Is AA Horrible or Wonderful? Depends on Your Perspective

Is AA Horrible or Wonderful? Depends on Your Perspective

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This post was originally published on May 26, 2014.

Why do so many people hate Alcoholics Anonymous? Salon explores this question in a very pro-AA piece by Ernest Kurtz, who reminds us that the program shouldn’t be considered threatening to haters just because it’s free and spirituality-centered. For lots of folks, regardless of their current or former stance on “the God stuff,” AA works and continues to work in helping them stay clean and sober.

Of course, like any other type of program, there are those it doesn’t work for—or those who haven’t tried it but like to throw stones at its spiritual foundation and its “rules” (the 12 Steps’ focus on sponsorship and working with others). The Big Book asserts that addiction and alcoholism are diseases formed upon chronic selfishness and self-centeredness—the belief that we are somehow unique or different from everyone around us; the idea that we believe the usual rules don’t apply to us. Lots of addicts become invested in the notion of helping, even saving, themselves—being in control of their addictions. That’s great, if it helps them! For lots of people, though, community support from others isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s required when it comes to healing wounds that go as deep as addiction.

Kurtz writes about “the joy of AA meetings” being its one of the program’s best assets; in essence, its “open door” convenience and perpetual availability as a place to go to spill all our self-centered little woes and our day-to-day dramas. Because where else in life do we get such an opportunity? Most of us spend most of our days walking around under the assumption that our problems aren’t interesting to anyone but ourselves, that no one really cares. As Kurtz writes, “No one wants to hear our ‘troubles,’ perhaps especially not when they are seemingly so very petty.… And so we wisely and properly hold our peace and say nothing, or very little and only indirectly, of those matters that may be ‘bothering’ us. No one wants to hear our ‘bother’: They have enough bothers of their own, and so we thoughtfully remain silent about what is really going on inside us.”

But AA is a place where people are uniquely encouraged to share what’s really going on inside them—not just to help themselves feel better, but to help other people, who might be struggling with similar issues, feel less alone.

When it comes to addiction treatment, one size most certainly does not fit all. But Kurtz’s piece is a good reminder that anything that helps encourage addicts to “prick the balloon of self-important self-centeredness” is probably a good thing.

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Laura Barcella

Laura Barcella is a freelance writer, editor and author from Washington, DC. She currently works as the Weekend Editor for xoJane. Her writing has also appeared in Salon, Esquire.com, Elle.com, Refinery29, AlterNet, CNN.com, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl and NYLON. Her book credits include Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.