funny how rational people, or people who are not Christians, will so rarely – in the arena of public discourse – call bullshit on someone’s religion, even when their opponent’s religious belief is at the very root of their demented approach to public policy.

 Nobody wants to stand up and lambaste AA anymore than anyone wants to get on prime-time news and tell Christians that their religion is ridiculous and that it has no place in government (unless you’re Christopher Hitchens). If you do that, you become the immoral, godless crank, and the uproar is enormous. How long do you think it will be before our country is ready to elect an atheist President? As it stands, we just don’t take anyone seriously unless they have faith in some in strange, random, unprovable,  supernatural event – among many random, strange things they could possibly believe.

In the treatment industry, public criticism of AA and 12-Step programs is rare, and for the same reasons. It is always very delicately couched – AA is just a given; it’s conventional wisdom, mainstream. I wonder how many times Ann Landers, for instance, has suggested AA to her readers, without knowing anything more about it than that AA is what drunks are supposed to do. The treatment industry is bloated with AA, and this is a horrible result. AA is a “miracle;” it’s a belief system; it’s a spiritual program. But it is not addiction treatment, anymore than Intelligent Design is science.

In order for science to consider Intelligent Design seriously, even just to engage in a debate with ID’s proponents, science itself would have to abandon its rigorous standards; the conversation would require that science actually redefine terminology in order to find some common ground for discussion. This has already happened with AA. The treatment industry takes the utter unaccountability of AA seriously. Terms like “spiritual disease” are rarely questioned. And the result of this has been disastrous for so many people.

Further, AA’s unaccountability and lack of responsibility for what actually happens in AA meetings, and the treatment industry’s dependence on, and unquestioning acceptance of AA, has generated some awful AA gestalt, which is like The Grey Goo . People are not being treated for their addictions in AA; they’re either becoming part of the goo or getting run over by it. As MA pointed out, we’ve seen the damage it does to people — its epidemic.

Compared to the giant machine AA has for support, and the doe-eyed acceptance it receives in general, and the millions of members and meetings, we’re really small potatoes. AA is not the underdog; it’s the Gold Standard. AA enjoys a place at the head of the grown-ups’ table, while its critics are viewed as the turds in the punchbowl.

But when we criticize AA, hold it up to the light of day, the response we receive from AAs is so interesting. You’d think they were being persecuted. An enormous institution with this much influence (yes, I know AAs deny this) should be immune from criticism? Can’t handle a little ankle biting? They do not welcome the muckrakers? They have no interest in doing a fearless moral inventory, rooting out abuses and ineffective elements, in evolving? No desire for accountability? Why? Why are the members who question what goes on in meetings told to take the cotton out of their ears? No checks and balances? No standards? Critics must have failed the program that cannot fail.

So, yeah, I’d say that our mission here is noble. We have a mess. People are being harmed in AA because it mimics the dynamics of an abusive domestic relationship* – and it is The Norm. Is wanting to “expose the truth and save the world” a ridiculous pursuit? The way you phrase that makes it seem that doing so is quixotic, silly, childish, deluded. I guess it’s the “and save the world” part. How about we leave off that part, and put it like this, “expose the truth, keep the conversation going, and hope it leads to reform.”


*UPDATED because, amazingly, while I was writing this, AnnaZed sent me a link to this piece from addictioninfo.org, which goes into detail about what I mean when I say that AA mimics the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

Many a newcomer will immediately feel comfy and cozy in the rooms of AA simply because the dynamics of the group mirror that of the newcomer’s dysfunctional family of origin.

    * Don’t think, don’t feel.

    * If you do feel, be advised that certain feelings are not allowed.

    * We know what’s best for you.

    * You don’t know what’s best for you, and we won’t even ask your opinion.

    * The family is correct, it is your feelings which are screwed up.

    * You must honor and respect us. You must be grateful for us. We gave you life. You are not allowed to be angry at us.

    * “Ouch! It hurts!” you say — “We’re only doing this because we love you” — they respond

    * “This doesn’t make sense!” you say — “Do it because I told you so!” — they respond

    * We will love you only if you do “this”, “that” or “the other”… we will love you conditionally

    * Don’t speak the truth — We can’t handle it.

    * Be sure to always pretend that everything is allright, otherwise the family will fall apart.

Sound familiar?