Like most Americans, I can’t claim to understand (or acknowledge) Canada but I have always thought of Canadians to be just like us, except more polite. But a recent story in the Toronto Sun paints a different picture of the maple-leafers, specifically our brothers and sisters in the 12-step community. According to Michelle Mandel, a self-admitted non-alcoholic (who has, nonetheless, adopted a opinionated stance on the culture of 12-step), a local intergroup has decided not to support an alleged subset that has taken a firm stance against the word “God” and even changed the standard literature to match their beliefs. The subset is now suing World Services and Greater Toronto Area Intergroup for excluding them from the local directory and district meetings.
Mandel’s piece scolds the organization at large, commenting on their “lack of fellowship” and calling them out for being exclusionary because “many seeking recovery today [are] uncomfortable with the religious, church-like aspect of the program.” Um, okay. But why would AA list meetings and want the opinions of a non-AA group?
The Arrogance of the Ignorant
If Mandel knew a thing or two about 12-step, she would understand that the 12 Traditions (the basic guidelines that all groups adhere to) ask us to “place principles before personalities.” What does that mean? That we don’t get involved in matters like this. As a group, small or large, we stick to the principles that have been set down, which also say that the “only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” So let me make this clear: no one is denying anyone with a desire to stop drinking the chance at recovery or membership to a 12-step program. That is not what is happening here.
What is happening is a non-traditional 12-step group wants to affiliate themselves with the largest and most traditional of the 12-step groups yet feels that they should be able to change the literature and adhere to a different belief system. This is akin to a group of Jews for Jesus who feel entitled to the Catholic Church’s mailing list. It just doesn’t make any sense.
No One Is Denying People Help
Anyone is allowed to attend whatever open 12-step meeting they’d like—they don’t even need to have a desire to stop doing whatever the meeting focuses on. And anyone who wishes to stop whatever the destructive behavior is of that respective group is welcome to be a member—a status that is completely self-appointed and not recorded anywhere. They are welcome to get sponsors and work the program. But here’s the thing: if your desire to not accept the existence of a power greater than yourself and/or the use of the word “God” is greater than your desire to stop drinking, then 12-step may not be for you. No one would launch a campaign against a nightclub because they liked strobe lights but hated dance music. People who want just a laser show can go to a science museum. And if you want a non-spiritual program with different literature, go somewhere besides 12-step. (Why not start here?)
Or how about this: take what you like from 12-step and all the groups that you do like and start your own thing. That is how AA got started in the first place.
I Know I’m Being an Asshole But Seriously…
I am getting really sick and tired of hearing people talk about how 12-step programs need to be updated. Why—so that you can get clean and sober in a way that you “think” would work better for you? Long-time 12-steppers are part of a lineage, a program that has helped countless people recover from a seemingly hopeless state for over 80 years. So I have to wonder if these AA-needs-an-update crusaders realize how narcissistic, egotistical and obnoxious (not to mention laughable) it is for them to suggest that the system is broken because they don’t like it. What the f**k does 12-step owe you? Or anybody? It is merely a simple program that was created to help people quit drinking, or whatever they are into, and if it didn’t work for you then that really sucks, I am sorry, and I hope you are able to find the path that does.
See you in my 10th step, guys.
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