The Semantics of the Twelve Step Neurosis

The Semantics of
the Twelve Step Neurosis

Surrender, Disease, Denial and other dysfunctional 12-step pathways to personal disempowerment and cult dependency
by Clifton W. Kirton (Dr. X-ray)


Our traditions are key elements in the ego deflation process necessary to achieve and maintain sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. The first tradition reminds me not to take credit, or authority, for my recovery. ...Deferring my personal desires for the greater good of group growth contributes toward A.A. unity that is central to allrecovery. It helps me to remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (1)[Italics mine]

This statement from a fully indoctrinated A.A. member sounds like something you'd learn the first day in Principles of Brainwashing 101, doesn't it? For those who are not comfortable with this viewpoint, or who would put a positive spin on the self invalidating principles inextricably bound to what Alcoholics Anonymous calls "recovery," let us examine further some of the mental shenanigans, evasive tactics, and thought control techniques from which the fabric of A.A. is woven. Of course, we know and humbly accept that the brilliant light A.A. shines on us all with only the best intentions, but we also know the stuff with which the road to hell is paved.

"The other day, someone told me that A.A. was a brainwashing organization. I figure my brain is so messed up it could use a good washing." Direct quote from a member at a Toledo, Ohio A.A. meeting.

If we acknowledge, as do most thinking people, that language, and the chosen vocabulary of any movement or philosophical system are important determinants of its thought and action, and that the semantics common to a group or society reveals much about the inner workings of any organization or culture, we can draw meaningful insight into the fundamental nature of any such group by examining the words and phrases it uses to express itself, as well as the sub-texts implicit in these expressions, sub-texts which, in Alcoholics Anonymous, are clearly crippling and destructive.

Powerlessness, Twelve-Steppism, and the Siege Mentality

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable."(2)

The idea that he is powerless over alcohol lets the user off the hook by absolving him from personal responsibility for his addiction while simultaneously granting ultimate power to the addiction itself, power so great as to be invincible by human standards. Only the supernatural is credited with having power enough, not to defeat the addiction, but to hold the monster at bay under caveat that the individual must completely relinquish personal autonomy or die of his addiction. The drug itself, in this case alcohol, is anthropomorphized. It is not only characterized as being powerful, but is imbued with the skills to be cunning and baffling. These concepts are so basic to Twelve Step theology that they have become ritualized and are read at the opening of virtually all A.A. meetings. This flawed premise, impotence of the individual, forms the basis of all A.A. indoctrination and must be reinforced constantly, not only in group meetings, but also in the day to day lives of the membership at large.

"AAers seek a relationship with the supernatural in order to cease managing their own lives...The AA concept of control differs significantly from the concept of control presented to drunkards by the rest of society...AA...tells the newcomer that his life is unmanageable and that it is ridiculous for him to try to manage it....By deliberately denying the ability to control their lives, Aaers' former drunken situations are [hypothetically] brought under control...Most importantly, abstinence is not considered a kind of control...Aaers insist that abstinence is possible only when powerlessness is conceded. AA offers supportive interaction in which powerlessness comes to be positively valued." (3) (4)

Firmly entrenched in this irrational mind-set, the AAers circle the wagons, rigorously proscribing all communication which may question cult teachings, even to the point of ritualistically defining the method of expression and framework within which anything may be said in a meeting. "People disagreeing with [the] ideology...are likely to be criticized, punished, and eventually excluded or shunned by the group."(5)

Denial, Defeat and Surrender: A Twelve Step Exercise in Distorted Meanings and Hidden Agendas

In A.A.'s myopic view, if an alcohol habituated individual controls his or her own destiny, makes his own decisions, elects for sound reasons to discontinue alcohol use, he is in denial. In taking control of his personal life and destiny he is denying, according to A.A. dogma, the irrefutable fact of his own powerlessness. This is an A.A. no-no and inspires much wringing of hands and name calling within the cult. One of the main functions of the word denial as used in Twelve Step indoctrination is to defend against the intrusion of reality contradictory to the rigidly delineated format of A.A. group-think. The concept is highly ranked in the Twelve Steppers' cliche` based line of defense against reason and logic. The term is dismissive and absolutist and, like most A.A. sloganeering, allows the cult follower to evade any logical challenge to group dogma, as well as any other meaningful dialogue for that matter. This phenomenon is analogous to Mark Twain's observation about Mary Baker Eddy, faith healer and founder of Christian Science, [They have]..."a perfectly astonishing talent for putting words together in such a way as to make inquiry into their intention impossible."

Paradoxically, in the twelve step model, denial is actually encouraged in a much more tangible sense than observed in the usual A.A. style name calling that surrounds the evasive form of the concept. Denial may be viewed as a necessary precursor to surrender and the ultimate abandonment of personal power. The addict is encouraged to pretend he did not know the reality of his addiction as if the drug had put an impenetrable veil of mystery over his/her perceptive abilities until A.A. revealed the truth and the light—that only abandonment of the self and immersion in cult theology can open the door to divine intervention necessary to the spiritual salvation of the addict. There may be some perverse comfort in denying awareness of one's own addiction, but it is a lie, or more precisely, a cop-out. The self fulfilling prophecy of A.A. is that one must accept hopeless lifelong addiction as an infallible postulate on which to base one's continued existence. i.e. Only by becoming a lifelong addict can one attain freedom from lifelong addiction. This sort of circular reasoning is referred to by Shaler.

"The counter argument to the heretic involves scientific and philosophical reductionism to the point that few, if any, conclusions regarding the issues at hand can ever be reached. Circuitous arguments evolve. Blatant contradictions emerge, e.g., "the alcoholic cannot willfully control his drinking, therefore, he must be abstinent." Yet people choose to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages. "The alcoholic allegedly cannot choose to control his drinking, therefore, he should choose to control his drinking."(6)

In truth, every addict knows the most intimate nature of the beast whether s/he wants to or not. Nevertheless, within every A.A. group there are those who have convinced themselves that they did not know they were alcohol dependent prior to the miraculous awakening they experienced under the wing of A.A. This idea begs the question, "Were they in denial before they entered A.A., or are they now in denial because A.A. put them there?"—and how can A.A. punitively discourage denial, when in fact A.A. brainwashing is, in no small measure, enabled by denial?

But there is a more meaningful, deep and willful denial, denial which is mandatory if one is to live the A.A. lifestyle. Denial that one is capable of, and responsible for altering the course of his own existence constitutes abandonment of one's very essence. A.A. dogma postulates that from this empty, dis-empowered state, "surrender" and salvation naturally follow. In religious/spiritual terms, this may be reasonably perceived as absolution conditional upon the death of the soul.

Such is the paradox of A.A. regeneration: strength arising out of complete defeat and weakness, the loss of one's old life as a condition for finding a new one.(7)

The principle that we shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which our whole Society has sprung. ...Many less desperate alcoholics tried A.A., but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness.(8) [The sub-text here is that individuals who refuse to accept personal defeat and embrace the hopelessness of the A.A. lifestyle are characterized as being failures.]

The idea that he is defeated having been relentlessly reinforced by group disapproval of the personhood of the individual, group sponsored self deprecation, humiliation, abasement, and confession, the group's expectation is that the individual will simply give up. (Fake it 'til you make it.) Now the person is ready to be "saved." Group-think replaces personal philosophy, creativity and growth, with obsessive lifelong preoccupation with the drug of choice and the certainty of re-addiction should the cult follower ever stray from the fold. The door is opened to an imaginary rescuing deity who, conditional upon the addict's complete surrender, will prevent re-addiction from happening. Since this irrational artifice cannot stand alone and does nothing to empower the individual over the addiction, he must go to endless meetings where the big lie is perpetually reinforced by a steady stream of religious pseudo-psychobabble lest the house of cards come tumbling down.

Contrary to what Twelve Step Recovery Movement proponents, counselors, and therapists would have us believe, the artifice collapses in the vast majority of cases—that is unless A.A.'s own statistics and voluminous anecdotal evidence related by long term devotees of A.A. are to be discounted as untrue. An interesting thing about these people is that they will go on and on about how few people succeed in A.A. If you've been to even a few meetings, you've heard about how easy it is to give up on the program and descend again into the terrible darkness of "alcoholism." Only the chosen very few who are willing to dedicate their entire lives to the cult and follow its approved life directives have any chance of remaining "sober," and even these remain in constant peril of slipping backward into the abyss. I think they perceive this line of robotic conversation as a sort of scary story designed to put fear in the hearts of the newcomers and to reinforce it in themselves. They are like conscious automatons so conditioned against objective thought they never realize what they are really saying, "This program doesn't really work at all." The consistent failure on the part of A.A. to successfully indoctrinate the vast majority of individuals speaks not only to the weakness of the A.A. program, but also to the basic indomitability of the human spirit which, in many cases, seems to prefer almost any fate to the intolerable regimen of abasement, confession, ritualized verbal abuse, and thought control promoted by the recovery movement zealots. The reader is directed to Charles Bufe's compelling analysis of A.A.'s success rates set forth in his book Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult of Cure?(9)

The Death Threat: A.A. Fright Night, Very Scarey

A.A. postulates the disease theory of chemical dependency as fact. The disease is defined as life-long, incurable, and fatal. Death is the wages of sin, and much is made of the specter of death in A.A. circles. The death threat is integral to A.A. coercion. Not a meeting goes by where it is not reinforced. The certitude that one will die if one continues to drink is continually reaffirmed. More scary stories, right?...and to what end? An indisputable fact of existence is that no one here gets out alive. A credible measure of individual maturity is the acceptance of one's own mortality. There is nothing to fear in death—it is part of life. Of course, nobody wants to be maimed to death by chainsaw, eaten to death by a large fish, or set upon by beasts of prey, but these fears are not of death itself. They involve the means rather than the end. Additionally, we are all concerned about the effect our deaths may have on our loved ones and dependents. We all hope to have prepared sufficiently so that our deaths do not create upheaval in the affairs of those near and dear to us, but again, this has nothing to do with death per se. Given that personal maturation involves the acceptance of mortality, A.A. fosters stagnation and immaturity in its members by using the fear of death as a manipulative tool. This fosters externalization of control and is simply another means A.A. intimidation.

Triggers, Responses, Character Defects and The Theology of Helplessness

Coaching sessions involving what are referred to in A.A. parlance as triggers are a nauseatingly prominent feature of the Twelve Step experience. In actuality a trigger may be considered a stressor which the individual uses as an excuse to indulge himself in the pleasure of intoxication—an opportunistic, wholly volitional reaction to what is, in fact, a common daily life experience. The rational individual, when confronted with a stressor, can bring effective coping mechanisms to bear. He can take action appropriate to the situation. With experience, the ability to cope grows stronger and increasingly integrated into our day to day functioning. This is simply a part of the natural course of events. It is called growth. In dealing with a stress inducing situation, a person may either decide to use it as an opportunity to drink, or decide upon another course of action. Nothing "triggers" us to consume toxic substances. The action we take is the direct consequence of personal choice. Whether or not we choose wisely dictates our course beyond the crossroads.

In A.A. theology, however, the exercise of free choice and development of personal coping mechanisms are discouraged. The individual is told he has no control over the effects life's experiences have on him, "Let go and let God." and such personally degrading cliche`s as "It's your best thinking that got you here." are mainstays in the slogan riddled vocabulary of A.A. based personal powerlessness. In the rigidly defined philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is only one way to deal with these life's ups and downs, and it is mandatory. "Get to a meeting as soon as possible." In other words, reinforce the big lie—the lie that says "Because I am defective—because I have character defects which only God can remove, I am incapable of handling the stress of everyday life and must rely on others to do it for me."

Disease: Socially Acceptable, Covertly Punishable. The "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing Effect"

In Alcoholics Anonymous, the concept of addiction as disease is analogous to the doctrine of original sin. The disease model offers explanation and absolution rolled into one and serves to reinforce the addict's perception of himself as a victim. Absolution and salvation are temporary (One Day at a Time) and are possible only through the structured ritual religious behaviors of the cult, the Twelve Steps.

The wide acceptance of alcoholism as disease by society reflects a tendency to sweep the problem under the rug. This is a fairly predictable characteristic of the American psyche, which does not tolerate discomfort very well, and is prone to accept any theory, no matter how irrational, which can explain the discomforting problem away. It is the rule in society, rather than the exception, that given the choice, most people will prefer facade over substance. It gives us something for nothing, something to feel good about without having to do the intellectual work necessary to arrive at a functional dynamic understanding of any given set of problems. Whether this reflects human nature, willful ignorance, or plain stupidity I leave to the reader's judgment. Real work and critical thinking are anathema to a society which wants easy answers.

The disease model has the added benefit of cloaking the societal condemnation long associated with addiction, in effect moving it into the background where it can be exercised covertly, insidiously, and punitively under the guise of helping the afflicted — a great way to get your ya-ya's out, don't you think? A good literary example of this phenomenon is to be found in Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which the protagonist is offered the choice between imprisonment and treatment in a mental institution. Thinking hospital time will be easier than prison time he elects to be placed in "treatment" under the supervision of well intentionedclinicians and staff only to discover that rather than serving a short prison sentence for a questionable statutory rape charge, after which he would have been a free man, he now belongs to the system for as long as they want to keep him. In the end he is defeated, lobotomized and mercifully dispatched by a fellow inmate. Those who have been involved in a coerced, hospital based, structured chemical dependency "rehabilitation" program will appreciate the chilling similarities between this story and their experiences.

"If you think that's what Alcoholics Anonymous is all about, you're really missing the point. Religion has nothing to do with it. Your higher power can be anything. You are not being coerced. Your participation in A.A. is entirely voluntary. I must caution you, however, that your failure to internalize recovery concepts will place your transplant candidacy status in great jeopardy."(10)

This was the response, not necessarily verbatim, but most assuredly accurate in content, from the coordinator of the Chemical Dependency Unit of a major organ transplant center when confronted, by the author, with her own coercive tactics and with the idea that A.A. is a coercive, proselytizing, religious cult whose main purpose is to strip individuals of personal autonomy and to brainwash them into acceptance of irrational group ideology. This same individual also had the arrogance to state "We can't always like our 'teachers' but we must accept what they have to teach us." When I protested that if she insisted on forcing me to jump through these ridiculous hoops to prove myself worthy of organ transplant recipient status, there were other avenues available, she replied that she was aware of these other avenues, but that I was too early " recovery" to start getting "creative" with the process, this despite my having consumed no alcohol for a year before she ever laid eyes on me. The fact is that this author is not "in recovery" never has been "in recovery" and never will be "in recovery." Like the vast majority of people who give up bad habits, I simply stopped drinking when I recognized it was imperative to do so. Any association between the disease/recovery paradigm and the realities of addiction is spurious.

In fact, excessive long term consumption of alcohol is associated with a wide spectrum of chronic diseases affecting virtually every system in human physiology. Hepatic, pancreatic and other gastrointestinal problems, renal, circulatory, dermatological, neurological abnormalities etc. are among the well known sequellae to regular consumption of the toxin. But excessive consumption of alcohol, a poison, qualifies no more as a disease than the excessive consumption of chocolate ice cream, a yummy treat. Both are acts of personal volition. Disease has nothing to do with it.

My father used to eat a lot of fat. He would trim the fat from a steak, fry it and eat it, after which he would consume the steak followed by a pint of ice cream, almost daily. He suffered a massive heart attack at age 49 and died, the result of coronary arterial occlusive disease. Now that's a disease!—a real disease, a giant among diseases, a classic! To say that his consumption of fat was in and of itself a disease is a pretty wild leap of logic, though I'm sure more than a few twisted Twelve Steppers, being highly skilled in fallacious assumption and used to accepting logical non sequiturs as valid, would advocate that position. The fact is, he developed, for personal enjoyment, a bad habit which, over time, gave him a disease which eventually killed him. The habit and the disease were not one in the same.

If an individual challenges the disease concept of Alcoholism in the company of A.A. devotees or treatment industry personnel, he/she is more often than not, attacked vituperatively by these self appointed guardians of sobriety.

"Members of the cult are like a colony of insects when disturbed. A frenzy of activity and protective measures are executed when core concepts are challenged. The stronger the evidence challenging the truthfulness of the group ideology, the more likely members of the cult are to...lash out in a more or less predictable fashion."(11)

If the heretic happens to be an addict or former addict, he is characterized by the faithful as being in denial, and his logical exposition and sound reasoning (Stinkin' thinkin') are defined as expressive of his disease process. This hyper-reactivity to non group-sanctioned thought exemplifies a central, clearly cult-like feature of Alcoholics Anonymous, the group's insistence on the absolute infallibility of its ideological/theological base into which the disease concept (sin) and faith healing (absolution) are inextricably woven. The extent to which the health care establishment and public policy makers have embraced this absurd doctrine is astounding.

Spirituality: The Emperor's New Clothes

Since it is easily recognized that A.A. is a proselytizing obsessively religious movement, and since A.A. members realize as well as anybody that such movements are looked upon askance by most people, the cult euphemistically refers to itself as spiritual, denying it is religious, in order to cloud the issue. This tactic is typical of religious cults and is expected to crop up with regularity whenever the nature of the organization is questioned. There is a relatively well known Ohio based cult named "The Way." It attempts to conceal its true nature by proclaiming itself a "Biblical Research Society." This classic cult tactic simply doesn't wash. The predictable protestations from the twelve step zombies and their supporters are so absurd as not to warrant serious consideration. In a word, Bullshit!.

What's All This I Hear About Cults?

If it looks like a cult, walks like a cult, talks like a cult, recruits like a cult, brainwashes like a cult, punishes like a cult, and like all cults, pretends it isn't a cult, there is a pretty good chance it's a cult. Bufe`s conclusion that A.A. is not a cult is based on a narrow definition of the word as well as some clear misconceptions about the group's activities, most notably, recruitment and economic exploitation. He states that A.A. does not actively recruit members. This begs the question, "What about required A.A. attendance for drunk drivers—Is A.A. entirely passive in this?—and what about A.A.'s regular ministerial forays into penal institutions where attendance is coerced?" As for economic exploitation of members, one has only to look at the prevalence of forced "rehabilitation" programs across the nation. Although statistically ineffective, these programs are not free, and since insurance companies are increasingly loath to pay for treatment which is both expensive and of dubious value, the coerced participant who is usually given the choice of jail, job loss, or program attendance must often foot the bill out of pocket.

Bufe's book is arguably the best researched, and perhaps the most interesting and readable analysis of A.A. I have encountered, but I disagree with his conclusion that A.A. is not a cult. By definition, he excludes from cult status all but the most bizarre and dangerous organizations, whose tactics include sensory and sleep deprivation, intimidation by physical violence, physical isolation from society, and so forth.(12) Bufe implies that the word "cult" should apply to only such glaringly dangerous organizations as The People's Temple, Synanon, such strange millenarian cults as Elizabeth Claire Prophet's Montana based survivalist Church Universal and Triumphant which has been stockpiling weapons for the "end times" for years, as well as some of the more innocuous hypno-chanting religious movements such as Krishna Consciousness. If one uses such inflexible criteria, insisting that only groups which use the most extreme forms of mind control be included in the definition, the concept loses almost all societal importance since the number of individuals involved is infinitesimal. However, if a slightly less stringent definition is applied, A.A. fits the bill to a tee, considerably larger numbers are involved, and the definition of the word takes on much greater social significance, political significance and, I think, accuracy.

If cults and cult like organizations affected only a very limited number of individuals susceptible to the extreme ideologies of the lunatic fringe, all would be well. A limited number of casualties is certainly acceptable when one examines the numbers compared to the millions of people living in our society.. But when the cult, by using less extreme but equally effective mind control techniques as does Alcoholics Anonymous, succeeds in avoiding criticism and establishes itself as a respected societal institution, ensconced in government and health care to the point that cult participation is routinely coerced by these institutions, the danger to society is clearly greater than that posed by the most extreme groups. The infamous Jonestown incident resulted in about five hundred tragic but statistically insignificant deaths in a far away tropical jungle—The People's Temple tragedy affected a few hundred souls and made good tabloid copy, but A.A. affects millions every day and is never questioned.

Codependency: Expansion of the Snare. Theater of the Absurd.

Any disease which affects 96 percent of the American population(13) has got to be good for the recovery industry. Spawned of Alcoholics Anonymous theology, codependence is the disease from which everyone is trying to "recover," a national epidemic of staggering proportions, which is considered fatal for individuals and the nation.

Codependence causes cancer and other stress related diseases, experts warn, as well as environmental pollution and war. If society and everyone in it is addicted, self destructing, infected with left-brain rationality, then people in recovery are the chosen few, an elite minority of enlightened, if irrational self-actualizers with the wisdom to save the world....the only people who can help cure our addictive system are those "recovering from its effects." (14)

Our miserable, misguided alcoholic, sexaholic, rageholic, shopaholic, workaholic, loveaholic, foodaholic, videoholic society should run up those twelve steps to the recovery lifestyle, as fast as our chubby little tootsies will carry us, where as stepaholics we can commiserate in our misery and call it serenity. I believe there are 13 steps up the gallows, but why quibble about a step or two when we all doomed as doomed can be anyway. Does this sound a little strange, or perhaps overreaching? It pulls A.A. based ideology out of closeted cult status and into showbiz. The codependency lecture circuit sports a high powered clique of slick talking self help shamans selling the Twelve Step religious message wrapped up in glitzy packages which make the recovery junkies feel hip and with it in their mutual victimhood. Movies like "Clean and Sober" with Michael Keaton are box office smashes pandering to a public which craves the titillation to be found in viewing the face of addiction as simultaneously glamourous and tragic. What next, "Bradshaw Does Vegas" at $1200 a pop with special guest confessions by Kitty Dukakis and Johnny Cash and a door prize consisting of a full color portrait of Suzanne Somers' inner child suitable for framing? Codependency books occupy a disproportionately large section of most bookstores, and since codependency is viewed as a pervasive, institutionalized disease, codependency authors are provided the widest possible audience—everyone.(15) Yes ladies and gentlemen, A.A. has finally come of age.

The "Dry Drunk"

This is really one of the most screwed up attempts at name calling and twisted reasoning ever conceived by Alcoholics Anonymous. It goes something like this. If an individual chooses to discontinue alcohol use without relinquishing all personal autonomy and turning his life over to the cult and its God, he is not sober at all. He is a "Dry Drunk," and is only pretending to be sober. He is, you guessed it, in denial, denial that he is powerless. Let's examine this little check sheet to see if we can figure it out.

Will the Real Dry Drunk Please Stand Up

Dry Drunk

Recovery Addict

In response to negative consequences brought about in his/her life by drinking, chooses lifelong abstinence over continued alcohol consumption. Decides he/she is powerless over alcohol, defines himself as "an alcoholic," decides lifelong abstinence is not an option and chooses to be abstinent for only one day at a time.
Identifies chemical dependency as a bad habit. Identifies chemical dependency as a disease.
Understands that abstinence and the methods by which it is maintained are personal choices. Having chosen abstinence, selects methods/techniques which he feels work for him. If someone else chooses a different path, it makes no difference Believes the only way to maintain abstinence is to have a spiritual awakening and to place his life in the hands of God. Believes those who choose a different path are lying to themselves. If given authority, may attempt to force his way of life on others.
Deals with life, including addiction from a position of personal empowerment. Deals with life, including addiction from a position of personal disempowerment.
Learns techniques needed to overcome any persistent cravings which might interfere with his plan for lifelong abstinence. Makes no lifelong commitment to meetings or to a group. Commits himself to a lifetime of dreary meetings at which s/he ritualistically reinforces his identity as an alcoholic and his inability to ever be completely "cured" of what s/he defines as a "disease."
Has a positive self image. Has entirely overcome his addiction. Feels no need to perpetually discuss his past drinking problem. Has a negative self image. Feels the need for ritualistic self debasement. Feels the need to continually and endlessly discuss his addiction, even after years of abstinence.
Identifies himself as a non-drinker or former drinker. Identifies himself as an alcoholic "in recovery."
His religious beliefs do not necessarily have anything to do with his abstinence. Religion is the foundation upon which his abstinence is built. Prays on his knees every day that s/he may remain abstinent.
Takes responsibility for his own abstinence. Places responsibility for his abstinence in the hands of an imaginary rescuing deity, and more importantly, in the hands of other group members.
Has a reasonably well integrated personality. Understands and accepts his strengths and weaknesses based on life experience. Continues a normal, healthy course of growth and self motivated personal development. Perceives his character as "defective" and prays for a rescuing deity to miraculously remove his flaws. Persists in living his life in a compulsive fashion, directed by externally imposed ritualistic dictums defined by a limited, group centered, philosophic/religious belief system.
Develops friendships naturally as a part of his life process, according to real life involvements and circumstances. Tends to choose friends based on their common group identity as "recovering alcoholics."
Recognizes that life has its ups and downs which must be coped with whether s/he is abstinent or not. Develops good coping skills. Does not feel the need for external reinforcement of sobriety. Is overly concerned about life's ordinary daily problems. Sees them as "triggers" for drinking. Does not cope well internally. Fears that if s/he does not attend meetings, s/he will be overcome by these triggers and will inevitably drink again.

The Case For A.A. Bashing

Certainly, the practice of religion in the way he/she sees fit is the right of every citizen, and is protected as such under the First Amendment to the Constitution. No-one would argue that a person be forbidden the exercise of this right whether harmful or helpful to the individual himself. It's simply a matter of personal privacy. However, freedom of religion also embodies freedom from religion, and when a religious movement seeks to impose its beliefs upon others by deception, coercion, or legislation, that movement, having clearly overstepped its bounds, has become deserving of censure. The activities of the radical evangelical Christian right wing epitomize the blindly obsessive zeal with which an aggressive minority religious movement may attempt to force its belief system and code of conduct on the rest of the country through legislation. By its current activities, Alcoholics Anonymous aims to achieve the same sort of societal dominance, although its tactics are somewhat different and certainly not as obvious.

Alcoholics Anonymous, in expanding its activities to include state mandated non-voluntary participation in its religious meetings, as well as its irresponsible intrusion into the health care system, has clearly violated both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, and should, therefore, be taken to task. At best, incorporating A.A. into the justice system, health care, and public policy has accomplished nothing. At worst it has harmed thousands and cost millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars. It has also resulted in immeasurable expenditures from the private incomes of thousands unfortunate enough to undergo forced A.A. indoctrination at their own expense.

Unlike the Christian right, whose actions have been outrageous enough and visible enough to evoke considerable public outcry, A.A. is accepted without a second thought by the majority of individuals in our society. This places no onus on society, unless one espouses the questionable view that societal acceptance of A.A. is a sin of omission. A.A. has merely succeeded in covertly promulgating its program without being questioned as to its validity. No one really looked, and few understand what is really going on. This is, of course, an expression of the easy answer syndrome to which I referred earlier. Moreover, and understandably, when the facts are put forth, many people find the story too fantastic to believe. Society, by and large thinks that participation in A.A. is, for the most part voluntary, and this used to be the case before the advent of court ordered diversion programs, government support of the recovery industry, third party reimbursement for so called chemical dependency treatment and so forth. Nowadays when one attends an A.A. meeting, the number of individuals whose attendance is coerced by court order, employer ultimatum and other forced referral sources is often greater than those attending voluntarily.

As a tribute to the good conscience of some A.A. members, there is the occasional group which will not involve itself in the forced participation process, and will refuse to sign court slips and other proof of coerced attendance. But these groups are rare. Most buy fully into the system. At the invitation of the state, regular forays into correctional institutions are made. AAers have actively sought and readily accepted control over the vast majority of chemical dependency treatment programs in the country, and most people in these programs are there under coercion. The societal undercurrent is significant. Random drug and alcohol screening of employees is ever more prevalent. Workers are encouraged to inform on their co-workers. "Intervention," a particularly egregious Twelve Step tactic, involves what amounts to kidnaping the individual and forcing him into a "recovery" facility where he/she is incarcerated for a substantial period of time, during which s/he undergoes intensive A.A. brainwashing.

What sorts of institutions in a society tend to have this sort of power over individuals? Certainly the KGB, and other secret service organizations come to mind. If the underlying driving concept is allowed its most extreme and horrific expression, groups such as the Khmer Rouge, Red Guard, SS and so forth, emerge. These parallels are admittedly extreme and are not intended to imply the A.A. is a potentially violent organization. It is not. Its demands for conformity of thought and action, and exclusion of concepts not specifically in line with group theology are, however, quite clear. A.A., by default or design has attained considerable undeserved power and has successfully infiltrated virtually every government agency and institution. With state approbation and support A.A. continues an intense assault on the constitutional liberties of the citizens of this country in an attempt to impose its ideology on an increasingly greater number of individuals in our society, an ideology which has the full support of the government, the media, and much of the health care establishment. An examination of A.A. attendance reveals that a substantial fraction, in some meetings, a majority, of A.A. attendees participates under coercion. The Recovery Movement attempts to exert its influence from the highest levels of national government right down to the basic building block of society, the family. The mythology of codependence is used insidiously by the organization, and coerced participation by non-addicted family members in Alanon codependency groups is becoming ever more common.

At its inception, A.A. devised an effective, although simplistic and completely dishonest, method to avoid societal scrutiny and accountability for its actions. The central organization disavows control over or responsibility for any actions taken by its daughter groups or members. Each A.A. cell is ostensibly autonomous.

"A.A., as such ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. A.A. as a whole—should never be organized at all." Tradition Nine(16)

Having thus evaded responsibility for its actions, A.A. then informs us that it doesn't engage in controversy. This statement dodges the bullet before anyone shoots—If I say I don't engage in controversy, I can do anything I want and not be held accountable. "Oh no you don't! You have no business talking to me about it. I don't engage in controversy!" A.A.'s renunciation of controversy is a transparent, embarrassingly naive, effort to exempt even its most outrageous transgressions from scrutiny, criticism or condemnation.

"Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy." Tradition Ten(17)

What is in question here is not a outside issue. A.A., by its own actions, has made itself a pivotal controversial issue. Protestations to the contrary are clearly spurious and reflect incredible arrogance. The benign countenance it shows the world notwithstanding, A.A. is founded on central theological principles which, through aggressive proselytization, it has succeeded in no small measure to inculcate nationally to the practical exclusion of any other ideation or methodology applicable to addiction in America. A.A.'s public denial of its fundamental religious, evangelical, proselytizing nature, and its claim that it is an organization dedicated to "spiritual" development on an entirely voluntary basis is pure sham. The group has infiltrated government and health care in this country to an unacceptable extent, perpetrating what is in effect one of the most extensive and successful health care frauds in history. As a de facto state sponsored religious sect, A.A. has successfully circumvented the First Amendment guarantee of separation of church and state. Considering these facts, the group is not entitled to any sort of anonymity. It has made itself a legitimate target for criticism and should be exposed at every opportunity.

It is in society's best interest to remove this group from power and re-establish it as an entirely voluntary organization without ties to government, the justice system, and health care. Vociferous opposition to Alcoholics Anonymous has arisen in some quarters but is not sufficiently established as an issue in American societal consciousness at this time. To the extent that victims of addiction care risk stepping forward in denunciation of this deplorable organization and its flagrant encroachment upon the civil rights of those who are forced into cult participation, we may see movement in a positive direction. Continued silence will only serve to encourage further transgressions and allow the cult to further consolidate power under its cloak of anonymity.

A.A. bashing—exposure of the recovery movement for what it truly is—should be viewed in a positive light. With enough exposure, public awareness may be stimulated. The predictable result is societal polarization on the issue. This may not be perceived by some as being desirable, but every meaningful action incorporates both positive and negative consequences, pros and cons. A society divided on a significant issue is vastly preferable to a society which embraces an irrational ideology without question. Only through increased controversy and confrontation will A.A. be extricated from its current position of power and control and re-confined to those areas of influence appropriate to its actual worth, church basements.

1. Daily Reflections, (New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., 1990) 39.

2. Steps and Twelve and Twelve Traditions, (New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., 1995) 21.

3. Shaler, J., Cult-busting. (The Interpsych Newsletter, 1995) vol. 2, No. 5.

4. Sadler, P. O., The 'crisis cult' as a voluntary association: An interactional approach to Alcoholics Anonymous. (Human Organization, 1977) 36, 207-210.

5. Shaler, J., Cult-busting.

6. Shaler, J., Cult-busting.

7. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, (New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc.) 46

8. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 22-23.

9. Bufe, C., Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure, (San Francisco, See Sharp Press, 1991) 103- 113.

10. These statements were made by Judy Stowe, Certified Chemical dependency Counselor and coordinator of the Organ Transplant Chemical Dependency Unit at The Cleveland Clinic, an internationally respected tertiary care facility. The fact that the 12 steppers have achieved high status at such a prestigious medical center emphasizes the the scope of the cult's influence at the highest levels. It is of further crucial importance that, according to Ms. Stowe, chemical dependency "rehabilitation" is mandated by the state of Ohio, although she refused to provide anything to this effect in writing.

11. Shaler, J., Cult-busting.

12. Bufe, C., Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure, 92-102

13. Kaminer, W., I'm Dysfunctional You're Dysfunctional, (New York, Vintage, 1993) 10

14. Kaminer, I'm Dysfunctional You're Dysfunctional, 17.

15. Kaminer, I'm Dysfunctional You're Dysfunctional, 16.

16. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 172

17. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 176