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Original manuscript of AA's "Big Book" to be made public
September 22, 2010 1:53 PM   Subscribe

For millions of addicts around the world, Alcoholics Anonymous's basic text - informally known as the Big Book - is the Bible. And as they're about to find out, the Bible was edited. After being hidden away for nearly 70 years and then auctioned twice, the original manuscript by AA co-founder Bill Wilson is about to become public for the first time next week, complete with edits by Wilson-picked commenters that reveal a profound debate in 1939 about how overtly to talk about God.
posted by Joe Beese (76 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
"In the first chapter, a sentence that read "God has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish," was edited to replace "God" with "faith," and a question was added: "Who are we to say what God has to do?"

heh.
I think the manuscript article reflects what Wilson had wanted the work not to be and that is alot of liturgy AND god.
posted by clavdivs at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2010


Interesting. The puritanical origins of AA and its decidedly non-empirical claims is nothing new though. Anyone who wants to read a pretty thorough condemnation of AA should check out Heavy Drinking by Herbert Fingarette.
posted by painquale at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you're changing the words but keeping the meaning, what does that mean?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, as I write here, every federal court that has ruled on the issue of forced AA has said that it violates the separation of church and state.

Nonetheless, as Califano states in the WP article, virtually every treatment center in the US requires AA participation-- or at the very least, disparages other approaches to recovery as second-best, despite the fact that there's no real evidence to support that notion. For people who like AA, AA often works better than anything else-- but that's not true for those who don't like it, who may well be a majority. And forcing it on people can lead to serious harm when it is done by translating ideas like "powerlessness" into the treatment program imposing powerlessness on people and "humility" through use of humiliation.

So, basically, when it works, it works by self selection: those who stay with it do better than those who don't, but randomizing people to it doesn't improve outcomes because most people don't stay with it, even if they are required to go for a certain amount of time. Some randomized studies have found negative effects, some have found it is equivalent to other non-religious/spiritual approaches but the research rarely finds it superior except when they are comparing people who choose to go to those who don't, and that's likely a measure of motivation, not AA.

It is definitely the case that social support is useful to recovery-- and it is free and readily available social support for abstinence. The slogans can offer useful tips on relapse prevention and the steps can be useful in terms of helping people feel better about themselves. But it should only be recommended-- not part of paid treatment and not forced on people. And it is very clearly religious.
posted by Maias at 2:35 PM on September 22, 2010 [24 favorites]


Interesting that the linked article neglected to mention that "the classic white flash experience" came in the midst of a belladonna cure. I wonder how the manuscript's editing of "God" to "higher power" compares to the search-and-replace in Of Pandas and People from "creation" to "intelligent design."

But it's totally not religious! Honest!
posted by adipocere at 2:39 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're changing the words but keeping the meaning, what does that mean?

That people forced to go to AA by the justice system who don't have the strength and power to fight it can sit through it without feeling like a total hypocrite and maybe get some good from it.

So thank Faith for that.

I have lots of issues with AA, but I won't deny that it works for a lot of people but will also argue that a lot of those people wouldn't have had it work for them if they hadn't toned down the church-y -- in some places, all the way to zero.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:40 PM on September 22, 2010


In the end, it came down to "have faith." What you have faith in is entirely your business. The early AA people that put the whole thing together were just a bunch of drunks trying to give voice to what worked for them, and to find a way to help other people in the same boat.

Take away whatever you want in the end -- plenty of people get nothing from AA at all. For me, it has been about there being a group of sober people who genuinely cared that I get sober, and were there, and still are to this day, there for me. I don't know shit about god, but I'm pretty damn thankful for the fellowship. Sometimes having faith that the sun will come up tomorrow is enough for me. How and why exactly I was delivered of the compulsion that bedeviled me for over 20 years is beyond my comprehension, but there you have it. Maybe I'm a crank and a crackpot, but I'm a sober one which, believe you me, is a fuckton better than the alternative, which is I would be dead and my children would be fatherless.

I'm interested in the process that Wilson et al went through writing the book, and am curious about this -- thanks for the link, as I hadn't heard about it.

On preview: Court-mandated AA -- I'm on the fence about it. You know, we don't force anyone to stay for the whole meeting. You can get whoever (your mom?) to sign the dumb little card. It's gotta be better than jail if you really are an addict, I'd think.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:51 PM on September 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


If you had cancer and a doctor prescribed praying and meeting, would you think you were getting mainstream medicine or would you go to another doctor? Why should addicts get stuck with faith healing by force?

AA is a wonderful program *for people who want it, not people who need it* that works by *attraction not promotion*. Forced AA is not only against the spirit of AA-- it's not fair to those forced in. If you are going to mandate treatment, mandate empirically-supported treatments like CBT, MET and other things that don't require a spiritual commitment. If you are going to mandate self-help group attendance, allow people to go to SMART or SOS or WFS as an alternative if they don't like AA. Jail is not the only alternative and it's also more expensive and even less effective and even more likely to do harm!
posted by Maias at 2:59 PM on September 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


And you can't have it both ways: if addiction is a disease, you've gotta go by the medical evidence and by medical treatment and leave these decisions up to professionals, not people whose only experience is "having a disease." Would you go to a cancer patient for cancer treatment? If it's a moral issue, then you can mandate prayer and meeting and removal of defects of character.
posted by Maias at 3:01 PM on September 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Maias: (in response only to your second comment, rather than your first). Yes, I would go to a cancer patient for cancer treatment. It isn't the only thing I'd do, but, yes, I'd expect a patient, or, better yet, a group of patients could tell me, or discover with me, valuable things about my condition and how to live with my condition that interaction with a doctor wouldn't.
posted by squishles at 3:22 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Forced AA is not only against the spirit of AA-- it's not fair to those forced in.

I totally agree with you. courts send addicts to lock-down treatment centers. Those centers foist AA on their patients. I don't have an alternative for that, and I don't know why it happens that way -- we learned in civics class that we are the govt. - go fix it if you can. It isn't right.

The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking - lots of remanded people don't even have that desire. It's not going to do them any good. Some people WANT to get hammered and be left the fuck alone. The problem is where their drinking affects the lives of innocent strangers. I'd like drunk drivers to not kill anybody. Getting them off the streets is important - innocent people die because of bad decisions made by drunks every day, and it's an urgent issue -- I get that. I think we need a robust debate about this because forced treatment is only marginally better than jail time, as far as recidivism.

And you can't have it both ways: if addiction is a disease, you've gotta go by the medical evidence and by medical treatment and leave these decisions up to professionals, not people whose only experience is "having a disease."

Bring 'em on. If, in 1998, someone had sent me to a doctor that was able to hand me a pill that wiped out my compulsion to drink, do you not think I would have leapt at the chance to take it? (I might still be a total asshole though, and thanks to the introspection AA has afforded me, I'm slightly less than a total asshole today.) Alcoholism is a problem with the human brain, but you can't just go cut it out like a tumor, unfortunately. Lobotomies didn't work out too well in the long-run. I'm all for a medical cure if there's one to be had. (Can courts force drunks to take Antabuse? I ask seriously because I don't know.)

I think the debate here about court-mandated AA is maybe a bit of a derail, though. I'm going to go actually read the link now, before I dig this hole any deeper.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:27 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maias, I don't see why it couldn't be in the middle-- alcoholism is a disease that compels/makes more likely certain negative behaviors (somewhat like depression, maybe?). Because alcoholism has a behavioral component, discussions with alcoholism patients are much more likely to be part of an effective recovery than chats with cancer patients for a cancer sufferer. Discussions at AA are not comparable to prayer, I don't think.

You probably have the better of the argument on forced AA.
posted by ibmcginty at 3:29 PM on September 22, 2010


And it is very clearly religious.

I used to argue with a friend of mine who was an AA leader (and also Christian, natch). He simply could not understand why the Higher Power thing might be problematic for me, an atheist. "Your higher power could be the universe", he'd say. "It could be the ocean. It could be the radiator in the corner". And I'd say "yes, it could be, but then I'd be religious. And that's a problem, because I'm not." In return, he'd insist over and over again that worshipping humbling oneself before a "higher power" wasn't actually religious, because the book doesn't say "God".

I found all this pretty amusing, because AA would be Christian even if it never mentioned a Higher Power -- its emphasis on embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility comes straight from Christian ethics. Our society just can't admit that not everyone lives by these ethics, though, so it forces people who aren't coming from that paradigm to sit through meetings and mouth platitudes rather than getting behavior-based treatment which might work for them... and then goes "ah-ha! See, you can't recover without AA!" if they quit attending and relapse. AA reinforces this by closing ranks against those who quit or won't "do the program".

I think it's obvious that AA isn't primarily (or even secondly) about sobriety -- it's about adopting a certain brand of morality and spirituality which AA conflates with sobriety. The fact that our supposedly-secular justice system and medical system continue to support this program over all other options is a damn shame.
posted by vorfeed at 3:31 PM on September 22, 2010 [25 favorites]


"embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility comes straight from Christian ethics."

I think you're falling into the same trap as those who claim the US was founded on Christian principles. Christianity has no monopoly on, nor was the first to espouse said principles.
posted by klarck at 3:41 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


AA is as Christian as can be, in both the good ways and the bad ways.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:53 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think if you've watched someone go from homeless drunk on the street to participating member of society because of the program of AA, it becomes harder to argue with the good it can do. I don't think it's the only option. But it's not exactly analagous to other medical conditions, there is no medical treatment that has been proven effective. I know plenty of people who learned to keep drinking in spite of taking Antabuse.

If someone is offering effective medical treatment for addiction I would like to hear more about it.

I think a lot of the shame and guilt is not created by AA but created by the destruction addiction creates. AA offers a way to deal with these feelings and work through them. In AA speak, the program offers "solutions" so one doesn't have to live daily with guilt and shame because it can often contribute to drug or alcohol abuse in the first place.

As was said before, if you have to get a court card signed at a meeting, just forge it. No one in AA cares, and it's an anonymous program so there is no other way to verify your attendance.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 4:17 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


AA does work for some people. Statistically, it's not any better than any of the other options, which makes the party line of "It's AA or dying in the gutter" rather obnoxious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:20 PM on September 22, 2010


Even people who are critical of of AA tend to throw in "but it works for some people"

but what does that really mean?
posted by heyethan at 4:22 PM on September 22, 2010


Pope Guilty, I'm not sure if you're referring to my statement, but that's not what I said.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 4:28 PM on September 22, 2010


I think you're falling into the same trap as those who claim the US was founded on Christian principles. Christianity has no monopoly on, nor was the first to espouse said principles.

I did not say that Christianity has a monopoly on those principles, or that they were the first to espouse them. I said that AA's emphasis on embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility comes straight from Christian ethics, which is entirely true. Bill Wilson wasn't getting his philosophy from a secular version of the Golden Rule, and that's obvious just from reading the 12 Steps. As I pointed out above, AA is about adopting a certain kind of spirituality, not just a certain kind of secular morality or ethics, and that spirituality is distinctively Christian -- the fact that he replaced the word "Jesus" with "a Higher Power" doesn't change that.
posted by vorfeed at 4:31 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Regardless of the focus of the original post, every MeFi AA thread starts with "court-mandated AA is bullshit" and jumps to "fucking Christians started this shit and now they're telling me what to think" and ends up at "well, statistically it doesn't even work anyway." Listen, if you have a problem with AA, where it comes from, how (un)successful it is, who started it, and what it stands for, don't fucking attend.

If you drive you and your pals into a telephone pole, and a court compels you to go to a set of meetings, get your court card signed and don't listen to a word anyone has to say. Hell, stay at home and forge the signatures. It's not that complicated.
posted by phaedon at 4:35 PM on September 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


If someone came up with another translation of the Bible, would everyone jump into the endless Christianity Sucks argument?

Add AA to the list of topics metafilter doesn't do well.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:35 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


If only A.A. could have fully realized Bill Wilson's um.... vision:
One of his therapeutic journeys lead him to Trabuco College in California, and the friendship of the college’s founder, Aldous Huxley. The author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception introduced Wilson to LSD-25. The drug rocked Wilson’s world. He thought of it as something of a miracle substance and continued taking it well into the ‘60s. As he approached his 70th birthday, he developed a plan to have LSD distributed at all AA meetings nationwide. The plan was eventually quashed by more rational voices, and a few years later the Federal government made the point moot by making the drug illegal. (That Wilson’s plan was shot down is probably fortunate. LSD is a beautiful thing, but nothing sounds more horrifying to me than a roomful of chain-smoking, frightened, needy drunks tripping their heads off in the basement of the local Y. [source]
I think even Bill himself was a bit of an experimenter.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 4:45 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]



As was said before, if you have to get a court card signed at a meeting, just forge it. No one in AA cares, and it's an anonymous program so there is no other way to verify your attendance.


Probation departments send people to the meetings with your picture. They aren't that dumb.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2010


AA is as Christian as can be, in both the good ways and the bad ways.

Yeah, that time my club led a crusade to sack Jerusalem was a riot. We had a blast. And when we slaughtered everybody alive in Beziers, we sure as shit showed those Cathar heretics who the fuck was serener! Seriously. WFT.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:02 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Outside of very liberal areas, AA is the best free option. I think if you want to pay to go to a non-AA treatment center the court should accept that, but if you are like most people whose alcoholism has forced them in front of a judge, that's likely not an option.

This pseudo-anarchist is all about AA. Its a community that works to support itself without hierarchy. I don't believe in God, but I also don't believe that we're going to have a fully participatory society without Him.
posted by keratacon at 5:04 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


> emphasis on embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility comes straight from Christian ethics

Be sure never to have any of those yourself, v. Your pals are bound to go Ew, Xtian ethics! and there'll go all your cred.
posted by jfuller at 5:05 PM on September 22, 2010



Yeah, that time my club led a crusade to sack Jerusalem was a riot. We had a blast. And when we slaughtered everybody alive in Beziers, we sure as shit showed those Cathar heretics who the fuck was serener! Seriously. WFT.


I was referring to theological beliefs and practices but whatever lets have a Crusades derailment. WFT indeed.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2010


Probation departments send people to the meetings with your picture. They aren't that dumb.

Thanks, that made me laugh.
posted by phaedon at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2010


If someone came up with another translation of the Bible, would everyone jump into the endless Christianity Sucks argument?

I can make an educated guess.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regardless of the focus of the original post, every MeFi AA thread starts with "court-mandated AA is bullshit" and jumps to "fucking Christians started this shit and now they're telling me what to think" and ends up at "well, statistically it doesn't even work anyway." Listen, if you have a problem with AA, where it comes from, how (un)successful it is, who started it, and what it stands for, don't fucking attend.

If you drive you and your pals into a telephone pole, and a court compels you to go to a set of meetings, get your court card signed and don't listen to a word anyone has to say. Hell, stay at home and forge the signatures. It's not that complicated.


So because metafilter reacts negatively to posts about AA it's not okay to be critical of court mandated recovery programs that are A) religious and B) unsuccessful? I don't even drink, but if said scenario ever occured, no thank you, I won't just attend and not listen and/or forge signatures.
posted by heyethan at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]



Probation departments send people to the meetings with your picture. They aren't that dumb.

Thanks, that made me laugh.


I know it's crazy, next they will be creating an army of people to collect urine in little cuppies for the state to examine.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:15 PM on September 22, 2010


Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:15 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I won't just attend and not listen and/or forge signatures.

Then go to fucking jail, do I give a shit? You have options, bro. If you don't like them, talk to your local congressman. What does this have to do with the post?
posted by phaedon at 5:17 PM on September 22, 2010


I know it's crazy, next they will be creating an army of people to collect urine in little cuppies for the state to examine.

With over 2,500 meetings a week in LA county alone, an army's exactly what you're going to need.
posted by phaedon at 5:18 PM on September 22, 2010



With over 2,500 meetings a week in LA county alone, an army's exactly what you're going to need.


Are you really unfamiliar with the concept of randomly checking things or are you just being a dick?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:19 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't come in here spinning wives' tales about PO's floating into meetings, picture in hand, looking for people on probation. That, to borrow a phrase, has not been my experience. I'm trying to point out that, at least in this town, that would require nothing short of a manhunt.
posted by phaedon at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2010


No, it requires the same randomness frequently used to assign drug testing. It is done, and even if you don't believe it for some reason, there is zero logistical reason it couldn't be done.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:24 PM on September 22, 2010


Then go to fucking jail, do I give a shit? You have options, bro. If you don't like them, talk to your local congressman. What does this have to do with the post?

I probably would. But since I haven't done anything, I won't be going to jail. As someone who hasn't been convicted of a DUI, I'll espouse my opinion here and wherever I like, and not attend. You act as though people who "have a problem with AA, etc." and aren't attending AA meetings ought not to be critical of the program itself or government endorsement of it.

also, writing to congressmen and being critical on the internet are not mutually exclusive.

also also, please don't call me bro.
posted by heyethan at 5:25 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


vorfeed--A few comments. "a christian, natch". what a load of crap and assumptions--there are 12 step groups run by Buddhists, Unitarians, Jews, and atheists. Maybe not your brand of atheism. "its emphasis on embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility comes straight from Christian ethics" and an incredibly world wide range of other non christian ethics.
"rather than getting behavior-based treatment which might work for them"--specifically which empirically tested behavior based programs. While there is abundant evidence regarding the efficacy of using certain drugs to help treat alcoholism (after all it is partly a brain disease) there is very little empirical evidence to support other strategies including AA. You are right about it being self selecting but the net is pretty wide. AA groups vary tremendously from group to group, region to region and throughout the world. Because of the extreme difficulty in successfully treating alcoholism, the cost of other unproved strategies, the benefit of peer support/honesty and the lethal consequences of alcoholism give it a rest. Righteousness never cures anything.
BTW the phrase "the indominable spirit of the metal underground" from your web site is getting a little close to the surrender and the supernatural.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:26 PM on September 22, 2010


I mean I don't know what to say to you right now, Phaedon. I've been on probation for alcohol related offenses. Probation officers verified my appearance at AA meetings in person. I can't explain why that doesn't jive with your preferred personal narrative of reality, but they really like to actually verify that people fulfill the principle terms of their probation.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:29 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Probation officers verified my appearance at AA meetings in person.

So did they tell you which meetings and times to attend? Or did they let you choose, but made you inform them of the meeting place and time? I'm genuinely curious because I've never heard of anything like that. I've seen plenty of people getting their cards signed at meetings, but no one has ever related being followed there by a probation officer until now. I'm not doubting you -- I'm just asking.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:44 PM on September 22, 2010


It's always seemed to me that the concept of a higher power was a lot less to do with deism, let alone a Christian flavoured one, and much more to do with discovering that the alcoholic was not the beall and endall and centre of the universe. It's a perspective thing and an integral part of dealing with a disease of the 'self'; the only disease, incidentally, that requires a self-diagnosis.

This - the AA thing - is one area of the universe where conspiratorialists and critics would be wise to voice their opinions, as ignorant as they may be, and then step away from the megaphone and not pursue their misgivings, as incorrect or otherwise as they may be, with as much zealousness as they sometimes do.

And not just because it's a little unseemly, but because it's akin to putting up a barrier to those who, amazingly and in total opposition to said criticisms, might possibly be contemplating asking there for a little help, where they know they won't be judged and where they're sure to find comrades who will understand where they've been and who may just offer a little hope to a fairly broken and scared human being.
posted by peacay at 5:44 PM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was referring to theological beliefs and practices but whatever lets have a Crusades derailment.

And I was just obtusely and sarcastically saing that it's not quite "as Christian as can be."
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:51 PM on September 22, 2010


In the 12 step programs I've participated in, a generic woo-woo spirituality was the norm. Newbies were encouraged to "turn it over" to their higher power and accept whatever happened next as the higher power's answer. If nothing happened, they were told patronizingly that "our higher power doesn't always give us the answer we want," or "It will happen in god's time, not ours."

My ex-sponsor is still sitting out a menial clerical job (she has a master's in biochemistry) waiting for a new job in god's time.

Aside from the magical thinking, group members think nothing of undermining a newcomer's marriage if the spouse isn't into the program too. Their logic is like this: If someone's in a meeting, they MUST be an addict. Therefore, they're too dysfunctional to have a relationship. In your first year of recovery, you shouldn't be in a relationship anyway. If you're in one, you've inevitably chosen a dysfunctional partner because addicts are incapable of healthy relationships. Your partner not being in program just proves them right. So split up with your SO and only hang out with program people from now on.

And eventually someone will say you're not "meant to" be with your partner and god brought you into the program to show you that. Newbies are encouraged to set aside their critical thinking faculties and shamed into listening to the advice of senior program members.

It's really a shame that this sort of mindfuck is being billed as the only alternative for sick and suffering people and I am so glad I got out.
posted by xenophile at 5:53 PM on September 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


In the 12 step programs I've participated in, a generic woo-woo spirituality was the norm. Newbies were encouraged to "turn it over" to their higher power and accept whatever happened next as the higher power's answer. If nothing happened, they were told patronizingly that "our higher power doesn't always give us the answer we want," or "It will happen in god's time, not ours."

My ex-sponsor is still sitting out a menial clerical job (she has a master's in biochemistry) waiting for a new job in god's time.

Aside from the magical thinking, group members think nothing of undermining a newcomer's marriage if the spouse isn't into the program too. Their logic is like this: If someone's in a meeting, they MUST be an addict. Therefore, they're too dysfunctional to have a relationship. In your first year of recovery, you shouldn't be in a relationship anyway. If you're in one, you've inevitably chosen a dysfunctional partner because addicts are incapable of healthy relationships. Your partner not being in program just proves them right. So split up with your SO and only hang out with program people from now on.

And eventually someone will say you're not "meant to" be with your partner and god brought you into the program to show you that. Newbies are encouraged to set aside their critical thinking faculties and shamed into listening to the advice of senior program members.

It's really a shame that this sort of mindfuck is being billed as the only alternative for sick and suffering people and I am so glad I got out.


yes yes yes. This is what I hate even more than the religious ties: within this circle of "recovery", there is so much dogma surrounding addiction and the steps taken to overcome it. Things like "if x is true, you are an addict. and if you are an addict y is automatically true as well. finally z is your definite and only solution."
posted by heyethan at 6:04 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


You act as though people who "have a problem with AA, etc." and aren't attending AA meetings ought not to be critical of the program itself or government endorsement of it.

listen brrrrrrrrrr. Be critical of the government's endorsement of AA. I certainly don't think a room full of self-centered alcoholics give a shit if you show up, is all I'm trying to say. AA is there for those who want it, not those who need it. I don't actually know why the courts mandate attendance. Maybe they think it will help, or that it can't hurt. It is certainly not the result of an organized effort by Alcoholics Anonymous to increase membership. Maybe forced attendance does hurt some people. If that's the case, hopefully one day the laws will change.

I totally understand how people get upset with the courts forcing people to attend a spiritual program, but I just want to clear up that, internally, that's not what AA is about.

But my take is that you have a personal axe to grind, what with your snappy little retorts and your lazy link to the Orange Papers, like I'm supposed to read that and have my mind blown. I'd like to point out as I have before that while that it would be totally sweet if, amidst your criticism, you acknowledge that the set of guiding principles known as the 12 steps have given rise to Al-Anon, CA, CMA, NA, GA, DA, OA, CoDA, SLAA, and NicA, to name a few. And.. scene.
posted by phaedon at 6:05 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


vorfeed--A few comments. "a christian, natch". what a load of crap and assumptions--there are 12 step groups run by Buddhists, Unitarians, Jews, and atheists. Maybe not your brand of atheism. "its emphasis on embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility comes straight from Christian ethics" and an incredibly world wide range of other non christian ethics.

Again, AA's emphasis on embracing surrender, shame, guilt, and humility does not actually come from "an incredibly world wide range of other non christian ethics". It comes from Christianity. That's the point of this article. I don't doubt that individual group leaders have put their own spin on it since then, but that doesn't change where it came from, and the fact is that it didn't come from Buddhists or Jews or Unitarians or atheists.

BTW the phrase "the indominable spirit of the metal underground" from your web site is getting a little close to the surrender and the supernatural.

No, it isn't. Try definitions 6 and 9 here. Then try here for why you shouldn't be dragging quotes from my website into this thread.
posted by vorfeed at 6:14 PM on September 22, 2010


AA is not what worked for me. I never got myself to a single meeting. But I did read the book, I did see a lot of sense in it, and it provided me with wealth of useful strategies for getting myself sober in my own way.

In retrospect I'm glad (really glad) that it was edited in the way this post describes. Because back then, I was an arrogant little shit, and even with all the incentives in the world, and an almost crushing knowledge of how crucial it was that I stop drinking and never drink again, I probably would have pitched the thing at the TV had it been too overtly Christian. Then I would have gone and bought another carton. Or ten.

Since then, I've spent a fair bit of time hanging out with friends for whom AA has worked. Some of them (a small number to be sure) have gone the distance and stayed sober. A few continue to cycle through addiction and sobriety. And a larger number have lasted a few months and gone back to being hopelessly fucked up beautiful losers.

But as far as I'm concerned, even a short spell of sobriety is a pretty big thing. It's success. It's AA working. Because two or three or six month of sobriety is (at the very least) a window back onto the real world, and provides the knowledge that there is a doorway back into it.

So I really don't get the point of view that makes a strident comparison of spontaneous remission rates versus AA's claimed success statistics. Even when AA doesn't bring permanent sobriety, it often brings some temporary light into some pretty dark spaces. And that's more than enough for me to consider it successful.

Why anyone would get all het up about that, and seek to take AA off the table as one treatment option amongst many, is just utterly beyond me.
posted by Ahab at 6:26 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


But my take is that you have a personal axe to grind, what with your snappy little retorts and your lazy link to the Orange Papers, like I'm supposed to read that and have my mind blown. I'd like to point out as I have before that while that it would be totally sweet if, amidst your criticism, you acknowledge that the set of guiding principles known as the 12 steps have given rise to Al-Anon, CA, CMA, NA, GA, DA, OA, CoDA, SLAA, and NicA, to name a few. And.. scene.

I don't think I was being that snappy to be honest. I mean, I never called anyone bro or accused them of having an axe to grind. nor did I end any of my posts with "and... scene" in that smug sort of way someone uses when they think they've annihilated someone in an argument.

Anyways, I apologize for being so lazy by linking to webpage (which apparently was directed at you with the purpose of you reading the entire thing AND having your mind blown). I owe you that apology. I also apologize for not mentioning several other recovery organizations that use methods which range from similar to identical to AA's.

There, now I'm being snappy.

I oppose those organizations as well, largely because I'm opposed to the sort of dogmatic rules they present as universal truths. All it takes is going to the AA website to get a small taste of this. It may help a small number of people on an individual level, but it's taking over addiction recovery in a way that society largely accepts their word on addiction as fact. My link might seem lazy to you, but a lot of people don't know about those statistics. AA as an organization is deliberately misleading in their success claims and many people take them at their word. I don't like their word, plain and simple, because I think it discourages anyone else's word but their own.
posted by heyethan at 6:47 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Vorfeed--OK, thanks for the heads up on acceptable practice. In future I will stick to references from posts.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:52 PM on September 22, 2010


Regardless of the focus of the original post, every MeFi AA thread starts with "court-mandated AA is bullshit" and jumps to "fucking Christians started this shit and now they're telling me what to think" and ends up at "well, statistically it doesn't even work anyway."

This thread is actually about the Christian origins of AA. So at least one of those three topics are explicitly appropriate, and the other two are not unrelated.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:09 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Saying "hey it's just Christianity with the the Christ part taken out" is like saying "hey, it's a Monte Cristo sandwich without the turkey" Maybe this is inside baseball sort of stuff, but most believers would say "no, that's a ham and cheese sandwich. I don't care if you originally intended to have turkey in there or not: without turkey, all you'll ever have is a grilled ham and cheese."
posted by klarck at 7:38 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.

People don't take me seriously when I tell them I'm a Bokononist. What a beautiful little religion.

"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.

"Certainly," said man.

"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.

And He went away.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:41 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


From this day forward, MeFites will be known as "Friends of Matt H.".
posted by dr_dank at 7:55 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sandwich savvy, but I believe I'm with klarck. AA may work really well for Christians or people who come from that ethos (and it's basically part of the culture, to an extent, so it's going to work for a lot of people regardless of how they identify religiously) because it employs concepts that are in Christianity. The language, the presentation of problem and cause and solution, work for people. IMHO, AA works well because of its Christian base. But AA on its own is not Christianity. It can't turn you into a Christian.

If you're changing the words but keeping the meaning, what does that mean?

That you're close to the original, but a step or two away. And that maybe a different audience can understand the message.
posted by ramenopres at 8:58 PM on September 22, 2010


My experience with court-mandated AA: while attending the first of the THIRTY-SIX sessions (NOT AA meetings -- I had to go to a couple of dozen of those or, um, have signatures so stating), I declined to join hands for the Lord's Prayer at the end of group. When pressed, I told the group that I was a non-believer and that I'd prefer not to participate. Well. That went over just great. Suddenly this group of meth-smoking pillheads are Holy Christian Martyrs and a fat chunk of the remaining sessions turned into me being lovingly harangued into reconsidering a relationship with Jeebus. Which, I hafta admit, was waaaay more entertaining than "drugs are bad, mmmm'kay?"

Again: this wasn't an AA meeting. I have no beef with AA. There are AA meetings to fit every philosophical and theological niche, and if you can't find one, start one. AA is full of good people trying hard to be better people.

But to have the state mandate what are essentially prayer sessions with a veneer of psychotherapeutic hand-waving? Fuck that. I'd have rather done the jail time. It'd've been quicker and cheaper for everyone involved. And I'd have been in Shelby. Chow's pretty good there. Homemade biscuits and gravy every Friday morning.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:12 AM on September 23, 2010


I don't understand why opposition to the state's coercion always turns into opposition to AA itself.

The infiltration of the state's motives and methods is completely antithetical to the basically anarchic and consensual principles of these groups. But because 12-steps groups are loosely organized, they've been unable to respond appropriately to the state coercion of attendance. (They're also not supposed to take political positions, so as to avoid controversy.)

Think about it this way: let's say you throw a perfectly consensual cocktail party, but some guy is there because his wife made him come. The only person the guy can legitimately blame is his wife, not the party's organizers or the other guests or the dude who made the hors d'oeuvres. And that's true even if the organizer said that the party would be awesome but it's actually kind of boring, or if some of the guests are bad conversationalists, or if the food sucks.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:34 AM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow xenophile, your compulsion to share bitterness is kind of grating. So you had a loonie locality with a top-heavy set of godbotherers. Don't you think that the tens of millions of happier stories from 12-step attendees over many decades might stack up against your tiny little world of experience?

What if those disturbing beliefs you have about AA and the like are, by some infinitesimal chance, not the norm, not even close to the average experience, and are in fact only representative of a hateful few, a disillusioned minority who weren't able to find what they were looking for, for one reason or another, when they visited one of the programs? What if these hateful words you feel compelled to share are seen by someone who's teetering on the brink, desperate to give up drinking, beaten, cynical and trying with all their might to resist going and asking for help? What happens when they read the negativity you inisist on sharing from your teeny tiny background of 12 steppery and they go "fuck yeah, that figures" and goes to the bar instead of going to a meeting?

Don't you think that with all the weight of numbers and the life and death seriousness of the problem, that you might give consideration to the fact that you will do the world less harm if you just shut up? This is not an evil organisation, it's hardly even an organisation at all. They're not raising pedophiles, they're not promoting big oil or the tea party, they're not asking for donations of life savings, they're not about overthrowing governments or society, they're just about a bunch of poor bastards trying to help each overcome an addiction as best as they can.

I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would want to piss on one of the few paths that might (yes, MIGHT!) save lives from the family-destroying and soul-killing hell of addiction. The compulsion to shit on other people's attempts is odious in my book and anyone who thinks undermining and attacking AA does any good beyond bolstering their own overinflated ego is sorely mistaken and ought to go look up empathy in the dictionary as penance.
posted by peacay at 5:36 AM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would want to piss on one of the few paths that might (yes, MIGHT!) save lives from the family-destroying and soul-killing hell of addiction. The compulsion to shit on other people's attempts is odious in my book and anyone who thinks undermining and attacking AA does any good beyond bolstering their own overinflated ego is sorely mistaken and ought to go look up empathy in the dictionary as penance.

Amen, brother. I feel the same way about my new lung cancer treatment. You see, I release a swarm of live hornets directly into the patient's esophagus, where they use naturopathic methods to disentangle the cancerous toxins from the host. The clinical trials aren't back yet, but since this treatment might save lives from the family-destroying menace of cancer, we can clearly overlook any of the minor side effects.
posted by Mayor West at 6:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wow, the original link is a really interesting bit to read. Thanks a lot for catching and posting this!


Xenophile: "Aside from the magical thinking, group members think nothing of undermining a newcomer's marriage if the spouse isn't into the program too. Their logic is like this: If someone's in a meeting, they MUST be an addict. Therefore, they're too dysfunctional to have a relationship. In your first year of recovery, you shouldn't be in a relationship anyway. If you're in one, you've inevitably chosen a dysfunctional partner because addicts are incapable of healthy relationships. Your partner not being in program just proves them right. So split up with your SO and only hang out with program people from now on.

And eventually someone will say you're not "meant to" be with your partner and god brought you into the program to show you that. Newbies are encouraged to set aside their critical thinking faculties and shamed into listening to the advice of senior program members.
"

I know this story too well. My ex, who I was very very much in love with, and who was in love with me for the 4 or so years we were together, found herself in AA/NA for a marijuana problem. Jump 6 months ahead, and what you describe above happened. It wrecked me, at the time, and the changes in her (not just her leaving me) were one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

I, personally, take issue with a lot of 12 step stuff. For one, the steps themselves are, in my view, a completely horrible way to help people. I also am not wild about the AA line of "well, there really is no central office, so the group at large is not responsible for things done in it's name." That is cheap, in my eyes. All the same, I am fine with these things existing for those who want them. But the oft heard claims from 12 Step adherents about how AA does not promote itself and whatnot are, frankly, complete BS. A quick conversation with most "true believers" about the options for an addicted person seeking help and advice on possible courses of action will show that, in my experience.

I have been entirely drug free for many years now, and I have never once referred to myself as "sober," because AA/12 Step folks have monopolized the word. As pointed out upthread, "sober" now refers to an adherence to 12 step morality.

Lastly, I am sort of surprised at Phaedon's comments in here. Some people, myself included, would never dream of fudging a signature on a court ordered attendance document, or of crashing a car full of friends into something while drunk. The fact that some people happen to have these bits of decency without participation in a 12 step group hardly makes them unfit to comment or criticize those groups.
posted by broadway bill at 6:50 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was shocked when I first saw the extent to which AA is religious. It had always been presented to me as just some random worthy organisation that helped alcohol addicts break the habit. When I actually read the twelve steps and some deeper background I was fairly appalled. It certainly helped explain the possible origin of the somewhat glassy-eyed evangelical demeanour of the two people I ever knew who went through the program. Personally, if the only option to one irrational behaviour is to beat it into submission with another, I'll stick with the one that's actually fun sometimes. The most relentlessly tedious people I have ever met have been reformed alcoholics. It's like they can no longer get through their lives without viewing everyone else's through the distorted (but oh, so clean!) lens of their own experience with addiction and redemption.
posted by Decani at 7:01 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Despite its limitations and flaws, and there are many, the program has saved millions of lives. MW, please call back when your bee treatment achieves even a tenth of that.
posted by caddis at 7:28 AM on September 23, 2010


If someone's in a meeting, they MUST be an addict. Therefore, they're too dysfunctional to have a relationship. In your first year of recovery, you shouldn't be in a relationship anyway. If you're in one, you've inevitably chosen a dysfunctional partner because addicts are incapable of healthy relationships. Your partner not being in program just proves them right. So split up with your SO and only hang out with program people from now on.

And eventually someone will say you're not "meant to" be with your partner and god brought you into the program to show you that.


This is fucking appalling, and I'm really sorry it happened to you. Without going all "THERE DOING IT RONG" on that particular group, it is worth noting that the attitude you describe is antithetical to the ideas in the big book -- specifically, there are two entire chapters of the book written around healing and holding families together through one member getting sober. The recommendation I've always heard is "if you're not in a relationship now, you might think about not starting one early in sobriety, since you've got other things to focus on in the short term." There's certainly no literature or tradition I've ever seen that suggests one break up an existing marriage or relationship. That's an awful thing for a group to do to people. I can see why you got a bad taste.

That's one of the problems of decentralization -- splinter groups rise up and get carried away with particular aspects, and miss the mark. I think a responsible person, if suggesting AA to someone, will also suggest that they try as many different meeting places as possible, since they all have a different vibe. I think the group I frequent must be a bunch of hippies, or something. We've got athiests, Wiccans, Buddhists, and pagans in the mix, and I can think of one prominent and highly-respected long-term member who gets out of his seat and leaves the room about 2 minutes before the meeting is over because he doesn't agree with the use of The Lord's Prayer, and no one ever gives him shit about it. There's also lots of good strong, long-term marriages that pre-date people's sobriety dates. It might just be that it's an older crowd, but that's pretty normal, from what I see.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:44 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also am not wild about the AA line of "well, there really is no central office, so the group at large is not responsible for things done in it's name." That is cheap, in my eyes.

I know, right? It's like how Islam doesn't crack down on that whole terrorism business. The old "no central office" dodge.

I'm quite open to the claim that AA is heavily inflected with Christianity: it got its start with the Oxford Group, which was explicitly religious. The changes the FPP points to are precisely an attempt to make a doctrinal religious movement more ecumenical, and since then 12-steps groups have found appeal for many people of different religions largely because of those changes.

But you can't have it both ways. Precisely because it has many aspects of a decentralized religious practice, it's not the sort of institution that can stand up to the state or answer for every adherent.

Think of it like yoga: nobody answers for all yogis. If your yoga teacher is a douchebag, it's not yoga's fault. And just because it has its roots in some crazy-ass Indian spiritual "medicine" practices doesn't prove that the practice is useless.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:12 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Btw, to the person who said they would get their cancer treatment from cancer patients, good luck with having them know the right dose of chemotherapy for you and with the "radiation worked for me so it must be the only way for you too" crowd.

I am not saying that social support isn't helpful to recovery. But it is ridiculous to claim that social support is medical treatment-- and it's also ridiculous to claim that the only alternative to AA is paid treatment. There are other support groups, which I listed in my post.

No one should be forced into a religious organization for treatment. The alternative to the religious organization cannot be jail or the constitution isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

That doesn't mean that some people don't do well in AA, it doesn't mean that some people don't genuinely do well in AA as atheists, it just means that you can't force it on people using the state.
posted by Maias at 8:24 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


(passes basket)
posted by clavdivs at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The changes the FPP points to are precisely an attempt to make a doctrinal religious movement more ecumenical

I think it might be more accurate to say that they're an attempt to make a doctrinal religious movement look more ecumenical. If I'm a Christian and I replace all instances of "Jesus" with "Allah" but don't change any of my doctrines, I'm not suddenly Muslim.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:35 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have been entirely drug free for many years now, and I have never once referred to myself as "sober," because AA/12 Step folks have monopolized the word. As pointed out upthread, "sober" now refers to an adherence to 12 step morality.

I describe myself as "temperate" for the same reason.
posted by interrobang at 8:53 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some people think MetaFilter is ruined by SLYT threads; some people ignore it or can't view them at work so it's like they don't exist. I think AA, as with most things actually, really comes down to "Are you open minded enough to be able to look at something and find the good in it, even if you don't agree with everything."

As I discussed this thread last night with my partner (who is both where my problems with AA/NA and support for it most directly come from -- as he has issues in theory but not in practice) pointed me towards this:

"To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy,all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to
those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe,to all...”"

I'm really sorry for the folks who feel they might be able to get something from it but can't because of they can't ignore parts of it. In other words, I'm glad I live in a city large enough to support multiple Quad A groups, not because I've taken advantage of it but because I'm glad it's there for those who might.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:56 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And to make what I just posted not a continuation of the thread derail, I think the above comment is relevant to the original post because I find the small changes that were made very interesting because it did lead the opportunity for AA to be much more inclusive than it might have been.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:00 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I'm a Christian and I replace all instances of "Jesus" with "Allah" but don't change any of my doctrines, I'm not suddenly Muslim.

Indeed not, but if you believe that Sam Harris died for your sins, and was resurrected three days later, you're not a Christian, either. "Higher Power" is more generic than "Jesus Christ." I agree that it still involves faith and submission and a number of other diffused Christian-cultural concepts, but there is a difference, and it was a change made in the spirit of inclusion.

As an atheist myself, I can distinguish the particular existential proposition "There is a God," from the general claim that membership in a community of people who believe that proposition to be true may be helpful even for those who don't hold the proposition. The atheist and the Christian can be friends, you know?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:31 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


AA can be effective. But so is execution. AA is, effectively, an exercise in brainwashing. When it is successful, the subject stops drinking. When it fails, however, the subjects tend to do exactly what AA warns about, and drink themselves to death. Which, in a way, is another form of effectiveness.

AA has been effective for many people. Great! However, for many others, it is a total failure, even a negative value. There are those people for whom this humility thing is completely inappropriate. AA is completely unable to deal with such situations, and the adherents tend to circle wagons and attack such people. When so activated, AA adherents can be an extremely and offensively dogmatic bunch of assholes. Any sane person would be driven to drink!

That being said, hey, for those people that get results, I'm truly happy. I've been to a number of meetings, and they can be refreshing. I've spent a lot of time amongst drunks that have stopped, and they can be great company. And now, oddly enough, I feel like seeing if there's an English-speaking meeting around me. Just for old-time sake, I've never had a substance issue.
posted by Goofyy at 9:41 AM on September 23, 2010


Does AA have major competition? It's certainly been the one group that has really saturated my media-filled upbringing.
If someone wants a support group to help reduce/stop drinking, I totally blank at thinking of others.
So at least they have good branding.
posted by Theta States at 12:34 PM on September 23, 2010


AA also works for me. As someone mentioned upstream, this started out as some drunks who believed they had a solution and wanted to share it. That is essentially to me what it is, people helping each other stay sober. If I hear things at a meeting I don't like, for example, Joe is talking about how he believes in this or that crazy religion I don't agree with, I just disregard it, it doesn't mean that represents AA. If the whole meeting seems to have that tone, I find another one. The nature of AA is that is very loosely organized, and there are no leaders, so sure, sometimes you get some groups that take on a more cliquey feel, thats just how it goes. But AA certainly does not promote itself to the court or to facilities or to anyone at all. These institutions that require people to attend do so on their own.
posted by heatherly at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2010


I'm surprised by the amount of vitriol unleashed on this thread. It seems that even the mere mention of religion is enough to get an arguement going.

Regarding AA: On a personal level I find it kind of strange and a bit cringy in many respects( having attended many anniversaries) and never have had to rely upon the program to maintain sobriety.

On more personal level: I can say without hesitation that if it were not for AA, I have many loved ones who would no longer be alive in any sense of the word. For the fact alone I remain utterly grateful for AA, whatever it is, and whatever it's origins.

Incidentally, the only explanation for the sucess of 12 step programs that I ever comprehended came from Infinite Jest.
posted by Hickeystudio at 5:25 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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