“No matter how outlandish the proposition, if it is supported by impeccable evidence and logic, it is most likely true, at least until even more impeccable evidence and logic refutes it and progress is made. Truth. Honesty. Reliable Information. Any promise of that should be taken seriously.”
Brent P. November 11, 2014.
By Brent P.
Nearly five years ago, after a particularly harrowing two year binge with booze and crack, I was surrounded by the people who had, for a full two months, brought their collective expertise to bear on my health and well being. I was leaving the rehab I’d arrived at two months earlier, mid withdrawal; sweating, slobbering, nose gushing slime while devil dogs and serpent birds brayed at me unrelentingly.
Something like this almost always preceded a process I was quite familiar with, the “valium load”. I was taken to a darkened room where I climbed into a big comfortable bed where I continued to do the crack-head twitch and the hooch drinkers hokey pokey. The discomfort I was going through was worse than anything I’d experienced before. But I’d also never smoked crack and drank liquor every day for two years straight. I knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant. All I wanted was the valium. I had faith in the valium (in large quantities). The present state you were in and your history of seizures determined how much valium you got right away – 20 – 40 mg – then 10 more every hour until you were stabilized (or dead), whether that took 80 mg or 100. But all that was academic, they were moving in slo-mo and I was getting anxious. “Hey, if I don’t get some valium here, fast, I’m going to seize, I can feel it coming”. Honestly I could no more tell when a seizure was going to occur than I could predict win, place or show at the races. I eventually got ALL my valium and it was enough to pretty much knock me out for a couple of days. I’d get up to go to the bathroom. And I was disturbed for blood pressure and pulse measurements. But I was basically way down, way down in dreamy Chinatown.
No devil dogs or serpent birds
No longer plagued by devil dogs and serpent birds I was enjoying my last look at the facility’s quaint yet bright and cheerful dining room. As I said goodbye to the folks who’d frankly dedicated their lives to saving mine, I desperately wished that I could be confident I wouldn’t do the same thing all over again, despite the warning from my doctor who assured me my liver couldn’t handle even a one week episode like this last one.
“Oh and get your ass to meetings”, I heard him say, his voice trailing off as I hustled out to the bus shelter where I could sit and read the book I’d stolen from them. Sitting in the bus shelter those last few words from the doctor echoed in my mind, the “get to a meeting” part. I was going to go to AA as I had a thousand times before, but I wondered how many times he’d said that as another reconstructed addict left to try and make it in the world. It sounded robotic rather than carefully thought out.
If he meant, get to AA to bond with your community of addicts and alcoholics, I had no quarrel, but if he meant, take seriously the considerable amount of crap in the Big Book I was gob-smacked. Here I was, clean and sober, in a revitalized body and mind. And it was thanks to the human power of trained professionals in this particular rehab: nurses who took care of me while I detoxed, doctors who examined me to see how damaged my liver was. Each patient was personally counseled by a doc in once-a-week meetings, and four docs cycled through daily education sessions. Highly trained group therapy coordinators also had a small group every day. I mean, take some credit all of you because you sure aren’t getting any in AA.
In fact in my 30 years of battling substance abuse, every time I needed some relief from a dumbass thing I’d done while stoned and/or drunk, it was people who came to the rescue. Never once did God make an appearance and I wasn’t the only one who’d attest to that. In fact He was a complete no-show, not that anybody was really expecting Him. The more I thought about God there were no experiences I could think of that made me reflect wistfully, “Gosh, this is amazing, not a soul in sight and yet here I sit doomed with my arm wedged deep into a rock crevice with no way to get it out, unless, unless I could summon the courage to hack it off with a Swiss Army Knife. Who else but God could inspire that kind of courage? Well, thank you Lord because I did it. And yes, the once prodigious career I’d been forging as a symphony percussionist was over, but God had the circus in mind for me. I’d never imagined how many people would pay money to see and meet Self Amputation Man.
Have you ever heard anything like that in an AA meeting? The no-matter-what-horror befalls you it’s God’s will and you should be grateful?
Remember the impeccable logic
I just want to remind you of my opening statement: Regardless of the proposition, if supported by impeccable evidence and logic it can’t be refuted unless by even more impeccable evidence and logic. Which is usually how our species makes progress.
For the sake of this discussion on treating alcoholism here is the most impeccable evidence and logic as presented in the Big Book’s chapter, “How It Works”. Here are the three pertinent ideas that emerge if we’ve read the description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic and our personal adventures before and after:
- That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (Can’t disagree with that.)
- That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (What!!! Didn’t I just show how human power relieved me of my alcoholism and drug addiction? It’s been five years since booze or coke have coursed through my bloodstream. And how in the hell did we get from admitting we were alcoholics to “no human power”?)
- That God could and would if He were sought. (Bullshit. Many a time I cried out to God and never once did he make an appearance even when I was having an alcoholic seizure, the kind that kills or so say those learned humans who I put my faith in.)
It’s worth noting that it’s about here in the Big Book where the Higher Power covertly gets killed off and God takes over.
Is that sensible? Let’s examine it allegorically
Wilson and Smith – a pair of paramedics – are rushing to the scene of a horrible accident. Upon arrival there are emergency crews from everywhere. Multi car pile up. As Wilson and Smith are loading one of the few survivors into their unit, Wilson is sizing up the man’s chances for survival when, God knows why, he goes rogue.
“Holy cats Smith, I’ve never seen a guy in worse shape than this one. If we take him to the hospital he won’t survive. I learned in AA that some people are beyond the aid of human power. God can save this guy. So Smith he’s going to church, stat”.
Careening recklessly through city traffic, Wilson explains to Smith that, “some people are beyond human aid or power” which is why this guy, is being taken to a church, “the house of God Smith, the house of God”. Smith will have nothing to do with it. Wilson is crazy.
Wilson carries on with his mission and pushes the man on a gurney into the church, then lays him at the foot of the altar where he’s bleeding like a son of a bitch. Wilson says a little prayer for him then hurries back to the ambulance. He can feel this is going to be a very big night and he has to remain sharp. A quick glance to the heavens then he’s off.
Smith looks at him incredulously.
“There’s a reason why people with serious injuries get taken to the hospital.”
Arching an eyebrow Wilson plays along with Smith.
“Oh, and why would that be Smith?”
“Because that’s where the surgeons and crack emergency medical teams are, you fool.”
Wilson shakes his head.
“You’ve got a lot to learn about healing Smith.”
“We’ll see because I’ve called the police.”
Wilson, sputtering like Sylvester the Cat, says, “The cops?! Why the hell would you call them?”
“…you just don’t understand, I’m an agent of God…” were the last words Smith heard from Wilson as he was cuffed and deposited in the back of the squad car.
At the station house he was booked for criminal negligence causing death. Why? The man died of injuries that, had he been taken to a hospital – where highly trained humans were prepared for such emergencies – instead of a church, he might have survived, or so said the Chief Emergency Surgeon.
With all the paperwork complete so Wilson could be arraigned in the morning, the Desk Sergeant, usually called Bull, stared deep into Wilson’s eyes.
“You, a paramedic, take a seriously injured man to a church? Where there’s nobody to attend to him. No life saving equipment, in fact, there was not a soul in the damn place and you leave him there to die.”
“No! No! Some people are beyond human aid…” stammered Wilson.
“You damn well made certain of that now didn’t ya?”
Wilson is taken away to the holding cells.
“Beyond human aid…” muttered the still discombobulated Bull, “he’s the guy beyond human aid.”
The Big Book is an anachronism and does new members a disservice
The Big Book was published in 1939. It was written by Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of AA. But it was also scrutinized by about 83 sober alcoholics. They made an impact on the Book but not much of one. The BB is often described as AA’s text which implies the content had been tried and proven. But that Book was written almost 80 years ago, by a guy who may have had 5 years sobriety. The 83 others had, on average 1.5 years of sobriety. And their solution to alcoholism was faith healing.
In the 80 years of AA’s existence in the 20th and 21st centuries, it has been written (on the BBC UK website): “During the 20th century the pace of change, which had quickened during the Industrial Revolution, speeded up even more. There was an ongoing explosion of invention and scientific discovery. Huge progress was made in curing disease and manipulating the body.” (Twentieth Century Civilization)
The evidence and logic that Bill Wilson used to develop the Big Book and the AA “program” was the best they had in 1935. But as the above quote reminds us, AA grew up in the most progressive era in history. And some of the greatest progress, “huge” according to the BBC, was made in medicine. Alcoholism is one of those disorders that has benefitted most. Yet we still cling to the program devised in 1935.
Having read considerable books about AA and Bill Wilson, I like to believe that, if Wilson were still alive, AA’s Big Book would in no way resemble what was written almost 80 years. Because he was a salesman too and there’s not a salesman alive who doesn’t know that the product has to become “new and improved” every so many years or people become indifferent which, incidentally, is the overriding response I got when I brought up “issues with the Big Book” at a closed meeting I recently attended.
To any and all who brush off the Big Book as a quaint relic of a different time, we are being irresponsible. Because that book is being handed out or sold every day to people who want to understand alcoholism and AA’s treatment modality. They get told they’re beyond human aid and that only God can relieve them of their alcoholism but you have to go find Him first. Are there no scientists, Medical Doctors or digital engineers in the program who couldn’t make the case for an updated Big Book, one that’s relevant because it reflects the “explosive” changes that have been made over the last 80 years?
Or is that beyond human power too?
Brent has written two other articles for AA Agnostica: The Church of the Divine Dipsomaniac and The Great Divide. He was also interviewed by Roger C. after having produced three episodes of a web series called The How Not 2 Guide 2 Getting Clean & Sober.