Unbroken Brain: My "It's Complicated" Relationship With Alcoholics Anonymous

Apr 26 2016

Unbroken Brain: My “It’s Complicated” Relationship With Alcoholics Anonymous

April 26th, 2016

In 1935, when Bill Wilson and Robert “Dr. Bob” Smith created AA, both were members of a then-popular Christian revival movement known as the Oxford Group.  In fact, the Steps themselves were based on the Oxford Group’s principles of surrender to God, confession, prayer and service. But AA soon split off from the Oxford group, which had been founded by a controversial preacher named Frank Buchman (just before the split, Buchman did not help his reputation when he praised Hitler and sought to convert the Nazi leadership into becoming his followers)(1). AA wanted to be a more ecumenical organization and the Oxford Group did not want its primary business to be converting drunks, which made the parting mutual.

So how did a Jewish girl from Manhattan embrace and later come to question what I now see was designed as a Christian form of recovery? And why don’t I advocate the 12 Steps for all, since they apparently worked for me during the critical first five years of my recovery?  Well—like every other issue in addiction—it’s complicated.

For me, it started in rehab in 1988, at a program, now closed, in Westchester, New York, which was a typical Minnesota-model, 12-step, 28-day treatment.  Specifically, I began to feel like I might be able to accept the program when I first heard an AA speaker who happened to be a doctor. He made life in recovery sound more like fun and less like the tedious drudgery of constantly having to try to avoid everything I loved, from sugar to music, which was what others seemed to highlight. He was an outside speaker and he talked more about what he got from recovery than what he’d given up.

In rehab, too, I was immersed in a milieu where every authority seemed to endorse the Steps as my only hope. Because medical professionals—from the hospital detox doctors and nurses to the rehab physician and counselors to the AA doc—accepted what seemed like religion as actual medicine, I thought that there had to be strong science behind it. Since these apparent experts told me both that addiction was a medical disease and that the treatment was meeting, confession and prayer, I didn’t notice the contradiction that is now obvious to me when stating these facts.

Instead, it was a relief to see addiction as a disease and to know that while I was responsible for my recovery, the fact that I’d gotten hooked didn’t mean I was a bad person. In meetings, I’d hear others talk about how they had hated and blamed themselves—and how the steps were the key to making past wrongs right.  I knew that I needed to find some way to get over my sense of failure about the disastrous wrong turn my life had taken. Since I’d left Columbia College, I’d found my future unbearable without drugs.

In the program, I learned that if I could just stop hating myself for hating myself, I didn’t feel quite so bad. While the Steps didn’t formally address the issue, in meetings I’d hear people talk about swinging from grandiosity to self-loathing, often described in AA’s earthy language as “feeling like the piece of shit in the center of the universe” or being “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” I knew exactly what they meant and felt understood. Another slogan that helped was “don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides,” meaning that most people try to present the best parts of themselves, but you can’t hide your negative aspects from yourself. This concept is especially useful in the age of social media.

Simply hating myself was bearable if unpleasant; hating myself for doing so on top of that was not. And hearing friends, whom I knew to be good and kind, describe their own self-loathing helped me see how incorrect self-perceptions could be. This allowed me to ease up on myself, which reduced my need for escape. I began to learn the critical recovery skill of self-compassion.

Part of what the program gave me was hope: what AA calls the “power of example.” Seeing people similar to me get better made a real difference—and I still think that this is often a crucial element in recovery. Although research shows that whether a counselor has his or her own addiction history does not affect outcomes (2), some contact with people who have been there and recovered often matters.

In fact, research suggests that the supportive community that 12-step programs provide is the main active ingredient in their success, when they work. The data is clear that social support aids both mental and physical health—and that people with more of it are much more likely to recover. Social support is the single most important factor in mitigating severe stress and trauma (3), which often contribute to addictions. Love doesn’t always cure all—but without it, healing from psychological and learning disorders is almost impossible. We all tend to learn best when we feel safe and curious and want to connect and win our teachers’ respect.

I also found some specific elements of the 12-step structure and literature helpful, beyond its large, welcoming community. For one, when you go to meetings daily, you hear thousands of stories and comments. Few other opportunities exist to hear people discuss their challenges and the mundane thoughts that disturb or distress them. With friends, partners and families, we often want to hide this part of ourselves, so as not to upset or bore them—or, sometimes, because we don’t want to display weaknesses or give those who might hurt us additional weapons.

Read more from The Influence:

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But in a meeting full of strangers or semi-strangers, the need for positive self-display is less pressing. For me, listening to a well-known model discuss how ugly she thought she was or hearing a renowned journalist discuss how he saw himself as a failure came with the hopeful suggestion that there was some possibility that my own negative ideas might be similarly deluded. And just hearing others admit their anxieties, fears and hopes inevitably helps ground you.

Similarly, the same clichés that originally put me off sometimes held important truths. The rhyme “put gratitude in your attitude” still sets my teeth on edge. However, I recognized that I did genuinely have a tremendous amount to be thankful for and that focusing on this, in part simply by taking up mental energy, could push out negative thoughts and make me feel better. In the same way, the cheesy sign that said HALT, which stands for “Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired,” gave me clues about what physical and emotional needs to take care of when I seemed to want drugs out of the blue. Sure enough, I’d often discover that a “drug craving” was actually hunger, irritation or a need for sleep or social contact, which I could manage without resorting to heroin.

I later realized that the 12-step slogans are basically the groups’ collective wisdom about how to deal with stress, anxiety and other issues that could lead to relapse. In fact, the many of the same ideas found in these often corny and haphazardly-introduced sayings are the backbone of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for addictions. This type of CBT is focused on the learned aspects of addiction and recovery and is one of the most effective treatments currently available (4), though sadly, it can be hard to find rehabs and therapists who actually utilize it as designed. CBT is far more systematic than randomly hearing slogans in meetings and doesn’t complicate matters by moralizing, but nonetheless, if you go to enough meetings and get a sponsor, you are likely to learn much of what CBT recommends eventually.

Ironically, however, I also found the explicitly moral and spiritual parts of the program helpful—and yes, these are the same ones I still strenuously object to as medical prescriptions.

But in my first months and years of recovery, I did find hope in the idea of a Higher Power, before the contradictions in the idea that “everything happens for a reason” became too great for the child of a Holocaust survivor.

This article is excerpted and slightly adapted from Maia Szalavitz’s acclaimed new book, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, which is available now on Amazon.

(1) Connections between Oxford Group, Nazis and AA: Robertson, Nan. Getting Better: Inside Alcoholics Anonymous. Fawcett Crest, 1988. Pp.17-56

(2) Whether a counselor has his or her own addiction history does not affect outcomes: Aiken LS, LoSciuto LA, Ausetts MA, Brown BS. Paraprofessional versus professional drug counselors: the progress of clients in treatment. Int J Addict. 1984 Jul;19(4):383-401

(3) Brown B, Thompson R (1975-76) The effectiveness of formerly addicted and nonaddicted counsellors on client functioning. Drug Forum 5: 123-128.

(4) CBT is one of most effective therapies for addiction: McHugh, R. K., Hearon, B. A., & Otto, M. W. (2010). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33 (3), 511–525. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.012

Maia Szalavitz is a columnist for The Influence. She has written for TimeThe New York TimesScientific American Mind, the Washington Post and many other publications. She has also authored six books, including Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006). Her last column for The Influence was “Why the ‘Disease Model’ Fails to Convince Americans That Addiction Is a Health Issue.” You can follow her on Twitter: @maiasz

  • AA is not Christian, it is blatantly satanic. E.g. “God of our understanding” vs “You shall have no other gods before me.” Of course, we have freedom of religion in this country, so you can adopt any religion you like (thank God!). But it helps to understand what is really going on, which is that AA is idol worship – of drugs and alcohol. If you don’t believe it, just go to your local AA meeting and listen for yourself. Drunkalogs uniformly describe a life of dissolution and debauchery in obeisance to “King Alcohol” (or “Queen Smack”). In which the members abuse, exploit and bully newcomers by making them confess to ‘disease’, from which endless mischief results, not the least of which is a lifetime (if abridged) of expensive ‘treatment’. And the members say, “I never seen bullying at AA and if I did I’d say something” yet they are silent even as people are bullied to suicide right in front of their nose, even piling on, and then at the next meeting lament, “Some must die so that others can live” and “when will people understand that addiction is a real disease” and “people are dying we must do something!”

    As for this article, most kids mellow out in their early 20’s – so it’s wrong to give all the credit to AA.

    • Spring-Heeled Jim

      Exactly, exactly, exactly. Addiction Myth you have hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, to the outsider looking in they don’t know what we know because you actually have to live through the crap. It sounds like out of this world craziness to suggest a “self-help group” is satanic, but bring up Jesus in a meeting and see what happens. What still makes my skin crawl, as I can hear it in the back of my head in every meeting someone would say, “your God can be anything you want it to be, it can be a door knob, that table over there, or it can even be this group”. It never failed it always ended with this group! Now, I’m no genius, but that is not a Christian God!

  • Is this article for real? This could possibly be the most pathetic 12 Step Apologist rant I’ve heard yet.

    First of all, to equate this dogmatic group think religion’s methods with CBT is absurd. I don’t think in any semblance of cognitive conditioning that you would find anyone “suggesting” that an individual is POWERLESS over an inanimate object. Nor do I think you would find anyone instructing someone in cognitive methods that
    they should SURRENDER their will and their lives to some random power of one’s own choosing. Quite the contrary, CBT is about reclaiming one’s power to make sound decisions by asserting their will, not relinquishing it.

    As for the benefits of a “group support”, I can see it for let’s say a group of people who have all lost a loved one to say cancer or something of that ilk. But the idea that getting support from GOD (Group of Drunks) is effective, has no basis in fact. Actually if you look at the revolving door and failure rate of AA you could very convincingly make the case that just the opposite is true. Trying to get to the root of your issues via a basement room full of people with varied unresolved issues is quite honestly a dumb idea.

    She states; “Part of what the program gave me was hope: what AA calls the “power of example.” Seeing people similar to me get better made a real difference—and I still think that this is often a crucial element in recovery”

    She’s kidding again right? If you see going to multiple meetings, calling your sponsor and “recovering” “one day at a time” for ETERNITY as being better, you’ve still got some issues. Speaking of which, NOTHING in the Steps actually addresses ANY underlying issues, zero, nada.

    Even more absurd is looking to a qualified for nothing sponsor to guide you in your attempts at overcoming your dependency issues. I won’t even go into how controlling these unqualified drones are in advising their pigeons (sponsees) in just about every waking decision they make.

    Did shereally say; “I later realized that the 12-step slogans are basically the groups’ collective wisdom about how to deal with stress, anxiety and other issues”?
    I’m still laughing at that one.

    Finally she goes on and on about how hanging out with these cliché spewing drones actually helped her get over her self-loathing? Really, I found listening to drunkalogues over and over again to be depressing and not even remotely helpful. Does sharing the lie and untruth of this “woe is me” spiritual disease actually make you feel better about yourself? I guess if you see lying to yourself and the idea that misery loves company as being therapeutic, you were in the right place.

    I’m sorry but this faith healing “recovery program” with no exit plan where nobody actually recovers is an epic fail on every level.

    • Spring-Heeled Jim

      My sentiments exactly, Roth. I thought she had finally turned the corner with the last sentence, “But in my first months and years of recovery, I did find hope in the idea of a Higher Power, before the contradictions in the idea that “everything happens for a reason” became too great for the child of a Holocaust survivor.”. I kept looking for the next chapter. line, something else of sanity. Maybe, it is a cliff-hanger and we will read part 2 next, but if this is it I just wasted too much time reading pro-AA propaganda.

    • Pirate Boy

      It sounds to me like the author is questioning her beliefs… I was in AA for many years, and although part of me knew it was BS, there was also that brainwashed side of my brain that kept telling me I would die if I left the rooms. The thing about being brainwashed, is that you are basically holding two opposing thoughts at your head at the same time. What’s more, it is a very painful process to accept you were lied to and wasted many years of your life in a cult. Some people simply do not want to acknowledge that.

      • No. She isn’t questioning anything. She has written similar pieces over the last few years. Apparently, what she is doing is trying to _look like_ she is questioning her beliefs in order to leave a little room to proselytize.

      • massive

        I too was in AA a long time and now gone for 5 years. It is very satisfying to be gone. I wish she talked about the dark side of AA though. SO many oldtimers are leaving .

    • Silver Damsen

      I’d had someone tell me that Maia had started out fairly Anti-AA but changed along the way (person said it was career and money-related) and that this made her go for a more “neutral” position.

      As you probably noticed she still posts in the Families For a Sensible Drug Policy. In some of these posts she has seemed a illogical at times, and this lack of logic has been tied to a seemingly too Pro AA stance. I think this is the furthest she has gone out publically though as Pro AA, and I wonder if she is going to go further in that direction.

      • Maia was never anti-AA. Years ago on the ADDICT-L list she defended everything and everyone AA, yet insisted proudly no one could tell whether she was a Grouper or not. Of course, she has done a lot of work to try to _look_ AA-critical enough to attack some of the most important criticisms of AA.

        • Silver Damsen

          Interesting and disturbing, thanks, Ken for clarifying this point. This would make more sense in some ways, as in she has always been this way. Of course, one then wants to ask the question of why she would want to be this way.

    • Rolf, I’ve never believed the sincerity of Maia Szalwitz’s supposedly being anti-AA. What I see is her holding her position as a supposed journalist to promote AA. All it takes is a few people like Maia in the mainstream media pretending they are not AA, pretending they are acting purely on conscience and science, as they promote AA to totally blunt the effects that crtiicism have had on AA.

      The scary thing is just how influential and high up these tools are.

      • Nope – despite her tepid defense of AA she is a hero in the war on the war on drugs, and she is a pioneer against addiction-as-disease. For proof – she almost single handedly exposed the abusive teen rehab industry and co-wrote High Price with Carl Hart – another science hero. She has often been sharply critical of AA, and unlike Peele, doesn’t bask in the adulation of addicts to support her career. So why does she defend AA? Because she has staked her own identity on being an ‘addict’, which is a religion created by AA. Without AA she has nothing to blame for her youthful shenanigans but herself. Now, you don’t have to believe that (I know it’s a mind-warper), I’m just explaining why she’s a hero in my book despite her mild apostasy.

        • She is not so tepid in her defense of AA when it comes to things like AA being religious and in describing AA as a great place to make friends. Drugs being legal merely means more tax money to pay for 12-Step indoctrination.

          For some time now, flat-out defenses of AA fall flat. Maia’s defense of AA is one that is carefully crafted and could have been (and was) predicted long ago. She has been working at if for a long time.

          The excuses you make for Maia defending AA, how are they different from the reasons any AA other AA has for defending AA?

          • She has built a career on “addiction is NOT a disease”. This is a stake in the heart of AA doctrine. There really are few people who have destroyed it more effectively. It’s like “I’m going to pretend to be your friend as I stab you in the back and twist the knife.” It’s almost cute.

            As for “Drugs being legal merely means more tax money to pay for 12-Step indoctrination.” – Please, think this one through. Meanwhile, I’m gonna go roll a blunt.

          • Did you know that Maia is in very good company believing that addiction isn’t a medical disease? Bill Wilson has also held that position. AA literature mentions it several times. It is irrelevant whether an AA supporter says it isn’t a medical disease. Of course, as Time goes on in the program, one always comes to understand destructive drinking as a _spiritual_ disease.

            Her career has been built on being a treatment industry advocate.

          • “Her career has been built on being a treatment industry advocate.” – No, she almost single handedly destroyed the abusive ‘scared straight’ style rehab industry. Semblers are crying. Also ‘powerlessness’ has no meaning without disease. They can’t threaten you with certain death if you don’t have a deadly disease, spiritual or otherwise. She advocates for MAT, which is basically just opioid replacement. Far better than abstinence, and her criticism was another nail in the coffin of 12 Step theology. AA simply cannot exist without disease, powerlessness, and abstinence – these are their central tenets. She consistently argues for scientifically verified treatments like bupe and methadone – which AA supporters absolutely hate. She really is a hero in the war on the war on drugs and is saving lives.

          • It is great that Synanon is in trouble. However, Synanon was both in direct competition with AA and causing harm to AA with its well-deserved reputation. Getting rid of Synanon is wonderful. However, getting rid of it without harming the other Step groups is the work of an insider.

            You seem to have no clue just _what_ AA and the Step groups are. Disease has not gone away. There is still “spiritual disease” which is, linguistically, only a tiny step away from “disease.” They made that switch once before.

            One can die from a spiritual disease, didn’t you know? And abstinence? Haven’t you read the Big Book? Didn’t you know that if one thinks they might be able to do so they should try? That is in the official AA literature. Ernie Kurtz, AA propagandist, himself wrote a forward for Moderation Madagement.

            Aren’t 12-Step treatment centers beginning to use drugs along with the Steps?

            She is definitely a hero in protecting AA by going after the more obvious causes of dissatisfaction with the organization while protecting its core. She practiced this for years and was very proud rather early on that “no one can tell whether I am 12 Step or not.”

          • Wow. You are really clueless. It’s cute because I think your heart is in the right place. Anyway, you don’t understand that despite her tepid support of AA she is destroying it, and has done lots more than anyone else I can think of, including Peele and Hart. Yes the BB says you should try drinking again to see if you are a ‘true alcoholic’ – only to reinforce the need for abstinence (yes this is blatant witch hunting). As for MM, yes they are a front group for AA. As is SMART and HAMS. Yes I know you will say I ‘have no clue’ but like I said, I think it’s cute. The truth will be obvious soon enough, and in no small part it will be due to MS’s work.

            Also cut her some slack. AA’s satanism is a satisfying “FU” to the god who abandoned her people during WWII.

          • Actually, maybe you are the one who is clueless. This article was not “tepid support of AA.” It was outright support for AA as a “support group.” She has also written “tepid support of AA” with ardent support for AA not being religious,” and similar articles.

            Whether MM operates as a front for AA or not, I am in no position to know. AA did, however, have great influence on the establishment of MM. SMART? Like most of the other alternatives, they have no proof of efficacy and are blatently pro-coercion. Seems to me that a “program” that is effective would not need courts and police to force treatment. But then, I suppose it is difficult for some to challenge a business model that includes the courts and armed law officers enforcing purchase of their product.

            Why would AA care if some people start out in a “moderation support group” that is little or no better in terms of success than no “moderation support group”?

            Why would AA, over the long term, care if their abstinence rates increase slightly by using drugs (med)?

            In any case Maia Szalawitz is a treatment industry hack. How can one respect a journalist who _hides_ important information and invents “facts” about AA/addction because of what did you say, the Holocaust?

          • Are you able to access the site directly? It’s been down for 2 days. Do you think we broke it?

  • Silver Damsen

    I had to take a break while reading this since it got me so angry. Maia knows for a fact about the Anti-AA movement, which is where I know her from, and she knows for a fact that many people have been very emotionally damaged in AA because AA is a culture that blames the victim. However, for reasons of her own, Maia has chosen to pretend that these experiences are not valid and that despite being illogical with the Higher Power business (that since they are so nice and so supportive one should go with the flow…. at least I think that is her gist but I had to take a break since I know that she knows about the all the issues with sexual predation and emotional abuse and yet she still talks about AA being supportive.

    Yes, AA is supportive of people who come out publically and say that they are a pretty horrible human being, and then it helps them to feel less guilty about being horrible. I think it did wonders for the convicted pedophile who was the club president for my almost two years in AA. This child pornographer (got the charges lowered so while the crime was pornography he actually only served time for “offering money to a minor and her family for sexual acts” (the minor was 9 years-old and, I think, part of sting operation) had ten years in Program when he went to prison. When he got out of prison he was promptly elected AA Club President.

    Newcomers didn’t know about this history, not even women who took their elementary-aged daughters to AA meetings with them. I know all this because in addition to 9 year-olds, I seem to have been his type as well.
    Yes, it is true that this convicted pedophile tried to be my friend, and he spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that if I ever felt hurt that it was God’s will. You see how this works. Perpetrators are told to feel less guilty and those that have been victimized are told it is God’s will or their own fault that they were hurt.

    This is not what anyone with a degree in psychology, or even who was a mildly decent human being, should conclude is a supportive environment.

    I’m not saying that Maia is not a decent human being, but her logic is very, very flawed. At the very least, if she wants not to be spreading misinformation, she should summarize the general point on predation, especially sexual predation that is rampant in AA before she then goes on to say that many people who stay in AA find it supportive. Again, yes those who are abusers find a true haven in AA, but it is misleading not then to give the background on why this is.

    • Pirate Boy

      My first TWO sponsors had both raped women, but I had no idea when I was first met them. To me, the thought of holding a woman down and raping her was not comprehensible, but within the first year of being in the program, I had now encountered TWO different people who confessed this to me. What are the odds? Most people would never tell another about an event like that, so how many more of them were in the rooms that I didn’t know about? My first sponsor was also a convicted felon, so he wasn’t allowed to vote or own a firearm, but he someone managed to finagle his way into a public school teaching position because he played the whole recovery card, and how he found God and became a changed man.

      • Silver Damsen

        Indeed, the percentage of people who should be considered sexual predators is very, very high for AA. It is unsafe and even horrifying for anyone to discuss AA as a supportive environment without also addressing this issue.
        Indeed, outside of AA, I don’t know any pedophiles or child pornographers. This matters even more because AA considers these offensives as less serious than complaining about people having these offenses and having positions of power and being credited as “spiritual” despite having crimes that suggest that suggest a lack of empathy or kindness.
        The AA culture encourages predators to claim spiritual salvation, even if one accepts (which I don’t) that some people actually are truly spiritual and care about others and work to prevent blaming the victim and predation.
        I say I don’t accept this not because I don’t think that there are any nice people in AA, but because AA culture requires one to keep quiet if one is disturbed by predation, or at least requires in terms of social acceptance, since AA, of course, insists that it only has “suggestions” and no rules. But again the idea that “jail, institutions, and death” will ensue if one doesn’t follow “suggestions,” makes the terminology of “suggestions” as well as that of “emotionally supportive culture” misleading.
        So one could be a very kind and caring person and be in AA culture, but if one would want to be accepted and considered “spiritual” by others as be an Old Timer with many sponsees, then one must accept that it is less spiritual to talk about the problem of sexual predators in AA than to be a sexual predator in AA.

        • April Smith

          This is so true. I’m very disappointed in Maia’s article

      • massive

        Oh that is so gross. So AA….

    • I see that the video, “AA Freak Blames the Victim of Sexual Abuse” has apparently been taken down from Youtube. The video was an AA oldtimer telling how much tougher it was to be a pedophile rather than the molested child.

      With articles like Maia’s above and the removal of solid criticism and outrages committed in the Step groups, we will all have a “Higher Power” in a few decades.

  • Tom

    “It’s complicated” usually means the relationship is crap.

  • Harryp1

    Nice to see a well-balanced look at these issues, done by an emotionally well-balanced writer. That’s getting to be a rarity.

  • Jack Shuman

    “I later realized that the 12-step slogans are basically the groups’
    collective wisdom about how to deal with stress, anxiety and other
    issues that could lead to relapse.” Pretty shallow “collective wisdom” I’d say. As far as AA resembling CBT in any way, I think we’ve been this route before on one forum or another.

  • Silver Damsen

    So I’m coming back for another go at this after the link was down for the weekend…. I had hoped that the article had been taken down because it was judged as poor research because it distorts AA blame the victim ideology into concepts associated with some of the best writers on coming to terms with a painful past, both of whom are Jewish. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) and also Mira Kirshenbaum, Everything Happens for a Reason (2005) argue that meaning can be found in working through pain. I agree with this and find it a powerful idea. Szalavitz disagrees with it (and it is a belief that is arguable) but the point is this isn’t an AA belief.
    The similar, but only deceptively similar idea, in actual written text of AA is perhaps best explained on p.62 of the Big Book.

    “Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt” (p.62)

    Indeed, telling the above to someone who has suffered or even just understands the pain of the Holocaust is a wrong so egregious that it is hard to find a comparative analogy, but that is not what “everything happens for a reason actually means” and the Big Book doesn’t say that either. What the Big Book says again is that there are no “coincidences” and again the context of this is that if someone believes they are in pain and have been injured really they brought the pain on themselves.

    “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation–some fact of my life–unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changes in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes” (Big Book, 4th ed. p. 417)

    Yes, the idea that someone has brought any pain they feel on themselves is not helpful for anyone but the abusive personality who might wonder why they are “unfairly” in jail after beating, raping, and etc. someone who claims to be victimized by them. However, AA doesn’t stop there. It also says that the victim is at fault, and this why Anti-AA like myself become so angry at misrepresentations of the ideology as Szalavitz does here.

  • Dave Mc

    Great piece, Maia. Glad to see you’re reaching a better level of understanding.

  • Jim Harris

    I was a hard core drunk / addict for 20 years. AA has kept me sober now
    for 29 years. There are NO “you musts” in AA. You take what works and
    leave the rest.There’s no “indoctrination” no tests, no “confessions”
    (“ammends are suggested, not required). You don’t have to pray or
    believe in God. The “higher power” concept was offered as a means for
    stubborn drinkers to “let go” of their need to feel in control. It
    worked for me. I finally admitted that alcohol was a higher power than
    me. I couldn’t bend it to my deluded will.
    As for AA branding
    addiction as “sin,” not so. AA suggests that “rigorous honesty” is a
    path to sobriety. Denial and dishonesty are symptoms of alcoholism. They
    are not “sins.”
    For me, the most powerful aspect is the sense of
    kinship and trust in the rooms. It absolutely kept me sober. If you
    don’t feel comfortable in a given aa group (and live in a metro area)
    you can always try other AA groups. And it’s free. Real recovery HAS TO
    BE FREE, and ongoing. Selling recovery immediately separates the addicts
    from the almighty, paid “professionals.”