On Stanton Peele’s article,
‘Mind the steps?’, DDN, April, page 8…
ALL RECOVERY GROUPS are about the people that attend them. I tried AA for a couple of months as I didn’t know of anywhere else to go. The first thing that shocked me were people at the group who had not touched alcohol for many years (eg 20), so they said. Why were they still attending AA? To keep them sober, apparently. The fact is there is no discussion allowed, only listening to someone else telling you the same old story about what they did when they were drunk. You can’t challenge anything anyone says (no cross sharing). It is all religious dogma founded in 1930s America. I have not had a drink for three years, so I have got power over alcohol.
Many GPs for example don’t realise it’s a quasi-religious organisation. ‘Humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings’ – why did he give them to me in the first place then? I told them I did not believe in the 12 steps so was asked to leave – in fact AA state the only criteria for joining is a desire to stop drinking. No, it’s a religion in my opinion and they try and convert you. It’s all about God, although they deny that. Count how many times alcohol is mentioned in the 12 steps then count how many times God is mentioned. I formed my own SMART Recovery group. If AA works for some people great, but treatment providers should be aware of other self-help groups in their area and most aren’t.
ONE ONLY HAS TO READ STANTON’S BLOGS to understand why he is critical of AA, and an interpretation of the 12 steps as has been made known to him. The abuses that he has heard about in AA and has written of do occur in AA meetings, and among AA patrons outside of the meetings. That these abuses occur has been acknowledged in AA circles, down to and including conference level, however, beyond acknowledgement little has been achieved by way of effective action. The lack of action is possibly due, in part, to members’ vulnerability (especially in early recovery) being taken advantage of, and particularly in the UK, to confusing anonymity with secrecy. There is also the wider societal and cultural reluctance (professional and lay) to address, let alone deal effectively with, abuse.
12-step philosophy is open to interpretation, as is any philosophy (and I use the word ‘philosophy’ as a coverall for all approaches to thought, including theology). There are those that distort (intentionally or thoughtlessly) a philosophy to rationalise their behaviour, hence some religious adherents engage in various forms of abuse. AA and 12-step philosophy is not immune to being abused, especially when proponents of such interpret ‘powerless over addiction’ to mean ‘powerless, period’. I find Stanton’s criticism of this interpretation of the 12-steps as reinforcing victimhood valid. Personally, I admit I am powerless over addiction, mine and others, however, I interpret that in an empowering way in that, I will do all that I can to stay sober (and staying sober is more than just not drinking.)
My own journey with the 12 steps has been a solitary one. Having been rendered a victim by a brutal religious regime in a life pre-addiction, my personality is now such that I will not accept a code of conduct without challenging it. I do not prescribe to the fundamentalist religious view of ‘my way is the only way’, as quasi-religious types in AA do. As such, my challenges offend those over-inflated egos attracted to AA, and their cliques.
I have spent over two sober decades poring over various approaches to life and living. I cherry-pick, and accept responsibility for that which I have chosen, and that which I have discarded. I may just take a Stanton cherry, though it will be one that appeals to me now, at some tomorrow I may return for more. Am I prepared to accept Stanton’s valid perception as the only way? Of course not, ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s just a(nother) naughty boy’.