What can I say? After 12 years of continuous sobriety in AA, I had a moment of clarity and a profound ‘psychic change’ and suddenly AA appeared to me in a completely new light. There was no undoing it. So I left. Just like that.
With hindsight, it wasn’t sudden, it had been coming for a long, long, long time. This blog is my attempt to document my growing awareness and to give space to others to do the same. I do not claim to have all of the answers, but I have a lot of questions, questions that I have not been able to ask in AA. I hope to explore them here and I hope you will join me.
I appreciate this subject is controversial – and I respectfully remind continuing AA members of their stance on not engaging in controversy, if you want a fight you have come to the wrong place – but I do feel that there is a need for a sane debate about ‘recovery’ and AA and the 12 step approach.
It doesn’t suit everyone, there are real issues with it for abuse and trauma survivors, it has a very dubious success rate. There are real issues with it for women, for minorities, for anyone who isn’t of the power driving ‘personality type’ outlined in the ‘Big Book’. The AA world view also doesn’t really take account of our culture and the power structures within it that cause disempowered people distress, and I believe, it has become (maybe unwittingly??) part of the problem of oppression.
Most of all, for me, AA has a sexual abuse and predation problem that’d give the Catholic Church a run for its money. I simply cannot continue to support an organisation that won’t look at itself and deal with its own wrongs. These wide-scale abuses of vulnerable, damaged new members (usually, but not always, young women preyed on by older ‘sober’ men, and its rife in the LGBT recovery community too and elsewhere ) are hiding under the cloak of ‘anonymity’ of AA – often quite deliberately. This runs along side a culture of ‘tough love’ from those not qualified to give it, and sponsorship abuses that are also wholesale.
These are CRIMES that in any other setting would be dealt with with the full force of the law but they are going unreported, and victims are hushed up in the programme. The advice that many earnest but misguided AA members give to people hurt in and by AA is in fact ‘offender language’ that is propping up a blame the victim, patriarchal system, that goes against all the teachings coming out of effective trauma and abuse therapy, domestic violence and rape crisis support and so forth. In truth, many AA members really do NOT know what they are talking about, and their accumulation of days without ingesting an alcoholic beverage does not qualify them to play therapist. And so, those hurt, abused and harmed in AA are hurt all over again, often compounding the serious issues they walked in with. This seems to me to be completely contrary to the stated primary purpose of helping those with addiction issues to recover.
And whilst we may not (yet) have court mandated AA like our American cousins, AA is already entwined with our justice, health care, and educational systems. Indeed, AA is one global entity and what happens outside of the UK is still ‘the fellowship’. Celebrities, usually attempting to divert the media glare from their bad behaviour by labelling it ‘an addiction’, frequently break their anonymity (contrary to AA’s traditions). All this, alongside the romanticised view of AA portrayed in books, films and TV programmes – both homegrown and US imports – further solidify its reputation as a professional, regulated, tried and true ‘treatment’ for alcoholism and addiction. I doubt the public – let alone the many ill informed but well-intentioned therapists that continue to refer clients exhibiting issues with alcohol – are really aware that that AA is a ‘God Help Programme’ not a Self Help programme. The impending legal and PR disaster that is brewing regarding AA’s sex abuse scandals will further damage its credibility (if it ever really had any, other than in the eyes of true believers).
Which begs the question, has AA had its day? Can AA evolve and adapt? Or is it a dinosaur on the brink of extinction? Maybe not everyone who leaves ends up in the gutter? Maybe lots of us find ways to make it work without AA?
That’s what this blog is about.
Keep an open mind!