Saturday, February 5, 2011

Evolution or Heresy?

We've been bouncing this question of "Does AA need to Change" around in bits and pieces. My take is that some feel change is needed, some feel it's too late, and others feel that AA is fine as it is. I'm making this a separate post 'cause I'm tired of scrolling through a ton of comments to glean some bits of opinion/wisdom/whatever.

Here's my concern. I'm in AA to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety. Simple mission statement, but the "help others achieve sobriety" part is starting to bother me. Specifically, being a sponsor. AA literature, for what it's worth, says that I can deal only with alcoholism and am not qualified to deal with any other problems an alcoholic may have as I have no experience in areas other than alcoholism. Spot on! I'm a kosher alcoholic, never smoked weed or any of that stuff, never abused prescription drugs. None of that stuff. I'm restricted to dealing only with alcoholism.

If I follow those guidelines, I'm not going to sponsor many people. My screening of a sponsee would be to first ask if they have any other problems- other addictions, mental health issues, etc. If the answer is yes, then it's "Sorry, go find someone else. I'm not qualified to be your sponsor." And guess what? 99% of the people I screen will have to be turned down. Or I could have the option, I suppose, to say that I'll deal with the alcoholism, but you need someone else to sponsor you for your prescription drug abuse so go to NA for that, and to GA if you gamble, and so on. And then I'll have to make sure that he's doing all that and successfully recovering from those other addictions or his recovery from alcoholism will never happen.

Technically, I'm not given a choice here. If I think AA is fine, then I guess that's what I'll do. But I'm also a realist and know that the odds of getting a sponsee to do all that shit is slim to none. He'll turn around and walk out the door. So I take the guy on and try as best I can to walk him through the steps and show him how to get sober. But in doing that, I can't ignore his other issues/addictions. Those problems have to be solved concurrently or none, including alcoholism, will ever be. Sure, I won't even try to deal with mental health problems other than insist he get help from those qualified to give it. That's way above my league. But I can keep an eye on him to watch for signs that such issues aren't interfering with his recovery.

Which leads me back to the problem of change. Should AA change? Should it evolve? Are they the same thing? I don't think that AA should ever change in the sense that the program as outlined in the 164 is the reason we've been around for so long and have been so successful. If it works, don't fix it. But how about evolving? How about continuing to do what we have been doing, but do it better? Bill Wilson clearly stated that AA must evolve or it will die. I don't see any evolution here. If anything, I see AA circling the wagons.

AA has to acknowledge that the drunk who walks through the door today probably isn't the same one that walked in 75, or ever 25 years ago. It's time to pull the head out of the sand. At best, most are alcoholics and addicts. At worst, they have a lot of other problems that weren't ever recognized 25 years ago. I mentioned Pathological Gambling in another post and that's just one example of what I'm talking about. AA also has to acknowledge that you can't deal with alcoholism without dealing with these other warts. But I don't have a warm fuzzy that AA is gonna evolve and start addressing these things. We had talked about changing the Big Book or maybe another publication talking about current advances in alcoholism treatment etc. But I don't see that happening either. And given the problems we've already hashed over about with the threat within AA from the rogue groups, we may be screwed.

So what's the answer? Again, I dunno. Lots of questions, not many answers. From all the comments I've gleaned from my last post I've come to accept that there's not a damn thing we can do from the dirty street level to effect any changes. Best we can do is stick to the AA program as it was originally designed and hope for the best. While I do that, however, I'm evolving. Not changing, but evolving. I'm going to take on guys with cross addictions and do what I can to help them, never losing my focus on alcoholism.

Since AA isn't gonna educate me as to how I can best do that, I'll have to educate myself. I'll never stray from my primary purpose of helping another alcoholic achieve sobriety, but how I help them is gonna change. It has to. Dowg brought up the mental health issue in another blog. That's a good start. Some guys have talked about other treatment programs being successful. I wanna learn what's working for these other folks. Move over Ralph. another heretic is joining you. I'm sticking to the 12 steps like white on rice, but I'm also going to look at a lot of other stuff outside the confines of AA. And that makes me a heretic.

So. Am I tilting at windmills here? Are there other answers? What do you guys think? Inquiring minds want to know....


  1. Oh, sorry about that Joe. It's like Grand Fucking Central in here.

  2. My biggest problem with A.A. is the ego involved with all of its tennants. You've got the "andas" who say that there are only a few real "alcoholics-only" purists out there, you've got the "You have to get a sponsor and hogtie yourself to their back" folks, you've got the MOTRer "don't shove that big book up my ass"-ers, you've got the "A.A. was founded on Christian principles and should get back to it"-ers... and you want us to lay aside our own egos and standardize A.A. to fit all these players?

    I, for one, think I've found a concept of God which includes Christianity, Eastern religion, New-Ageism, etc..., and I don't need to be confined to the A.A. book, the New Testament, the Old Testament, a castrated monk on a street corner, or Father (don't drop the soap) Nelson to find peace with my God.

    I don't need a sponsor. I don't need sponsees. I'm quite content getting my side of the street cleaned and looking inside of A.A. itself to find the still suffering alcoholic to help. Sometimes it's the folks who know too much about A.A. that need help as the newbies just walking in.

    It's when the chronic relapser who stinks and doesn't drive a nice car comes back time after time and starts asking questions about steps that I get excited.

    If you really want attention in A.A., go find a new meeting where and when you usually never go, say that you think you might have a problem with booze, and that you've never been to A.A. before. If you're not recognized, they'll swarm you like a fat kid on cake.

    I recently had a guy who I don't identify as alcoholic ask me to sponsor him. I got him to look at 1, 2, and 3. He wrote a treatment Center 4th step. I asked him to do another one as the book instructs. He did this and I heard his 5th step. Why? Because he asked me.

    I did the best that I could with it. He spent most of the time discussing why he's a nice guy and that he just has a problem with booze... but would be otherwise be ok. His inventory wouldn't have been too bad... but he had no 3rd column to speak of. Which means he had no 4th column. He had not touched his ego. I should have walked out there. I should have told him that it was a waste of his time and mine, and that he should go find someone else or leave A.a. and find some other recovery.

    I talked at length about outside helpe and other recovery methods... keeping ST and Orange minions in mind. He'd have none of it. He wanted to prceed with what he had. So we did. I told him what I did with that inventory and how I searched out my own faults with regards to selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, frightened. To put out of his mind what others had done to him... that they were perhaps spiritually sick... LIKE US! To spend more time on a fear inventory, also sex/harms done to others. I lined him up with reading the rest of the chapter and reviewing 1-5... meditating on what we've done and looking at 6 and 7... doing the prayer when ready, making a list, becoming willing to the list, making all of the amends... then onto 10 and 11 once amends are started.

    I spent 3 hours with him. We were both done by then. I could do no more. I've not heard from nor seen him since this. I have no idea how he is, if he's sober, if he finished his steps, if he's found and experienced God. I don't know. He's not called me.

    But, in the beginning, he sought out my help. I didn't hustle him. He liked what I shared at a meeting and/or decided to ask me for help.

    It doesn't matter if he gets it or not. I told him that if he does get it, to kindly pass it on.

    What more can/needs to be done?

  3. You a more patient man that I'll ever be, Patrick. I would have parted ways with the guy a lot sooner.

    I don't need sponsees to stay sober. I have enough other 12th step work on my plate. I never volunteer my services, but I'll take a guy on if he asks me and I think he's serious about this shit. I don't suffer fools gladly. And if I do make a commitment to be a sponsor I'm gonna give it my best shot.

    It's only lately that I'm coming across the issues I raised that are capable of fucking up my efforts. Maybe I'm reading too much. Dunno. There's more to some of these guys than alcoholism, and I need to know that when I work with them. I mentioned Terry Gorski's "stuck point" theory in your post, and am now beginning to see how this may fuck up someone's recovery.

    Other addictions (not drugs), if not addressed, will prevent a guy from getting sober and leave me scratching my head as to why. They'll be "stuck points" and I'll never catch them. And I HATE to be left scratching my head wondering wtf happened. Guy goes through the steps as they should be gone through, really wants sobriety, believes in the program and all that shit, and it doesn't fucking stick.

    So now I screen newbies carefully. What else is going on other than drinking? What else is going on that will keep you from getting sober? Shit that they may view as ok will never turn up in a 4th step inventory. I need to try and find out about this stuff if I can. At least that way I'll know if I'm qualified to work with them, at least from my perspective.

    Shit, it's bad enough that guys without any other problems have a dismal track record. This other stuff just makes it worse. So I'm just gonna plod along taking everyone through the steps as best I can. I can't look to AA for any answers. I'll just educate myself and ask questions from others in the program that work it the way I do. Like I said, lots of questions but not many answers.

  4. "AA has to acknowledge that the drunk who walks through the door today probably isn't the same one that walked in 75, or ever 25 years ago."

    Interesting. I just listened to a Joe and Charlie tape and they wouldn't agree.

    They say the first 164 hasn't changed because it still works.

    And for me that was true. Sometimes we let the ST folks rent too much space in our head.

    AA was here first. The burden of proof is on them. If they have a better way, they should market it and spread it like Bill and Bob did.

    So far, all we know about orange and ST is they don't 'like' the ideas presented in AA.

    So fucking what ? No one does. Unless they have a better idea, they're just huddling together to cosign each other's bullshit.

    The honest problems they bring up such as people giving bad advice are true but not to the extent they portray them. That means, in the end, they're lying. And if you can't be honest (with yourself or others) what good are you going to be to the still suffering drunk ?

    They live in cyberspace and not the real world for a reason. They're creating fantasies out of their keyboards just like the used to out of bottles.

    Any world is good as long as it's not the 'real' one.

  5. Good points. Joe, I understand that some have problems other than alcohol and we will undoubtedly meet them. This may even include ourselves... but how is it that we're still sober? Did God(with MA's addition of the trademark symbol depicting an A.A.-only-Creator) appear only to us because we're special? I don't think so. I think God removed first and foremost our mental obsession with booze because we discovered, we asked, we decided, and we acted. But what about our "grosser handicaps"? I think steps 6 and 7 cover the other bullshit. If we're honest with ourselves, I think it comes out eventually. For example; you have a sponsee who does a set of steps with you, but forgets to mention some gambling stuff in the inventory and thus, the 5th step. They go to make amends for snubbing someone, and that someone says, "Yeah, but what about the $500.00 you owe me for the floor you didn't install?" If nothing else, what about Karma? You ever see someone who seemed to get off scott-free, only to be smashed against the Karma-fence later on? Karma is for those who don't need Grace, right?

    Tony, good point. They picked a fight with a bunch of folks who really have nothing to defend. Why? IDK. Now that they have an audience, you think that they should be able to accomplish something. They'd rather spend every waking hour getting something on "us". But meanwhile, how are they doing? Do they ever really aire their own laundry? I've not seen it. They bashed me for being jobless. Well, I've got a good job now. I've also lost my spare time to hear them bash me and make fun of my God and ridicule my Faith and belittle my sobriety and... success, if you will. Meanwhile, what the fuck have they done? If they trample me underfoot, they'll trample you and themselves too. I'm sorry, but I've just lost time for them. I certainly don't need their "approval". The only thing I've seen them approve is hatred and ridicule. I guess I should feel sorry for them.

  6. Tony, I'm not arguing with the fact that the 164 doesn't work. What I'm saying is that there are addictions being recognized as such today that weren't recognized 25 years ago. Alcoholism hasn't changed, nor has the solution changed. It's just that I see the problem getting a little more complicated.

    I use Pathological Gambling as an example, and for two reasons. I have a sponsee who's a Pathological Gambler, and there's a guy from my home group who committed suicide 10 months ago. Turns out that he was a Pathological Gambler and no one knew about it. His sobriety was a tad rocky, to say the least.

    I know about my sponsee and that gives me a little better insight into dealing with his alcoholism. I'm going to guide him through the steps dealing with both addictions together. I'm using the 164 as Joe and Charlie used it. As I said, the solution to the problem of alcoholism hasn't changed.

    As to the ST and Orange crowd, I've said my piece about them. We agree 100%.

    And as an aside, I drive a little old lady to a few meetings a week. Joe was her first sponsor.

  7. This is getting confusing, Patrick. Must be some sort of ESP thing going on. We post at the exact times. Anyway, I think you sort of nailed it with the 5th step thing. It's up to the person taking the step to be honest about it. We can only go by what the sponsees tell us. They're only screwing themselves in the end. As you said, Karma will out.

    But if they do tell us, as mine did, then I still have the problem of how to handle it. I need to know more about the addiction as I have no personal experience with it. I think the solution will remain the same - the 12 steps as outlined in the BB. I just want to make sure I know what I'm talking about.

    And God didn't suddenly appear to us because we're special. He's always been there. He removed our obsession because we humbly asked Him to. One thing we all know is that we're nothing special.

    As to steps 6 and 7 covering other defects not listed in 4? That's been debated for a while. I read somewhere, and now I'm gonna have to find out where the fuck I read it, that Bill W was asked about that. He apparently replied that one of his college English professors taught him not to use the same words or phrases repeatedly when discussing a particular issue. Hence the terms wrongs,defects, and shortcomings. I'll get back to you on that one.

  8. I know what you're saying Joe.

    I just heard that talk again and it put some of the anti-AA stuff in perspective for me. I think I was starting to get too sensitive to their criticisms. J+C made me realize how full of shit they really are. I know you feel the same way.

    It only seems more complicated now, I think.
    Things are just out in the open more.
    But I'd help a gambler use the steps to the extent I could. That's a character defect for sure. Hopefully he'd go to GA and/or a therapist also. I would suggest that only because he'd get to talk to people with more experience in that field than me. But I'd walk him through the steps and pray with him and listen to his inventory. I'm qualified to do that stuff. I just couldn't talk to him about the gambling habit because I'd be bullshsitting him.....lol !!

    That's funny that Joe sponsored her. It's a small world in AA, isn't it ?

  9. ... "Hence the terms wrongs,defects, and shortcomings."

    How about the word SIN? Now there's a word with some meat to it.

    I remember not writing at length about how I was chewing Copenhagan and it affected my relationship with my wife and how I put her into fear about me dying of cancer and how it disgusted her anyway. But I enjoyed it and by God it was my damned business and not hers.

    Then one time through the steps about October or November of 2007, I put "chewing" in there when I was doing my steps 6 and 7. So shortly thereafter, I was inspired to quit tobacco and I've been tobacco-free for over 4 years now.

    Did A.A. make/help me quit tobacco? Did God? Did I? Who gives a damn? I put that overpriced shit down and did no suffering. I don't go bragging about it during A.A. meetings either. But for anyone struggling with nicotine addiction who will lend me an ear, which is precisely nobody, I have an experience to share with them.

  10. Yeah Tony, I'll keep the option of GA and/or a therapist open with this guy. Problem is that there are only 2 GA meetings in this area (292 AA meetings), and he's been to both. About 5 or 6 guys show up, same folks at both meetings. He's more comfortable dealing with me than any of them.

    About the fact that things seem more complicated because they're out in the open, that's the point I've been trying to make. I think AA needs to start addressing that fact. But change the 164, never! Just acknowledge that we're seeing things that we didn't see before, and talk about those things.

    And let me tell you, Joe's sponsee Millie, who I play chauffeur to, is one neat lady. Serious credentials, spoke at a national convention, all that. When she speaks at a meeting, everyone listens. And we have some great conversations in the car. She agrees that we need to get smarter about the things we're seeing now. Even mentioned getting an alcoholic therapist/counselor to talk at her Speaker's Meeting about such stuff. 85 years old and has forgotten more about AA than we'll ever learn.

  11. SIN??, Patrick, SIN??? A powerful word indeed. But sin implies religion and reflects evil, or a serious wrong. Spirituality would call such an act an imperfection. AA, as a spiritual program, deals with man's imperfections (wrongs, defects, shortcomings).

    Your Copenhagen and my 3 packs of Marlboro Lights a day were defects of selfishness.What made us quit is, as you said, irrelevant. We did so. And nobody asks my advice, either. They'd rather spend $50 a day on nicotine gum or God knows how much on patches or those electronic cigarettes. Again, trying to take a softer, easier way. Haven't seen anyone I know successful with that approach yet.

  12. ‎"When we fail to find a compelling sense of direction from our faith, we
    unwittingly let other people define both the purpose and pace of our
    "When we fail to find a compelling sense of direction from our faith, we
    unwittingly let other people define both the purpose and pace of our
    -Tom & Christine Sine

    In other words, think for yourselves. The Oranges and the folks at ST accuse AA of being a cult, and based on what I see in contemporary AA, I don't blame them.

    No one questions anything. If you do, you "Aren't willing," or some such horseshit. Everyone depends on a sponsor to do their thinking for them and many of those "sponsors" relish the role and the sense of power that it brings. It's a sick fucking form of attachment is what it is. They don't want you to get well, they want you to stay sick with them. They just sit around in meetings, nodding their heads and spewing slogans and cliches.Thankfully, I did not have that kind of sponsorship. I had a guy that encouraged me to think for myself and question everything, to get free of him. He encouraged my spiritual curiosity when I began to awaken. And I am grateful for that, because it opened up the whole universe for me.

    Eight or nine years ago, I went through a Dark Night of The Soul experience. It was not fun, but I got free of, or I should say that my attachment to A.A was stripped from me. I remember thinking about leaving A.A. and I remember saying that in an A.A. meeting. One lady told me that I was going to get drunk. I told her I didn't think so because I had surrendered unconditionally twelve years before and it wasn't up to me where it was going to take me. If God doesn't want me to be in A.A., I won't be in A.A. and I'll be fine because it isn't A.A. that keeps me sober.

    I spoke last Monday evening. I talked about how what a journey this has been and some of the places it has taken me spiritually. I made the statement that I'm not so sure that I believe in God anymore because it had grown beyond that into experience and that I am more interested in consciousness than conception these days. Some eyebrows were raised, to say the least.

  13. I think the key words are "a compelling sense of direction". Without a firm foundation of what we are and what we believe, life can be a miserable experience. I think we've all been through periods of our lives when we lose that sense of direction, or at least question it.

    Sometimes that's a good thing. I know that my compelling sense of direction at times was a clusterfuck. My compass was a bottle of vodka, and my foundation was non-existent. But whether I let people "define" the purpose and pace of my life or rather show me a better purpose and pace? Well, that's an interesting question.

    I believe that I was shown a better way to live rather than unwitting allowing others to define the purpose of my life. I always have a choice. I can accept or reject what others say, what others recommend, what others believe. I chose to accept the program of AA, and in doing so I re-established a compelling sense of direction. Thus I defined a new purpose and pace in my life.

    Do I blindly accept AA? Look at my treads and comments. Fuck no. I don't blindly accept anything other than my powerless over alcohol. I unquestionably accept the existence of God, but that's a matter of faith. And that faith has been strengthened by my re-establishing a compelling sense of direction.

    I'm fortunate in that my experience has been different than Jim's. I don't see a prevalence
    of blind obedience or the "my way or the highway" in the meetings I go to. I know that this shit exists and I've addressed that topic already. I just choose not to attend such meetings.

    Nor do I see total dependence on sponsors, but I know that this happens. Some sponsors are control freaks, others are MOTR to the extreme. But again, I can't say everyone or no one. I have a sponsor who has his shit in one sock and 35 years of sobriety. I feel comfortable seeking his counsel, but he only makes suggestions based on his experience. I try to be that way with my sponsees. I suggest. They're free to question anything.

    Does AA keep me sober? No, I don't think AA in the sense of people and meetings necessarily does. And the folks in New York certainly do their best sometimes to drive me out. But the program as outlined in the 164, and living the principles in all my affairs? Yeah, that keeps me sober. That gave me the compelling sense of direction and faith I was so desperately lacking in my life.

  14. I feel strongly both ways. Srsly though, I had a sponsor my first time through the steps. I say "time through the steps" instead of saying, "my first year" because there's just no fucking way it should take a year to do a set of steps. It's my opinion too that it should not take a year to get "sponsor free". I'm sponsor free now. I, like Joe, seek counsel from a guy who is not 32 years sober. His name is Gary. He's sort of like a sponsor to me... but he would deny it. He does not take responsibility for me. He never did and he never would. He keeps the ball where it belongs in relation to us... in my court.

    The only time he really calls me to ask anything of me is when he has a 12 step call or if he needs me to chair the meeting or take over as chair picker if he is to be out of town.. which for him is rare.

    He tells new people to get a sponsor... to get to meetings and blah blah blah. He does things just fine. I would do a few things differently from him. I'd do many things just like him. Until I find a better way, this shall continue.

    I just see this sponsorship things differently than most. But I belong to a strong group. We are all equals in this group. We really are.

    I do steps yearly. Danny S. thinks I'm bat-shit crazy for it and I've distanced myself from him because of it. Danny has a great book study going on and I partake in that. But he has some philosophies that I cannot agree with. He cannot hear me because he has more sobriety than me. He is > than me and I am < him. Because of this, he cannot hear me. Because of this, I no longer comment on his blog. But... I think we have a mutual respect. He sponsors people. I don't. I've tried to sponsor many people. I just can't seem to get them to stick around for that 5th Step. The folks I 5th Step with and folks I hear 5th Steps from are intermediates. There again, they usually have more than 7 years sober, so... their egos alone would prevent them from having me sponsor them.

    Rarely have I seen a person thoroughly follow our path. I've known a few guys who are good at pitching new drunks. I am not. I'm better with folks from 3 to 7 years. If they don't do steps yearly though, we have nothing to talk about except for steps 10, 11, and 12.