Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Happened?

Cool Picture of F-18

Ok, enough frivolity about death and dying. Some more sober (?) shit here. This was sent to me a week or so ago. Don't know the pedigree, who wrote it or when, but it makes for some interesting reading. Many points the author makes have been made on this blog.

I was talking to my old (80 years) friend Millie the other night, and she was reflecting on the disappearance of 12-step calls. (Anyone gone out in the middle of the night to make a call with a pint of vodka in their pocket recently? ) I wonder if this observation isn't tied into society becoming more familiar with the concepts of Detox or Rehab being the miracle answer, and viewing AA as sort of an after care or something. "Got a drinking problem? Go to a Rehab facility" as opposed to go to an AA meeting.

Another thought that comes to mind is the idea that nobody, including AA in my opinion, screens folks anymore to see if they really ARE alcoholics. I look around some of the meetings I go to and listen to the shit that's spouted sometimes. I'm convinced that some people have no business being at a meeting as they're not alcoholics. Maybe insecure wanabees who drink too much and are looking for a little sympathy or something, but not alcoholics.

And I've got mixed feelings about the role of the newcomer. I've heard some wise words out of the mouths of babes and drivel from the people who've been around for "a few 24 hours".

But anyway, this will be on the test, so study it well. I threw in the cool picture 'cause it's a guy thing.

What Happened?

That question is being asked by a lot of alcoholics lately. What happened to our high success rate? 30 & 40 years ago, we were keeping 75% or more of the alcoholics who came to us for help. Today, we aren’t keeping even 5%. What happened? What happened to that wonderful A.A. Group that was around for 20, 30 or 40 years? There used to be 50, 75, 100 or more at every meeting. It is now a matter of history; gone! More and more groups are folding every day. What happened? We hear a lot of ideas, opinions and excuses as to what happened but things are not improving. They continue to get worse. What is happening?
Bill W. wrote,

“In the years ahead A.A. will, of course, make mistakes. Experience has taught us that we need have no fear of doing this, providing that we always remain willing to admit our faults and to correct them promptly. Our growth as individuals has depended upon this healthy process of trial and error. So will our growth as a fellowship.

Let us always remember that any society of men and women that cannot freely correct its own faults must surely fall into decay if not into collapse. Such is the universal penalty for the failure to go on growing. Just as each A.A. must continue to take his moral inventory and act upon it, so must our whole Society if we are to survive and if we are to serve usefully and well.” (A.A. Comes of Age, pg 231)
With so very few finding lasting sobriety and the continued demise of AA groups, it is obvious that we have not remained willing to admit our faults and to correct them promptly.

Seems that the Delegate of the Northeast Ohio Area, Bob Bacon, identified our mistakes and our faults when he talked to a group of AA’s in 1976. He said, in essence, we are no longer showing the newcomer that we have a solution for alcoholism. We are not telling them about the Big Book and how very important that Book is to our long term sobriety. We are not telling them about our Traditions and how very important they are to the individual groups and to Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole. Rather, we are using our meeting time for drunkalogs, a discussion of our problems, ideas and opinions or “my day” or “my way”.

Reflecting on what Bob Bacon had to say, it would appear that we have permitted newcomers to convince the old-timers that they had a better idea. They had just spent 30 or more days in a treatment facility where they had been impressed with the need to talk about their problems in Group Therapy Sessions. They had been told that it didn’t make any difference what their real problem was, A.A. had the “best program”. They were told that they should go to an A.A. meeting every day for the 1st 90 days out of treatment. They were told that they shouldn’t make any major decisions for the 1st year of their sobriety. And what they were told goes on and on, most of which are contrary to the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous!
Apparently, what they were told sounded pretty good to the A.A.
members who were here when the TC clients started showing up at our meetings. And a lot of the A.A. members liked the idea of the treatment centers because the centers provided a place where they could drop off a serious drinker. That eliminated some of the inconveniences we had been plagued with before; having to pour orange juice and honey or a shot of booze down a vibrating alky to help them “de-tox”.

When A.A. was very successful, the folks who did the talking in meetings were recovered alcoholics. The suffering and untreated alcoholics listened. After hearing what it takes to recover, the newcomer was faced with a decision; “Are you going to take the Steps and recover or are you going to get back out there and finish the job?” If they said they “were willing to go to any length,” they were given a sponsor, a Big Book and began the process of recovery by taking the Steps and experiencing the Promises that result from that course of action. This process kept the newcomer involved in working with others and continued the growth of our Fellowship. Our growth rate was approximately 7% and the number of sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous doubled every 10 years.

With the advent of the rapid growth of the Treatment Industry, the acceptance of our success with alcoholics by the judicial system and endorsement of physicians, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc. all kinds of people were pouring into A.A. at a rate greater than we had ever dreamed possible. Almost without realizing what was happening, our meetings began changing from ones that focused on recovery from alcoholism to “discussion or participation” types of meetings that invited everyone to talk about whatever was on their mind. The meetings evolved from a program of spiritual development to the group therapy type of meeting where we heard more and more about “our problems” and less and less about the Program of Recovery by the Big Book and the preservation of our Fellowship by adhering to our Traditions.

What has been the result of all this? Well, never have we had so many coming to us for help. But never have we had such a slow growth rate which has now started to decline. For the first time in our history, Alcoholics Anonymous is losing members faster than they are coming in and our success rate is unbelievably low. (Statistics from the Inter-Group Office of some major cities indicate less than 5% of those expressing a desire to stop drinking are successful for more than 5 years; a far cry from the 75% reported by Bill W. in the Forward to Second Edition). The change in the content of our meetings is proving to be death-traps for the newcomer and in turn, death-traps for the groups that depend on the “discussion or participation” type meetings.

Why is this? The answer is very simple. When meetings were opened so that untreated alcoholics & non-alcoholics were given the opportunity to express their ideas, their opinions, air their problems and tell how they were told to do it where they came from, the confused newcomer became more confused with the diversity of information that was being presented. More and more they were encouraged to “just go to meetings and don’t drink” or worse yet, “go to 90 meetings in 90 days”. The newcomer no longer was told to take the Steps or get back out there and finish the job. In fact, they are often told, “Don’t rush into taking the Steps. Take your time.” The alcoholics who participated in the writing of the Big Book didn’t wait. They took the Steps in the first few days following their last drink.

Thank God, people in our Fellowship, like Joe & Charlie, Wally, etc., recognized the problem and started doing something about it. They placed the focus back on the Big Book. There have always been a few groups that would not yield to the group therapy trend. They stayed firm to their commitment to try to carry a single message to the suffering alcoholic. That is to tell the newcomer that “we have had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps and if you want to recover, we will see that you have a sponsor who has recovered and will lead you along the path the 1st 100 laid down for us”. Recovered alcoholics have begun founding groups that have a single purpose and inform the newcomer that until they have taken the steps and recovered, they will not be permitted to say anything in meetings. They will listen to recovered alcoholics, they will take the Steps, they will recover and then they will try to pass their experience and knowledge on to the ones who are seeking the kind of help we provide in Alcoholics Anonymous. As this movement spreads worldwide as it is beginning to, Alcoholics Anonymous will again be very successful in doing the one thing God intended for us to do and that is to help the suffering alcoholic recover, if he has decided he wants what we have and is willing to go to any length to recover, to take and apply our Twelve Steps to our lives and protect our Fellowship by honoring our Twelve Traditions.
There is a tendency to want to place the blame for our predicament on the treatment industry and professionals. They do what they do and it has nothing to do with what we in Alcoholics Anonymous do. That is their business. That is not where to place the blame and also is in violation of our Tenth Tradition. The real problem is that the members of Alcoholics Anonymous, who were here when the “clients” began coming to our Fellowship did not help the “clients” understand that our Program had been firmly established since April 1939. And that the guidelines for the preservation and growth of our Fellowship were adopted in 1950. That they must get rid of their new “old ideas” and start practicing the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous as it was given to us. That until they had taken the Steps and recovered, they had nothing to say that needed to be heard except by their sponsor.
But that didn’t happen. To the contrary, the old timers failed in their responsibility to the newcomer to remind them of a vital truth, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.” We have permitted untreated alcoholics and non-alcoholics to sit in our meetings and lay out their problems, ideas and opinions. We have gone from, “Rarely have we seen a person fail” to “Rarely do we see a person recover.”
So there we are. We have had 30 years of unbelievable success by following the directions in the Big Book. We have had 30 years of disappointing failure by wanting to hear from everyone. We now have something to compare.
We now know what the problem is and we know what the solution is. Unfortunately, we have not been prompt to correct the faults and mistakes which have been created by what would appear to be large doses of apathy and complacency. The problem we are trying to live with is needlessly killing alcoholics.
The Solution? For those who are willing to go to any length, recovery is promised. They will find a Power greater than themselves by closely following the clear-cut directions found only in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Do you want to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution?
Simple, but not easy... a price has to be paid.


  1. Groups that do steps aren't always too popular. Groups that start off strong sometimes go on to be social groups and get away from the steps.

    What I've found is that you need a good group dedicated to having a good chair picker and a good chair persona who will bring a good topic and chair the damned meeting... calling on folks who have an experience on the topic and not on folks who have to pass because they're still on fucking step 1.

    Do the damned steps and get recovered and share your current experience in the steps. Do a damned inventory, 5th step it, go home and do 6 and 7 after reviewing what you've done... do 8 and 9, finish your amends, do 10 and 11, give this away and have them in turn help other alkies.

    Are you done or do you need to go finish the job? Oh lookie folks around here would shit a biscuit if you said that in "their" meeting.

  2. I just got back from a road trip, this time to a Rehab Facility meeting. About 1/2 the people were "clients" at the Rehab, and the meeting is more or less geared to them. Sort of a "This is what AA is all about" Beginners Meeting.

    Entire discussion was focused on warm fuzzies about how happy the Home Group members were in their sobriety. Not one fucking word about the Big Book or the Steps. Lots of "Meeting Maker Make It" bullshit, though. Lots of talk about relapse; thought it was going to turn into a contest to see who relapsed the most. One guy relapsed 3 times last week! How the fuck can someone relapse who isn't sober yet?

    So the "clients" walked out feeling all warm and cozy about AA, not having a clue as to what the program is all about. Actually, I think the Home Group members who run the meeting are clueless also.

    No wonder we have problems.

  3. That is a great article, it was written by Cliff B out of the Dallas PPG. Mandatory reading for all my new guys. When I used to go out of my way to intentionally piss off middle of the road feel good meetings, I would leave a few copies of this on the literature table.

  4. It's hard to top that. As to the success rate? Who knows. The forward says

    "Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement".

    Key factor here is the "Really Tried" disclaimer. So of alcoholics who come to A.A.today and "Really Try" I still believe that number to be 50% to 75% even today. So in opposition to those that walk in the doors and do whatever the hell they want we're doing OK. I'm still working on the last sentence where those that stayed on "Showed Improvement". What the hell does that mean anyways? God has either removed your alcohol problem or he hasn't. Yet these folks were allowed to "Show Improvement". If you guys figure it out, please let me know.

  5. I dunno, Cuda. Maybe those who "showed improvement" really weren't alcoholics?

    The points "really tried" or "thoroughly followed our path" are germane here. Those who do make it, those who don't, don't.

    But the question still remains, why is it that at one point in time 35 years ago 50% to 75% of those who entered the rooms made it, and today we're looking at single digit success? Why aren't they trying today as they did then?

    Why are alcoholics coming into AA and then leaving? Is it that too many groups suck in carrying the message, or that society has changed so much that those coming through the doors are deaf to what we say?

    And one other little point here. It's not mentioned in the article and AA still dances around the issue, but it's important to remember that the vast majority of those coming into the rooms are dual addicted. I feel like a fuckin' dinosaur being a Kosher alcoholic. Maybe we're turning people away by insisting on the purity of our message?

  6. Maybe we SHOULD be turning people away with the purity of our singleness of purpose.

    Boils on your ass? Come to A.A.,not!

    I think that most in A.A. aren't real alcoholics and/or are alcoholics that aren't done drinking and got hustled in.

    Don't let anybody sell you your seat.

  7. "The Solution? For those who are willing to go to any length, recovery is promised. They will find a Power greater than themselves by closely following the clear-cut directions found only in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous."

    But McGowdog.....what about ME working MY program ??????

    It's always worked so sell for me in the past......

  8. Good point. I think there are tons of non-alkies in the rooms working their program.

    What do we do about the non-alkies in the room? Kick them out? Or, maybe let them be and sort the wheat from the chaff? Let them be doing their treatment center stuff and rely on good sponsorship to appeal to the real alkies?

    Or, do we just keep close to a strong home group and recruit the willing alkies... drunk and sober... as we can?

  9. Didn't we separate Wheat from Chaff in the early days? The door wasn't open to just anyone like it is now. Let me check my history. AA may have had a successful rate in the early days because less people were involved. AA was an invite only type of thing because nobody ever heard of AA until the Jack Alexander article in the Saturday Evening Post. Then the eyebrows were raised amongst alcoholics nationwide and I believe the revolving door was implemented at the time.

  10. The 12 step call in print known as "The Big Book" gives diverse descriptions of alcoholic types, it refers to them all as "alcoholics”. It attracts people who identify.

    It is very unfortunate and completely contrary to the loving and tolerant spirit with which AA was founded that the poison of elitism has erupted into divisive sub-groups. I'm certain that when Bill made reference to "the real alcoholic" (the context of which was grounded in the typical low bottom social stereotypes in that age) that he NEVER could comprehend a day when cliques of AA members would compete for who's the sickest! That’s just bizarre!

    Bill W. had his revolutionary spiritual awakening in a treatment center. Dr Bob operated what amounts to a treatment center, he worked with sister Ignacia. The issue is the quality of the message being presented in today’s different types of treatment centers and then in AA meetings.

    Sharing was ALSO barrowed from the Oxford groups, its very important to people at whatever stage they come in to talk open up. A wise AA member will tactfully share an experience based, solution grounded bit of wisdom aimed at guiding the new members while not talking directly at them.

    I'm on the twelve step call list, I never get called. Today, with AA brand name fairly well known, people call the hot line and ask where an AA meeting is. When these new people show up that when we AA's can connect with them and carry the original message to them. As sponsors we can follow the orthodox path with them.


  11. "I'm certain that when Bill made reference to "the real alcoholic" (the context of which was grounded in the typical low bottom social stereotypes in that age) that he NEVER could comprehend a day when cliques of AA members would compete for who's the sickest! That’s just bizarre!"

    Oh, I don't know.

    Remember the guy with the 'other' addiction in Tradition Three ?
    Saved by the group conscience, he would have been outsted by the members.
    How about the atheist ? He had to grab the book and defend himself.
    AA's have never been as tolerant and open as our literature suggests.
    The first AA meeting came about because the Catholics weren't allowed to attend Oxford Group meetings and Dr Bob was going to let them go.
    Others went over to have a fight.
    It seems there have always been 'elites' from even before day one.
    But also, there has always been a power guiding our movement that trumped any of our (sick, sicker, sickest...as you point out) personalities.

    But I agree with your solution.
    Carry the AA message as best as we can.

    I think THAT covers a multitude of sins.

  12. Either you're recovered alky or you're not. If you are, you can sit down with a new prospect and see if they identify or not, right?

    What if they don't identify or maybe do, but ain't done drinking?

    What do you do with them? Love them till they can love themselves? Throw a book at them and say, "Heal thyself"?

    What if they're a pill popper who has been diagnosed with add, adhd, bipolar, and depression, but who doesn't drink booze because they don't like the taste? But they're in A.A. because treatment centers nowadays are just like the ones Bill went to and Dr. Bob ran?

    I don't buy it. Either you're alky or you're not. Don't let a Dr. Drew hustle you into A.A. or some addict make you promises he can't claim.

  13. All alcoholics aren’t the same, they don't all drink the same way or have the same personality traits or come in when they reach the narrow description of "the real alcoholic" I thought that when Bill wrote to the world with various descriptions that he made that clear.

    AA isn't for people who need it it's for people who want it. That being said it seems counter productive to imply that some of the members might only be 58.2% alcoholic while another 100% especially when drinking is only a symptom to the real problem anyway? nuff said.

  14. A couple of points here.

    First. The article states that AA membership is declining. I wonder if anyone, much less GSO, has a clue as to what AA "membership" really is? No one has ever taken a role of any home group I've been associated with. And I'll wager that about 30% of the folks who attend meetings around here don't even belong to a home group.

    Second. The success rate mentioned is for sobriety beyond 5 years. (that magic number is 5 for some reason). Consider the number of people who drop out of AA after 2 or 3 years because they're tired of the bullshit they hear in meetings. But they took the steps, have some good sobriety now and get on with their lives.

    Third. Consider the ones who come through the doors a dozen times before they're ready. But they finally get it. Is that 12 failures and one success?

    Point is, that you have to be careful of measuring success in sobriety. I was sober 10 years and went back out. Does that count?

    My personal experience is that not too many new attendees at meetings stick around for a year, much less 5. If I was asked why, I'd hazard a guess that they're just not ready yet. Simple. Maybe they'll be back, maybe not.

    What can be done? As Tony said-carry the AA message as best we can.

  15. A.A. as in the program is not for those who want it. It's for those who do it.