Thursday, December 16, 2004

Measurements, Half-Measures and Other Lies

My attitude about statistical studies of success rates for AA vs. other programs vs. no program has changed since starting my own recovery. In the past, I used these studies as a way of defending my denial of my own alcoholism. I latched on to studies showing AA had a failure rate worse than no program at all, that well over 90% of those who attempt to stay sober in AA in fact drink again. I saw programs that teach you to drink in moderation (not that I ever tried them). I've seen arguments that AA is dying, membership is declining. I've seen some hostile debunking of AA on the web -- the most notorious, apparently, is The Orange Papers.

I was very interested in these studies -- they still are fascinating to me. There are a couple methodological problems with any study of alcoholic behavior, though:
  1. Measuring "successful" recovery from a chronic condition like alcoholism is tricky.
  2. Alcoholics lie.

The second problem is obvious. The first one bears some discussion. The most common measure of success is 90 days of sobriety after starting the program. By that measure, I am a "failure": I relapsed for a couple weeks in my first thirty days, then started over and here I am. Almost everyone I know in AA is a "failure" by that measure. And people know it, too. One lady likes to introduce herself when sharing as one of the handful of "successes," who came in and never relapsed after joining the first time. On the other hand, there are people in AA who were "successes" for many years -- until they went out and got drunk, and had to come back in and start over. God knows how many alcoholics are now miserable drunks, or dead, because after a time of "success" went out and got drunk and never came back.

In any case, is AA the only way for anyone to stay sober? Probably not. Is it the only way for me to stay sober? Probably. Most of us in AA have no desire to try to stay sober outside of AA. We LIKE AA. We like the fellowship. We like how it changes us inside. We're happier in AA than we ever were outside AA, drunk or sober. The alternative, to us, is to try to "white knuckle" ourselves dry through self-will -- and that sounds like hell, a miserable way to live, if we can do it at all.

Drink in moderation? Yeah, right. All of us have tried that a million times. Just another half-measure.

I have to say some more about The Orange Papers. I'm not going to try to argue with the guy. He's a lot smarter than I am, his volume is prodigious, and his intelligence has been honed to a razor point by obsessive, angry, righteous self-will. In other words, he's off on a hell of a dry drunk.

I don't know why he hates AA so much. I'm fascinated by him, though, because he's an object lesson in alcoholic thinking. To paraphrase: The Big Book means the opposite of what it says. Bill W was an insane, manipulative, self-aggrandizing cheat. AA is a fascist cult. AA doesn't work for everyone, therefore it's a dangerous fraud. All we care about is winning converts. We cease thinking and do whatever AA commands us to do. Some old-timers are angry and bitter, and some guys sponsor nubile female newcomers just to 13th-step them (in my town, we only sponsor the same sex we are -- I can just hear my sponsor if I told him I wanted to sponsor a woman), therefore we are all cynical fakes. And so on.

Yeah, AA does sound a bit like a cult, on the surface. We're a bunch of true-believers, we have a book, we have a lot of slogans. If it is a cult, though, it's the lousiest-run one there ever was. No one is in charge. No one tells anyone else what they have to do. No one gets thrown out. No one is forced into it. No one seems to be really sure how or why the hell it seems to work. Above all, no one tells anyone else what, if anything, they ought to believe or believe in. Some cult.

Most old-timers, far from acting like "elders," are just in awe of it; they don't pretend to have all the answers, other than "my program that works for me would be suicide for you, and vice versa." Most of us have a sense of gratitude that we are among the lucky few who have been able to stay with AA long enough for the miracle to happen. Is AA membership declining? I don't know, maybe it is. Is AA dying? Not a chance!

I particularly get a kick out of his rage at courts sentencing DUI malefactors to AA meetings. To him, this is unconstitutional, and a result of the insidious AA conspiracy infiltrating the court system to win converts and swell the ranks of AA. My God -- these guys with the court slips are so happy to sit through a few meetings instead of go to jail! And you know what? Some of them stick around and get sober and happy -- not because anyone forces them to, but because they choose to stay.

Fascist? Follow this: AA grew out of The Oxford Group, founded by Paul Buchman, an American Lutheran minister, who wanted to change society by reaching out to and transforming the social, economic and political elite of a community, and then the changes would "trickle down" to the ordinary folks. That's what Buchman thought would work. So, in the 1930's he attempted to implement it on a big scale by trying to get through to Hitler and thereby transform German society. Buchman was criticized roundly by the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister who opposed Hitler and died in a concentration camp. So, the argument goes, Buchman wanted to communicate with Hitler in the 1930s, therefore AA is fascist.

But wait... why did Bonhoeffer criticize Buchman? Not because Bonhoeffer thought Buchman was a Hitler sympathizer, or fascist, or Nazi, but because he disagreed with Buchman's tactics: Bonhoeffer believed (rightly, we now know) that Hitler was beyond reach, beyond change, and could only be opposed.

The connection of Buchman with AA is academic, anyway. Did you know Up With People was an offshoot of The Oxford Group, too? (It's true!) Therefore everyone in AA wants to wear pullover sweaters and perform clean-cut up-beat pop songs at half-time of the Orange Bowl...

Well, I've gone on too much about The Orange Papers. Read it yourself and make your own judgment. If the guy gets wind of this, I imagine he'll respond in his angry, superior way and rip me to shreds with his logic. Poor bastard.


At 12/17/2004 01:31:00 PM, Blogger jordan said...

i wish blessing's into your life, with your recovery and all. i hope life improves ten fold for you. o-ya, my website is

please let it speak wonders to your heart.

At 2/27/2005 05:38:00 PM, Blogger Logan Wick said...

I can't believe that! What an rump-ranging lunatic!!! I never heard of the Orange Papers. The website's bandwith has been exeeded, so I am going to have to wait to read it for myself.

Hey, you are helping me in my recovery, thanks for sharing!

Logan Wick

At 3/10/2005 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I haven't read the Orange Papers, But I can relate to the authors anger over the court mandated AA meetings. Society has only one legitimate demand of problem drinkers/druggers...that they stop. HOW they stop is nobodys business.

I for one, was not benefitted by AA in the least. I could not understand why the steps mention alcohol once, and God like nine times! I languished in and out of the rooms, "some are sicker than others", "keep coming back" (why? I wasn't accomplishing my goal?). The whole powerless thing sort of seemed bogus, but the disease part was great! It sure put my concious to rest to know I was sick, not weak willed. Bottom line- I got worse and worse until I discovered

AVRT made complete sense to me and I soon quit for good, forever. AVRT denies the entire 12-step theology, but the logic made sense to me so who cares? Hating programs is OK, programs don't have feelings!

Good for you if the results you want are there for you in AA. If you tire of seeing chronic relapsers come into the rooms, seeming like they don't get it- maybe offering alternatives is a good thing! Who cares if RR hates AA and vice versa- we are humans and staying clean is the bottom line. Its now six+- yrs now I am abstinent and very happy not to be going to meetings. All they did for me was waste my time, confuse me and make me ponder how God could be whatever I wanted...
Better to send those folks (like me) elsewhere don't you think?
I welcome your response if you have any. Best wishes in your life and know only you control your hands and feet:)

At 8/02/2005 10:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my 36th day of being sober. Well, it depends on who you talk to; maybe I’m just a dry drunk.

I went into detox, obtained a sponsor, and completed steps 1, 2 and 3.

Since my release I have been attending 2 to 3 AA meetings a week, attending an aftercare program and have stayed sober. Still, I am harassed by my sponsor that I am not attending enough meetings and just making excuses. He said that AA comes before EVERYTHING! Is that really the case? He said that there has to be a substitute for alcohol, whether it is coffee, cigarettes or AA. If I AM making excuses and need a substitute for alcohol, does my daughter not count? Before I even started this program, I had commitments with my daughter.

I’m supposed to be married in November, should I just scrap the whole thing and start going to AA 7 nights a week. I really don’t think that is practical is it? Maybe to some that is there only option.

My life has never been out of control. There has been some bumpy times, but certainly not unmanageable by any means. I went into this program on my own, no trouble with the law or anything. I paid for it on my own, insurance wouldn’t cover it. I just felt that it would be a good thing for me to do, for my health, and my family.

Now I’m feeling very good about myself. My problem is with the way I have been treated by my sponsor. Nothing like “good job for staying sober for 30 days”. Nothing but belittling me. That doesn’t feel very good or rewarding.

I let my sponsor go last night and will be looking for a new one. I’m not counting out AA at this point; I want to give it another chance. Just not sure what is expected of me.

For the record; the ONLY time I really wanted a drink during the past 36 days was when I felt pressure from that sponsor. That’s pretty sad when you think about it.

At 8/21/2009 04:50:00 PM, Anonymous M said...

I have to disagree with your description of Agent O as intelligent, OPs is a pretty thinly disguised distortion of actual research, only the quantitly of his pages is impressive. Have a look at it totally destroys Agent O's main argument, written by someone who has actually read the research OPs mis-quotes.

At 8/22/2009 08:38:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Thanks for the comment and link, M. It's a good web page, brief and to the point. The description of AA is similar to my own current view and experience: AA is a God-send for some of us, but I am an enthusiastic supporter of whatever works for each person.

I continue to be skeptical of competing studies on the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of AA and other methods for getting and staying sober. To me, every day of sobriety is a miracle and a gift of God.

I would never advocate "my" way to anyone else, and definitely would not tell anyone their way is "wrong." I'll share, for what it's worth, what seems to work for me.

I hope that I will continue to greet each day sober with huge amounts of gratitude and astonishment!


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