I'm 50 years old. I am also attending law school at night. As the reader will see, this fact will become relevant later in this story.
Before my world caved in, I had a wife who loved me, a home a couple of miles from the California coast, and I could party my ass off on a daily basis. I saw that my drinking and drugging were about to destroy my world. The only thing I knew to do to get sober was AA. So, I started going to meetings, under the misguided belief that AA was the only solution.
The problem is that the solution AA had to offer was to have God remove all of my defects of character. Why didn't they tell me to stop drinking? I'm Jewish by birth. The God of my religion does not come in and fix you. My personal beliefs are somewhere between mild atheism and agnosticism. So, here I am, an atheist Jew, in a very vulnerable emotional state, partially from the chemical changes excessive alcohol and cocaine use did to my brain and partially because I was frightened that I was going to lose everything in the my world, trying to get sober in what is essentially a pseudo-Christian cult.
I am very headstrong, and will not do what pundits tell me to do without a fight. As Timothy Leary said, “distrust authority and think for yourself.” I have a degree in psychology, and this “program of recovery” was nothing more than a watered down cult. To preach powerless and dependence on a cult or the Cult's god as a solution to a behavioral problem is both unprofessional and it made no sense. AA's message is wrong. It tells people to stop thinking for themselves. It tells people that they are deformed and ill. It tells them that they are less than, rather than working to rebuild self confidence and self esteem. Instead recovery programs should tell the alcoholic he has a behavioral problem, but that he has the power to choice to stop drinking and to stay stopped.
I think it took me a lot longer to get sober because of the clash between my beliefs and the AA cult. During that 2-1/2 year period, I lost a home and a wife and spent 23 days in jail because it was more important for me to drink and drug than it was to pay dog license tickets and traffic fines. AA gave me just the excuse I needed to keep drinking -- after all, I couldn't get sober if I didn't have AA's god. AA's “program” actually gave me an excuse to keep drinking. I get sober one day at a time, and drink on the other days.
In little more than a year of attending AA, unable to control myself, partially because AA tells you that you are powerless to stop, partially because of my obstinate refusal to become a cult member, and mostly because I did not stop drinking and drugging, my my world completely fell apart. All of a sudden, I was unemployed, my wife was gone, I was forced to sell our home, and I was at the edge of living out of the back of a pick-up truck with a cat and two 140 pound dogs, one of which liked to eat cats. I was at an emotional and economic precipice, and I was not fully rational, and I had been suckered into believing all of AA's crap that I could not get sober without a belief in and reliance on a deity. I firmly believed that if I could not find a God, I could do the 12 step dance, and thus, I could not get sober.
AA has done such a good job of marketing itself that, in a practical sense, there is little else for an alcoholic to turn to for assistance with a drinking problem. I have been sober for 6 years. I found a “sponsor,” who was a friend and who didn't actively force me to do the steps (not that he could have). Still, he and the rest of the AA pundits have pressured me, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, to conform to the group's beliefs. So, I have gone to AA meetings, kicking, yelling and screaming about how nuts they are. I used it as tool to remind myself that taking a drink would not be a good idea. Most atheists who end up in AA don't have the internal obstinance to stand up to what is really intense peer pressure to conform, while being given a message that if you don't convert to AA's religion, you will get drunk, and end up institutionalized or dead. (The first atheist in AA was Jim Burwell, who is Southern Gentleman story in the AA Big Book! He never did end up believing in a God, but pretended he did.)
There are only a few AA meetings I can tolerate without going on a tirade. The disgusting disinformation disseminated at AA meetings makes me want to lash out, and I simply don't want to put up with other people's bullshit. I have slowly been drifting away from those few AA meetings I can stand, and have wanted to find a secular alternative. However, there is only one Secular Organization for Sobriety meeting in the OC each week, and I wasn't particularly happy with the group.
Law school requires an intense amount of work. As a part time student, I have had to read 3,000 pages of court cases over the last 7 months. It was cutting into my ability to work, and affecting my ability to pay my bills. This was (and is) very stressful. Pavlov's dog brain (which is what I called my alcoholic thinking) decided to use law school as an excuse to try to get me to drink. For a while, it was almost as bad as when I got sober. I decided that the best thing to do was to talk to alcoholic attorneys who understand the problems of law school and practice and how it affects thinking.
Accordingly, I went to the California State Bar's web site to find out about programs they had for assistance in maintaining my sobriety. 43% of the attorneys who get disciplined by the Bar are alcoholics, or say they are in order to have an excuse for the ethical shortcomings which got them in trouble.
Because of the large number of attorneys with alcohol issues, the State Bar recently instituted a “confidential” program to assist attorneys with drug and alcohol problems. I contacted the California State Bar to see what resources they had for law students who were “sober.” The Bar wanted me to start attending therapy, at several hundred dollars an hour, which I don't currently need and can't afford, in order to assist me in getting or staying sober. They also referred me to “The Other Bar,” a group which holds meetings throughout California for attorneys and law students with alcohol problems.
As it turns out, “The Other Bar” is a neo-AA group, with restricted membership. I have only attended two meetings, and they start and end with a prayer, just like AA. At the end of the first meeting, one of the members told me I would need their support in order to become a bar member.
All of a sudden, I'm saying to myself, “wait a minute.” California attorneys are now, in essence, being required to join the AA cult in order to not lose their licenses?!?! The State Bar is quasi-governmental in nature. It is under the control of California's Chief Justice. Whatever happened to the principle of separation of church and state?
In all fairness, at the meetings I attended, there was not much “God talk,” no one was speaking in tongues, and the 12 steps were not being “pushed” in the way they are in AA meetings. Still, it is too close for my tastes. Now AA is the official religion of the State of California!