So, two dudes have written a book that criticizes Alcoholics Anonymous (which is totally fine. free speech, YAY!). The excerpt I read, however, contains a ton of misinformation and it pissed me off. You can read the article here and my response below (or, just look for JaneBirdy in the comments). Feel free to share what you think I got wrong in my assessment or any other comments…)
"While the authors make some valid points in their article, it’s important for anyone reading it to realize that the authors have cherry-picked quotes from AA literature to support an understanding of AA that is confused at best and incorrect at worst.
There are many things about the program of AA that I have trouble with, some are addressed in the authors’ piece, others are not. While I am a member of AA, this is not about my personal story. I simply want to point out the inaccuracies and one-sided crafting of this piece.
The authors’ state:”AA’s twelfth step expressly tells members to proselytize for the organization: ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.’” This is true. When a recovered alcoholics comes across an active alcoholic who is looking for a way out, it is only natural that the recovered alcoholic would share how s/he got sober and the success s/he found in AA. If someone was struggling with an illness you had recovered from, would you not share how you were able to recover?
It is important to note that “carrying the message” only applies to other alcoholics. AA isn’t concerned with spreading the message of AA beyond the people who could benefit from it. One oft recited quote from Tradition 11 that the authors (deliberately, I assume) left out from their discussion is, “Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion.” In other words, we don’t seek out opportunities to talk about what we have found in AA. If they are interested in how we got sober, however, we share our experience freely.
As with all groups, there will be people who take something to an extreme and come across to someone as “proselytizing.” but nothing in the literature demands that we do so.
I agree with the authors that the passage beginning “rarely have we seen a person fail…” is heavy handed and can be off-putting, especially for those who feel like they tried AA and it didn’t work for them. But there is an oft repeated phrase in AA: we are not doctors. If someone can find another way to get sober or, as the big book says, find a way to drink like a normal person then “our hats are off to him.”
The authors’ overall argument (example, their critique of Step 1) that the Steps lack “clinical merit or scientific backing,” only serves to underscore the fundamental ways in which they don’t understand the program of Alcoholics Anonymous or what it purports to be. Again and again you will hear references in the rooms of AA to this being a “spiritual program.” Holding up a program that claims to be based in spiritual principles and shouting that it’s not scientifically backed is akin to shouting in the wind. Hold up and apple and yell “this is not a pear!” Those of us who consume apples will already know this. As for the apple–-it’s not claiming to be anything else, either. The only “scientific” backing the Big Book provides is a doctor’s opinion which merely states that he has seen people recover from alcoholism through alcoholics anonymous. Go to any doctor in your city, I guarantee you, similar words are not hard to come by.
I also want to address the authors’ conflation of “spiritual” and “religious.” While the Big Book makes many references to God, it also repeatedly underscores the idea that God can be something that the individual chooses. Often (and in fact this is suggested by the book) “God” simply means the group of alcoholics in your support group. Certainly, no religion permits it’s practitioners to “choose their own conception of God.”
In addressing steps 4-7 the authors must not have actually read the relevant chapters of the Big Book because the amount of inaccurate information they profess is staggering:
addiction is not considered a moral defect–-it is very much considered a disease. That said, all humans, especially addicts have areas of their life/habits, etc. that they are ashamed of or wish they could change about themselves. So we do an inventory of those traits. We get them out on paper so we can look at them and see what might be behind them–-and also to stop being ashamed of them
The authors claim that step five (among others) is designed to exacerbate rather than relieve, the humiliating feelings so common in addiction. In fact, step 5 is designed to do the opposite. “Admitted to God, ourselves and another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.” The other human being is usually a sponsor who then relates his/her process of doing an inventory with a sponsor and notes that many of the same issues came up, This makes the alcoholic taking step 5 feel less ashamed and less alone.
As for 6-7 the idea is simply that you want to change and are willing to change your destructive behaviors. You are ready to live your life a different way–-in fact you hope that you will be able to live your life a different way. It’s more a statement of intention than it is a desire for divine purification.
The authors further misunderstand steps 8-9: they assert that the purpose of making amends is to cleanse oneself of sin. In fact, it’s simply an attempt to repair any damage caused in the past and state that you are committed to living your life in a different way.
The authors’ response to step 10 (Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”): “People suffering with addictions as a rule tend to be well aware of the many “wrongs” they have committed. Awareness of this fact doesn’t help the problem” makes it even clearer how much the authors don’t understand the AA program. Step 10 assumes that the individual is sober, so the “wrongs” have nothing to do with the “wrongs” committed as the result of addiction. It’s simply articulating that we should be aware of our daily actions and take personal responsibility when we are wrong (as we all, addict or not) sometimes are.
I have already addressed the mischaracterizations the authors repeat in addressing steps 11 and 12.
One of AA’s many sayings is “progress not perfection.” It is a flawed program comprised of flawed people. It may help one alcoholic and not another. But I believe we should at least be accurate about what the program entails before we vilify it.
*You may wonder why I am not offering any commentary on rehabs. There are so many different rehabs with some many different styles, it would be impossible to generalize them. Of course, there are many bad examples of rehabs, if you are looking to cherry-pick some of the worst examples for your book.”