Trick Question:
Can RR Thrive as
an Alternative to AA?
by Jack Trimpey and Cliff Walker

The following e-mail discussion took place between Cliff Walker and RR founder Jack Trimpey in early 1996:

Cliff Walker: Is RR is an alternative to AA?

Jack Trimpey: AA is an alternative to RR. 

Cliff Walker: That's what I thought. The AA Big Book even admits up front that AA is for those who were not successful at quitting on their own. I think most people would be better off trying to quit on their own first, using RR if necessary, and let those who don't make it try something much more extreme and involved like AA or psychology. However, so many non-Twelve Step or "alternative" advocates have been talking about alternative methods, AA being the mainstream, that I started getting used to calling RR the alternative. 

Jack Trimpey: Alternative is yet another steptalk expression, used to subtly establish AA's supremacy. For a while, early on, we used the term, counterpoint to politely avoid secondary status, but that has fallen into disuse. I think the most direct idea is to point out that we aren't really part of the recovery group movement, that our discussion groups are a way of stepping out of the recovery group experience.

Here is a discussion group fragment ... which clarifies some points. I thought you might like to read it. 

Question: What do [you] see as the major reason that alternate groups such as Rational Recovery, fail to thrive? Is it because such groups are too difficult for most to understand? Is it because these groups are geared to establishing individual independence and hence success is measured by getting group members to become independent of the support group (sort of a self-fulfilling group self-dissolution)? Is it because this type of group needs well trained counselors to make it work? Is more publicity needed? 

Jack Trimpey's response: I think it is inaccurate to give RR a failure to thrive diagnosis. Rational Recovery is here to stay, and we are pioneering some very exciting concepts in the addictions field. We continue to add several groups per month, but we are growing more slowly than our explosive growth rate in the early '90s. RR began as part of the recovery group movement but for some time has been moving toward a more educational format. The core program has shifted away from cognitive-behavioral psychology, toward simple instruction on summarily quitting addictions without digressions into the spiritual and psychological realms. Since moving away from psychological discussions, the RR program has become extremely simple. Each meeting is an opportunity for participants to quit their addictions for good, and we assume that recovery groups are unnecessary for recovery. We have eliminated direct involvement of professionals in the groups, and require facilitators to be abstinent laypersons who self-recovered through planned lifetime abstinence. 

Planned abstinence is the common denominator of recovery from any non-AA perspective. AA is the only religion, indeed, the only belief system ever devised, which places the hand of God directly on the controls of voluntary human behavior and insists that human beings must depend upon benevolent, divine intervention in order to refuse the use of alcohol or other drugs. Even the most fundamentalist sects stop short of asserting that one's hands are directly controlled from above, because their entire concept of sin and redemption would collapse. 

The recovery group movement is a product of the 12-step program and its value system, in which chemically dependent people gather, usually nocturnally, into abject clots of humanity dependent upon ritual and external conditions to quell their appetites for substance-induced pleasure. RR probably erred initially by mimicking the form of AA while promoting a highly contrasting approach to recovery. Evolution has been by trial-and-error, because there was no template for an alternative solution to our country's problem with mass addiction. Our format has changed to fit the character of the concepts of recovery we represent. Ironically, the simple truth about addiction recovery, that anyone can immediately quit a substance addiction for good, is incompatible with the recovery group movement itself, and negates its business arm, the addiction treatment industry. 

The recovery group movement is a parochial phenomenon which mostly attracts persons with dispositions and attitudes that are compatible with the style and ethos of the recovery group milieu. Leadership in the recovery group movement is by persons who, based on their own experience, believe in the prime importance of the recovery group experience in solving addictions. In other words, they are very often dependent, authoritarian personalities. This attitude pervades our society so that most people associate addiction recovery with sitting in circles, discussing personal problems, and learning the fundamental error of their ways. This unfortunate error has created conditions which are perfect for mass addiction. 

Rational Recovery does not follow the keep-coming-back-and-share tradition of the recovery group movement. We know that people will quit if that is what they want, if they know it is possible, and if they understand exactly how to do it. Because we make no attempt to retain participants who become securely abstinent, we do not accumulate impressive numbers of "members," even though a good number of people may pass through meetings. We receive no public funding, and no money is collected from groups to build a pool for promotion and publicity. Volunteers collect money from participants to pay for the expenses of making RR meetings available. They volunteer because they get a kick out of teaching AVRT to others and because their understanding of AVRT is improved by teaching. Some gain a feeling of contributing to their communities, and others simply want to help people avoid entanglements in the recovery group movement they themselves found painful. 

Alternative programs to AA meet with considerable contention from AA, whose members are led to believe that their articles of faith are exempt from contradiction, as if by divine mandate. Whether or not this was intended by AA's founders or by its present invisible leadership, it is very clearly so. Because of inherent weaknesses in the logic and coherency of its guiding tenets, a specialized form of rebuttal to opposing points of view has developed which I call "steptalk." Most often steptalk aims at the messenger of an opposing viewpoint rather than responding to the issue in question. To the extent that an alternative program tolerates or resembles the 12-step program, avoids criticism of central 12-step concepts, and overlooks its glaring improprieties, it will be accepted by the recovery group movement and the addiction treatment community. Then, it will be incorporated into the 12-step process, digested with the enzymatic action of steptalk and money, and eliminated as yet another proof that all knowledge feeds the unity of AA. This has happened with the disciplines of psychoanalysis, behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, neurology, neurochemistry, nursing, social work, primary care medicine, and, most alarmingly, the world's great religions. 

The parochialism of the recovery group movement should alert any objective observer that something is seriously wrong. If money is the root of all evil, it is possible that a the recovery group movement has been corrupted by the presence of professions who have career and business interests in the ostensibly altruistic recovery group movement. Rational Recovery, by clearly identifying itself as a for-profit enterprise which offers free discussion groups as a community service, hopes to avoid that conflict of interest.