Nudging the Boundaries


Fresno, California, US
April 11
Writer, Registered Addiction Specialist, civil rights/civil liberties activist


MAY 16, 2009 6:31PM

My Posts About AA

Rate: 10 Flag

So earlier this week I posted a piece about "powerlessness" here at OS.  Powerlessness is an AA concept which I think is counterproductive.  I believe that people can learn to make wise choices, to acknowledge that their behaviors are volitional.  It seems to me that teaching people that they have no control is to provide a handy excuse for continual relapses.  It's the same reason I don't care for giving one's control up to a sponsor or to a higher power, and the same reason I argue against the disease model of addiction.  In my mind, it's all about working out those self-control muscles, re-establishing control over unwanted behaviors, and believing in one's own ability to change.

 Someone posted a nasty comment about how I should seek my supervisor's guidance because I clearly have an issue with AA (for some underlying, undisclosed reason).  I must, then, be providing insufficient guidance to my clients by leaving out or arguing against AA's methods.  I am not talking to my clients here; I'm trying to have a grown up conversation on a few issues, and I had hoped that the idea I was presenting about powerlessness would be taken up for conversation.

Let me start by saying that AA is everywhere in this country; it's literally unavoidable.  Where I worked, three of the four counselors are AA proponents, and my own clients got all kinds of lectures about it from them.  One rejected everything but AA doctrine and frequently went to complain to the director.  The director was also CBT trained (on top of being an AAer), and he said he hired me to round out the team, to make the place as eclectic as possible, to provide as much information as possible so clients have more tools to choose.  The steps were posted on the wall.  H & I meetings were held there on a weekly basis.  And virtually all of our residents had been thoroughly versed in the approach, having been through multiple programs before.

In my group, people were free to disagree with whatever I said, and I never tried to get successful AA members to leave their program.  The things I talk about in these posts is fairly inappropriate for a group session.  I never mentioned the Orange Papers.  I have read some on that site, but some anti-AA folks are vitriolic, and some of the stuff there is mocking and condescending.  I do not think AA is a cult.  I never said, nor do I believe, that AA is bound to fail its members.  I never suggested that people should drop out or should decide against trying that approach or any useful concepts and tools that can be found there.

I believe in providing as many useful tools from all sources as I can find.  People should feel free to find a set of tools or an approach that suits them best.

If I were to have the ability to update the Big Book, I'd like to see the spirituality portion taken out entirely because it so offends so many people, and I would get rid of the whole powerlessness concept because it is incorrect and wrong-headed.

In truth, all recovery resources have something to offer, and all have significant overlap.  Often you'll find different terms being used for the same general ideas across the different approaches.  Approaches can be combined, and custom recovery plans, fashioned by the individual, may be the best choice of all.  In future posts, I'll talk about the various specific tools that can be added to any program, and I may post more about small issues in various approaches that don't make sense to me.

 You can choose to take it personally, but it is not intended to harm anyone; it's offered to help and to clarify my own ideas about how I go about my job and the future of the field.

I would very much appreciate it if no further personal attacks took place.  I understand that people really want to believe that what they are doing to help themselves.  I even get that exposure of these issues can result AA members feel a bit less sure about how solid they are in their sobriety, like it's somehow less trustworthy and helpful, like it has changed somehow as a result of someone disagreeing with a few issues.  The defensiveness struck me as fear.  I get that.

If people disagree, that's perfectly fine.  We can talk about the issues, or we can agree to disagree. But please stop assuming that my purpose is to destroy AA.  That just isn't so.


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
No need for personal attacks. I found this post and your last enlightening and more than fair. Your writing is very straightforward and you make your point very clearly. Thanks.
My sister is an AA trooper. I'm a NA "not want anything to do with it." We both are in our 7th year of sobriety. I'm also a retired psych-counselor who dealt with patient substance abuse issues. Early on I learned individual treatment sometimes doesn't require the tenants of groups advocating surrender to a higher power. AA and NA are useful for many ... unnecessary for some.
Please don't let negativity chase you from OS, or any other platform where you present subjective opinion. Welcome and thanks.
Where are your other posts? Did you take them down?
I worked for several years as a "counselor" for people diagnosed with mental illness. I use the quotation marks becasue there's nothing in my educational background that makes me a professional. I just happen to get it with mentally ill folks, and I was happy to be able to advocate for them.
I did some DBT trainings and was introduced to the work of Dr. Linehan. All of this was helpful in shaping my compassionate approach to the people I worked with.
I described, on the Glass Charachters AA thread, my experience of attending meetings with my clients. Court ordered meetings. And of being approached outside of meetings in a sexually suggestive way. Now, there I was accompanying level three sex offenders to a meeting, and I'm being harrassed by the supposedly not mentally ill sober people!
Anyway, I find your perspective really pertinent and don't want you to feel silenced in any way.
I commented on someone else's blog - she was posting a personal essay about her father and AA - that it is quite obvious that OS has 100's of new members who have signed up ONLY to voice their opinions about AA.
And that's fine, if they keep it to discussing it on blogs that are about AA. Needlessly attacking someone for relating a personal story is just...wacky.
There are so many wonderful voices coming through all the different threads. It's really unfortunate that many of the AA'ers are treating this like a meeting and trying to impose their rules.
I am very interested in reading more of your posts - keep me informed!
We are not all meant to agree on everything, right? We are also entitled to our opinions, right? I happen to think you give great advice and I appreciate your input!
Hearing from a professional who thinks outside the 12-step box gives me great hope. Thank you.

In the interest of full self-disclosure, I am the commenter who suggested that you seek your supervisor’s guidance. I note that you have deleted all your previous posts. I saw a comment of yours on Kind of Blue’s recent post that you did so because of feeling attacked, but were talked out of leaving OS by someone at OS. Well and good.

Alcoholism is a life or death issue for alcoholics. People claim to get sober in many ways: For some it’s AA, others SMART Recovery, therapy (e.g., DBT), rehab, medication, cold turkey, or some combination of all of the above. To me it doesn’t matter HOW, just IF. I have said that repeatedly and will continue to do so. I also said that you were using AA as a straw man to support your viewpoint, and suggested that you omit the “here’s what’s wrong with AA” stuff and just write about what’s effective with your approaches.

So once again you begin with a “here’s what’s wrong with AA.” I do not understand why you simply cannot start with “here’s what right/effective” with my approach to treating alcoholism. But of course, that’s up to you.

And here’s where you just don’t seem to be able to connect your comments with your feelings of being attacked.

“If I were to have the ability to update the Big Book, I'd like to see the spirituality portion taken out entirely because it so offends so many people, and I would get rid of the whole powerlessness concept because it is incorrect and wrong-headed.”

Leslie, the spirituality portion of AA is AA. And yes you are entitled to your opinion of this and the so-called powerless concept as being “incorrect and wrong-headed.” When you make statements such as these, despite the fact that millions of people around the world for over 70 years credit AA with their being alive today, then you might expect to receive some strongly worded comments. You won’t believe this, but I accept the fact that I am totally powerless over you, and of changing your opinion. No amount of DBT in the world will change that.

And your final comment about assuming that your purpose is to destroy AA is way over the top. You, nor anyone else, are powerful enough to destroy AA. No worries there.

I am speaking totally for myself here, not for AA or anyone else. My experience with recovery is just that – mine, as is yours.

Wishing you a peaceful Sunday.
I'm a late comer here, too late, it seems, to have caught your posts, which sound intriguing, despite the furor they apparently caused. I favor your strong and well-experienced attitude, though, and look forward to more posts, should they be forthcoming. This is obviously a hot button issue. I'm glad, though, for this post of yours, at least.
I have posted three classic psychology concepts in support of rejecting powerlessness as a useful tool in changing one's life.
Is there any other self help group that rejects basic belief in one's ability to change? If I had known of others, I'd have mentioned them in my writing as well.
Thanks for the post. I was involved in NA for a number of years and found the entire experience to be one of the most negative times of my life. I also agree that the spirituality of the programs is a deterant for many and powerlessness is a non productive concept. More than that the logic that everything is ok as long as you are clean and sober is ridiculous. There are many underlying issues that the program refuses to include in the recovery process. Again Thanks
this is very interesting Leslie!
First of all, personal attacks here on OS are just ridiculous. Particularly those in response to personal experience. I was in AA and though I do not go to meetings and have not for many years, I remain friends with all my old AA'ers from the rooms, even those who left themselves. In my experience (which is key, it's MY experience) AA has helped many. Some need that structure and find relief in the strict rules though I too find them contradictory. I went to a program that applied some of the principles but prioritized the idea of thinking over emotion. I learned and truly believe that I can have control over what I do if I just put thinking first. That the point is to regain control over my life, take charge of myself and own what I do. If I want to drink, get high, then I need to make sure that that is what I really want, will that really make me happy, will the consequences of that, as there are for alcoholics and "normal people" be worth the feeling of being drunk? For me, no. I am not powerless because I now know myself, I know what I want and how I want my life to go. Thank you for this!
You probably have heard this before, but AA is a cult.

Dr. Bob and Bill looked at each other one day and went:

"Secular religion! Oh my God! Secular religion!"