Are Anti-AA Blogs Hateful or Helpful?

Are Anti-AA Blogs Hateful or Helpful?

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antiaablogsWhether you like it or not, there are scores of blogs and websites, some more over-the-top than others, aimed at discouraging people from attending AA. Some seem bent on radicalizing former members into anti-AA activists or haters, while others seem cool just promoting awareness that AA isn’t the only game in town and that you can stay sober outside the rooms just fine.

Many anti-AA folks are genuinely concerned about how AA has harmed and can continue to harm people, be it through sexual harassment or sponsors telling people to get off meds, instilling guilt or making otherwise materialists believe in—and pray to—a God to solve their problems. They argue that AA makes many alcoholics worse, and that the program blames members when they relapse, which can lead to further relapse and sometimes suicide.

(It’s important to say here that many active members of AA, a number of whom write for this site, believe AA saved their lives and can therefore save millions of other people; they are often less vitriolic in their stance than the anti-AA crusaders and therefore tend not to create sites that attack the opposite belief.)

Mr. Orange: A Hard-Lined Hater

One of the most longstanding anti-AA sites is The Orange Papers, where A. Orange has written dozens of posts that comprise a sort of manifesto—and online book—on the dangers of Alcoholics Anonymous. Since much of what s/he says is substantiated by research, perusing the Orange Papers might lead even the most devoted AA member to wonder if they’ve unwittingly drunk some noxious Kool-Aid.

At least, this was my first reaction when I stumbled onto the Orange Papers six years ago, in part because the studies that speak to AA’s effectiveness are not mentioned.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the entry 12 Biggest Secrets of AA:

The A.A. dropout rate is terrible. Most people who come to A.A. looking for help in quitting drinking are appalled by the narrow-minded atmosphere of fundamentalist religion and faith-healing. The A.A. meeting room has a revolving door. The therapists, judges, and parole officers (many of whom are themselves hidden members of A.A. or N.A.) continually send new people to A.A., but those newcomers vote with their feet once they see what A.A. really is.

Trying to Change People’s Thinking

Next up is Stinkin’ Thinkin’, which has the subheading of “Muckracking the 12-step Industry.”

On the current homepage of the site, the owner addresses specifically the problem of sexual predation in the rooms, which was recently put on blast in the 2015 documentary The 13th Step by Monica Richardson.

Many AA’s, including myself back in the day, defended the program with the argument that AA is no more dangerous than any other place in the world—sure a newcomer might be lured into a sexual-assault situation, but couldn’t that happen at work, at a movie theatre, at McDonald’s or on the subway?

This theory is countered on Stinkin’ Thinkin’:

The argument that anyone who enters AA is just as vulnerable as they would be in any other public venue is profoundly inaccurate, for several reasons:

  • It has been drummed into our cultural consciousness by trusted sources—from Ann Landers, Dr. Drew, and reality TV to family doctors and therapists—that AA is the only true solution to a debilitating addiction and that the only other options are “jails, institutions, or death.”
  • When one enters a public sphere, one is *not* told *not* to trust his or her own instincts as they are in AA meetings (their “alcoholic brain” —i.e.—“Your best thinking got you here.”).
  • Nor is one told to trust the people one meets on the bus or the mall; while in AA, newcomers who have a hard time turning their will over to God are told to start by turning it over to G.O.D (Group Of Drunks).
  • Nor is one instructed to trust the guidance of a sponsor—an Anonymous stranger with no formal training.

These are solid enough points.

Exposition Is the Name of This Game

ExposeAA is another hard-lined anti-AA site. One of the first phrases that pops out at you when you visit the site is “You’ve Been Lied To.” Above this sentence is a link reading “Is AA a Cult?”

After clicking the link, you’ll read the following:

Even if you are an average adult, you will begin to hear you can no longer make the decisions for your own life. If you are involved with 12-step programs, and look at this statement very clearly, you will see you are not making your decisions, ‘the God of your understanding’ isn’t—instead, others in “the Program” are attempting to do it for you.

Now, how can something like this happen in, or to, the lives of adults? Surely there are individuals who, for whatever their reasons, actually prefer a way of life that consists of ‘others’ telling them what to do, and/or ‘holding their hands’ every step of the way. Perhaps such people are very ill, very immature, or some other factor.

However—most adults are not in this category; most adults, with or without addictions or other life problems, not only want to make the decisions for their own lives, and are perfectly capable of doing so, but have the legal and moral right to do so.

Again, it’s a fair enough argument, though many AA’s will argue that they do not experience someone “telling them what to do.” Still, any of them will agree that “giving direction” is a huge part of the program. The force with which one is pressured to follow said direction can vary hugely depending on who’s dishing out the advice. Many AA’s just give out suggestions or advice, others spew out do-or-drink orders.

(When I was a sponsor, I kept prefacing my advice with these long-winded caveats. “Now, I’m not a professional, and I don’t know everything, and you may not feel comfortable with this, and I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, and I may be totally off the mark, so tell me if I am, but I think maybe if you tried x, y, or z, it might help you. What do you think about that?”)

Finding Some Middle Ground

Though Expose AA, StinkinThinkin and The Orange Papers are all trying to propagate the message that AA not only sucks but is hugely dangerous, a few other anti-AA sites aren’t quite so antagonizing.

One of them called Leaving AA is spearheaded by 13th Step filmmaker Monica Richardson. Though her site is certainly anti-AA, it’s more of a blogroll that keeps up-to-date posts on less-than-supportive news about AA, like lawsuits against AA members for sexual assault or murder, news on shady aspects of the rehab industry, and advocating for freedom with DUI sentencing.

The Empathetic Approach

Another site, and one that’s very dear to me, called Recovering From Recovery, is dedicated to helping people who want to leave AA leave without fear, but the site noticeably lacks antagonism or AA-bashing.

On this site, the user known as ILoveLife writes intelligent and empathetic posts about how to disengage from AA when you are an active member. It’s extremely helpful for anyone too afraid to take this plunge because they hear that if they leave, they will drink again.

(No, not all members think this, but it’s a premise in the Big Book and Twelve and Twelve, and I found in my eight years in the program that roughly 80% of step-working sober members did believe pulling out was a major danger. Also true is that there are enough step-working AA members who have encouraged me to just follow my own path without telling me I’m doomed to an alcoholic death.)

Here’s an excerpt from perhaps one of the most important posts on the RecoveringFromRecovery site called “Leaving AA and Staying Sober”:

I would say you have to be pretty stable to walk away from your support group in recovery. I am not trying to paint a picture, where all you have to do is leave AA to have a great sober life. That is the impression some try to give on forums such as the anti AA Orange Papers forum, and I think this could lead to disaster for some, who need people around them. You have to be honest to yourself about how things are going and why. Some people need more support than others. Some may feel AA is like a cult and should do something about that, while others will just find it irrelevant and boring.

The Sleeper Hit

In a similar vein to Recovering From Recovery is Jon Sleeper’s blog, which also addresses leaving AA and staying sober in a detailed “How To” type post on the home page. Here’s an excerpt:

If you’re someone who’s been in AA a short while and are not yet confident in sobriety, peer support such as that found in meetings can be a crucial factor in early and ongoing recovery. In the absence of any alternative, please think twice and use the fellowship to put some serious distance between you and your last drink before considering any dramatic changes.

AA members with longer periods of abstinence should be mindful that our fellowship’s disease model of alcoholism and its associated dogma of powerlessness can become a catastrophic self-fulfilling prophecy. Quitting AA is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Don’t leave before deprogramming. Have alternative support networks in place. Stay actively “in recovery”. How you do that is up to you.

I left abruptly but most folks seem to find a “one foot in and one foot out” strategy more appropriate so, on reflection, that’s probably the recommended course of action.

By nature this is always a personal journey. It’s not easy and takes a fair amount of work. Practice due diligence, arm yourself with the facts, and find the real truth about your condition.

Tread carefully and remember that AA’s a pretty friendly place, so you can always go back if you don’t feel good about life outside the fellowship. No-one will mind. The door, as they say, swings both ways.

These posts on Recovering From Recovery and by Jon Sleeper fueled my own courage to bow out of the program, and I can’t thank them enough. There are many people who leave who don’t relapse, but since they’re not in meetings sharing about it, we rarely hear from them. I assume many AA’s are well-meaning when they warn of deadly relapse—they just aren’t aware of the success stories.

It’s important to hear them.

Thank God for Free Speech

Sure it’s easy to get pissed off at all the anti-AA stuff if you’re a die-hard AA member. But hey, all these bloggers have the first amendment on their side. In addition to creating tons of backlash, these sites can also help people like me sort out whether they want to stay in AA in the first place, and give them the courage to leave.

I guess that’s my constitutional right.

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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.