Of the small percentage of those with significant exposure to AA who manage to remain abstinent, the vast majority continue to participate fully in cult activities, particularly “carrying the message” as speakers and sponsors.
A typical AA speaker is very adept at using confession to convince others of their own powerlessness, insanity, defectiveness and need for AA. The speaker often has motivations other than a sincere desire to help. It is doubtful the speaker is aware of them, since such awarenesses are inconsistent with being “spiritually awake” and would call for using thought stopping techniques. I have never seen an AA member so transparent in this regard as a woman I’ll call Debbie.
a miracle of recovery: Debbie
Debbie has almost 15 years of “sobriety.” She was a prostitute in her younger days and uses this to great advantage when speaking. “Do you know what I used to do? I used to sell my ass. Yes, that’s what I used to do.” Her “humble confession,” which is typical of elders in all mind control cults, is something quite different. To quote Camus, “[I] … practice the role of penitent to be able to end up as a judge … the more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you.”
Debbie is different from the ordinary elder only in occasionally saying “you” to the congregation instead of always using “we” or “alcoholics.” She tells them, “You may think you’re the cream of the crop, but I’ll tell you what you really are, you’re the cream of the crap. You’re sick. You’re alcoholics.” She continues at great length, always ending her tirades against “alcoholics,” meaning all present, with a warm smile and “I love you all. Keep coming back.” The congregation always responds with warm applause. She obviously does love them and very much. She “loves them enough to tell them the truth.”
a miracle of recovery: Georgia
Another, more or less typical example of an AA alcoholic or “judge penitent” is Georgia, a very popular speaker, not only because she has 35 years of Time, but because of the earthy “honesty” she has acquired during those years. The congregation is always awed by her “recovery.” She has no reservations in labeling herself a sinner. She isn’t at all guilty of “rationalizing” or “justifying” her behavior which would be symptomatic of “the disease.” Her great recovery is clearly evident in her free confession of sin and defectiveness.
Her story of alcoholic ruin and salvation by AA is frequently interspersed with, “I was (or am) nothing but a whore.” Although she never was a prostitute, nor even particularly promiscuous, she did marry more than once. In AA, one can’t be more “humble” or “honest” than putting one’s past actions in the worst possible light. Her great humility and 35 years of Time testify to the Power of the Program. With her credentials established, she bears witness to the defects of all alcoholics. She is unrelenting in her indirect “we” and “alcoholics” judgements of the entire congregation.
These women benefit, as do all elders, from playing judge penitent. To quote Robert J. Lifton, the worlds’ foremost authority on the “psychology of totalism,”*1 assuming this role,
“becomes a vehicle for taking on some of the environment’s arrogance and sense of omnipotence. Yet even this shared omnipotence cannot protect him from the opposite (but not unrelated) feelings of humiliation and weakness, feelings especially prevalent among those who remain more the enforced penitent than the all powerful judge.”213
In other words, in the AA environment, where the member is forced to acknowledge his “powerlessness,” “insanity” and defectiveness, and to humiliate himself in other ways, he can feel less insane, defective, powerless and humiliated (feel “higher power”) by merging himself with the all powerful, sane, perfect Program and becoming the humiliator.
While AA speakers boast of how the Promises have been fulfilled, it has little relevance to their personal lives other than that they probably are not drinking or drugging.
a miracle of recovery: Paul
Paul, for example, has been “sober” for over ten years. When speaking at meetings, he presents himself as entirely “together.” “The Promises” have been fulfilled in his life. He not only had ten years of “sobriety,” he had Serenity. When a friend of mine heard him speak, he was so impressed with Paul's “recovery” he asked him to be his sponsor. As it turned out, this paragon of AA virtue, absolutely abstinent and on “a spiritual path” for more than ten years, is hardly a person who should be “giving direction” of any kind, to anybody.
Paul still had serious problems and developed some new ones he chose to avoid “confusing the newcomers” with. He had no friends. He rarely left his apartment except for AA meetings and spent most of his free time alone with his television. He beat up his former male lover so badly the man needed hospitalization. He also was arrested for procurement in a public park. He has become grossly overweight.
It is not unusual for people who quit an addiction without dealing with the underlying problems to substitute another. It seems apparent that this man is now, in Twelve Step jargon, “using” sex, food and perhaps television. He may also be held up as an example of the dangers of “turning over” his anger to his “higher power.” In plain English, “turning it over” is repressing it.
It may be difficult to imagine how he can justify the difference between his personal life and the one he presents from the podium but, having adopted the “spiritual principle” of “Powerlessness,” the quality of his life has little to do with him. He's powerless. The bumper sticker on his car bears the AA slogan, “SHIT HAPPENS.”
Scores of examples can be cited of people with Time beginning, or continuing, to do things destructive to themselves or others, but such characterizations don’t prove anything except that such people exist. An AA member would respond that they had problems before they came to AA which is undoubtedly true. The important point is the credibility of the “AA successes.” Are those who have worked the Twelve Steps “miracles of mental health” as they claim? Do they have a special knowledge or wisdom about alcoholism?
a much celebrated miracle of recovery: Kitty Dukakis
One interesting and celebrated example of what “recovery” is all about is the story of Kitty Dukakis. Kitty Dukakis is a self described alcoholic, addict and manic depressive. She has been hospitalized several times over eight years and has lectured on addiction and alcoholism with the intention of helping others. She has written an autobiography, “Now You Know.” Her story, other than her husband’s race for the presidency, is far from unique in AA.
She was raised by a mother who had serious problems of her own. By Kitty Dukakis’s own account, some very destructive lessons were taught to, and well learned by, young Kitty. Some of the messages she was given were: you have no personality, you’re less than the “red weasel” (red weasel was the nickname given her sister because she was thought to be so ugly), you are the cause of my rage, you are to be perfect, you are not worthy of praise, if others should compliment you it is meaningless, you can never win an argument and, by example, it is bad to have fun.
Her father appears to have been more indirect. He is described as “plagued by self doubt,”214 and cryptically referred to as “…naturally makes everyone around him feel good, even when he’s punishing them.”215 He also had a strange sense of humor. He liked to introduce his two young daughters saying “one is much better than the other” and let the two little children figure out who.216 Her father was also a practical joker.217 When she got her first job in a record store, on her first day at work, he called and asked her for Beethoven’s Tenth. She spent hours looking for it. As Kitty told it,
“‘You dimwit,’ laughed my dad, ‘Beethoven only wrote nine symphonies.’
Dad pulled stunts like that on me the whole time I worked there. He always liked to make people laugh.”218
It seems strange that a father would play that kind of prank on his insecure daughter’s first day at work. Was he giving the message that she was stupid or incompetent? Was he, like when he was overtly punishing, making her enjoy it? Was he merely amusing himself and his friends at his daughter’s expense? Or was it, as humor often is, a veiled way of expressing hostility?
Her father’s humor and punishment could well have been “crazy making.” A father who works to make a child “feel good” when being punished is putting the child in a terrible bind. A small child feels bad when he has displeased a parent. A parent who builds the expectation in the child that not “feeling good” while being punished will further disappoint the parent teaches the child an extremely destructive lesson. The child’s only available conclusion, since the parent must be held as right, is “my feelings are bad.” The same goes for when a child is the butt of a parent’s jokes if the parent expects the child to enjoy it. To be angry at being ridiculed is “bad.” The small child again concludes, “my feelings are bad.” The child learns to suppress the feelings in an attempt to be “good.” The child may even learn to “feel good” when being punished, or to “enjoy” being ridiculed. But, out of sight, and out of the conscious mind of the obedient child, the anger and rage boil away.
While there is no way to be certain of the exact nature of the destructive lessons she learned as a child, Kitty Dukakis makes it very clear how she felt:
“My childhood was stacked with remorse; most of the time I walked around feeling I’d done something wrong. I lived under a Damoclean sword of accusation, and at any given moment it could drop and cut off, if not my head, my confidence.”219
It was accepted by her mother that Kitty had one thing going for her though it wasn’t something she should feel good about. Unlike the “red weasel,” she was attractive. In her teen years, she began gaining weight, and thereby losing the only thing she was allowed to value in herself. Following her mother’s example, she began taking diet pills. Her mother disapproved of her “boundless energy” and “talking too much” and warned her to stop. However, she didn’t quit. She took one a day for the next 26 years.
After only a few weeks the body develops tolerance and, for all practical purposes, the pills no longer have an appreciable physical effect.*2 However, there may have been important psychological reasons for taking them.
Kitty Dukakis was living “under a Damoclean sword of accusation.” She constantly felt guilty over what she might have done or would do. As long as she took diet pills, the pills were responsible, at least in her own mind, for her behavior. She was free to be talkative, active and “silly.” As long as she took the pills she had permission. One of her coping methods was to stay busy, “I cold run away from my thoughts, from my feelings, and from my fears.”“220 Believing the pill a day would keep her active and being able to attribute any “silliness” or imperfection resulting from her activity to “the drug,” it is easy to imagine that it was an effective, though far from productive, way of coping with life.
In telling of her 26 years of “drug addiction,” Kitty D. writes the history of an “addict” from the Twelve Step point of view. She has no real “horror story” of what “the drugs made me do.” She tells of the events in her life, unhappy first marriage, pregnancy, divorce and later remarriage, from the perspective that the diet pill a day was somehow extremely relevant. “In December of 1956, I started using,”221 “I was still taking my morning pill,”222 “Only one thing had remained constant throughout those four years, my addiction.”223
As a Twelve Stepper, Kitty D. looks at her past in terms of what the drug did:
“We had some tough moments, times when I would fly off the handle to such an extent that Michael would wind up not speaking to me. Of course he didn’t know it was the pills talking.”224
Perhaps we are to believe that, just like the little girl in the Exorcist, Kitty Dukakis was seized by a demon and forced, against her will, to say rageful things to her husband, that it wasn’t her talking. Perhaps she wasn’t ever, in those 26 years, ever angry at anyone.
But maybe anger was one of the feelings she ran from. Maybe she felt guilt over her natural, normal human response. Maybe, during the years she spent running to keep it out of her awareness, her anger grew into an ever more frightening rage. Maybe it sometimes caught up with her, but she had worked so successfully at ignoring it she couldn’t recognize it as her own. Or maybe it was just easier to pretend it wasn’t hers.
Whatever the case, while “using” she attributed all good she did to the pills, “[E]verything I accomplished during that quarter of a century plus I attributed to the chemicals ruling my body. I actually felt that without them, none of these achievements would have been possible.”225 It seems but a small step to do the same with all that she disapproved of in herself.
Her “bottom” as an “addict” was at her daughter’s eighth grade graduation. As Kitty D. confesses, “I was talking loudly and snapping.” “I squirmed in my seat.” Knowing her behavior was “indefensible,” and attributing it all to the diet pill, she took action.
After 26 years of suffering an “addiction” which made her basically no different from anyone else, Kitty Dukakis got “help.” She spoke to her brother in law, who had “always been open about his own alcoholism and subsequent recovery.”*3 Kitty Dukakis, in July of ’82, was in treatment for drug addiction.
Kitty D. claims that during her 28 day, AA based treatment she was helped. “I accepted the fact that I was addicted to pills.” Taking her words at face value opens the question of how “accepting” what she must already have believed to enter treatment was help. The “acceptance of her addiction” actually means she took the first Step and accepted AA/treatment center doctrine on the nature of addiction: that she was “powerless” and her life was “unmanageable.”
She was advised she was also an alcoholic in spite of the fact that she didn’t have a drinking problem. While in treatment, Kitty D. was expected to identify herself as an addict and alcoholic. In spite of being warned she was also an alcoholic, it seems that Kitty’s “disease told her” she was only an addict. After treatment, she refused to identify herself at meetings as an alcoholic. She would only say, “My name is Kitty and I am an addict.”
Her problem with identifying herself as an alcoholic was based in the fact that she didn’t have a drinking problem. Her “chronology of alcoholism,” up to this point, was getting sick once from two glasses of spiked punch in high school, getting sick once from “a few too many” in college and getting sick from drinking one Zombie in Mexico during her first marriage. These three instances were in her distant past.
After leaving treatment, she remained abstinent from both pills and alcohol and attended “support group meetings.” She also began eight years of depression which she attributes, of course, to the pills. Believing the pills enabled her to be active and run at a safe distance from her feelings, she may well have felt “helpless” without them. AA taught her she is powerless, insane, has “bad” feelings and that being angry can kill her. If having her crutch taken away wasn’t enough to bring on depression, it is easy to imagine that AA indoctrination was.
Kitty D. was soon on drugs again, but this time, the kind psychiatrists prescribe.*4 After a few months she quit going to meetings and began drinking moderately. However, she continued to lecture as an authority, “as one who knows,” on drugs and addiction.
She managed fairly well over the next few years. She didn’t have a drinking problem. She involved herself in numerous activities. Everything seemed to be going fine until April, 1987 when Michael Dukakis formally announced his run for the presidency.
on the campaign trail: Michael Dukakis runs for the presidency
The campaign trail is extremely stressful. As the wife of the presidential contender, she had to give up her own work and interests. She had to hand over the management of her life to staff assistants who told her when to get up, when and where to eat, where to go, who to talk to, what to say, what not to say and when and where to sleep. Her day began at 5:30 am and ended around 2 am. Duties included speaking to groups, answering questions and, perhaps most importantly, always being “up” for the ever present cameras. There was never a moment’s privacy. Great care was taken in everything she said and did. A mere slip of the tongue on her part could cost her husband the presidency.
Such a schedule would quickly take a toll on anyone but Kitty Dukakis had two additional strikes against her.
First of all, she didn’t like herself; she felt like a fake. Being constantly under the watchful eye of the cameras must have been terrifying. Someone might see who she thought she really was. The other was that, in the treatment center, “the seed had been planted.” As Kitty tells it, “Buried way back in my brain was a warning I had received at the Hazelden Clinic back in 1982.” The warning, perhaps better termed “AA suggestion,” was that she was an alcoholic and would eventually “lose control.”
At the end of each day, the campaign team got together to relax over drinks. Kitty joined in. During the entire campaign, she had one drink a day. The entire staff looked forward to the end of the work day, to being able to kick back and finally relax out of the glare of the TV cameras and have a drink. Kitty, however, with the seed firmly planted, felt as though something was wrong with her to look forward to that drink. She knew alcohol’s power. It was Devil Drink that was good about the end of the day. Being out of the spotlight, having the pressure off, being able to relax and socialize, being able to be herself without ruining anyone’s career were irrelevant. It was Devil Drink that made her feel better.
The two-year campaign ended with Michael Dukakis’s loss. Kitty, having given up much of what was important to her, had nothing to fall back on. She had even quit her antidepressants. Even worse, during the entire campaign, she had dealt with the stress by working even harder. She ran from her feelings and, as they threatened to overwhelm her and disrupt the all important presidential race, she ran even faster. Now, with the campaign over, with nowhere to run, Kitty soon caught up with Kitty.
The dynamics of Kitty D.’s two month drinking career may be evident to the reader of her book, although perhaps not clear to her.
Kitty D. virtually dropped all outside activity. In her inner world, she battled with great success against “negative” thoughts and feelings. Loss of the election and whatever else was or wasn’t going on in her life called for such thoughts and feelings. Since she had given up much of what was important to her, what made her feel good, she was left with nothing on the inside. “I was faced with a gaping emptiness I could not endure.”226
Normally a person recovers from such a situation in time since sooner or later their feelings catch up with them. But Kitty D. knew from “treatment” that she was suffering symptoms peculiar to the disease of alcoholism. From her campaign experience, she knew alcohol had a special power to make her feel good. In treatment, she must have heard countless stories of the great painful emptiness peculiar to the alcoholic. She also knew, since the seed had been so firmly planted, what she could and what was expected of her to do to fix it. She could drink. She must also have known, at least in the back of her mind, that she would end up in treatment again. Perhaps being in a hospital is what she wanted more than alcohol because it didn’t take her long to get there.
While it is difficult to follow the number and dates of all her treatments, she seems to have gone through shorter and shorter periods of relative stability. The last self destructive incident she reported was drinking hair spray, again resulting in treatment.
Her last AA based treatment, like the previous ones, had its effect on Kitty D. In her 1982 treatment, she “accepted” she was an addict, the seed was planted that she was an alcoholic, and she began suffering depression. In early 1989, she “accepted” her alcoholism and began a series of extremely self destructive acts. In late 1989, she got further help. Now the outside observer might conclude that the help she had been getting seriously aggravated her problems. This is “unspiritual thinking.” The Program is perfect. There merely was something more wrong with Kitty D., something which she “accepted” in her most recent treatment.
Kitty D. is manic depressive. That means that she must be on drugs, not merely one diet pill a day, but lithium. So now Kitty D., recovering alcoholic, addict and manic depressive, has finally acquired the promised Serenity. She has been give “The Keys to the Kingdom:” the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and a bottle of highly potent pills.
Between hospitalizations, Kitty D. kept busy educating others about addiction and alcoholism. She still wants to carry the message. She is planning to visit the Soviet Union to give them that which she was so freely given.