Dear Cliff Walker
(You don't know me, we've never spoken before. I will probably e-mail a version of this letter to Rational Recovery, also).
Warning: The following diatribe became much longer and detailed than intended. I simply could not successfully abridge the information. I wanted to include in a short note; I opted for more of a comprehensive narrative rather than a brief outline of my predicament. Please forgive the lack of succinctness. The quotes are either verbatim or close paraphrases. There are a few places where it may appear that I'm being vindictive or vapidly unaware of the extent of my alcohol-related problems, but be assured I'm accountable for many of my mistakes. I didn't include many questions in this letter, but as a whole it is a request for advice, "What do think I should do now, from an objective perspective?"
I came across the Positive Atheism web page this fall while trying to find an empathetic perspective concerning my dilemma with a 12-Step-based treatment facility in Peoria, Illinois. Your writings, for the most part , seem quite pragmatic while not degenerating into the absolute cynicism that many "theists" would presume of an atheist's writings. Your endorsement of Rational Recovery was one of the first references I found that corroborated my misgivings of AA, so I thank you for being an extremely valuable and prolific resource. Actually, I'm not searching for support in quitting drinking, since I view booze as a very powerful option in life and do not feel compelled to forbid myself to ever drink in the future, although I have not had a drink of alcohol in almost four months and am surprised that I can be content sober. However, I would greatly appreciate some advice concerning my problem with meeting the treatment condition of my court supervision for a DUI.
I was assessed a "high risk" by my alcohol evaluation required by the court. This designation came with 75 hours of treatment plus successful completion of aftercare (of course I thought aftercare was something that would only be necessary if I was having trouble staying sober). Most first-time DUI offenders are ordered to take a 12-hour class called "Dry Roads," so I believe my treatment assignment was due to being honest during the evaluation. However, I must admit that about 2 weeks before my DUI, I had been arrested for theft of services and criminal trespass for an incident for which I accept only partial negligence; at a strip club I had drunk approximately 5 double vodkas in 11/2 to 2 1/2 hours and refused to pay a stripper for "services" (dancing) that I didn't feel I had totally agreed to. I thought it was a "shake-down" of an easy drunk target. I feel compelled to mention that I don't frequent strip clubs -- I hadn't patronized one for about 3 years before that. While this event was certainly stupid of me, I accepted court supervision rather than pleading innocent to not risk the incident going on my permanent record. This must have constituted prior legal problems due to alcohol, although the probation officer for the theft of services incident assured me that accepting court supervision should not affect my upcoming DUI hearing (otherwise I probably would've gone ahead and plead innocent at a trial for the theft of services charge). So obviously, alcohol had caused a number of problems and embarrassing situations in my life, but I hadn't sworn it off, and I still believe that I allowed myself to nihilistically lose control rather than not having the control to begin with.
One of the questions during the evaluation interview concerned drug use other than alcohol. While I hadn't taken anything illicit for 10 or 11 months, I am compulsively honest. I admitted to taking LSD about 24 times over the prior 3 years only after the evaluator assured me that the information was not for the court, that my mother wouldn't find out, that basically no one would find out, and that it was simply for him to do his evaluation. While extremely gullible, I actually thought it would be honest and fair for him to get a clearer picture of my substance "abuse" motivations and that he would not include that on the report for court. He did include it, and I didn't have enough time between receiving the report and going to court for my DUI to contact him. The woman that gave me the report told me to "just look at the first and last pages to see if everything was correct." I don't know if that's her routine instruction or if she was warned to anticipate my contention with the report. I skimmed through the whole report and found the "error." In hindsight, I should not have signed the report since it violated my confidentiality rights, but I thought the court might punish me for not having the report at my hearing (although other defendents didn't have one prepared, and the assistant state's attorney did not mention the LSD).
When I called the treatment center to complain, I mentioned my grievance to a secretary since the louse who did the evaluation wasn't available. When he called me back, he had apparently prepared the bogus excuse that it was a coding error, and that "Hallucinogens (LSD, peyote, etc.)" had been accidently coded in place of "Paxil" (the antidepressant SSRI I was on at the time of my DUI) under "Secondary" substances. He said he would correct the report and that they would have the original report destroyed. When I picked up the amended report, instead of replacing "Hallucinogens" with "Paxil" it merely said, "Other." It may seem to contradict my claim of being compulsively honest to demand this alteration, but the revised report contained no lies and I had been deceived that LSD would not appear on the report. Anyway, the woman at the treatment clinic gave me absolutely no help in replacing the original report with the court, and I as yet have not filed the revised version with the court in fear that it might draw attention to the possibly overlooked LSD implication. Can I legally have the previously submitted version destroyed, no questions asked? I called the state agency that oversees treatment, and the thoroughly indifferent supervisor saw absolutely no violation of regulations, despite me being lied to to coerce me into admitting more than was relevent to my DUI. I was also complaining about my subsequent 12-Step treatment in which I was not really offered alternative options, and he said, "99 (or 99.9) percent of people have no problem with AA. Obviously, you do." He said I should just tell the judge about my disagreement with AA and that might save his investigators the trouble of investigating a hollow claim.
I've already written about a page and have yet to describe my AA grievance. Sorry that I'm not very succinct. I hope I haven't lost your trust with the previous incident; it's not the primary reason I'm writing you.
When I attended the screening for the actual treatment (at a different facility from where I received my evaluation) my "High Risk" "problem drinker" assignment of 75 hours, plus aftercare, had given the treatment center a green light to shove me into an intensive program of indefinate length. I chose that particular institution because it had a wider availability of hours to work around my 2nd shift job, and I wanted to get treatment over with as soon as possible. They mentioned that they did not count hours the same way the courts do, and that I would end up with alot more hours than 75. To me that implied that since I was attending intensive out-patient treatment (about 8 hours a day), the time I spent in treatment would have more weight than a piece-meal treatment. I didn't feel that I was actually committing to a regiment that would necessarily accumulate more than 75 hours. They made no (or virtually no) mention of AA or their 12-Step approach at the screening, and it seemed I was being somewhat rushed into committing my insurance with them. As you probably are aware, many health insurance policies will only pay for one shot at substance abuse treatment, and only if the program is successfully completed. Although I didn't know the ramifications of the 12-Step cult's continuing path, I did express concern if for some reason, I fulfilled my court obligation of 75 hours before the program was considered "successfully completed" and that my insurance might not pay the $150/day charge. I estimated that I'd be in treatment about 2-3 weeks to meet my court obligation. The nurse in charge of the screening told me I worried too much and dismissed my apprehensions with a somewhatg patronizing,"It's O.K!"
The next day when treatment began, I was surprised to find their approach was essentially a spiritual one with ancillary fragments of science and pseudo-science thrown in for good measure. When I mentioned a sense of cult-like atmosphere, another client (ie. patient) conceded he felt that way at first, but that, "alot of what they say is really true." He had been an inpatient for about 40 days, and was happily experiencing the buzz from a medication that, "lit him up like a light bulb."
I really did make an earnest consideration of the beliefs being foisted upon me, such as the disease model and "spirituality vs. religion." I was completing written assignments and was attending large and small group sessions and outside AA meetings. I participated verbally, but soon found out they were not interested in an open, honest dialog as much as pedantic dogma. I thought that my honesty would make it evident that I was actively involved in "the treatment process," but when I failed to reach their conclusions, the legendary "denial" blanket was thrown over me.
I had talked about my diagnosis and treatment for major depression as a major factor in my drinking (with a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia, but I'm not a hypochondriac that constantly whines about their illnesses). However they ruled-out major depression in my alcohol dependence diagnosis 303.90 (axis I) and deferred diagnosis V799.90 (axis II and III). Yet they wanted to share collateral information with my personal psychiatrist and they wanted me to go back on Paxil or another medication to "help me with my presenting problems," "make me less resistant to treatment," and "make my treatment more comfortable." This seemed like such an outrageous violation of my privacy and human rights. While I admitted that I would have been considerably calmer, more focused, and more concise and articulate in speech if on Paxil, the drug had a sedating effect on me and made me somewhat emotionally numbed. I had successfully been functioning at my job without medication for the bulk of 4 1/2 years, and I didn't want to be on an antidepressant at that time. There had been times in the past when I certainly did want to be taking them, but it should always be MY choice when to take them. However, they codified seeing a psychiatrist and taking any prescribed medications -- along with continuing participation of AA with sponsorship -- as part of an "updated" Master Treatment Plan. I had been compliant with my initial Master Treatment Plan and it seemed to objectively outline what I must do to be eligible for transfer or (presumably successful) discharge. I thought graduation from the program was just around the corner.
I had been complimented on my vocabulary by a fellow client (despite often stammering or being at a loss for the exact word I was looking for), and another presumed I was college-educated like him. I was not causing trouble and participating in sophomoric pranks as some others were, and I think most people respected my integrity. In short, I was not at all a completely disfunctional derelict that needed medication to operate with others. That was the implication, though, when they approached me about taking medication for my depression. The underlying motivation was quite apparent; they wanted to make me more obsequious to their theories, and they felt my resistance to the 12-Step way of life was evidence of paranoid neurosis. Although I was diagnosed with significant anxiety by my psychiatrist, paranoia was NOT! When they initially approached me about taking medication because of my "resistance to treatment," and my sometimes nervous behavior or speech in group sessions, I was extremely upset. I was so upset in fact, that I could barely respond. I had to go to work immediately after that, and I actually had to take a premature break at work and go sob like a baby in my car. Even among thieves and liars who towed the AA party line at treatment, I was the one that was too incompetent to complete treatment? I wasn't looking for pity, but they seemed intent on transforming everyone into a helpless victim of alcoholism.
When I refused to sign the Updated Master Treatment Plan, I was told I could not continue treatment until I signed it. My case manager and I agreed we had come to a crossroad, but the only advice he ever gave me about alternative treatment was belittling a few local therapists that I could "pay enough money to and they'll tell you whatever you want to hear," as if I was only willing to consider what I wanted to believe. While usually he seemed more of an idealist, he said that maybe I'll just have to "jump through some hoops" until I met their satisfaction. Later, when I mentioned that I had over 75 hours logged in between their facility and AA meetings after two weeks, he said I might go five weeks in outpatient treatment and he still might not think I had reached their objective.
Despite their uncompromising ultimatums, they still reported that I left treatment voluntarily once I thought I had put in enough time, and they downplayed the commitment I had made. In fact, I was writing so much in my "Feeling Journal" that I was told to be more succinct (as I'm sure you can see I'm not exactly concise). I worked hard in treatment, yet I failed to complete it. The most absurd part is that even though I hadn't been drinking for weeks, my prognosis was listed as "poor" because I would not mimic their counter-productive garbage.
A few months later, I asked for all of my documents from treatment to be released, mainly for court purposes and personal curiosity and as recommended by the Rational Recovery homepage. The business office of the treatment facility discouraged me from having everything copied since it would be so expensive. There were some egregious errors or misrepresentations in my Integrated Summary and Discharge Narrative, so I later paid an additional $45 to get copies of the remaining documents. During the session when I was dumbstruck about their insistence on continuing psychiatric visits and medication (which were quite expensive, although my insurance usually paid), in an internal document they had estimated my GAF "probably in the low 30's" at that meeting. When I told a co-worker who had done some graduate work in psychiatry, she was amazed. She said that anything under 70 was "pretty bad" and she recommended I file a complaint against the treatment facility for such incompetent assessments. She was quite surprised when I told her that I had experienced depression for years. I don't exude a totally helpless victim attitude at work, so my work ethic must be a symptom of denial.
They also stated in documents that I had lost jobs due to alcohol. While I admitted that I had lost a few days of work due to drunkenness or hangovers over the past 2 1/2 years (I was not sent home for being drunk, but a couple of times I walked out without notice while drunk) and that my DUI resulted in one month of missed work because of a drivers' license suspension, the statement that I lost jobs due to alcohol is blatantly false. I have since obtained a letter from my boss of almost 5 years stating that my attendance record over the past 2 years alone is in the top 5 percent, and that my productivity and job skills are superior. In fact, I didn't have any unexcused absences for the first two years of my job despite heavy alcohol use that most treatment facilities would diagnose as "alcoholism" and treat in the 12-Step tradition as something that had made my life unmanageable. I'm not saying that alcohol didn't cause significant problems in my life, but obviously treatment centers aren't very unbiased in assessing the impact alcohol has on everyone's life.
My DUI arrest was on May 27, 1999, and I admitted to the counselors to drinking since that date three days the first week of September, which would violate my court supervision (honesty is hell). They recorded my last drink on the 15th of September when I stated it was on or around the 5th. This may be insignificant, but it makes it look like I hadn't even been sober a week before treatment. After my initial evaluation experience, I decided to refuse to answer questions about other drugs which I may have used in the past, but my refusals to answer and admit particulars were taken as an acknowledgement of taking LSD, although I never technically admitted to them that I took it (this is a different facility than where I admitted using LSD during my "evaluation"; the "screening" and treatment were done here). They stated in a report that I felt alcohol treatment was extremely important to me and that my legal issues were not at all important to me, which is absurd. Granted, I sometimes speak quickly, stammer, overqualify my statements, and change trains of thought quickly, but some of the errors are too obvious to dismiss. I can't say for sure that each error was an intentional strategy to paint the worst possible picture of my drinking problem -- many were probably honest mistakes -- but maybe I don't appreciate how duplicitous they can truly be.
The most ridiculous facet of the AA approach is that it continually tries to drag you down to your worst moments with alcohol even when you've been sober for an extended period. I want to cultivate aspects of my life that I might have neglected when chronically drunk and get on with my life. I don't view my entire future as simply the polar opposite of a drunken hell, I view my successes and failures on their own merit, not as a result of simply being drunk or being sober. AA states that sobriety is the single-most important thing to "us." I believe sobriety just for its own sake isn't worth that much.
They haven't even billed my insurance after almost three months, though I believe I signed an assignment of benefits for them to complete when I had my screening. They don't anticipate my insurance paying everything ( they probably won't pay anything since treatment was not "successfully completed") but they say I'll only be responsible for about 50 percent if my insurance doesn't pay because of my low income. I don't know if they're just cutting off 50 percent of what they usually charge or if they can have the state pay the other half, even without my knowledge. While 50 percent sounds great, at $600-700, it's more than twice as much as it would be if my insurance would pay 80 percent of the full price. As I said earlier, when I questioned them about insurance stipulations of what would be paid, they qualified their response with, "Don't worry, it's O.K." or, "Has anyone ever told you that you worry too much?" I believe they are including as two days of treatment ($150/day) the two days where I spent about 1/2 hour the first thing in the morning talking with my case manager and he wouldn't let me stay the rest of the day unless I agreed to sign the updated Master Treatment Plan and also the subsequent day when I came in for about 45 minutes to talk with him and then decided I would not be continuing treatment. They are asking me to pay $50 a month right away before my insurance is even billed, and when I asked them for something in writing, they just wrote about the $50/month plan without showing total charges or dates for whicht I was being billed. As for the psychiatric visits they wanted, they said that there were programs where I didn't have to pay all of the $120-per-hour fee myself. This was probably some sort of state-funded program, so I'd in effect be an added burden on tax payers like myself.
I know I've thrown out alot of information, some of which may not be cogent in regards to coerced participation in the AA religion due to court supervision. What I am looking for is some feedback from someone like yourself who has gone through a similar (probably much more insidious) situation. I am supposed to have treatment successfully completed by February 15, 2000, a day before my follow-up hearing. I was told a few months ago by the assistant state's attorney to write a letter for modification of court supervision (the guy who prosecuted me seems to be quite gracious, though that might be misleading), but I'm not sure how in-depth I should be without coming off as a totally vindicative complainer (that's the impression I'm now sending you, I'm sure), but I have accepted the responsibility of punishment for my DUI. I fear that my grievances with the AA juggernaut may fall on unreceptive ears. Which of my points do you think have any legal bearing?
I do not know if I can even prove that I attended treatment for over 75 hours since the facility refuses to give me a copy of the timesheet I signed around eight o'clock in the morning upon arrival and around 4:00 P.M. before leaving to work. They say they won't release it for confidentiality reasons because others have their names on it, too. I suggested whiting-out the other names, but they still refused. Another log sheet of group sessions for which I was credited do not take into account the hours I spent sitting alone in the facility reading parts of the AA curriculum or doing written assignments, talking with other clients about "recovery" between group sessions, being inculcated with 12-Step incantations before meals, cleaning up others' cigarette butts during groundskeeping duty; generally hours I lost when I could have been at home or helping the farmer I help part-time before my other job. Do these hours count at all toward my legal quota?
Also, if the traffic judge asks me if I drank any alcohol at all during my court supervision, I don't know if I could lie to him. Although it would certainly imply guilt, what do you suppose would happen if I refused to answer with a yes or no, but stated that, "I have not had a drink for over five months" (it'll be over five months this coming February) "and I have only drunk on three occasions in the past 8 1/2 months?" Do you think he would reply, "It should be over six months by now, not five?" Does the Fifth Amendment apply here? I remember admitting to the assistant state's attorney when signing my court supervision agreement that I didn't know if I could go two years without absolutely any alcohol. He actually seemed sympathetic, as if it was just a technicality that he would not pursue and said something like, "That [your drinking alcohol] is up to us to prove, not up to you to disprove." Under court supervision, the police can enter my home upon request, and I'm forbidden to have alcohol. While I think such searches are rare, will my challenging of the treatment clause incite retaliation? I haven't had alcohol to drink in the house for months, but I'm not saying I'm never going to drink again (quite possibly within the next several months after my February court date, although my court supervision doesn't expire until July 2001).
In summary, I believe I have fulfilled a reasonable interpretation of the treatment clause of my court supervision. The zealots of the Alcoholics Anonymous cult that control the treatment industry have arrogantly presumed they can exercise unchecked control of my consciousness and my time and so deny I have completed any significant amount of treatment. Discussing "addiction" with them gives me the same futile feeling as discussing reality with a Christian. While I do not believe their motives are totally selfish, I fear that standing up to them may incur punitive actions through their marriage with government agencies. I plan to submit to the court a more objective narrative than this, with footnotes referring to Stanton Peele's "The Diseasing of America," Jack Trimpey's, "Rational Recovery: the New Cure," and even George Vaillant's "The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited" as well as AA curriculum -- the "Big Book," "Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions," etc. Do you think I'll be cutting my nose off to spite my face? I've probably come across as a ranting, rambling lunatic. Your advice?
Thanks for your time.
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