Alcoholics Anonymous:
Predators And Core Philosophy
Swen

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Elven"
Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 5:38 PM
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings

My main problem was with the core philosophy and with the fact that I was forced into the program. No member practicing the core philosophy of the program to his or her best ability would ever have an easy time with me and some of the things I said and did to widen the door of acceptance within the program.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 12:53 PM

By cooperating with the authorities' coercive practices (signing their forms), AA endorses those coercive practices -- like it or not. In doing this, AA is telling people that AA is not an association of volunteers, but is an extension of the criminal justice system.

As for Narcotics Anonymous, the opening dirge that they read at every meeting includes the line "we are under no surveillance at any time." I hate to break it to you, NA people, but signing slips is a form of surveillance!

By this one simple act of recommending that groups refuse to sign the forms, AA and NA would immediately conform to their respective images of (1) being an association of volunteers, and (2) being entirely unaffiliated with the government agencies (being "under no surveillance at any time").

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: (no subject)
Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 3:37 PM

I attended AA for a while, one "old-timers'" meeting in particular called "Scully's," but never studied the ways and structure of AA Services (beyond my studies when I was a token member of the subcommittee which was developing some proposals to drastically change the way NA Services does things; this project eventually produced a fine work called "Twelve Concepts for NA Services" which I highly recommend to you; if I did NA service work again, I would do it strictly according to these guidelines).

I have never heard of this. Most Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous members with whom I discussed this issue defend this practice to the hilt, usually justifying it by saying that it's one way to get people into the Program (as in being exposed to it so they can be helped -- not as in making the Program more financially stable).

They also (rightly) fear that people with forms would simply go to AA and Cocaine Anonymous (or worse, SMART Recovery) where they could get their forms signed. Exactly this happened when I stopped signing forms at Rational Recovery: they all went to SMART and our group was quickly out of business.

If you know of some groups that refuse to sign forms, I would be very interested in conversing with a leader or two, to ask them about all the fears and reservations I've heard from people who insist that signing forms is the lesser of two evils.

I will also admit that I collected 1,754 signatures when I was required to go, but these were officially my signatures, and were submitted to the various agencies voluntarily by me. This is another problem which would have easily been solved by me simply keeping a personal meeting attendance journal and "signing" it myself. My "recovery" was so apparent to the authorities that the signatures were entirely unnecessary (but they did get me some great perks within the agencies -- which is another matter altogether: methinks that self-recovery should always be an acceptable option when someone has been in trouble with drugs or alcohol).
 

True, but in NA, the Conference may pass a resolution recommending that groups do this and refrain from doing that. Also, in NA, the Board of Trustees defines what is and is not a violation of the Traditions. So, the NA Fellowship as a whole could pass a resolution if it wanted to, and the groups would comply.
 

In NA, you follow some semblance of the Traditions or the Fellowship can refuse to list you as an NA meeting. (You can still hold the meeting if, for example, you refuse to let men attend the meeting or if you use the AA "Big Book," you just cannot list it in the meeting directory.)

Also, the "old-timers" are the ones who grew up in the old school, and are less likely to be open to change. More importantly, "old-timers" are still attending meetings which points to the likelihood that they are, at minimum, too insecure to leave the womb of the Program and go out on their own and, at most, out-right losers who would never have a social life without AA.

When we were a new generation of NA members in the late 1980s who grew up with lots of changes (a radically new edition of the book, new opening dirges for the meetings, new interpretations of the Traditions which forbade "endorsing" AA by even talking about your experiences at AA meetings, etc.), we watched the "old-timers" struggle to keep the status quo, at first, and then finally either isolate into their own meetings, give up and start going to AA exclusively, or give up completely and simply stop going to meetings. This was most evident when we phased out the use of the patently Christian "Lord's Prayer" to close the meetings. Our opponents were grasping at straws and acting like fools in order to avoid the horror of this one simple change.

I know dozens of former NA members, though, who either stay clean on their own or who practice some form of moderate drinking.
 

I solved this problem by making sure that the group goes along with the new idea first, before I started practicing it. I implemented dozens of changes into this group called Rush Hour in Portland, but I never made any changes without first discussing it one-on-one with many members, then submitting my findings to the group business meeting. For example, they met at 5:30 every weekday except Wednesday. I found out that this was because a Spanish AA meeting needed the space at 6:30 on Wednesday -- but his had stopped being the case long before. So, I asked the Church if we could change, then I asked the secretary if this would be a problem with him, and then I asked the regulars if they thought having it at 5:30 every weekday would benefit the group. All responded with a resounding yes and nobody opposed the idea. So, I made a plan on how to announce to the Fellowship, determined when the new meeting list would be issued, and submitted a motion to the group that specified changing the Wednesday time to 5:30 on a specific date (the Wednesday following the release of the next meeting schedule). We approved the motion (all three of us at the meeting that month) and it went into effect. This small meeting soon outgrew our small meeting space and we eventually moved to a larger hall (because of asbestos problems, not because the room was too small; by that time, others more timid about change and more ignorant as to how to accomplish change gracefully had taken over).

I have attended a few NA meetings some years back and was not impressed with it.

Most of us didn't like NA all that much, either, but in some towns, the AA members only allow you to talk about alcohol, and will not even consider you an AA member if you only ever had a drug problem. There is even an AA pamphlet to this effect, called Problems Other Than Alcohol, which the hard-liners "lovingly" hand to people like me who try to go to AA. (This was my situation precisely: I never ever had an alcohol problem because my mind and body never craved it.) So, we went to NA and made the best of what little we had there.

NA, in many ways, is a reaction to AA; that is, it is (in some respects) an attempt to improve several situations that AA has settled into and will never change.

NA even started when the AA World Service Conference decided to boot a group called "AA For Addicts" out of the Fellowship. The name Narcotics Anonymous had been used since the 1940s, but in 1953, this one group received permission to adapt the AA Steps and start their own Fellowship. In 1962, NA opened a small office in the Greater Los Angeles area and published the "Little White Book" (or whatever it was called). In 1982, NA published its own book and forbade the use of "material from other Fellowships" in its meetings.

NA has always had to deal with the stigma of being the "younger brother" of AA, and has always had AA members come in and show us "how to do it right." Unfortunately, these well-meaning AA members do not realize that much of what NA is about is "correcting" some of the problems that AA has. The greatest coup, I think, is NA's recognition that a drug is a drug and addiction is addiction. This means that even someone who only ever drank alcohol is welcome as an NA member (not that most would prefer NA over AA, but they certainly are welcome as full-fledged members with the same dignity that, say, a former junkie or an ex-tweak would have).
 

In this, I think a major misunderstanding of NA's core philosophy is being misunderstood (both by you and by those you describe). AA actively encourages telling the "war stories" simply because (they say) the newcomer will be able to relate to it. This is even mentioned in the AA "Big Book" (chapter 2 or 3? I care not to look it up because my vision is not very good today). So, the telling of "war stories" is actually institutionalized into the AA way; this is actually the proper way to do AA.

NA, however, actively discourages the telling of "war stories" for several reasons:

However, despite these minor "official" differences, the rank-and-file members of both Fellowships tend to encourage talk about how to cope without drugs or alcohol, and tend to discourage the telling of "war stories." In NA, the Fellowship itself has expressed several opinions to this effect, and in AA, the people are moving in this direction despite "official" instruction to the contrary. It is the people who see that this is the way to do it, and it is the people who are implementing these changes.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:"Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: (no subject)
Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 1:17 PM

My early NA experiences (late 1970s to early 1980s) were in San Diego. The first NA meeting (1976?) I went to was run by a shrink. I say this because it was the first where I sought help. I had attended NA as early as 1972, but this was to verify my friend's report that they were about complete abstinence. We wanted to learn to slow down and to stay off the hard stuff. I don't count these as my first meeting, because we didn't stay very long.
 

The book The Junkie Priest describes early NA in New York (late 1950s to early 1960s) and the meeting was run by a priest!

Maybe in a large place like LA. This is even the case (somewhat) in Portland where we have a pretty large culture base. However, small-town NA tends to be very hard-core. They are usually very isolated from the local AA groups, and when this is the case, are militant in their separationist doctrine (separation from AA, that is). This is because (I think) they get their marching orders from Van Nuys rather than having much of a culture base with which to temper the NA dogma against the real world.

They also tend to think of NA as the only answer -- to the point where I mentioned some people who got clean without NA and the leaders of the Eugene NA Area Committee replied, "Well, they weren't really addicts"!
 

Statistically, about five percent of those who try the Twelve Step programs stick with them for a year. This number falls to as little as 1.6 percent at the five-year mark. These are AA's own statistics, gathered from the Triennial Surveys, and have been consistent over the past two decades and longer. This record is worse than that for people who naturally outgrow their problems without any help.
 

The Twelve Step movement became very popular about ten years ago, to the point where Clinton hinted that he was a Stepper and this helped him immensely during the election eight years ago. Nowadays, the Recovery book stores are dropping like flies, as are the groups. The only thing keeping AA and NA as big as they are is the criminal justice system (the Program's recruiting arm) with its practice of coerced and forced meeting attendance. Rational Recovery and others estimate that fully half of the people who go to meetings nationwide are not there by choice. Stop signing the slips nationwide, and the Programs will slip back down to a more realistic size -- more representative of what "attraction rather than coercion" would ordinarily accomplish in this society.

Also, I cannot allow myself to be swayed by anecdotal evidence -- which is no evidence at all. There are huge volumes of Steppers because there are even larger volumes of people in the population base. Truth is, very few people ever go to the Programs, and even then, fewer than two percent stick it out for five years.

Finally, I don't know what you mean by "help" considering what playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) said: "The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality" (Preface to Androcles and the Lion). The "help" obtained from small groups of ignorant, superstitious people cannot but be superficial their advice cannot but be folkloric; their "cures" cannot be much more than and anecdotal or, at best, incidental.

Again: statistically (any way you look at it), your best bet is to do it yourself. Learn a little if you want, but be sure to study it from all perspectives -- not just the Twelve Step perspective. If you do it yourself, without any outside help, you will be in the largest group of formerly addicted people, and this group has the very lowest recidivism rate. Contact Rational Recovery for these figures.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: (no subject)
Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 2:40 PM

Thus, I am not trying to dismantle the Program: it has a right to exist.

However it has not earned the reputation that it has. It's recidivism rates are dismal, and it has not earned the right to even be recommended by a doctor or a probation officer or a judge or a pastor or a social worker or a housing authority worker or a child services worker or a personnel worker or a military officer or a prison guard or an attorney or a board of professionals or a boss or a wife or a husband or a parent or a child.

As far as reputation goes, AA has all this and more, but it has not earned this reputation because it does not work for very many people who try it. AA's recidivism rates are dismal to the point where people are better off trying to quit on their own.

In fact, I can make a good case that AA actively impairs people's prospects for long-term abstinence by teaching conditional and temporary abstinence and by boldly denying that unconditional, planned, permanent abstinence can be achieved.
 

You wouldn't think this to talk to many of the institutions and agencies who have institutionalized AA into a one-size-fits-all, this-thing-really-works program.

If you go anywhere for help, you are sent to an addictions specialist. This specialist is almost an AA member, because the businesses which hire such specialists will not hire you unless you are an AA member. Thus, the specialist is biased toward AA and will likely require you to go to AA if you wish to complete the specialist's program.

I'm not being paranoid: this is how it is. I'm sorry. You may be able to see that AA is not for everyone, but this is not how AA is seen among our institutions and agencies which have been entrusted to help solve the nation's addiction problem through "treatment."
 

Nor should it. To me, a program to help you overcome addiction should specialize in helping you overcome addiction and nothing else (like RR and RR alone does). If you want to work on these other things, such as sociological, psychological, or spiritual matters, you should go to a specialist in one of those fields.

Many people who have drug or alcohol problems have no other problems (except those resulting from the drug or alcohol problem). Get rid of the drugs and alcohol and most people are okay. There are no sociological, psychological, or spiritual quirk that are common to all who have a drug or alcohol problem. And, you cannot really work on the other problems while you're doped or drunk, so, get rid of the drugs and alcohol first, and then you're free to work on other things.
 

I am not against AA, I am against the institutionalization of AA. AA should never be recommended by any worker or agency. It certainly should never be foisted upon some poor schmuck who has a problem and goes somewhere seeking help for that problem.

I would never do AA voluntarily. The only way they could get me into AA would be to force me to go, like they did in 1988 when they threw me in jail simply for refusing to go. That's why I went back then, and that's the only way they could get me to go back.

AA doesn't work for the vast majority of the people who try it. AA itself admits that only five percent of those who join today will still be there one year from today. In five years, only 1.6 to 2.6 percent will still be there. These figures have not varied over the course of 20 years, and these are AA's own figures, as reported in the AA internal memo that reports the results of AA's Triennial Membership Surveys that have been going on since the early 1970s.

AA impairs most people's chances for permanent abstinence by: (1) teaching personal powerlessness (the very doctrine that does work in the handful who do respond to AA); (2) teaching conditional abstinence ("You'll stay sober as long as you do this" or "You won't stay sober unless you do that" rather than "Just grow up and knock it off!"); (3) forcing people to continue their association with the drug culture; (4) telling people that something other than their own powers have kept them sober.

True, a handful of people will respond to the religious cult aspects of AA (though they may think that AA is doing it for them, they are actually doing it themselves). A handful of others will discover that having to go to AA, combined with the trouble that problem drinking brings, makes getting high not worth it: the price becomes too high (though they may think that AA is doing it for them, they are actually doing it themselves). Both groups will give lip service to AA, and AA's reputation will be bolstered before the eyes of the public, even though AA doesn't really work: people are getting clean and are going to AA but the two have little to do with one another.
 

If AA's goal is to make AA available to people who want it, and if some people cannot handle smoke, then AA is obligated to have a certain number of non-smoking meetings. I worked a little bit on NA's establishment of a committee to make NA available to people with special needs: the deaf, the blind, people in wheelchairs, and other problems that prevent them from participating in the program. My two cents was to point out that many people (more than they'd think) avoid NA because of all the smoke (this was when only ten or fifteen percent of the meetings in all of Portland were smoke-free, before legislation forced certain buildings to become smoke-free).
 

I've seen people be threatened with losing their children simply for refusing to go to AA. These people were clean and sober at the time, but had they refused to tow the party line and go to AA meetings, they would have lost their kids. At the time, I helped them unlearn or "deprogram" the bullshit that the Program was teaching them so they could better their prospects for remaining clean and sober. If they'd had only the Program to go on, they might not have remained clean because the Program was eating away at their resolve to stay clean -- as it does to so many people who are forced to go.

Most who are entrusted with deciding where a druggie or drunkard will go are themselves members of AA and until very recently, almost none of them would even consider letting anyone do anything other than go to AA. Only after several major court cases ruled that AA is "unequivocally religious" were they forced to consider other options. Even after this, many still give only the option of AA, and none -- absolutely none of them -- allow self-recovery as an option, even though self-recovery has by far the best success figures.

This is what I hate about AA.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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