The Sad Tale of the Founder of Moderation Management
by bob k
According to its website, Moderation Management “is a behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned with their drinking and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes. MM empowers individuals to accept personal responsibility for choosing and maintaining their own path, whether moderation or abstinence.”
What does MM offer?
A supportive mutual-help environment that encourages people who are concerned about their drinking to take action to cut back or quit drinking before drinking problems become severe.
A nine-step professionally reviewed program, which provides information about alcohol, moderate drinking guidelines and limits, drink monitoring exercises, goal setting techniques, and self-management strategies.
As a major part of the program, members also use the nine steps to find balance and moderation in many other areas of their lives, one small step at a time.
Assumptions of MM:
Problem drinkers should be offered a choice of behavioral change goals.
Harmful drinking habits should be addressed at a very early stage, before problems become severe.
Problem drinkers can make informed choices about moderation or abstinence goals based upon educational information and the experiences shared at self-help groups.
Harm reduction is a worthwhile goal, especially when the total elimination of harm or risk is not a realistic option.
People should not be forced to change in ways they do not choose willingly.
Moderation is a natural part of the process from harmful drinking, whether moderation or abstinence becomes the final goal. Most individuals who are able to maintain total abstinence first attempted to reduce their drinking, unsuccessfully. Moderation programs shorten the process of “discovering” if moderation is a workable solution by providing concrete guidelines about the limits of moderate alcohol consumption.
MM is good place to begin to address a drinking problem. If MM proves to be an ineffective solution, the individual is encouraged to progress to a more radical solution.
After completing 30 days of abstinence (step two of the MM program) and then starting the moderation part of the program, you may discover that it is more difficult for you to moderate your drinking than to abstain. In this case, consider a self-management goal of abstinence. Some members of MM who choose abstinence remain in our program; others find an abstinence-only group to attend.
Websites for organizations such as this normally have a section outlining their history. Moderation Management has no history summary, and for good reason.
Upon her exit from an alcohol treatment program, Audrey Kishline decided that she was “not as bad as” her fellow patients, and that she had been mislabelled as an alcoholic. Kishline had not lost a job or a home; she had never experienced withdrawal; and she did not believe she had a disease. Her experience with abstinence-based programs was “unsatisfactory.” Kishline started Moderation Management in 1994, and the following year published Moderate Drinking: The Moderation Management Guide for People Who Want to Reduce Their Drinking. She claimed that she could moderate her drinking with the help of cognitive-behavior therapy principles.
“Moderation Management was born from her rejection of the label of ‘alcoholic,’ and the goal of MM was to use cognitive-behavioral tools—a psychotherapy method that emphasizes practical problem-solving—to help problem drinkers achieve and sustain moderate, controlled alcohol use.”
The Fix: Remembering Audrey Kishline, by Regina Walker
Kishline, her new program, and her handbook, drew a good deal of attention. Time wrote about the new group, and its principal founder was a guest on Oprah. The spokesperson for moderate drinking was always careful to point out that MM was not intended for alcoholics, but rather, for “problem drinkers.”
What would become clear in the years following the founding of MM, however, was that Kishline’s own drinking – MM’s growing popularity and the success of her message notwithstanding – was “out of control.” By January of 2000, Kishline recognized – publicly – that despite MM’s philosophy and methods, for her, at least, it wasn’t working. She posted a message to an official MM email list, saying that she had concluded that her best drinking goal was abstinence, and that she would begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and Women for Sobriety meetings, while continuing to support MM for others.”
Remembering Audrey Kishline
Her lengthy email included what follows:
For many, including myself, MM is a gateway to abstinence. Seven years ago, I would not have accepted abstinence. Today, because of MM, I do. Whether abusive drinking is a disease or a learned behavior does not matter. If you drink too much and this is causing problems in your life, you need to do something about it. We’re intelligent people, but sometimes we need to quit debating in our heads, and look at what’s in our hearts.
If you, like myself, find eventually that you cannot stay within our guidelines there is no shame in admitting this. In fact, it is a success. A big success, because you have found through our program what you need to do to really live life to its fullest. As Dr. Ernest Kurtz, one of the foremost experts on AA who wrote the forward to our handbook, once predicted “MM will one day refer more people to AA than any other program.” He may be right! My heartfelt best wishes to each and every one of you as you discover your own recovery goal.
Remembering Audrey Kishline
Two months later, Kishline hit another vehicle while she was driving the wrong way on an interstate highway. A 12 year-old girl and her father were killed. Kishline’s blood alcohol level was an immoderate 0.26, more than three times the legal limit, and she admitted to “driving a hundred miles an hour in a total blackout.”
After serving three and a half years, in August of 2003, the MM founder was released from prison. She was unable to refrain from drinking, and went back to lock-up for forty-three days. Her life was a struggle as an ex-con banned from driving.
In a 2006 Dateline interview, Kishline reversed much of what she’d said publicly about her own drinking in previous years, and during the rise of Moderation Management:
Dateline: As you look back on it, was MM something you devised to give yourself license to drink because you didn’t want to abstain?
Kishline: I do think that deep down as an addict that was the purpose.
Dateline: All the good research that you did and the presentation of it to a national audience, it was really to justify it for you as a drinker.
Kishline: It would legitimize my drinking.
Face To Face
Sherly Maloy-Davis, the wife of the man killed in the car crash, and mother of the 12 year-old child was a devout Christian whose faith compelled her to forgive the woman who had brought devastation to her life.
In 2007, Kishline and Sheryl Maloy – the wife and mother of accident victims Richard Davis and 12-year-old LaShell – co-authored the book Face to Face, which chronicled both the fatal accident and the subsequent forgiveness and friendship that grew between the two women (Maloy had visited Kishlane in prison). In the book, Kishline frankly admitted that she was still drinking regularly.
Remembering Audrey Kishline
In the second edition of Face to Face, Audrey wrote with blunt candor about her own struggles and shortcomings. In the preface to the second edition of the book—dated June 14, 2012—Audrey wrote, “The book is all wrong,” admitting to not having written the text of the first, 2007 edition, but also having failed to live up to her obligations to promote and support it. “I’m trying to rewrite words that I never wrote… I was drunk… most of the time…
“Alcohol is the love of my life.” ~ Audrey Kishline “Face to Face”
(I) took the easy way out (and) let the agent get someone else to write it.” And then, writing as if defending herself from her own accusations, she admits, “I was drinking too much to write a coherent grocery list.”
The Fix: New Details Emerge About Audrey Kishline’s Death, Regina Walker
Walker’s follow-up article reports that Maloy-Davis claimed that Fishline’s mother had told her she had found her daughter dead, two empty vodka bottles nearby, and all her prescription drug containers emptied. “She overdosed and she hung herself.” Sheryl said that Audrey’s mother had told her that Audrey had been “deeply, deeply depressed for at least two months prior to her death, and that her drinking had continued unabated.” (New Details Emerge, The Fix)
The grieving mother contacted The Fix to contradict Maloy-Davis’s account of the events. She denied that her daughter’s death was suicide, and she denied finding empty vodka bottles and prescription vials. If she is being less than forthcoming, I think that’s understandable.
Alcoholics Anonymous takes the position that total abstinence is the only option for “real” alcoholics.
Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have the habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and mentally. It may cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason – ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor – becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention.
AA Big Book, pp. 20-21
Some members of Alcoholics Anonymous did not react well to the Kishline tragedy. Attacks were launched against the very existence of Moderation Management. The program was “killing alcoholics” by deluding them that they might somehow manage their drinking. Of course, alcoholics were chasing that dream long before there was a Moderation Management.
MOST OF US have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
AA Big Book, p. 30
Audrey Kishline was a real alcoholic, but for as long as she was able, she went to great lengths to preserve the delusion that she wasn’t. She lied to others and to herself. She pursued the illusion into the gates of vehicular homicide and her own death.
Sadly, this is not a unique story. If some folks want to gather together to support each other in their efforts to drink less, so be it. Will there be alcoholics among the moderation-seeking demographic? I think that’s inevitable. Do we of AA kill people with our Big Book suggestion:
We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once.
AA Big Book, pp. 31-32
Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule, therefore non-alcoholic.
AA Big Book, p. 31
AA’s province lies in helping those already convinced that they can neither moderate, nor stop on their own.
Of course, folks from the Moderation Management side fired back. “Audrey had left MM and was attending AA. The failure was AA’s.” Leaders of the recovery movement stepped forward urging a cessation of the hostilities.
The idea of moderation societies is not new. Before finding total abstinence through Christian conversion, Col. Henry Harrison Hadley founded the short-lived “Business Men’s Moderation Society.” Years later, greater wisdom produced this remark: “The man in need of a Moderation Society cannot moderate, and the man who can moderate has no need of a moderation pledge.”
Undoubtedly, Moderation Management will help some people to take a step toward that realization. Mr. Kurtz was a wise man.
bob k is the author of Key Players in AA History, and is currently at work on two new projects – The Road To AA : Pilgrims to Prohibition, and The Secret Diaries of Bill W.
He recently celebrated 27 years of sobriety within Alcoholics Anonymous, and looks forward to the five year anniversary of Whitby Freethinkers (east of Toronto), a group he co-founded with Craig C.
bob has been a frequent contributor to AA Beyond Belief and to AA Agnostica.