RR offers alcoholics wry,
sobering alternative to AA
by Elizabeth Mehren,   © 1992, The Los Angeles Times
Except for the "recovery group disorder" he thinks it espouses, the "individual powerlessness" he insists it encourages, and the "higher power" he believes it "stuffs down people's throats," Jack Trimpey thinks there's not a whole lot wrong with Alcoholics Anonymous.

Oh, yes.

There's also the "victim mentality," the "ritual affection," and the "forceful indoctrination" that Trimpey contends come along with the AA turf.

"AA is a good organization," Trimpey said, sounding momentarily generous and possibly even sweet. "But it has become a sacred cow."

Trimpey, a 50-year-old licensed clinical social worker, calls himself a recovered alcoholic -- in contrast with AA's description of former drinkers as recovering alcoholics.

He is also founder of Rational Recovery Systems, one of a growing number of alternative organizations attempting to minister to the needs of an estimated 20 million Americans with alcohol disorders. Like such counter-AA groups as the Secular Organization for Sobriety and Women for Sobriety, Rational Recovery distinguishes itself from the giant of alcohol rehabilitation programs in large part because of its objection to AA's spiritual implications.

Rational Recovery, Trimpey said, "is for people who are not interested in the spiritual life. We're a group of people who won't be told what to think or what to believe -- and we have better things to do with sobriety than to waste it on recovery."

If AA is aware of Trimpey or his program, no one is talking. One spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services in New York would only say that "Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinions whatsoever" about other forms of treatment. "It's that simple," the spokesman said. "We don't say or do anything."

Trimpey established Rational Recovery in 1986 in his hometown of Lotus, in Northern California's Gold Rush country. RR's name, he says, is a deliberate play on the alliterative popularity of AA, the [60-year-old] program that annually serves an estimated two million Americans.

He said he brought the same wry humor to the title of RR's unofficial manual. The Small Book, [published in 1992] by Delacorte Press, is a playful wag at The Big Book, the volume to which AA members turn.

Emile Reichert, executive editor of Delacorte, offered Trimpey "a very generous six-figure" advance for The Small Book after "half the publishers in New York" competed to acquire it. Reichert said that she was initially skeptical of what she now believes is RR's "completely new approach to recovery" because "almost every single publisher has at least one, if not 10 or 15, books" based on the Twelve Step recovery system pioneered by AA.

"In a way, it was a shocking book to come across our desks," Reichert said. "Even I thought, 'What's this guy raising trouble for? AA works!' But then I realized I knew a lot of people for whom it fails. It's just like there is no one cancer therapy that works for everybody."

Trimpey is more inclined to case the comparison in political terms. AA, he says, has for too long occupied a monopoly position: "And see, when you don't have two parties, it's called tyranny."

From behind a full beard, a full face, and a burly body that give him the illusion of a large and unusually friendly grizzly, the founder of Rational Recovery smiles.

"All we want here is balance," he said.

But for groups like RR, parity remains elusive. No figures are available for participants in RR nationwide, but the organization now endorses groups that meet in 350 cities. By comparison, AA and its affiliates have about 4,000 meetings each week in Los Angeles County alone.

But despite the inevitable ant-vs.-elephant comparison, Mark Kern, another AA dropout and the RR coordinator for Los Angeles, contends,"of the secular groups, we have grown the fastest."

Trimpey says he is not interested in bashing AA or any other program, but in helping people to recover from alcoholism. "I have a professional stance that is firm and clear. We're determined to make a change," he said.