BIGGER BUT WEAKER?
THE EVOLUTION OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Sometime ago Mark Gauvreau Judge wrote a short Article in the The American Conservative entitled “Dry Out, Move On”. It was a long overdue critique of the evolution of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Early AA meandered from a Christian witness and an epiphany experience in a New York Hospital experienced by Bill W.; to his subsequently frantic search for another alcoholic and his encounter with Doctor Bob; to the writing of Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) and the miraculous growth in number of consistently sober alcoholics.
The program was anonymous because the intractable chronic alcoholic had amassed a reputation for outrageous and unpredictable behavior that short of captivity could not be deterred by any known means. Alcoholics were looked upon with hopeless suspicion and there was a stigma attached to the branding.
Anonymity served an important dual purpose. First, it allowed the addict to admit to his problem in private, and second, it suggested a necessary humility. Recommended in the sobriety process was “ego deflation in depth”. Membership in the AA program was to be anonymous unless revealing ones participation might be used to help another alcoholic. It was acknowledged that every recovering alcoholic walked on clay feet and that an individual relapse might reflect adversely on the Program.
In an devolution similar to the relationship between our government and our Constitution or between our churches and the Bible, AA has begun to consider the codes that were suggested as guidelines to be “living suggestions” that can be stretched and overruled at will. This loss of humility that was a source of power in the AA program has vied with its efficacy.
Mark Gauvreau Judge writes, “Somewhere in the 1970s and 1980s, when the me-first narcissism of postmodern America melded with the bromides of the New Age, being ‘in recovery’ went from being an attempt to get over the urge to drink and return to the old self to being an invitation to adopt an entirely new set of values, ideas, and even personality – with recovery and its entire catechism at the center.”
Like the Christian Church, AA has evolved from a relationship with a higher power into a religion and rather than being a vehicle used for returning to a normal life has become a way of life and an arrogant one at that.
As the arrogance has metastasized the maxim of attraction rather than promotion has weakened and rather than waiting for new members to seek help, AA is now advertised and its benefits are promoted.
Some of the deterioration of AA tenets is a result of the deterioration of society itself and the affects it has had on AA members. Addictions have become more common and sin has become more popular. What formerly carried the judgment of society and the resultant pressure to conform, is now accepted as the norm.
Although the roots of AA were in the somewhat heretical Christian Oxford Groups, and Bill W. recommended a moral inventory in one of the Twelve Steps, his life seemed to include a perennial search for the reality Christianity might have provided. He kept a mistress for many years and in later life sought solace from the drug culture.
On the other hand Dr. Bob, whose efforts at working with active alcoholics were more richly rewarded than Bill W’s, was quick to pray with new candidates and ask God to remove their defects of character.
The great wisdom of AA was in not owning anything and not becoming involved with other organizations. It was not conceived as another religion but as a springboard for a return to the Church and to Christianity.
Early AA was serious business. Tough love was the norm and newcomers were strongly urged to “sit down, shut-up, and listen”. Egos that could not accept confrontation did not find sobriety in AA. The maxim of maintaining a program of attraction rather than promotion was prominently practiced.
Mark Gauvreau Judge (I like that handle!) decries the proliferation of New Age AA literature at lucrative satellites like Hazelton and the subsequent use of the program as a religious lifestyle and perpetual entanglement rather than a stepping stone. His critique is on track and points directly toward the sinful nature of humanity and the entropy that it constantly creates.
Near the end he emphatically states that AA saved his life; it saved mine as well.