by Smacklin’ Kennedy-Onassis
When I was 23 I was sent to outpatient rehab for alcohol abuse. I had spent the previous 2 ½ years on a massive drinking binge, and honestly, it was time for me to stop. I had already “dried out” before, so I didn’t have to go through any sort of nasty detoxification scenario. I can say with all sincerity that rehab was a great place for me. I met other people who had struggled with the same feelings and problems I had, and my counselors were fantastic. As a condition of graduating from rehab (the idea of “graduating” from rehab is still a hilarious idea to me), we patients had to go to at least 2 AA meetings. So, I did. At first, I really believed I had discovered The Secret and The Answer to all things. Finally, a group for people just like me! Yippee!
I went to my old AA group for about 2 years and stopped going, as I had switched geographic areas. In the last year, due to various personal struggles (not alcohol related…I have been sober since 2001), my therapist suggested that I give AA another try. I thought, Hell yeah, why not?
This time around, my experience with AA wasn’t too fantastic. A lot has changed since I was 23 – but not with AA. The defects I find in the program, to me, are quite deep. Maybe I’ve become a misanthropic geezer in my old age, but this time I became very suspicious of the program. Here are the reasons why.
First, I would like to say that I am NOT an atheist. I do believe in God, and had no problem with the first step of AA (admitting to yourself that you are powerless over alcohol/addiction and giving the problem to God). The rest of the steps I had a colossal problem with, for some reason. First, the part where you must, in detail, make a list of people you have harmed with your sponsor (who is kind of like an untrained counselor), then the part where you must make amends to the people you hurt in your addiction. I have made amends to the people I know I have made suffer in the last few years countless times. I still do. I find making amends to be a very private thing, and not a task to be done with someone looking over your shoulder making sure you’re “doing the step correctly.” The structure aspect of AA seems paralyzing to me. People within the program honestly believe you are severely messed up if you don’t want to do “the steps.” I thought that just taking it day-by-day – or even minute-by-minute – was the most important part of staying sober.
There’s also a step where you ask God to rid you of your “defects.” I find this step almost offensive, because whether we like to realize this or not, as human beings we are the sum totals of our greatness, talents, and defects. Enough said. I think peoples’ defects at time can work in their favor. I think God, seeing that he is all-loving and all-knowing, would realize that as well.
I also have a really big problem with the Big Book. It seems to bash the AA newcomer over the head with the belief that God can take away your alcoholism if you choose to find Him. Some people have a huge problem believing in God. While I don’t, I can respect the views of someone who is perhaps an atheist, or an agnostic. I believe these people truly deserve as many shots at success staying sober as someone who believes in God. All you have to do is make the decision NOT to drink or use drugs. The Big Book comes across to me as very arrogant, brash, and preachy, filled with dramatic horror stories of what happened to people when they drank. Of course I already know drinking is bad. I don’t need a $10.00 book telling me this in such a bombastic manner.
Perhaps the biggest problem I have with AA is its clientele. A lot of people within the rooms of AA – and I should know, because I’ve sat in countless meetings – have an averse attitude towards members who happen to use psychotropic drugs for mental disorders. One example: I have bipolar disorder, Type I, rapid cycling with mixed episodes. Basically what this means in regular-people talk is that I am a massive fucking headcase if I don’t take my Zoloft and Depakote. On these medications, my condition has been stabilized quite well, to the point where I can survive much better on a day-to-day basis. When I alerted one nameless AA member about this, she got a dark look on her face and walked away from me. She then whispered – well within earshot – to another AA member that because I was “taking drugs” she would never sponsor “someone like me.” The words “taking drugs” have the connotation that I smoke giant Cheech and Chong amounts of weed, or that I like to shoot heroin a lot. I don’t endorse using illegal drugs of any sort. I resent this person immensely for stating that, because it is simply not the case. The medications I take are not addictive. Plus, if I quit taking them so she could be my sponsor, I would probably succeed at committing suicide from the effects of depression or mania. I wish there was a recovery program for people with dual diagnoses.
On the opposite spectrum, there are the people in AA who DO use drugs, and rationalize their drug usage wholeheartedly. One dude I knew said, “I don’t drink anymore, but my therapist said it was okay for me to smoke weed.” This is an utter bullshit line. I don’t know any psychotherapist, still licensed, who would suggest weed as a great anti-anxiety treatment. Then there was another member who didn’t drink, but she was popping benzodiazepines like the Klonopin factory was about to be shut down. That reminds me of a lovely little story: early in my psychiatric history, I was prescribed Klonopin for sleep and for breakthrough anxiety. Not only was I doped up to the gills, but it didn’t really alleviate my symptoms. After a month of this, I threw the pills out, I stopped taking them cold turkey, and went through the worst 7 days of my life afterward…the withdrawals from Klonopin were worse than anything I had ever experienced with alcohol. So this person’s rationalization that prescriptions were okay to misuse also struck me as being heroically stupid. How dare someone who operates under these false assumptions judge me for my own sobriety.
Finally, another bone I have to pick: people in AA focus way, way too much on their days/months/years of sobriety. I am not impressed by the guy who stands up at the meeting and says, “I’ve been sober for 30 years!” While this sounds extremely harsh, I believe focusing on a specific date takes away the focus from surviving day-to-day. Also, focusing on a sobriety date and “celebrating” it gives some people an inflated sense of hubris and ego. I believe the ego is a far stronger drug than alcohol. Shit, I’ve had some people at meetings look down at me because I’ve “only” been sober for 8 years. They should have seen how messed up I was before I stopped drinking; they would be amazed that I had stayed sober for 8 minutes. I also believe the ego is what leads most people back to drinking. I was extremely uncomfortable focusing on myself in AA meetings. I am well aware that my issues have hurt other people, and I feel like I’m repeating myself, rehashing my old problems over and over and over again. All people do in the meetings is talk about themselves. And it’s the same stories, over and over and over again.
Anyway, that ends my rant about AA. I am still sober after 8 years. It hasn’t been all that easy on my own but I’m doing alright. Just remember, if you are someone interested in AA, if you drink even one glass of wine a night (hardly alcoholism, at all), the people at meetings will see you as an out-of-control lush. They will insist you can relapse if you eat a dish that happened to be marinated in wine, and you will be excommunicated from their brethren if you do. So be advised to watch your ass.