Can AA Use An Update?
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Can AA Use An Update?


Some people in AA say you shouldn’t update the books or the program. It’s worked for 80 years after all, so why change it? It’s perfect, it’s divine, it’s flawless, right?

But this could have been argued about Windows 95, the first five pound cell phone and Mac OS 9. It can be argued about anything related to technological progress. Even the English language updates itself. Hell, even the bible has new editions—who’s still trudging their way through the King James?

So yes, AA can definitely use an update, especially where the literature is concerned.

Speaking of the bible, we can start with the Lord’s Prayer. Shouldn’t this be banned from AA meetings? After all, the stuff on the walls, the book, everything in AA references a “God of your own understanding.” Now, I don’t have a degree in Theology, but I’m pretty sure “Our Father” is an exclusively Christian or Catholic prayer.

I find it sickeningly offensive when someone chooses to close out the meeting with this prayer. And that’s not because I was raised Muslim or Jewish or Marxist or Buddhist or Shamanist. Quite the contrary—I was stuck in a Catholic elementary school, a Baptist high school and thrown into Hye summer camps and youth groups where I had to recite the prayer in Armenian. Hell, I even had to sing the prayer in Armenian. So you’d think I’d be the last person to get all riled up over it.

But it kills me. Every single time someone decides to close a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer, I’m pained. I’m not only pained for myself because I don’t believe in any Father whatsoever, but I’m pained thinking of new people who may have walked into their first meeting—people who are Jewish or Muslims or Hindus or plain old atheists who may not come back because they saw people holding hands and reciting an age-old Christian prayer.

I’ll tell you this. If they closed with the Lord’s Prayer at the first AA meeting I walked into, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have returned to another meeting. No fucking way. Thankfully, most AA meetings in Los Angeles close out with the nondenominational Serenity Prayer.

I’ll give them the Lord’s Prayer if we can also recite verse 10 of the Tao Te Ching, throw in a Hebrew Prayer, recite something from the Qur’an and pray out with a quote from Karl Marx.

Otherwise, axe that shit.

There’s also the sexist pronouns. In the Big Book and the The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, “God” is always referred to as a He. “God could and would if He were sought.” “We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Call me a heretic, but I’m not praying or bowing before any Him, thank you very much. All these pronouns do is snap me out of the spirit of the steps. When we get to “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,” I’m out.

Sometimes people in the rooms will change the pronoun to “It” or “She” when they read out loud, and that’s nice and all, but the He needs to be taken out entirely from the book and the pronoun should really be a non-gender specific It. This way we atheists or diests don’t feel obliged to have a personified Higher Power. The good news is that there are surveys going around in AA to change this. I’m not sure where General Service is at with the dilemma.

Truthfully, if I were to have it my way, the word God would be axed out of the literature and the speak altogether.  I like “Higher Power.” I can hang with that. The word God has such a specific connotation, even if Bill Wilson intended it to just mean Higher Power, even if God can mean the Spirit of the Universe, the Tao or the Stars or Fates. The word “God” leaves a very bitter taste in so many of our mouths and often repels people from the rooms. So I say excise it completely.

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a Higher Power.”


Then there’s the chapter “We Agnostics” where Bill Wilson tries to prove the existence of God by droning on about some steel girder and the electrons. I’m sorry, but even a well-educated evangelical apologist can probably make a better argument for the existence of God, so that should be cut. Plus, that whole bit in Step Two of the Twelve and Twelve that knocks atheists for being intellectual snobs—that should go too. All that does is feed the AA bashers with more evidence that AA brainwashes and discourages independent thought.

Oh and that chapter “To Wives”? Make it “To Family Members” and rewrite the whole thing. Rip off stuff from Al-Anon if necessary. The Big Book and Twelve and Twelve are such androcentric texts—written by men for men—it’s insulting. Aside from the stories in the back, the reader is more or less assumed to be male. So why not get a good editor and change it? Honestly, I’m surprised they haven’t done this yet. It’s 2015.

There also should be a chapter in the Big Book that actually talks about sponsors, or perhaps a blurb in the appendix. It should explain that sponsors are just a bunch of faulty humans trying to lead other faulty humans through sobriety—that they are not God, not psychotherapists and not doctors and that you shouldn’t swallow everything they say wholesale because many of them are a bit off. There can even be a checklist or something that acts as a guide. “Do they lecture you endlessly? Do they tell you to get off your meds? Do they seem kind? Do they seem intelligent? Are they showered? Do their actions reflect their words? Do they hang up on you?”

AA can also put out a pamphlet for women and men on sexual harassment—you know, like most employers—which explains what is and is not acceptable in the rooms and that anyone who violates the terms during the meeting or on meeting premises will be asked to leave. The offender doesn’t have to be blacklisted from AA, but they can at least get kicked out of a meeting if they’re behaving inappropriately during or after; they could still be welcomed back to the meeting, provided they nix the creepy behavior.

The pamphlet can also explain to newcomers that though AA is a spiritually-based program, it’s still full of fallible humans, including wackos and perverts and sex offenders, like any other room on the planet, and therefore these newcomers, men or women, should be discerning. Women, for the love of God, stick with the women. Don’t get into the car with some scuzzy guy who’s invited you to coffee after the 10 pm candlelight meeting at your local AA hall. Even the men and women who have worked every step 10 times through still have animal instincts and are still fallible.

It’s possible the Pacific Group and the Atlantic Group should be formally annexed from mainstream AA. That one should be put to a vote.

The phrase “character defects” needs to go—it’s very harsh and somewhat shaming. Replace it with “unhealthy patterns” or “things that don’t work for us” or something. Because everyone on the planet sometimes struggles with selfishness, resentment, self-pity, fear and unrealistic expectations. Whether you’re an alcoholic or not, these kinds of traits aren’t too healthy and often leave us miserable, so yeah, it is good to get rid of them.

Now to the “powerless” lingo. This is something AA bashers really get excited about. They think AA takes away our confidence and belief in ourselves. I’ve got no problem with the term, but I’ve always interpreted it as admitting I am an alcoholic, or even just admitting that I can’t drink safely, and that drinking destroyed everything good thing in my life, made me crazy and nearly killed me four times.

For those who do take issue with the powerless bit, maybe we can change Step One to read: “We admitted we couldn’t drink safely and that our lives had become a hot mess.”

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.