Why are they so mad at AA?

I wonder why there are so many out there that are angry at AA.  The blogs went crazy in response to the Wired piece. There are some big time AA haters out there. I wonder what AA did to them. A continuing lot of them seem to be saying that AA has gotten in the way of society finding better answers to the problem of addiction.  Maybe that’s true. It seems the only answer for continuing care for those leaving treatment is 12 steps. I know the power of 12 step recovery. I have seen the lives transformed by 12 steps when all else failed. I believe the world could stand a good dose of all 12 steps has to offer – but that’s me – and clearly not everyone feels that way. Some estimates suggest that over 60% of those needing treatment won’t consider 12 steps. And over 70% of people who pass through AA are never going to make it to their 1 year anniversary and relapse is common among regular attendees.

Why don’t the 70% make it? Are they not ready? Haven’t hit bottom? Aren’t working the program? Don’t have anything to stay clean and sober for? How many people get lives they want and hold onto in recovery. Maybe that’s what we need to address. What happens in AA with some of those people who are not able to move on in their lives? I am sure some of them stay sober for the sake of staying sober. One of the tenants of AA is if you’re sober today you’re a winner. For some people that is not enough. I know for me when I got sober, people told me recovery is a bridge back to life. That if I wanted to drink again, take everything I received in recovery, put it on the bar and trade it for the whisky and heroin. I wanted a big, busy, messy, exhilarating life and that is exactly what I got. The bigger my recovery became, the less willing I was to trade it for the relief of a drink or a drug. And believe me there are days I could use a little relief from my big life. My friends, family, job, and the money I make, places I go, freedom I have, I don’t want to give that up, but often people in recovery don’t get a lot of that stuff. Maybe that is where we need to focus. AA doesn’t promise a big life, it only promises a day of recovery contingent on the maintenance of your spiritual condition. This may not be enough for a lot of us and that has to be OK. Maybe we need to start something that will help those in and out of 12 step programs get lives that are more than just staying sober and helping another alcoholic or addict. Maybe there is room for helping addicts create bigger lives that they want to hold on to.


~ by Christopher Kennedy Lawford on July 15, 2010.

21 Responses to “Why are they so mad at AA?”

  1. Great job, Chris. Big idea. Good explanation.

  2. Thanks Chris. A daily reprieve. That’s all any of us are promised. The article seemed to be written by someone who clearly isn’t in aa, and for those of us lucky enough to live a sober life, it’s the humility to have an article be exactly what it is, that maeks it ok. I’m grateful for every minute w/o the pain and loneliness cocaine and tequila brought to my life.

  3. Chris… I avoid the AA Validity debate as much as possible. For me, it is too slippery a slope of ego by trying to prove I am right. But the only people I should prove the validity of my AA program to is me, my fellow AAs, newcomers in the rooms, and the next newcomer I cross paths with.

    I have given up debating the argument hobbyists on blog sites. What’s the point? I’ve discovered that they are often people with seemingly nothing better to do in their lives than take shots at something that is not necessarily relevant to them. It appears they may have too much time on their hands and/or ego to fuel by the endless debate.

    Our tradition states that our public relations are based on attraction rather than promotion. To this end, I find that for me, I let the amazing life I have been blessed with which includes sobriety and recovery do its own talking.

    There is a place for words in sharing how AA is a good thing for many of us. But no words speak as loudly as a changed life. I did a post a while back, “Thinkers think, talkers talk, provers prove”. There will always be thinkers, theorists, and theologians arguing what they think. Always have been, always will be.

    AA doesn’t have to say much to prove its validity. We just need to do what we do and let the results speak for themselves.

    And if there’s a better mouse trap, bring it on! Maybe AA is a stepping stone to something more effective. Who knows? But until then, many of us are clean, sober and recovering. Our lives were spared and our families have us back.

    While the debaters are debating, I will just thank God for the gift of the steps and this sober day. And be ready to help the next alcoholic who crosses my path.

    Thanks for your post.



  4. I’ve grown tired of articles written by people outside of AA analyzing AA and how it works or doesn’t work. All I know is that I will be sober 14 years on Aug 12 and I don’t think, in fact I know, that it would not be possible without my participation in AA which began in an AA based Treatment Center, Fr. Martin’s Ashley in Maryland. I do however think that sobriety needs a public face, so to speak. Remember that Anonymity means I won’t tell anyone that you were there but I am completely free to tell anyone I want that I was there and I do that. At this point in my life I really don’t care what anyone thinks about me. I am open about my sobriety with most people. Their reactions are mixed but my REAL friends are happy for me. What the others think is their issue not mine. AA works for me and I don’t care who knows. What I do know is that they wouldn’t want to know the drunk me 14 years further down the line, if in fact I would even still be here!!!

  5. I have watched people stay clean and sober without AA, my father being one of those. My experience has been that for older alcoholics with intact family systems and successful careers, combined with late onset and slow progression, just not drinking allows them to return to who they were prior to active addiction. Some of them connect with AA, some don’t.
    For the younger addict with early onset, rapid progression, missing or splintered adolescent developmental skills, and no clue what to do without substances there needs to be a program of some kind. Without one, an infant is being sent out into the world and expecting them to perform like an adult, punishing them when they don’t meet expectations.
    For myself, I needed to stop drinking and drugging, and I needed something structured to enable me to do that on a continuous basis. I am one of those people who made it to treatment, to AA, and stuck. When just not drinking wasn’t enough for me, I sought additional help. That took nothing away from AA. Their job is to help me treat my addiction. The fact that I was your friendly neighborhood neurotic when I sobered up did not take away from AA. Until I was able to use what they offered, additional problems were impossible to address.
    AA was and continues to be the way I maintain abstinence. It’s been a long time, and I need to be reminded. That happens every time someone who is detoxing walks into a meeting. It isn’t my life, but it gave me a life. Like any tool, it has as much to do with the person using it, as the tool. It isn’t the hoe’s fault that the garden is full of weeds.
    Maybe the people who are so crazed about AA would be better served to invest their energy in the development of the alternative programs they seek.

  6. For some people taking personal resposonsiblity for their action is an issue. I suffered from a disease that told me it was everyone else’s fault my life was a mess. I come in to a 12 step program that asked me if I thought I was an alcoholic? ” You did some bad crazy stuff” Now keep coming back and fix it. Due these step, read these book, talk to these people……”I have to do the work”? when everyone else is at fault for my crappy life”?
    Like many of us I had issues, I had my sad story that I told everyone. One day I told my sad story to someone they said “That’s a sad story but what are you going to do about it? ME Fix it? But they messed up my life, I am a VICTIM! “No” he sad you are an alcoholic. If you want an answer we may have it but you are not a victim, You kept telling your sad story and you keep drinking and your life is a mess. He suggested I stop telling that story, stop drinking and take personal responsibity for my part in my messy life. I took his advice 27 years ago. I am no longer interfering (for the most part) in my own life. I am so very happy that I have choices, as you stated. Thank you for reminding me that my life’s happenens is a choice.

  7. Love what you wrote…I must admit, I was an AA hater, I wanted a cure that was quick, allowed me to do Crack like a gentleman etc, AA was for quitters, there had to be a better way. Well I tried it all, you name it, everything except AA…well, here I am, I let go, became a quitter and my life is becoming full of beauty…not the outside stuff, I never really lost all that, but on the inside, I was an empty shell. Now my perspective is so different, peace visits me daily…but it takes hard work sometimes, and that pissed me off about AA, I wanted a pill to fix me!
    Now, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way…hope this doesn’t sound like a Book bashing born again, I’m anything but, all I know is AA is the one thing, after years and years of exploration, that can work, and is working…lets hope I stay in that 30%.

  8. I belive that AA does promise a lot more here is a quote from A Vision for You in the Big Book. The question is posed is there a sufficient substitute “Yes, there is a substitute and it is vastly more than that. It is the fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous. There you will find release from care boredom and worry. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your exsistance lie ahead. Thus we find the fellowship and so will you.” I think that is a lot more than not drinking one day at a time. I believe people are not angry at AA, they are angry at their own inablity to control it and that they do not like the answer AA has. If they blame AA they do not have to look at themselves.

  9. I give AA a lot of credit for helping me get clean and sober after a great 33 year run. But, it seems that the program wanted me to stay stuck in what I was, not what I am. Recovered. If you buy into Victor Frankel’s Logotherapy and story in Man’s Search for Meaning, he says flat out that man is self-determining. Reading that was a big wake up call. Oddly enough, Napoleon Hill, Andrew Carnegie, Maxwell Maltz and many others have proven the same thing. Short of professional help and medication, millions of people can get sober by changing the habits, physiology, thinking and feeling. I don’t believe it’s a disease. I don’t believe I need to stay stuck in the past. I do believe most people like me, who were definitely addicted to a bad way of thinking, drinking, drugging and being, can get and remain sober given enough commitment, desire and meaning/purpose in life. Again, professional assistance should never be ruled out. (Yet I’ve heard some AA people tell me that people on prescribed medication aren’t really sober and I can’t wonder how big an idiot would actually believe that.) The program is great in many ways. But do I really have to go to meetings every night and live in the madness to stay sober? Not any more. And may I only be “happy, joyous and free” by being in AA and doing the work? Not any more. I am happy, joyous and free, taking full responsibility for each hour of my thinking and living, willing to be accountable, deeply committed to sobriety and serving others in many ways each day without AA. I sort of feel sorry for people who believe it’s the only way to stay sober. Is it possible that Victor Frankel and others like him could be more accurate in their research, experience and perspectives than Bill Wilson. I think so. Again though, AA is a wonderful program for millions of people. It’s just not the only way to get and stay sober, happy, joyous and free. BTW, if it’s all up to God and it’s as simple as praying every day, how come the millions of people with real diseases can’t seem to change their fate? Way too much self-serving hypocrisy for me.

  10. I’ve not read the “Wired” piece yet, but was just at a meeting where someone mentioned a National Radio show that today took the positition that Substance Abuse as a “disease” was bullshit.That it is strictly a matter of will power.
    This is a real “Hot Button” with me.I know that “Acceptance is the answer to all our problems”, but when I hear people in the Rooms say “just don’t drink & it will get better”–it reminds me of the “War On Drugs” & the slpgan “Just say no to drugs”.

    If I could “just not drink”—-do you think I’d even BE in these Recovery Meetings ….???????? Or Working with a Sponsor and doing the Steps and reading the Literature ……?????

    I was working in a Detox years ago and the Deputies had brought in this young couple around 30 years old. It was the week before Christmas. The couple were homeless living in their car with their 9 month old baby girl. They had tried to do a crack deal with the baby girl in the car seat in the back.The deal went down very bad and the baby girl got shot to death.

    Less than 24 hours later the guy comes up to me and says “get my papers– I’m signing out with my girlfriend.”
    I was stunned. I have heard many many “excuses” for relapses over the last 20 years but this was the stupidest: he said they needed “to go get a Christmas tree” ……………
    Andn there are some people that actually do not understand that this is a “DISEASE” ……..???????????

    I somewhat DO understand it, as when we go into treatment and we are given an “earth person”, or a “normie” as a Counselor (someone who is NOT in Recovery)—-we know usually within about 5 minutes that that person is not in Recovery and theh chances of us hearing anything that might “help” us achieve Recovery are slim to none, primarily due to the FACT that that person has never experienced or endures or suffered through “CRAVING” and or “Dope sickness” and/or Alcoholic Withdrawal.

    These “straight people” can NEVER comprehend what it is for a chemically dependent person to have the courage and fortitude to even begin to WANT to WANT to STOP——–when every single fiber of their being is CRAVING that chemical.

    This is why in the 12 Step Program of NA we are told there is “NOTHING that has the therapeutic value of one addict helping another”.

    For us in Recovery to expect straight people to even begin to understand this is unrealistic. All we can do is use statistics and costs to sHOW how much is LOST in Society DUE to Chemical Dependency.THAT is the only thing that a “straight person” is capable of really understanding, never having suffered through our Disease.

    I, personally, as we are told in the Big Book of A.A., defer to Medical Professioanals on this aspect: ever since 1958 the American Medical Association has stated that Alcoholism meets every single facet of a Disease and they deemed that it IS a DISEASE.

    In the meantime, we should try to remember our Precepts of Love and Tolerance for those that do not understand.They would if they COULD!

  11. If addiction is a “spiritual malady”, as it’s described by Rudy Tomjanovich in “Moments of Clarity”, then it makes perfect sense that it would be treated with a spiritual solution, i.e. AA.
    But if it’s a “brain disease”, as you and many others continously refer to it, then it’s the only biological disorder I’m aware of where by and large the accepted treatment is a spiritual solution, ie AA.
    It may be that it’s both, but the incongruity of those two things is the issue – if the problem is spiritual in nature, then that lends credence to the ongoing perception that indeed, one’s drinking and drugging is a matter of free will and thus, a personal, moral failure. If the problem is biological in nature, then it lends credence to the argument that, by continuing to treat it soley with a spiritual program, no wonder the rate of recidivism is so high – that’s not treatment, that’s Christian Scientism!

    The real truth is, just like cancer or clinical depression, no one really knows the exact nature of the problem (if you think you do, that’s great, but then again a lot of people were fairly convinced the world was flat at one time, too), therefore ascribing 12 step programs as the “only” solution to it’s sufferers is, and will remain, suspect in the minds of many.

  12. P.S. I forgot to say thanks, so…


  13. Peace of mind,something I never had and something that money,women,intellect,position ,all of the false gods cannot attain.My life is a big life because it’s my life. the program says that ‘we are in the world to play the role that he assigns” not the one that I assign.the best things that ever happened to me in recovery I did not plan.My first sponsor died and left a sober alcoholic in this world through his help,hell kings and queens don’t do that!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Thanks Chris, first of all for all the great work you do, and the message you carry.
    I too, was a complete AA sceptic. I was far too intelligent, far too well read, far too liberal and far too agnostic to subscribe to the idea that what I perceived to be at best a cult would provide me a means to get a handle on my drinking. I had already been, unwillingly, through one of the best treatment centres in the UK and figured I had enough self knowledge and will power to rebuild my life on my own terms.
    Of course what happened is I did nothing except put down alcohol. The rest of my life and behaviour remained exactly the same, and it was only a matter of time before the things that caused me to drink in the first place, led me back to drink as a coping mechanism again.
    There is no doubt in my mind that my life would not be what it is today without the help that AA has provided me. A sponsor, fellowship, service; the steps; all these have given me back my life a hundred times better than it has ever been. And guess what? I’m still far too smart for my own good, far too liberal and far too agnostic. I’m still me, just a better, more spiritual, more helpful version.
    One of the recent gifts I have been able to enjoy, was a trip to the US earlier this year. I took the opportunity to visit some meetings in the San Francisco area, and while it was immediately apparent that AA in the US is much more formally organised and structured than it is in the UK, the fundamnental message and program remain exactly the same. I was able to walk into a room of friends I had never met, and what a wonderful blessing that is.
    I don’t doubt though, that in other parts of the US, there is much more of a religious component to the program than in other areas. This may be the sticking point for some people, addicts or otherwise. There is no doubt in my mind that in this country, the fear of AA being a religious organisation keeps people away.

  15. My recovery is about ME not AA not the fellowship or the people in it. Not my family or friends just ME “Selfish program” I go to meetings cuz I am a drunk, even after 27 years clean My head at times is messed up. The tools and the people are their for me to utlize or not. books to read or not, people to call or not, steps to take or not. My God, My program! How happy do I want to be? How sick to I want to stay? I chose happy Joy & free. I made my own choice. One day at a time.

  16. There is a big difference between sobriety and recovery, I was sober for four years and full of rage,fear and guilt that I had carried since I could remember. I had not taken a drink, I also had not worked the 12 steps either.I was a total maniac! I found a sponsor thet taught me how to incorporate the steps into my life. It was the difference between night and day.In my 15 years in sobriety (11 working the steps) I have never meet a person who was actively working the steps to complain about AA.It’a the people who can’t or won’t do the steps that complain because they’re miserable or constantly relapse. If anyone complains about the steps I usually know one thing about them, they haven’t consistently done the work!!!!!!! I have never seen it fail so I don’t pay them any mind.

  17. There is a time in an AA’s life when they need to move from sobriety to recovery. Sobriety is not using alcohol, recovery is when one feels the positive movement forward and shift in perception from a life system based in self centered fear to one based in service and compassion and that comes from practicing the principals in all their affairs. Only a small percentage of AA members follow the recommended recovery plan, way too many think meeting attendance is working a program.
    AA deserves some of the criticism leveled against it. If “rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” is true – why is it not more common in AA meetings to be about the business of following that path instead of setting up meetings that are imitating a bad episode of Bob Newhart. The group therapy without a trained facilitator so common today.
    Every problem in AA can be solved by having experienced and informed members, New York needs to get busy promoting that and worry less about making the fellowship so wide open to anything and everything that people who need a recovery program cant find one. So many old timers leave because they just cant deal with the nonsense that goes on in contemporary meetings today.

  18. Hey, way to go Chris, thanks for censoring me.That shows character, loving kindness, and a non-sectarian attitude! Typical AA bullshit: you can’t take the heat, can’t put up with criticism, must hear nothing to contradict your perverted AA worlview!

    To Bobbi,

    Unfortunately, Lifering has no meeeting in my area in Canada.And they are open to those who ,like me, can drink moderately ..most of the time (their lit. said that they were not open to people like me who want to drink moderately, but a volunteer e-mailed me and said it was OK). And, oh yeah, for you AA fundamentalists, that I can drink moderately , after a period of heavy drinking, must mean that I am NOT a REAL alcoholic. Somemore typical AA crap. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!


  19. Oh now, I’ve been uncensored. That was a pretty quick correction! By all means, always preserve the facade of an AA saint, if you can’t get away with fucking someone over.


  20. It’s strange. Some ‘Haters of Alcoholics Anonymous’ blame AA and the 12 Step Program of recovery for the explosion in addictions (alcohol & drugs) in the US and other places since the end of World War 2. Of course this is total nonsense.

    Humans have gotten drunk and addicted to alcohol and drugs for thousands of years. AA came into being in the late 1930s. So, according to some, this “logic”, then AA must have been to blame for the addiction to alcohol during the years of Prohibition of the 1920s. The strange thing is – some anti AA’s even believe that AA was to blame for this too??? Wow!!

    I go to AA to stay sober, and learn how to ‘Do Life on Life’s Terms’ because I want it to work – and it does, and has worked for over 20 years. AA might not be for everyone who is addicted to alcohol. Some folks won’t accept AA because it mentions the ‘God’ word or Higher Power’. Others won’t accept because of ego and defiance. Whichever way folks find to get sober, then good luck. It really can be a matter of life or death.

  21. I worked for many years with those suffering mental disorders concurrent with addiction. I facilitated a regular group, “What are you doing this for?” It was not enough to take medication as prescribed and not use when symptoms of either illness began to emerge. We followed this with “Keep your Eyes on the Prize”. Once it had been established what they wanted and didn’t want from a life free of mental illness symptoms and addiction we worked on ways to cement the vision of the “prize” through peer coaching and support, art therapy and regular groups to stay on purpose with their goals and dreams. Human beings act on some kind of motivation. It behooves us to to help each other and our clients with maintaining focus and possibility on our dreams.
    I was often humbled by what those goals and dreams were…a roof, a bed, to see one’s children, to have regular meals, to be in touch with nature and feel connected to others, themselves and a higher power.
    I dont believe a goal of “just not using” is enough for all of us. Nothing is enough for all of us. We are still individuals with a constellation of experience, history, brain health and resilience.

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