Our Newsletter, website, articles, and public appearances often generate comments ranging from great appreciation to death threats. Mostly the comments are positive, considerate, and thought provoking. The following response to an article is without a doubt the most insightful we have ever received and, without necessarily agreeing with everything, we do know that it is worthy of reflection. Consequently, in a unique departure from 8 years of Newsletters, we are turning this week’s over to the anonymous writer with only modest proofreading changes.
“In my experience, AA and 12-step groups are generally too dogmatic and are certainly, with few exceptions, too Judeo-Christian-oriented for many who’ve been exposed to and appreciate other worldviews – not just atheist/agnostic, but Far Eastern, Indigenous/nature-based, etc.
Unfortunately, while non-12-step based approaches are increasing, they are too scientifically dogmatic. SMART recovery and CBT, for instance, claim that much of the “work” can be done alone in front of a computer. This is insanity in its own right, and simply feeds the loneliness and emptiness that most “alcoholics” and “addicts” feel. That loneliness and emptiness is real, it is not a “thought” that can be changed, and it requires a loving, understanding real-life human being to listen and understand. All the well-intentioned rational science in the world cannot replace an understanding companion.
The folks who come up with this stuff are presumably already grounded in substantive, meaningful human relationships, so can afford to spend time theorizing and then turning their theories into programs for the downtrodden. But their programs are utterly useless to one who doesn’t have a safe, secure, meaningful social environment.
Both 12-step programs and rational, science-based programs are too dogmatic in their respective approaches. We need a middle ground, something that feeds the heart, mind, and soul in a patient, compassionate way, recognizing and accepting each person where he or she is at. Something structured, but not too much so.
I think AA is correct in recognizing the need for face-to-face, human contact, and in providing the environment, however unhealthy those environments may be. But their approach, despite claims to the contrary, is in reality pretty mean-spirited. They seem to say that they accept you as a human being and recognize that your flaws are just behaviors that came from a bad place (a disease, family dysfunction, so on) and aren’t inherently you, yet the program proceeds to break you down in what is often a very shame-based process. This simply isn’t healthy.
On the other hand, SMART Recovery and similar cognitive approaches don’t really focus at all on your underlying humanity. They just focus on changing thinking and behaviors. This can be refreshing for someone who has experienced the guilt and shame often induced by AA, but it doesn’t address underlying emotional issues. CBT and similar purely rational approaches naturally filter most things through the lens of science and as such medication is often encouraged, or at least not discouraged, in these settings. But for those of us who’ve been on a variety of antidepressants over the years, we know how toxic these drugs are, with all their nasty side effects.
We’ve also read about the fallacy of the serotonin theory and about all the scientific corruption in the interest of making loads of profits for the pharmaceutical companies.
In short, while these pills anesthetize our brains in some way they are not in fact doing what the marketing says they are doing, and if takes impotence, weight gain, nose bleeds and all other manner of “side effects” in order to allegedly make our defective brains “right,” we’d just as well risk smoking a little pot or drinking a beer to feel better, even though we know where it will lead. At least it’s honest. Anyway, a pill can’t satisfy the soul.
So, we’re back to the soul, a subject usually equated with religion, or spirituality, or what have you. And we’re back again to AA, the only program out there that in any way addresses this element, yet does so for most people in a negative way (I won’t get into the statistics again here…they’ve been cited ad nauseum and suffice to say AA “works” for an incredibly small percentage of people who ever come into contact with it.
It’s unappealing to the vast majority, and AAers can repeat “It works if you work it” until the cows come home, that won’t change the reality. In fact, they have been repeating this, and continue to do so. With the same ugly results.
I’m actually always amazed at the AA folks who are on boards vehemently defending AA. I understand if, say, a person or a nation is attacked, it has to defend itself. But this is not an analogous situation. While people’s negative experiences with AA often boil over to hostility and attack, very few people have ever said they want to abolish AA. I’m one who thinks, based on my personal experience, that AA not only is not effective for many if not most people, but is actually actively harmful for many people. Yet despite that, I’m not campaigning for its abolition. I’d simply like to see it offered as a choice among many, with a disclaimer as to its potential harmfulness.
Many AAers like the analogy of going to a meeting as “taking one’s medicine.” That’s never been a very workable analogy for me, but as long as it’s being used, may as well give the same warnings that come with medicines. And while I’m at it, if one goes to a doctor and is given a medicine and it doesn’t work, the doctor doesn’t proceed to say, “It worked for Johnny, it must work for you. It works if you keep taking it.”
Actually, these days, who knows what a doctor might say, the profession is so utterly corrupted, and I have heard more and more doctors simply don’t believe their patients’ firsthand experience. Tarred as “anecdotal” and thus not inherently reliable by the techno-scientific overlords, personal experience is a thing of the past. But, assuming our patient visited an old school doctor, said doctor would not continue to prescribe the same medication that the patient reported as not working. He would work with his patient. He may even exhibit a modicum of what used to be known as good bedside manner. Hell, he may even be kind and caring.
But I digress. (I really, really digressed).
There is something to the soul, and confession may well be good for it, but not in the way it’s typically manifested through AA. Cognitive-based therapies are completely lacking in addressing this area. So what is to be done? It seems a “middle ground” is needed. Or something entirely different. Or I’m crazy. Or the rest of the world is. Probably a little of both. Mostly the latter.”