Is it Time to Stop the God Bashing in Alcoholics Anonymous? One in Recovery Responds

For years, I was never a fan of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I never knew much about it, other than my sister had tried it and said it sucked, and when you lose a sibling to addiction it’s remarkably easy to point the finger at anyone and anything that didn’t fix the problem. But as time went on and I got to know more people who were successful with AA, or at least could explain the basic tenets of the program to me, I realized it has a significant place in the treatment of addictions.

To date, however, there remains a massive contingency who are against AA, both addicts and teetotalers, as well as everyone in between. Most people point to the religious aspect of the program as a major deterrent. But this aversion is based on ignorance. Below I have a quote from a highly successful member of the program. I’ve highlighted some points I found particularly poignant. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse issue, take this person’s words to heart before dismissing the AA approach.

AA is more than seven decades old and has helped millions of alcoholics get sober. It has also spawned many other 12 step groups that have helped countless people overcome their particular addictions. The “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak. Yes, AA does have a high attrition rate, but it’s not for the people who need it, it’s for the people who want it. Most people who stay in AA for the long term — one day at a time — feel that it is a highly positive influence in their lives, perhaps the most positive influence.

The “God” thing is a sticking point for some people, but it’s really not a big deal when you go to the meetings or read the literature. You can think of God as anything you want. Some people think of it as “Group Of Drunks.” Some people have a traditional God that they grew up with. Some people have a tree. It doesn’t matter. We don’t care. All we care about is helping another alcoholic get sober. Because AA is not officially an “organization” and all groups are independent, some groups might “feel” more religious than others depending on where you live. If that bothers someone, then try another group. NA is also a very good option in some places if the recovering person doesn’t like what’s going on in AA. All meetings and each group have a slightly different “culture.”

AA is not religious at all. The word “God” is tossed around a lot because that’s what’s in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and that’s the guideline that we use to run meetings and groups, but on the individual level it’s acceptable to believe anything you want. If the word “God” is what’s preventing someone from getting sober, then they don’t really want to get sober, simple as that. In our literature we say “we are willing to go to any lengths” to get sober. ANY LENGTHS. This means perhaps not liking one or more aspects of the program or the meetings, but putting that aside to help yourself continue living. Alcoholism is a progressive and fatal disease. The founders of AA determined that there’s a “spiritual solution” for it. That’s much better than taking a pill or having a medical procedure. And it works.

AA is a simple program for complicated people, is what we say, and that’s correct. Alcoholics — using and recovering alike — can make a big deal out of anything and resist help. That’s one of our commonalities, which makes it hard for some people to get sober, but once someone can put aside their ego and take the leap, there’s water in the pool, we promise. You can literally come into a meeting and say “Fuck your God, I hate him, I hate all of you, you suck, your AA sucks, this doesn’t work, I like to fuck ducks in the springtime,” and people will just nod their heads and tell you to keep coming back, and some people will give you their phone numbers and invite you to coffee. Where else can you do that and not get thrown out or put in a mental institution?

The most important person in any AA meeting is the newcomer. Newcomers are welcomed warmly. Usually, in an established group anywhere else the person who has been there longest is the most important person. Where else can you just show up and be not only welcomed, but regarded as the most important person in the room, and have everyone really mean it?

Nothing else but AA has been proven as a successful long term treatment for alcoholism.

You can learn more about AA here and, as always, share your agreement/disagreement in the Comments thread.

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34 Responses to “Is it Time to Stop the God Bashing in Alcoholics Anonymous? One in Recovery Responds”

  1. Luke says:

    One of the stronger points I’ve heard against AA is the constant use of the word “disease”. It sticks in the craw of medical professionals because there is little evidence that it’s a disease of any sort and distorts the true meaning of disease. Sure you can make the argument that it’s metaphorical, but we all know that’s not how it’s being used.

    It’s really more self-help than “treatment”. Which is not a bad thing overall. The end result is that the person gets better. Still, it needs to be recognized for what it is. It’s therapy but not treatment of a ‘disease’.

  2. Rosie says:

    Dr. Rob, this person you are quoting is absolutely incorrect when stating that nothing besides AA is proven successful as a long term treatment for addiction. You know I’m a long time reader and a fan, but shame on you for printing such a flagrantly unsupported statement. Please email me and I will send you multiple research studies showing otherwise. Research actually tells us that being part of a support community – ANY support community – is what makes the difference when it comes to staying clean & sober.

    On a personal note, I’ve had great success with the secular organization SMART recovery. No god talk, just great peer support and lots of tools drawn from CBT and REBT.

  3. I used to do some substance abuse work, and often my patients would ask me my opinion about AA…and I’d just say, “if it works for you, then it is good.” The success rate is no better or worse than some of the alternative approaches, but for the people it helps….it is good.

  4. Byron says:

    My opinion is the same as the position Bill W. had with respect to the newcomer being the most important person in the meeting. What could the newcomer do if there were nobody there that could carry the message to him.

    This is from the Traditions recording where Bill gave a brief description of all the traditions.

    “People used to say “well, the drunk, he’s the important person! Surely, he is. But how is he going to get well in any number, if there is no fellowship? Therefore, the common welfare has to come first, and our individual welfare second”. Bill W. Traditions tape.

  5. Ivan says:

    “It sticks in the craw of medical professionals because there is little evidence that it’s a disease of any sort and distorts the true meaning of disease. ”

    Which medical professionals are these? Most doctors I know treat addiction as a psychological disorder. Not a disease in the way that, say, cancer is, but similar to and often closely related to problems like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

    “If the word “God” is what’s preventing someone from getting sober, then they don’t really want to get sober, simple as that.”

    That’s the exact kind of holier-than-thou attitude that keeps people away from AA. IME AA is all about playing the victim, they get together every week and complain about how hard being sober is to reinforce how powerless they feel about their lives, until this reinforcement replaces their addiction. The problem is that instead of filling the hole with life, they fill it with AA, so they end up spending an eternity in this sort of purgatory, defining themselves and living as ‘ex-addicts’ instead of moving on with life and finding a new reason to wake up in the morning.

  6. Scootah says:

    My understanding is that AA is no more effective than cold turkey. Which is to say that AA participants experience no higher (nor lower) success at moving past their addiction than people who go cold turkey without any kind of program. I’m certainly unable to find any evidence of raised success rates in AA and a cursory search of google suggests the same. I’d hardly consider that AA is any more proven as a route to recovery than wishing really hard.

    The original 12 steps are hardly suggestive of a non religious experience. Fully 7 of the 12 steps make reference to god either directly, as a higher power or simply as ‘him’. The twelve traditions also invoke a loving god and studies have designated the program as cult like. Subsequent studies have rejected the cult like identifiers because the cult indoctrination appears to be beneficial… I’m not entirely sure when a cult stopped being a cult if their indoctrination included things that are good for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-Step_Program

    When I was an addict, I did look into AA, and found it very uncomfortable for non religious participants with strong pressure to accept jeebus and a very strong focus on the need to surrender and accept that you were unable to do anything yourself and pray for saviour. While I only attended one meeting – the reported experiences of my acquaintances at several other chapters around that time was largely the same.

    Cultural identity and deviant identity replacement and the persistence of the disease label are also far from universal paths to wellness. And my experience with AA participants is that they should probably be sponsored by big tobacco. I know several people who went into the program having never smoked a cigarette, I don’t know any who came out a non smoker. Apparently some addictions are more equal than others.

  7. JDJ says:

    Scootah, I’m glad you have so much extensive anecdotal evidence based on your attendance of one meeting.

  8. Colleen says:

    As an atheist (and non addict) I always wondered what sort of higher power atheists were supposed to submit to in the program, i.e. “I am powerless over my addiction and turn to the strength of to get me through this.” Who do you fill in the blank with then? Cthulu? The tooth fairy? Seems to be a bit of a problem if you are agnostic, atheist, or otherwise lacking religious conviction for any reason.

  9. Joseph says:

    I think Dr. Shea’s advice is solid. People who are social drinker, even on the heavy side of social drinking, have a tough time understanding the behavior of hardcore alcoholics, but the reverse is true as well. As a lawyer, I have a problem with judges ordering people into AA meetings after, say, a DUI. A lone DUI is not evidence of alcoholism and not an indicator that someone needs treatment. And there’s obviously problems with a judge ordering someone into a religious based treatment program instead of someone choosing it of their own volition.

  10. Scootah says:

    @JDJ – how many times should I attend a setting that demonstrates an aggressive bias against my religious views before I decide it’s not for me? I’m hardly alone in my experiences and you can see any number of similar reports in addiction recovery forums and anti-religion discussion groups.

    I discussed my experiences with several acquaintances who were also going through the process of kicking a habit around the time and found that their experiences mirrored mine. While some of those acquaintances were religious or open to religious focus for recovery – they all reported basically the same experience. It frankly didn’t seem like something I really needed to repeat to confirm.

  11. jhan6120 says:

    “The most important person in any AA meeting is the newcomer.”

    WRONG. The most important person in the room is the person who can effectively carry the message of Alcoholics Anonymous. Without that person, the newcomers don’t stand a chance in hell of getting sober (or at least getting sober and attaining anything like sanity and usefullness). The above quote is largely from rehab culture, which, depending on the institution, is awash with this touchy feely kind of nonsense. Quotes like this have probably killed more alcoholics than anything else.

    Many AA meetings today are structured so that the newcomers share first (after a speaker or a reading, for example). When I criticize this approach, people tell me, “It lets us know who the newcomers are.” Well, guess what? I know who the newcomers are because they raised their hands and said they were newcomers at the beginning of the meeting, dude!! In truth, this “Newcomers share first” approach shows the encroachment of therapy culture on AA. AA meetings have become a place where people come to cathart and whine and dump their problems on people because that’s how AA is now promoted. And people with 10 or 15 years plus sober have to sit and listen to this garbage night after night after night, in hopes that some damaged soul will smarten up just a little bit and reach out for guidance with the program of ACTION that AA offers.

    As for the ‘God’ thing; when people complain or moan about the ‘God’ thing, I tell them, “How did your thinking work out for you all these years? Not too good, right? Go and think about that for a while, and when you want some help, call me.” I quit the debating society years ago with that crap. Alcoholics are the kings and queens of ‘Rebels Without a Clue.’ Always have been, always will be. It takes a nail-studded 2×4 to teach us something useful. And the smarter we are, the harder it is.

    No one, and I mean NO ONE, has ever forced their conception of God or a higher power on me in AA. NO ONE has ever told me that if I don’t believe in God or a higher power, I’m doing it ‘wrong.’ I’m sober 18 years, and I go to AA meetings wearing a Slayer shirt with upside down pentagrams, and NO ONE says anything about it. (If anything, they make fun of me for still listening to Slayer.)

    When I was taken through the steps – in the traditional way, word for word through the first 164 pages of the Big Book – and came to the beginning of the third step where it asks me if I was just WILLING to believe in a power greater than myself, I answered yes. It didn’t ask me if I DID believe, or if I EVER believed, or WHAT I believe; all it asked me was if I was WILLING. I answered yes, and the guy who took me through the book told me that in our next meeting I was starting my 4th step. That was it.

    I didn’t have to answer ‘yes’ to that question. The choice was mine. I could have said no; I could have said maybe; I could have said screw off. I answered yes because I had been utterly defeated by alcohol and drugs. Finished. Wiped out. Nothing had worked. No human solution had come close to relieving me of my alcoholic and drug addicted dillemma. I chose a God of my understanding because that’s all I had left. That’s the truth of it and that’s my personal experience.

    Nowadays, you can’t even find someone in your hometown AA group to take you through the Big Book. I’ve known people who had to drive 2 or 3 hours each way to go through the steps the traditional way. It’s even worse for the women. The only women I know who are qualified and experienced enough with AA’s program of recovery are at a meeting an hour away from where I live. I’m ready to pack female newcomers in a car service and ship them out there. These women are SUFFERING, man. They are really suffering.

    There are people with considerable time in AA who still have lots of trouble with the ‘God’ thing. You can usually find them in the back of the room looking miserable. They clap their hands when people celebrate; they pat people on the back and offer hugs and watered down self-helpisms. They go out to diners with other AA’s after meetings. But most of them are leading desperate, unhappy lives mired in self-centeredness. You know what? I’d alcohol over that any day of the week.

    Through AA’s program of recovery I’ve found a God of my own understanding. It’s no one else’s God; it’s MY GOD. Every morning when I pray to him, I get the same answer back: “DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE.” And that’s what I try to do. I don’t go to AA meetings for myself anymore; I go so that when the still sick and suffering alcoholic needs a SOLUTION to his or her alcoholic dilemma, I can be there to offer it. That’s my debt to AA and to the God of my understanding for giving me the incredible life I have today. It’s a sacred duty that I’m proud to carry out.

    When that typical addle-brained hipster in a meeting says he’s having trouble with the ‘God’ thing, I listen. I listen very carefully. And then I wait . . . for when he’s miserable enough to try a solution other than the broken one he’s been trying all these years. Eventually, he’ll come around, They almost always do. I know, because I was that addle-brained hipster 18 years ago.

    In my experience, most alcoholics who have trouble with the ‘God’ concept are mislead. The truth of the matter is that they’re having trouble with the concept that THEY’RE not God. And that’s a different show altogether.

  12. jhan6120 says:

    And again, I will say: AA is not a relgion based program. In fact, it specifically states that it is NOT a religious program. Anyone who claims that it is is misinformed and/or speaking outside the realm of their experience. You can believe or NOT believe in whatever God or higher power you want in AA. You can be a Christian, a Jew, a follower of Asatru, a Wiccan, a Buddhist, a Hindu . . . whatever you want. (And I have actually known followers of all these religions in AA.) But if you start preaching your religion in a meeting, you will more than likely be shut down by the chair person, if that chair person is paying attention. I know because as a chairperson I’ve shut people down for preaching in meetings at least twice. (In both instances, these people were clearly insane, so go figure.)

    A little history: AA did in fact originate from the Oxford Groups of the early 1900’s, but chose to break off specifically because it was believed that connection to any organized religion would scare non-believers or agnostics away. Some of the first 100 or so AA’s themselves were initially athetists or agnostics, and I would bet that some stayed that way and still died sober.

    Some of the PRACTICES of AA’s program itself do have religious origins: moral inventory, confession of wrong-doings, restitution for harms done (similar in theory to payment for sins); but in my experience, those who balk at these things because they smack of ‘religion’ are really looking for a reason not to do them because they think there’s some easier way to get better, and they’re simply using religion as a whipping-boy. Or they think they’re too smart, or they’re too lazy. Or they’re just scared to death of taking a brutally honest look at themselves and finding out the TRUTH. So, instead, they half-step it, treat AA like Group Therapy (which is why most non alcoholics think AA is a kind of group therapy, because that’s what it’s turned into).

    And AA is not about playing the ‘victim,’ BTW. Anyone with the courage to actually do a thorough 4th and 5th step usually finds out that they were the furthest things from a ‘victim.’ They were either VOLUNTEERS for their own misery, or they were PERPETRATORS themselves.

    When I did my resentment list as part of my 4th step, you know what I found out? I was guilty of the very things that I accused other of doing to ME!! That was a hard pill to swallow. It was much harder to look at than to sit in a meeting and whine about my problems. The problems I caused OTHERS paled in comparison to the problems that I had. And all that time I thought I was the victim . . .

    Thank God the guy who took me through the steps had the guts to show me the truth. If he had patted me on the back and told me I was a good boy and my sorry life was everyone else’s fault, I’d probably be dead.

  13. I was not a big fan of AA. I went to meetings for over a year, hoping to get a handle on the alcohol thing.

    It really didn’t work for me.

    I actually left meetings and stopped by the bar because the idea that I had a disease and needed to go to these meetings for the rest of my life was so incredibly depressing, they honestly made things worse.

    For me, what helped was seeing a therapist and dealing with the reason I was drinking too much in the first place. I now drink occasionally, appropriately, and in moderation.

    Maybe I wasn’t a true “alcoholic” and that’s why the AA thing didn’t work.

    Or maybe…just maybe…one thing doesn’t work for everybody.

    Good thoughts here. The God thing didn’t feel like as big a deal as the disease thing to me.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is a great post! I love what you said {If the word “God” is what’s preventing someone from getting sober, then they don’t really want to get sober, simple as that.} I have to say that I totally agree with you on this one. As an addict and someone who has attended AA for more than just alcoholism (The first time I went was for an eating disorder) I know for a fact that it became easier to accomplish sobriety by handing my addiction over to my higher power (Jesus Christ). I am not stating that you have to believe in Jesus to get better I am simply stating that for me that is what worked. Of course with any addiction it is important to get treatment to detox yourself from various substances and in my case to treat my eating disorder I needed to be inpatient at first. Once I got out of treatment AA became a place where I could go for support. I know in my case that I would not be sober if I didn’t give my “disease” over to God. It is God that I could cry to in my pits of despair and he would rescue me (in his time) every time! I was not a believer before my addiction however, now I am. It was when I noticed how powerful the word Jesus was that made me realize there was a higher power. This is going to sound crazy (whatever, I don’t care) but I was actually in a spiritual warfare that at one point I could actually see. One day in the hospital I was having debilitating panic attacks that would not cease even with medication. During one of my panic attacks I could see (for lack of a better word) demons trying to rip me to shreds. They were all black and had extremely dark auras with red eyes (told you it would sound crazy) at that moment I was so scared for my life that I tried something that my friend had suggested. I cried out Jesus, Jesus, Jesus I cannot take this and I hand my life over to you and in an instant the demons were gone and the entire room was filled with a warm bright light and the feeling of panic fled from my body. This was amazing to me since there was no light on in my room and it was night time so it was dark outside my small little window. Since that time I continued to use that method to wash away my panic attacks. Now, five years later, I no longer suffer from panic attacks and I am completely sober! If I start to notice the feeling of fight or flight taking over I still, to this day, will cry out Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and every time it works like magic. I have to say that if it wasn’t for the son of God I would not be here. I owe my life to him and he saved me from my addictions and continues to save me every day. I am not trying to convince anyone that they should follow what I believe, I am only stating what worked for me. So to sum it all up for me it took me handing over EVERYTHING to my creator in order for me to get sober. Some may call this weakness, having to put someone else in charge of my life, to me it has given me more strength than anything else I have ever tried (believe me I have tried it all). I wholeheartedly believe that having a higher power can cure addiction (only if you want it to) and I believe that it should be one of the main focuses of AA. If you don’t like it then go somewhere else! I owe my life to God and because of that I will never give up or try to take my life.
    I absolutely love this blog and am now an avid follower! I have also added you to my blogroll so that my readers can see your great knowledge and inspiration. Keep up the amazing work!
    Wishing you abundant blessings,
    Kimmy

  15. Jenna says:

    All I want to know is this: When can we expect a new post?

  16. Robin says:

    I think this is a great post. AA absolutely works for those who work it. Just as CBT works or cold turkey or meditation works for some. Since none of these treatments have a fantastic efficacy rate, why not encourage people to find what works for them, and what they can work. Stop bashing it because you weren’t feeling that one meeting you went to once. Not every therapist is a good fit, either. AA builds a community of people and emphasizes helping each other and giving back. The individual work done in the step process is good, hard, personal cleansing, too.

  17. melissa says:

    I strongly believe it works for those it works for, as people say. In other words, if it is working great. But I think the religious argument against it is legitimate. I hear what you and others say that you can call God whatever you want. But some people who truly believe there is no God, don’t believe in any form of higher power spirit, etc. They have trouble thinking that they should believe in some higher power beyond themselves. And it is hard to hear of the word or higher power and just think of something else. I mean there just should be meetings and alternatives without that as a focus. I think that is fair. I don’t see why there aren’t more minor variations that may fit others needs. I have seen people it helps a lot. But I agree with the disease arguments, and to a degree the religious arguments. I feel like I have the right to want to trust in a higher power or something outside of me, or to feel there is no higher power/spirit. The point even if you aren’t religious is that you are putting your trust in something outside of you and beyond you. This seems to some as being too spiritual. I don’t blame them if they aren’t comfortable with that, because it feels forced on them. Why not have variations that just don’t include that aspect, and can try to substitute it. I think it would make other people more comfortable.

  18. NextInLine says:

    Are you ever going to write a new post or is this blog on the downand out? I miss your perspective!

  19. Liz says:

    great post….and wonderful blog….come visit us at http://pocketshrink.blogspot.com

  20. Skeptical says:

    Penn & Teller did a “Bullshit” episode on this very subject. It’s worth a watch. I don’t agree with them on every point all the time, but they did a good job with that one.

    Not a fan of AA. The religion aspect is one of many that is wrong with the system.

  21. Dick B. says:

    A well-worded, temperate post attracts well-worded temperate posts. And without agreeing or disagreeing with the basic post, I would say it brought out some common views for and against A.A., about and not about God, and religious vs. “spiritual.”
    However, I have devoted 46 titles and over 1500 articles to all the varied epochs, leaders, changes, and origins. And I always hope that the temperate writers will also cover some points that are well-documented and relevant: 1) A.A. had its roots primarily in Vermont and in about six Christian organizations and groups of people who believed and proved that reliance on God and using the Bible as a guide could and did cure alcoholics. Examples? Young Men’s Christian Association; Salvation Army; Rescue Missions, Well-known evangelists like Moody, Sankey, Meyer, Clark, Folger, and Drummond; Congregationalism as it was practiced in the 1800’s in New England and Vermont; and Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor–which attained a membership of 4.5 million young people at its peak. (2) In their younger days in Vermont, Bill W. and Dr. Bob were brought up as Christians. They received their Christian training from their parents and family members, from the Congregational Churches in Vermont that their relatives were active in in East Dorset, Manchester, and St. Johnsbury. They received it from individual Bible study and Sunday school and the YMCA. Dr. Bob received it from Christian Endeavor. Then both cofounders attended Congregational Academies–Bill at Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester; and there Bill took a four year Bible study course; he attended daily chapel where there was Scripture reading, sermons, prayer meetings, hymns; required church attendance and Bible study meetings; and connections with the Young Men’s Christian Association which was active in conversions, their churches, and the Academies. Dr. Bob attended St. Johnsbury Academy which had the same regimen, and he was so devoted to church-going that classmates called him Rev. Robert Smith. These Christian and Bible endeavors enabled both cofounders–in fact the first three AAs–to give up alcohol permanently, surrender their lives to God, and continue lives that focused on helping newcomers who wanted God’s help. The original A.A. program consisted of summarized seven principles which are specified in DR. BOB and the Good Old-timers at page 131. A.A.’s early successes were not the product of the sharing in meetings of experience, strength, hope, drunkalogs, and war stories. They were grounded on abstinence, surrendering lives to God, obeying God’s will, growing in understanding of God through Bible, prayer, Quiet Time, and Christian reading. Then, of course, there was working with others, optional Christian fellowship, and optional attendance at a religious service weekly.
    This history is huge, filled with variant ideas and shares, but based primarily on what the original pioneer Akron AAs had learned from their backgrounds and from the Book of James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. My book, The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible (www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml) will surprise, inform, and bring further temperate thinking, speaking, and actions in today’s 12 Step fellowships. God Bless, Dick B.
    The foregoing has nothing to do with whether A.A. is or is not friendly or hostile to God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible today. It has lots to do with allowing tens of thousands of believers to join hands with those of other beliefs and non-beliefs; rely on God if they wish; and put their shoulders into helping newcomers who still suffer.

  22. Pete says:

    AA is not entirely about meetings,that is a common misconception. Meetings are only one factor in the journey of recovery. The real recovery for the individual is based in service to others and the program of recovery which allows the alcoholic to recover and enjoy life, both inside and outside of meetings.
    I have been sober six years and I go to three or more meetings a week, but as a result of the program (which involves a relationship with a power greater than ourselves) I can enjoy life and as a result my experience of the world has changed dramatically and I have a life which was never possible to me before when I was in the depths of chronic alcoholism with no hope.
    Just to mention, people should be careful not to assume that AA is about sitting in a room talking about each others problems; there is something far greater on offer that comes about once the 12 steps of recovery are engaged with, these steps allow a person to have a really enjoyable and satisfying life when they are outside and between meetings and will allow a person to have a full life free from alcohol and will after time allow you to feel emotionally as you were before you ever began to suffer from the effects of alcoholism. AA does work, but you have to be willing to look at the program and not think that meetings are going to solve everything, because meetings are only one factor… Best of luck.

  23. jhan6120 says:

    I would say that Pete hit it right on the head. There’s a lot more to AA than meetings. There’s an entire program of recovery contained in AA’s big book. In fact, it used to be that once a person went through the program as outlined in the book, the main purpose for attending meetings was to find other alcoholics to work with.

    The primary purpose for believing in a power greater than ourselves is because it is OURSELVES that got us into this mess in the first place. In this sense, relying on OURSELVES to fix ourselves is like treating sickness with sickness.

    It’s not rocket science, when you look at it.

    There are a two things that have sabotaged AA over the years: 1) rehab culture, with its heavy concentration on ‘group therapy,’ 2) moral relativism, with its insistence that there is no ‘right’ way to do things.

  24. Pete says:

    In response to scootah on people starting smoking when they come to AA:

    I was smoking between 50 and 60 cigarettes a day at the age of 22 before I started on the recovery program in Alcoholics Anonymous. Three months into committed attendance at AA and service, I quit cigarettes entirely in one day and have not smoked a cigarette since. Nearly six years later I am still in AA, alcohol and cigarette (and drug) free. I know at least five people in AA personally who have quit smoking completely and have not smoked since (5 years plus smoke free) engaging with the program of recovery.

    Again, it comes back to whether the person is working the program, involved in service, has a relationship with God, praying, helping others etc. or whether they are just going to meetings and hoping for the best. There’s a big difference in the results on which road you decide to take.

  25. Dick B. says:

    From a period long before A.A. was founded in 1935, Christian organizations and people were turning their attention to helping ‘unworthy” alcoholics and addicts (drunks, druggies, prostitutes, criminals, derelicts, and despairing alcoholics) by a simple formula: When you are truly ready to quit forever, when you have reached the bottom of the tank, when you are willing to do whatever it takes, there is a simple solution: (1) Renounce your behavior forever. (2) Turn to God for help. (3) Come to Him through Jesus Christ. (4) Use the Bible as the guide in determining God’s will, learning it, obeying it, improving your knowledge, and standing firm. (5) Believe in God – Hebrews 11:6. (6) With His help, change your behavior. (7) Help others get straightened out by the same means. (8) Spread the good news. Those who utilized these techniques, though methods varied, were Young Men’s Christian Association, Gospel Rescue Missions, Evangelists like Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey and F.B. Meyer and Allen Folger, Salvation Army, Congregationalism, Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, and–much later–A First Century Christian Fellowship, also known as the Oxford Group.
    Richard G. Burns, J.D., CDAAC, author, A.A. historian, Bible student, retired attorney, CDAAC, and active recovered A.A. member with over 27 years of continuous sobriety. dickb@dickb.com

  26. Bob Hunley says:

    Hello my name is Bob and I am coming up
    On 16 years sober and was thinking of leaving AA not because of God , or the Steps , just seeking alternatives. I found an anti
    AA site and I really got along with the woman who started the site. But it got creepy because these bloggers (not the one who started the site ) were bickering with each other worse than people in AA. It seems they have become what they hate. They tried to drag me into
    Their disputes and since AA works for me because work it , the steps , service ect I decided to continue to stay in AA. The secular people on this site are really bashing and creepy. So
    I left the site. This site seems to
    Have balance . So yes there has been tragedy in AA across the US but I feel lucky I’m in an area where there is no real
    Problems. The leaving AA people are anti cult but seem to be a cult of their own. I’m not a troller or blogger but everybody has freedom to
    Find what works for them. The steps work for me. This is a onetime blog so I won’t be blogging. Any organization is gonna have their critics. Church , AA, ect. I just wanted to put it out there. Bob

  27. Antoine says:

    People like Dick B are exactly the ones that put other people off. The historical roots of AA are interesting, just like the decent of man is interesting. But they don’t dictate how we should behave today. Dick’s ideas effectively represent the cult aspect of AA. They imply that only Christians can recover. Dick promotes fundamentalist Christianity and diminishes the attraction of AA.

    I am 26 years sober, and attend several AA meetings a week. I am also an atheist. Not an atheist by default (never having thought about it), but an atheist after investigation. I tell newcomers that AA doesn’t care what they believe for the purpose of recovery.

    It’s about time we stopped the God bashing and look into the psychology of recovery.

  28. Bob F says:

    Interesting article and within AA the debate “How much God?” , “Whom’s God?” sometimes arise. It should also be noted that now the original manuscript is being release by Hazelton which will spark even more debate. There will be those zealots who claim ” see Bill did want us on our knees ” , The fact is though Bill and Bob were two other drunks. Both wanted to be remembered as that. The original manuscript is not The Big Book.
    My sponsor taught me in step 2-3 that I can help ANY alcoholic through, regardless of their beliefs as long as they agree that once they decide on a “Higher Power”, they would agree to stop trying to be that “Higher Power” and understand their “humanity” which leads to humility.
    I get upset at what AA has become at times, but I’m reminded we are not “Stepford Wives” , We don’t “Group Think”, the proof is that it works in so many countries for so many alcoholics. Where I live their is always someone who will mention “Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior” just long enough for me to remind them that AA is for Alcoholics Only and I far as I understand, Jesus Christ is not an Alcoholic, Had no Desire to Quit Drinking, and If they know otherwise , they should respect His Anonymity, right?
    AA is not about “Religion” AA is about recovering from Alcoholism and helping others to do so.!

  29. John S. says:

    In AA we are asked to share our experience, strength and hope. If I hear someone share their experience with Jesus or Allah or whatever, I take it just as that. I don’t feel a need to correct them. I go with the idea that there is no wrong way out of the hell of alcohol and drugs.

  30. recovered says:

    anonymous programs are a great place to meet like minded people. we attend meetings and don’t judge others. higher power or god is just a name we give the power that led us to recovery. we stay excited about personal growth through discovery. i feel we have more to offer than any other religious group (religion in my mind is anything a person does on a regular basis). today personal growth is my religion.

  31. Danielle says:

    ASH states that any dangers from electric cigarettes tend to be far outweighed by the damage smoking cigarettes tobacco
    can do.

  32. Ken says:

    Secular type recovery is growing within AA. Look at http://www.aaagnostica.com
    There are a growing number of AA and NA meetings which are set up to cater for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. The god language barrier is being resisted and cultural change (though slow) is happening in 12 step meetings worldwide.

  33. Billy D. says:

    I heard this story early on in sobriety. Pretty much sums up the Alcoholic.

    There are 10,000 people in Yankee Stadium. 1/3 are people with cancer, 1/3 have diabetes, and 1/3 are alcoholics.

    A man steps up to a podium and informs they all have an illness that can’t be cured, but can be arrested and they can live a normal life. All they have to do is read a book and go to meetings.

    The folks with diabetes and cancer run to sign up to get their books and go to meetings. The alcoholics go: “Wait a second…..how may meetings and how big is this book??” Sound familiar folks??

    I have been sober for 38 years. I do not attend as many meetings as I did in the beginning but still attend. I have seen so many people over the years fight this program and lose. When I say lose I mean die.

    This is not a casual program. We are playing for big stakes. “If you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it….”. That is the question you have to ask

  34. Jackson says:

    My Sponsor told me ‘Resentment towards God is usually a sign of something we ourselves lack.’ I thought long about that because it baffled me. Lack? Ok, i’m down. Lack of what? Or lacking what? The answer is probably apparent immediately to a sane person. But I’m insane so…. And then after about 8 months or so it hit me like lumber: A lack of a belief that God even exists at all.

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