AA has been much more successful than the Oxford Group. In its heyday, Oxford reached more than 60 countries. AA is active in more than 114. To understand this phenomenal growth one must understand the nature and purpose of “not AA” organizations.
keeping things purely spiritual: hiding identity
To keep AA purely spiritual, the membership has what appears to be severe restrictions on efforts to “carry the message.” They can’t solicit or accept money from outside sources. They can’t ally themselves, as a group, with other organizations. They must, as AA members, remain anonymous in the media. As AA members, they can’t take a public stand on any political or social issue. However, there are no restrictions on AA members founding outside organizations allied with AA or moving existing organizations into alliance with AA. As members of outside organizations they are able to solicit funds and take stands on social and political issues. They can also “educate the public.” In fact a “not AA” corporation can do whatever it sees fit to “carry the message” except use the AA name and identify itself with the public as AA. In a legal, corporate sense, AA doctrine has been spread more by “not AA” organizations and “not AA” people than by AA.
The most innocuous of these “not AA” organizations are the corporations operating AA clubhouses. Major cities have many locations operated, staffed and used exclusively by AA members*1 for meetings and socializing. These clubhouses are “not AA.” In keeping with The Traditions, mixing “property and prestige” with the “spiritual” is not allowed. AA would never ask for or accept money from outside sources by AA members can band together to establish “not AA” clubhouses. These “not AA” corporations solicit public money for the need of “people in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction,” not for AA.
Another “not AA” organization is the publicly funded treatment center. They are managed and staffed by AA members and the “treatment” offered is AA indoctrination but it is “not AA.” Being “not AA,” they are free to solicit public funds.
This represents only a small part of AA s influence which begins with their approach to medicine and religion. The individual AA member, even though he humbly knew he was more capable of helping alcoholics than either doctors or ministers, was advised in the 1939 Big Book to “cooperate; never criticize.”227
Religious and medical organizations were frustrated in their attempts to get excessive drinkers to moderate or quit. AA members, boasting of a personal “cure” for the “disease,” found fertile ground. Indoctrinated members, whether they drank or not, agreed on the nature of the disease. Those who were abstinent at the moment pointed to “a simple program” as the cause of their success. Those who continued to drink or who’s drinking became worse could point to their own willfulness, stubbornness, self-centeredness or lack of honesty for their failure and praise AA for their sincere desire to help. Those only partially indoctrinated, who didn’t want to continue going to AA, were explained by co founder Wilson. “Initial rejection of A.A. is part of the denial mechanism.”228 Against this background, it was difficult to be critical of AA. Those associated with AA were full of praise for it and those who didn’t like it were suffering a disease symptom. Casual observation showed sincere, successful people trying to help others and themselves.
AA and organized religion
AA has neutralized almost all criticism from organized religion. With AA’s stress on a “higher power,” the early suggestion that members affiliate with a church and the insistence that it is a “spiritual, not religious” program, most religious organizations were swayed and remain so today. It would have been extremely difficult for a religious leader to criticize AA. His main awareness of AA was through new members attributing church attendance, and the solution of serious problems, to a new found awareness of God brought about by AA. It would also be difficult for a religious organization to criticize AA when AA is apparently so full of praise for religious organizations.
It is difficult for a non member to catch the hidden criticisms of other religions in AA literature. For example, in the AA book “Pass It On,” Bill Wilson’s thoughts on religion are given:
“ The ungodly might not be expected to know any better. But men of religion should. Yet history shows that they just don’t. It seems to me that the great religions survive because each has a sound core of spiritually. They survive because of their spirituality…”229
The casual reader would find a lukewarm defense of religion; they have “a sound core of spirituality” which outweighs “history.” However, the indoctrinated cult member is aware that organized religion is good to the degree it has the pure substance of AA. AA is purely spiritual and not at all religious. AA requires no beliefs. Beliefs are essential to religion. AA doesn’t need to require beliefs because those who don’t “come to believe” their beliefs will die. This means AA is the pure embodiment of what allows organized religion to be somewhat good and that AA is more powerful and has a more direct line to God. AA also has no “history” other than that “[O]ur [AA’s] world arteries … carry the life giving grace of God.”230 Ironically, only a few fringe religious groups, with techniques similar to those of AA, are able to recognize them and warn their members. Apparently, the only religious groups which have been vocal in their criticism of AA are some of the more extreme Fundamentalist Christian groups. There is now a Twelve-Step group to help those “addicted” to them, Fundamentalists Anonymous.
AA’s modern relationship with other religions can be summed up by a conversation overheard at an AA meeting among a half dozen or so groupers,
“Did you read the article that said AA was taking the place of religion?” Some groupers indicated they had. “She shouldn’t have said it,” he continued. “But it is true,” one grouper protested. “Yeah but she still shouldn’t have said it.” All heads nodded in agreement.”
AA and medicine
While AA has been extremely successful in its relationship with most religions, its influence on medicine has been much greater. Some members of the medical establishment are among its greatest boosters. A doctor who has been indoctrinated into AA or Al-Anon can not speak “at the media level” about alcoholism as an AA. That would be “breaking Anonymity.” He can, however, “carry the message” as a medical authority.
In the medical school text, “The Treatment of Alcoholism,” the student is taught,
“Every effort should be made to introduce the patient to AA. Schedules of local AA meetings should be kept in the office and given to each patient. The physician should know several recovered men and women active in local AA who are willing to meet with a new patient, share their experiences, and take the patient to an AA meeting.”231
If the excessive drinker would rather quit on his own, the doctor is to suggest that the person who tries to quit “by himself … usually fails”232 as if people who go to AA have a lower failure rate. The psychiatrist is advised that his “primary goal” is to establish a “therapeutic relationship” with the patient in order to use it as “leverage” to get him into AA.233
None of this is surprising since the book is written with the admitted goal of getting people into AA234 by a man who got his information from the “insights” of “recovered” alcoholics, going to AA meetings and friendships with AA groupers.235 The author claims “a deeper understanding of alcoholism, an understanding that is not approached by the usual process of medical education.”236
This medical textbook and its acceptance would not have been possible without the AMA declaring alcoholism a disease in 1956. Based upon the faulty work of E.M. Jellinek,*2 a disease of alcoholism defined as incurable, progressive, characterized by “denial” and fatal without “help” has medical legitimacy.
This declaration was made with the best of intentions. Undoubtedly, some imagined the results would be alcoholics getting effective treatment and a major impact on the nation’s alcohol problems. The results, however, have been entirely different. While there has been no decrease in alcoholism attributable to its being classified as a disease, there has been a dramatic increase in the growth of AA.
With alcoholism an officially sanctioned disease, states began forcing insurers to pay for treatment creating the multi-billion dollar treatment industry. The treatment offered was, and still is, unproven, ineffective, AA indoctrination.
The ramifications go much further: AA has become America’s quasi-official religion. While there has been great public discussion over many church state issues, an increasing portion of the federal government’s budget has gone to pay for Twelve Step indoctrination under the guise of treatment. The 1991 federal budget alone calls for almost four billion dollars for “treatment.” State, county and city governments, at the urging of “those who know,” each contributes its own share.
Governmental agencies, particularly the courts, routinely coerce people into AA indoctrination. The choice is frequently AA or jail in spite of research which shows that coercion into AA/treatment increases problem drinking.237
Members in good standing of the Moonies, as almost any other cult, don’t have alcohol or drug problems, regardless of their status before indoctrination. What would be the public’s response if this year’s budget called for four billion dollars for indoctrination centers for the Moonies or Hari Krishnas? The only real differences between these groups and AA is that they are honest about being religious groups and, at least with the Moonies, members moderate rather than abstain.
AA and the media
AA has also been extremely successful with the mass media. Rarely, if ever, is a story even slightly critical of AA ever published or shown on television. The media instead reports successful “recovery.”
Typical of television news was Los Angeles station KCAL’s special report on alcoholism. The report claimed there are an estimated 22 million alcoholics in the United States with another 82 million affected by the alcoholics. “If left untreated alcoholism, like other addictions, gets progressively worse” the report warned. A Twelve Step cult member then gave evidence of how alcohol nearly destroyed her and how treatment saved her.
An alcoholism treatment expert from a local hospital based treatment center explained, in “outsider doctrine,” what AA is,
“It’s a real simple program of fellowship. The Twelve Steps involve working with other people, being honest with other people and learning to accept help from outside of themselves.”
Listeners were given the number of Alcoholics Anonymous for more information. The newscaster thanked the researchers who “only wanted to help” for the report.
Television and movies invariably show alcoholic characters in the AA disease theory mold. They suffer the consequences of, and all their “bad behavior” is attributable to, their “disease” until saved by AA. In a recent episode of “Beverly Hills 90210,” one of the main characters, a teenage boy, threw a party while his parents were out of town, got drunk and wrecked the family car. The situation was resolved when a warm, understanding, wiser teenager, who had “lived it,” brought him to an AA meeting. He went home with acceptance of his alcoholism and, presumably, lived responsibly ever after. No mention was made of a lifetime commitment to attend meetings, an obsession to get others to join, the rest of the family being sick and needing “help” or any other aspect of AA “spirituality.”
Television dramas and sitcoms give the impression that once joining AA, drinking problems, presented as the source of all problems, are solved almost as simply as just remembering “One Day at a Time.” Never do the rigors of indoctrination result in a return to drinking. The pressures people are put under to change their concepts of God and accept the Big Book as divinely inspired are not shown. The mass media never presents characters, real or fictional, who drink more or who commit suicide following AA involvement.
According to the Big Book, Bill Wilson was planning to save the entire world as far back as 1938. One early AA member said Bill Wilson and another early member “were not only going to save all the drunks in the world but also the so called normal people!”238
Their humble plans are being fulfilled.
The major difference between Oxford Group and AA is that AA concentrates efforts at indoctrination on only those with one “spiritual disease.” Oxford Group members knew they needed to save others, any others, in order to stay saved. AA members know that only saving other alcoholics will keep them saved.
the spread of Step religion: new “fellowships”
Many AA members soon found that, even if they managed to not drink, other addictive behaviors became problems. Since they attributed the Twelve Steps to their not drinking, forming Twelve Step groups for these other addictions seemed logical. This was first done for other chemical addictions with the founding of Pills Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous among others. It has spread to cover non chemical addictions with groups like Gamblers Anonymous. These groups all center about the “proven” Twelve Steps. In Step One, the word “alcohol” is replaced with the appropriate object of addiction. In Step Twelve, “alcoholics” is replaced with “addicts” or “compulsive gamblers.”
Members of Gamblers Anonymous follow the same pattern as AA members in their efforts to “carry the message.” A recent PBS program, “Lucky Number,” used “recovering” people and treatment industry figures as experts on compulsive gambling. The first part of the program featured a “recovering” gambler who explained compulsive gambling. “I needed to gamble just like the drug addict needed to put a needle in their arm.” Statistics were presented to show the seriousness of the problem.*3
The fact that there are only 26 treatment centers for compulsive gamblers was lamented. A treatment center employee claimed a success rate of 85 percent with Gamblers Anonymous*4 The only question deemed worthy of discussion was who should pay for more “treatment,” the gaming industry or the government.
The Twelve Step religion has spread to almost every group of people who are vulnerable due to suffering any disease, illness or problem which has a high rate of natural remission. It has even spread to people who have no particular problem except that they are normal human beings. Groups have been formed for schizophrenia, depression and mental illness in general. Other groups have been formed for people who eat too much, cheat on their spouses, have too much sex, mismanage their money, have cancer, or are homosexuals. Many programs have parallel programs for family and friends who are, of course, sick too. There are now more than 200 different Twelve Step programs each with its own particular “disease” used as leverage for conversion.
These are casually referred to as “support” groups. Even though most of them deal with temporary “diseases,” or only with spouses or friends of those with the “diseases,” none accepts that people can ever get well and leave. They all call for lifetime dedication to the Steps, meetings and converting others.
For example, a depressed person may be told he needs a support group. If he goes to what one generally imagines is a support group, he will receive help and understanding from others who are learning to deal with their depression. Members will leave when they no longer feel the need for special support. The Twelve Step “support” group, however, will make every effort to convince the person he is powerless, insane, incompetent, the group is God and he must “work the program one day at a time.” If he asks how long before he is well and can leave, he may be told that worrying about such things is a disease symptom and must be repressed. If the depressed person doesn’t “get well,” he may be told it is because he isn’t “working with others.” He’ll be happy only if he convinces others that they’ll become happy by joining the group.
One of the newer Twelve Step programs is the most inclusive. It is for a newly recognized “disease” suffered by, according to one authority, 96 percent of the population because of the way they were raised. According to another authority, the 4 percent who weren’t raised under those conditions are sick from having to live in this world with the rest of us. This new “disease,” from which everyone suffers, is codependency. The spiritual program where one must go to recover from this “sometimes fatal malady” is Codependents Anonymous, familiarly know as Coda.
The authorities on codependency do not quite agree on a definition although they agree most everyone has it and would benefit from joining Coda. A non member, Alan Marlatt of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, defines codependency quite sarcasticly and accurately as “what used to be called caring for others.”239 The “Codependency Movement” holds that codependents, in not understanding their powerlessness, make their lives unmanageable by always trying to please and help others. This is the root of the most widely accepted definition, relationship addiction. The symptoms include, but are not limited to, feeling sad, angry, disappointed, rejected, lonely or abandoned at the end of a relationship or not wanting a relationship to end.
There are many symptoms directly related to romantic involvement but “the disease” takes other forms, the most cunning and baffling perhaps being not being involved romantically. Other symptoms of the disease are working as a nurse, doctor, therapist or in any of the helping professions. People pick these professions because of their disease. While perhaps not everyone in these professions is sick, most show obvious symptoms. They become upset when a patient dies, commits suicide or does poorly in any other way. Codependents get upset when they can’t “control” other people by helping them.
The solution to codependency, of course, is the Twelve Steps. In Step One, “so called normal people” are to admit they are “powerless over others,” that they can’t really help anyone and must give up their “rescuer” role. In Step Twelve, they are to go out and dedicate themselves to rescuing everyone they can by getting them to join Coda.
Codependents Anonymous is split between two seemingly opposing membership factions. One is “traditional AA.” The other is made up of people who hold many of the characteristics of the “traditional AA” but have a therapist who is a grouper or are therapists themselves. The second faction blends modern psychology with the “old time religion” of AA. Which faction takes precedence is quickly obvious at any meeting. At the “traditional” meetings, the sharing is characterized by “I’m so sick that…”In the generally upper-middle-class “psychological” meetings, the sharing is characterized by psuedo-psychological phrases like “my inner child” and “dysfunctional family.”
The suggested reading lists highlight the split. “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” appears on the same list as pop psychology bestsellers on codependency. As yet, they have no Big Book.
Coda’s indoctrination techniques are more varied and, in many ways, more clever than AA’s. The “traditional” faction is more likely to use fear. “The disease kills.” The “psychology” faction adds newer, more sophisticated methods. Many of Coda’s founders are trained psychologists who, having “recovered” in AA, thought that there must be another disease since they had gained no Serenity. Once they found codependency, they set to work with skills adopted from modern psychology to carry the message.
using hypnotic techniques on television to carry the Coda message
The most potent techniques fall under the blanket phrase “work with the inner child.” Some of these techniques were used on the television talk show, “Sally Jessy Raphael”. Guest John Bradshaw, 25 years “in recovery” from alcoholism and codependency and a guru of the codependency movement, did some “demonstrations” for the television audience. The most powerful was a hypnosis session in which the home audience was invited to participate.
The audience was instructed to close their eyes and go back to the earliest house they lived in as a child. “Notice the detail of it…” Suggestions were given to see one’s mother and father and then “find the little child you once were.” The suggestions were designed to bring into focus any childhood conflicts one may have had with one’s parents.
“Tell him [the child you once were] ‘I know what you’ve been through.’ Look at your Mom and Dad and tell them you have to leave now because you have to have a life of your own. I am no longer going to carry your pain for you. I am no longer going to be an extension of your ambition. I have a right to my own life.”
The messages given here are obvious: you (as a child) had unpleasant experiences and it was Mom and Dad’s fault. They wouldn’t let you have a life of your own, they expected you to carry their pain and they made you an extension of their ambition. Under hypnosis, a person will do his best to make the suggestions real. Appropriate unpleasant childhood memories are tied to the suggestions.
The next step in the hypnotic session was the separation of a person from “Mom and Dad.” The audience was given the suggestion to “Start walking away, you and that child.” As the audience “leaves Mom and Dad,” their replacement becomes apparent. “You and this child can… have your own life. If you don’t have a support group in your life tell your child, “I’ll get you one, a new family of affiliation.” Needless to say, it would be difficult for someone to find a support group or “new family of affiliation” for “my inner child” that isn’t Codependents Anonymous.
The session ended with a typical hypnotic suggestion to “Go to the most special place you know” to leave the hypnotic subjects, no matter what emotional turmoil they may have been through, “feeling good” and wanting to repeat the experience.
With the birth of codependency, everyone is sick, insane and in need of “a spiritual program.” It is the disease of “so called normal people.” Everyone needs to be saved.
With the combined membership of all Twelve Step groups, there are now between 10 and 15 million believers dedicated to “carrying the message” in America. While the phenomena of the Twelve Step cults might seem unique, not too long ago a similar group with nearly identical techniques shocked the Western world.
“recovery” & “re-education”
Upon the release of Western civilians held in Red Chinese prisons in the mid 1950s, it was found that some of them kept,
“repeating their false confessions, insisting upon their guilt, praising the ‘justice’ and ‘leniency’ which they have received, and expounding the ‘truth’ and ‘righteousness’ of all Communist doctrine.”240
Most shocking to the American public was that many of these had been Christian missionaries. The press made much of “brainwashing” and torture but careful investigation found that those who were tortured, or even saw others severely mistreated at the hands of the communists, didn’t convert. The common thread among those who did convert was that they all believed in the sincerity of the communist authorities and their cellmates. They believed that they were sincerely trying to help.
The Chinese communists, unlike their Russian mentors, had a program of “re-education” for “reactionaries.” Most of this re-education was voluntary, but the more severe reactionaries needed “intervention.” Among these were Westerners, mostly missionaries, who had stayed in China after the revolution.
The re-education of these “reactionaries” parallels that of the American alcoholic coerced into “treatment.”*5 The experience of “thought reform” in the Chinese population at large directly parallels that of the American alcoholic who voluntarily enters treatment. The “treatment modality” is the same. In both situations, people are removed from any positive support for their identity and are “educated” by a unanimous majority about the nature of their disease. The new prisoner or patient is to confess and accept his identity as a diseased person in need of “cure.”
He is no longer a doctor, businessman or priest. He is a “reactionary” or “alcoholic.” A prisoner’s or patient’s peers, having admitted their own disease, are absolutely sincere and know the importance of helping. Having been helped themselves, they know how to proceed. “Errors in thinking and judgment” and “alcoholic thinking” are pointed out. As the indoctrinee begins to see the world and himself from the viewpoint of his peers, he begins to see his own guilt and identifies himself as a guilty person.
The guilt one comes to feel is not so much over being a “reactionary” or “alcoholic” in the usual senses of the words. It is over one’s existence as a non believer as defined by the doctrine. For instance, the “reactionary” or “alcoholic” who worked hard in order to retire sees himself as guilty of selfishness and self centeredness. He didn’t work for the cause. He was only concerned with himself. The “spy” or “alcoholic” who did what he once considered unselfish things learns he was in the service of evil. The missionary who helped feed and clothe the poor is now guilty of “deceiving the people” by making “reactionary forces” look good. The grouper who bought a hungry man lunch is guilty of “enabling.”
Perhaps the most motivating form of guilt in terms of identity change is guilt arising from disappointing “those who are only trying to help.” The emotional attachments can be quite intense in both the thought reform and the alcohol treatment center environments. Special meetings foster these attachments. In China they are called “struggle meetings.” In the U.S. they are called the “hot seat.” In this “therapeutic technique,” a recalcitrant “sick” person is chosen for special attention. His peers, in order to help him, tell him, in the strongest terms how unlikable, sinful and useless he is. While this “therapy” sometimes results in psychotic reactions, the intent is to cure, not destroy. The effect is to shake a person’s sense of identity enough to create a desperate need for positive confirmation. To get this from his peers, he must adopt the “repentant sinner” role. He will also develop closer emotional ties with those who were harshly critical but now are willing to help by being understanding. At the very least, he is more willing to accept help from those “more advanced” in order to avoid another struggle session.
“Re-education” also includes a written confession identical to AA’s Step Four. In writing his confession, the “reactionary” redefines his past and himself in terms of the infallible doctrine. Both “treatments” have meetings in which the sacred literature is studied. For the Chinese, it might be reading from “the little red book.” For the AA indoctrinee, it is either the Big (blue) Book or the 12 & 12. In these study meetings, participants tell how elements of the doctrine are true and how it applies to them. If a participant doesn’t think a point applies to himself, or perhaps isn’t true at all, the unanimous majority helps by pointing out the “reactionary” or “alcoholic” thinking. Other Chinese meetings are for self criticism and for expounding on their own devils, capitalism and reactionary forces, as the source of all evil. AA meetings combine the two. One may hear someone confess to a character defect and, in the same sentence, attribute the shortcoming to alcoholism.
In both Chinese re-education and the AA treatment center, the world is painted as a battleground between two forces; one pure good and one pure evil. The ultimate good for the Chinese communists is the Party, the doctrine as interpreted by the Party, and everything associated with the Party. In AA, the ultimate good is AA, the doctrine as interpreted by the elders and everything associated with AA. Where one’s experiences, thoughts, desires or behavior are not aligned with the “ultimate good,” they are in the service of evil.
After both re-education and treatment, the prisoner and patient are thankful for the intervention of “history” or “higher power.” Gratitude is felt toward the bearers of the great wisdom which transcends ordinary human concerns. For the “new man” and the “recovering alcoholic” the goal is the same: to spread the sacred doctrine.
The Red Chinese had the benefit of political power to “help” hundreds of millions of Chinese to “understand history” in a very short time. The work of “helping” sick Americans is going much slower but there are some ominous signs on the horizon. In the chilling words of an interview in Sober Times, a newspaper for people “in recovery,”
“People who are chemically dependent and codependent have a huge obligation to society to band together [politically], because we’ve been there and we know what the needs are in the community... Recovering people must flex their united muscle… We have to teach kids… intervene.” 241