Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chirping and flying,

Boy and Girl keep their secret.
I? keep only Time.

© 1987, Troy K Spears.

Summer resolutions...

I will no longer celebrate other people's sobriety anniversaries; I will celebrate other people's lives well lived and their demonstrated efforts to improve themselves and their neighbors.

I will no longer allow other people's claims of sobriety to serve as any basis for moral or social authority; I will ask "old timers" to justify their positions in logic and experience, and if they can't, I will disregard them and their statements.

I will not speak to others in terms my sobriety date; instead I will use only so much of my story as I deem appropriate and helpful. To celebrate my sobriety, sanity, and serenity, I will honor my natural birthday.

I will no longer give lip service to the 12 Steps as a "program for living," nor will I speak any longer in terms of a "Program"; instead I will encourage others to find and claim their own way.

I will no longer accept people as sponsees nor will I ask someone to be my sponsor; instead I will let the natural progression of affection and respect govern my relationships.

I will no longer speak of myself as an alcoholic; instead I will use the term, "alcohol addict," to identify myself more strongly with my fellow-sufferers who abuse other mood-alterering chemicals and behaviors.

I will no longer sit silently as I watch my beloved AA reduced to a mean and mindless cult.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Nothing says I Don't Care About You

like a tie...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What does a sponsor do?

Reprinted with permission from Questions and Answers on Sponsorship
Copyright © 1976, 1983, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

A sponsor does everything possible, within the limits of personal experience and knowledge, to help the newcomer get sober and stay sober through the A.A. program:
  • Shows by present example and drinking history what A.A. has meant in the sponsor's life.
  • Encourages and helps the newcomer to attend a variety of A.A. meetings - to get a number of viewpoints and interpretations of the A.A. program.
  • Suggests keeping an open mind about A.A. if the newcomer isn't sure at first whether he or she is an alcoholic.
  • Never takes the newcomer's inventory except when asked.
  • Introduces the newcomer to other members, particularly to those who may share the new person's occupational or social interests.
  • Sees that the newcomer is aware of A.A. literature, in particular the Big Book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and Grapevine, As Bill Sees It, Living Sober, and suitable pamphlets.
  • Is available to the newcomer when the latter has special problems.
  • Goes over the meaning of the Twelve Steps, and emphasizes their importance.
  • Never tries to impose personal views on the newcomer. A good sponsor who is an atheist does not try to persuade a religious newcomer to abandon faith, nor does a religious sponsor argue theological matters with an agnostic newcomer.
  • Urges the newcomer to join in group activities as soon as possible.
  • Impresses upon the newcomer the importance of all our Traditions.
  • Does not pretend to know all the answers, and does not keep up a pretence of being right all the time.
  • Tries to give the newcomer some picture of the scope of A.A., beyond the group, and directs attention to A.A. literature about the history of the Fellowship, the Three Legacies, the service structure, and the worldwide availability of A.A. - wherever the newcomer may go.
  • Explains the program to relatives of the alcoholic, if this appears to be useful, and tells them about Al-Anon Family Groups and Alateen.
  • Does not hesitate to help the newcomer obtain professional help (such as medical, legal, vocational) if assistance outside the scope of A.A. is needed.
  • Quickly admits, "I don't know" when that is the case, and helps the newcomer find a good source of information.
  • Finally, the sponsor encourages the newcomer to work with other alcoholics as soon as possible, and sometimes begins by taking the newcomer along on Twelfth Step calls.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Introduction to Ken Ragge's The Real AA

Stanton Peele
Morristown, NJ
September, 1997

Ken Ragge has produced a remarkable document in The Real AA. At a time when AA and its 12-Step philosophy are a national religion, Ken has the guts, the knowledge, and the insight to show the dark side of this moon.

He does so in a low-key, but interesting and well-reasoned way. Starting with the heretofore unacknowledged synthesis of AA with the evangelical Protestant Oxford Group Movement (for years after the 1935 date officially given for Bob Smith and Bill Wilson's founding of AA, it was still an Oxford Group chapter), Ken details AA's religious genesis and nature. This analysis alone would qualify The Real AA as a major contribution to the field of alcoholism.

But Ken does more, much more. He analyzes the role of avoidance and plain old obtuseness in the lives of alcoholics, who generally mask through drinking unpleasant feelings that others face and cope with. He shows how the structure and beliefs of AA serve to provide an alternative focus and explanation for alcoholics' lives, given their continuing inability—supported by AA—to come to grips with what is truly on their minds (or in their subconscious).

Ken has a unique style. He gives detailed descriptions of research studies that reveal that AA's claims are hogwash (for example, the famous study by Marlatt et al. showing that alcoholics who drink disguised amounts of alcohol drink less than those who think they are drinking alcohol but are not). He spends equal time detailing the psychological backdrop to alcoholism and the case histories of alcoholics (some, like Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, central figures in the field).

On top of this, Ken gives an intimate portrait of the AA meeting and its philosophy (as embodied in its 12 Steps), and of how this process is actually enacted within the working AA group. Ken gives as good an exegesis as we are likely to see of the way AA groups and their senior members direct and indoctrinate new members (that is, the mere 5 to 10% who continue to attend) into a strange self-abnegation and sense of guilt and powerlessness built on the promise that eventually they too can reign supreme over newer AA members! AA is a power trip for the psychologically debilitated, as Ken makes exceedingly clear.

In this book, Ken supports many of the contentions from David Rudy's anthropological study of AA entitled, Becoming Alcoholic (just as Ken gives a ground's eye view of Jay Hull's "Self-Awareness Model," by which alcoholics welcome alcohol's consciousness-obliterating effect). I might add that Ken also follows many of my own arguments in Diseasing of America.

But Ken has a gut feeling for these research findings that can only be hard-earned through direct experience. He has seen and lived through things that others of us only write about.

In doing so, Ken answers the critical question about AA. Given its limited success, why do AAers love it so well? Like the addicted lover who clings to a destructive mate (and Ken analyzes the range of addictions in this book), the AA member who eventually succeeds in quitting drinking often accepts the devil's bargain of giving up the core part of him or herself.

Consider that Bill Wilson entered an extended depression lasting more than a decade following his formation of AA, while he and others argued that AA was the path to emotional purity and contentment. (Other early AA members simply drank themselves to death, some while serving as effective spokespeople for the group.)

Or take Ken's chapter on Kitty Dukakis, who entered addiction treatment first for taking one diet pill daily, only to embark on an extended depression followed by a brief interlude of intense alcoholism. Ken details the countless futile 12-step treatments Kitty endured which first convinced her (with near-fatal results) that she was a life-long alcoholic, and which then convinced her that she was a manic-depressive requiring around-the-clock medication. And to think, Kitty once thought that taking a single diet pill daily for 26 years was a big problem!

But, Kitty, like Bill W., was not deterred from spreading the gospel of AA. Like so many other tortured souls (the parallel with Heaven's Gate is inevitable), the AAer responds to internal torment and self-doubt with renewed enthusiasm and efforts to convert the uninitiated.

At the same time, Ken shows how researcher/academics like Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant respond to their own data showing that AA treatment is useless or worse by committing large parts of their clinical and academic work to expounding the AA philosophy—as though by simply showing that they accept AA and that AA accepts them, they have made some unique contribution to the alcoholism field!

The result of this "scientific" and clinical madness is an America (and next the world) gone mad, where—as more and more people embrace helplessness and a pervasive loss of control—more and more join AA or other 12-Step groups.

The result is not an empowered, self-controlled America (which would be explicitly against AA's philosophy). The result is an America preoccupied in a confused way with its depressed emotions and addicted actions, seeking vainly for explanations in the wrong places (God and genes) for a destructive way of life that AA does not remedy, but rather exacerbates and embodies.


Hull, J. 1987. Self-awareness model. In: Blane, H.T., and Leonard, K.E. (eds.). Psychological Theories of Drinking and Alcoholism (pp. 272-304). New York: Guilford.

Marlatt, G.A.; Demming, B.; and Reid, J.B. 1973. Loss of control drinking in alcoholics: An experimental analogue. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 81:223-241.

Peele, S. 1995.
Diseasing of America (2nd ed.; 1st ed., 1989). New York: Free Press.

Rudy, D. 1986. Becoming Alcoholic: Alcoholics Anonymous and the Reality of Alcoholism. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

If you don't enjoy the things you have...

someone else will.

You hit bottom...

when you stop digging.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Big Brain Disease?

After one AA member shared disparagingly about his "intellectualism," I recently heard another member say that he also had "Big Brain Disease." I guess his brain wasn't so diseased that he could not identify the previous speaker's illness as his own. Nor was it so diseased that he was not able to discriminate between big and little brains.

To disparage thinking is to disparage the Creator of thought. Some have said that this world is merely God's thought.

I have no problem with people dumbing down their recovery, but I am a happy, thoughtful, and sober alcoholic. I like to search for similarities and differences in the treatment and progress of people's recovery. I like to conjecture on theories or mechanisms that can explain the differences and similarities ... in order to reproduce successes and avoid failures.

Before I go any further, I'd like to distinguish thought from other forms of internal dialog. A half-hour silent mental rant against a lover, employer, or family member is NOT thought. It is internal dialog.

Thought is a learned type of discourse that involves checking one's beliefs against the world. Thought is learning how propositions are derived from other propositions. Thought is being alert to assumptions and biases that are affecting the choice of data and the recording of data. Thought is being aware of the various types of persuasive evidence and understanding how to give weight to different types of evidence. And finally, thought is SOCIAL – thought invites criticism and never rests in self-satisfaction. Thought invites others to comment and to aid in the creative endeavor.

Thought is what brought me to my first AA meeting and keeps me coming back.

That said, I understand that a newly sober drunk's internal dialog is full of self-destructive tendencies and presuppositions. I agree that the newly sober should be very wary of their own internal dialog because the toxic mind usually has become very good at justifying or excusing destructive behavior. Also, the toxic mind usually has settled into destructive philosophies and worldviews that support their sad, angry, and poisoned mind. These philosophies and familiar excuses only make it easier to return to their toxic lifestyle. Justification, speculation, and excuses are not thinking – they are ways to avoid thinking.

I don't think thinking is the source of the problem – I think the problem is arrogance. And one can be an arrogant, self-satisfied intellectual, and one can be an arrogant, self-satisfied Know-Nothing. Herbert Spencer states in one of the appendices to the Big Book that one of the great obstacles to recovery is "contempt prior to investigation." Herbert Spencer was an intellectual.

AA asks newcomers to investigate and to think. To honestly review the evidence of their drinking. To take note of the various modifications to their drinking and the success or failures of these practices. AA asks the newcomer to "shelve" their worldviews, rather than become "stuck" in them. AA asks for honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. And most importantly, AA asks the newcomer to allow other people's input into the thought process – to invite criticism and suggestions.

I can only say to those suffering from Big Brain Disease and those who think that recovery can only come from mindlessly following orders:

Think, think, think.