The One and Only Kool-Aid

Accept NO Substitutes

By Bobby F. Beach

According to extreme Big Book Thumpers (and which ones exactly AREN’T extreme?), the ONLY path to permanent sobriety for the “real alcoholicTM” is through the diligent practice of the 12-Steps and through rigorous word-by-word adherence to the instructions detailed in the AA Bible – aka the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Deep breath, now.

That was quite a run-on sentence! Worthy of James Joyce perhaps… Oops!  I mean… James J.


We all know that there’s truth to the old AA adage: There’s more to quitting drinking than quitting drinking. “Putting the plug in the jug,” “taking the pledge,” “hopping aboard the water wagon,” “just saying ‘nyet,’” “walking the sawdust trail,” etc., to put a retro spin on it all, tends to be remarkably unsatisfying. The old school terms are used intentionally, as there’s nothing new about failed attempts to stop drinking.

After a period of being “oh, so responsible,” and “oh, so dry,” the siren song is heard. From the outside, it may have appeared that all was going along swimmingly well. However, at some point, not drinking becomes worse than drinking, or so it seems to a mind that is somewhat disordered in its assessment of all things involving alcohol. Promises are forgotten, and the horrendous consequences of drinking that led up to the two months, two weeks, or two days of sobriety are somehow not called on as deterrents.

Were it otherwise, there’d be no need for SMART, SOS, AA, Refuge Recovery, Women for Sobriety, treatment centers, or Celebrate Recovery. Is there a Celebrate Recovery for atheists and agnostics? No? (Calm down, “Satan” Larry K. – there’s an exemption for religious groups. You know, the religious exemption Toronto Intergroup felt entitled to a few years back.)

And, there are books to help folks stop drinking, are there not Alan Carr? These volumes sell themselves as “easy guides,” whether by title, content, or implication. SWEET!!!! I like “easy” – the easier the better.

There’s a long history of drinking in the world, and equally long histories of drinking problems and problem drinkers.

Whether called alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse disorder, alcoholism, chronic inebriety, the “condition” (see what I did there?) is extremely resistant to treatment. Some see the problem as disease; others see it as sin. In either case, or any other case, long term rehabilitation or reform have been quite rarely achieved, by most methods.

It’s not that efforts haven’t been made. Medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis have all turned their attention to the curing of drunkards. The lack of success is reflected in:

At a meeting of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1901, the inadequacy of drugs and medicines as a cure for alcoholism was discussed. The doctors and specialists in alcoholism agreed that religious conversion was the most effective of all cures. To quote William James, “the only cure for dipsomania is ‘religiomania.’

AA – The Way It Began, Bill Pittman, p. 72

The religionists have always been happy to take up the cause. Bill Wilson’s paternal grandfather staggered up the foothills of nearby Mt. Aeolus for an upfront and personal consultation with the Creator. The idea of turning to God for help had been prompted by the evangelism of an itinerant preacher. Brother Love’s traveling salvation show was one of the popular entertainments before television.

Religious conversion has worked for some. Has it ever been effective with real alcoholicsTM? At Jerry McAuley’s Water Street Mission, the kind of alcoholics helped had bugs crawling on them. Whether the hand of God was at work, or merely some dramatic change in psychology – a personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism, so to speak – remains subject to debate. McAuley said that there was a lot of religion in a beefsteak given to the right man at the right time. There was a lot of humanity in the Mission’s outreach.

Professor James Leuba (1868-1946), an admired colleague of William James who is quoted in The Varieties of Religious Experience, was an atheist whose discipline was the Psychology of Religion. (Sound familiar, Roger C.?)

In brief, Leuba saw three reasons for the effectiveness of religious experience for alcoholics:

1)  conversion stimulated a deep desire for reform;

2)  the alcoholic’s “social world” was transformed;

3)  spiritual ecstasy provided a substitute for chemical intoxication.

In the modern era, an alcoholic can transform his social world by coming to AA.

The third point is interesting. “Spiritual ecstasy” sounds a lot like religiomania. In the case of the Jamesian term, it’s the “mania” part that may be the key. Here’s where the fundamentalists can be somewhat forgiven. They try to create enthusiasm – for God, for recovery, for the sacred text, for the joy of being in the inner circle:

We’re simply the best.

We’re better than all the rest.

Prospects who are “on fire” surely have a better prognosis than the “sober damnit” folks. Unfortunately, Kool Aid isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

AA Fundamentalists care little for AA. They are constantly decrying the sad, watered-down state of affairs in the modern AA world. The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. Treatment centers are the preferred whipping boys. Book thumpers LOVE blaming treatment centers for every imagined ill. Everything was pretty much PERFECT until they came along to pollute the recovery world. In the 1970s and 1980s, TC’s started killing alcoholics by telling them to make their beds, brush their teeth, and go to 90 meetings in 90 days.

Before that, AA’s success rates were PHENOMENAL for “those who really tried.” Obviously, those who relapsed hadn’t “really tried!”

Huh? How’s that??

Just Google “tautology” and more will be revealed.

The reality is that the majority of the sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous have NOT rigorously taken the steps, as written, directly out of the book. So, how are these half-measure (or less) artists sober on an approach that should, theoretically, avail them nothing? These 12 + 12ers, meeting makers, agnostics, Living Sober lovers, fellowshippers, and other shirkers are merely the “hard drinkers” of pages 20-21.

The most rabid of mouth-breathing fundies see an AA membership that is 90% hard drinkers. Think on that one for a moment or two. In 2020, 90% of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous are non-alcoholic! This instance of fuzzy thinking is surpassed only by the outrageous claim of some, that there have been NO treatments EV-AH that were effective for the real alcoholic.TM


As mentioned earlier in the essay, the best efforts of medicine and religion have had limited efficacy in converting alcoholic drinkers to non-drinkers and keeping them in that state. Poor results are not NO results.

Drunks Helping Drunks

…Washingtonians addressed themselves to the individual drunk rather than the broad scope of temperance… A few men managed to talk each other into staying sober and going to their own meetings to share their problems and solutions. More and more gathered. The men came to understand that helping other men get sober actually helped them stay sober themselves.

In Washingtonian meetings, reformed drunks told their detailed stories in a call to get more men to take the pledge. The Washingtonians were the first group to understand that an alcoholic cannot be scolded into sobriety.

Drinking In America, Susan Cheever, p. 93

In 1945, thanks to a Grapevine article written by a history-oriented AA member, Bill Wilson and the AA membership of the time came to an awareness of the Baltimore Washingtonian Society. On April 3, 1840, six very serious drinkers signed a pledge to stop drinking, then supported each other in their common goal. Ninety-five years before Alcoholics Anonymous, the six working class drunkards had invented a form of AA. Other alcoholics heard about the group and came for help. William L. White called their initial meeting “the first ‘closed meeting’ of alcoholics.” EV-AH!!

The group was officially secular, criticized as “humanist” by stalwarts of the very Protestant Temperance Movement. It had no dogma. It did have a motto:

Let every man be present, and let every man bring a man.

Unfortunately, after seven or eight months of wonderful results and steady growth as a mutual aid club for alcoholics only, the blossoming antebellum Temperance Movement worked its way into the mutual aid club for alcoholics only, and ultimately took over. There was a rapid unravelling, but the version of the story one hears in modern AA is inaccurate. There was no mass relapse of all the members. In fact, one of the group’s critics, Reverend R. Adler Temple estimated that of the six hundred thousand “sots,” twenty-five percent stayed sober.

How could that have freaken happened, Bobby Beach??

Well sit back, boys and girls, and I’ll wrap up the freaken story.

In the first place, the Washingtonians were but one of many groups of sobriety-seeking men who were finding strength in the community of like-minded and similarly afflicted others. There were other societies – dozens of them. They were Washingtonian-like, and AA-like. Many were far more private than the Washingtonians. Some were religious. Others requested a simple belief in a Higher Power. Some got absorbed into the broader movement for temperance, while others focused exclusively on the recovery of drunkards. There was fluidity – people changed groups.

Typical of such evolution was the story of Nathaniel Curtis, a hotel keeper who went from years of drunkenness to sustained sobriety through membership, then leadership, first in the Washingtonian Movement and later in the Sons of Temperance and the Independent Order of Good Templars.

Slaying The Dragon, William L. White, p. 22

It does no great damage to AA that it is not the FIRST society of drunks getting sober via connecting with other drunks. Some book thumpers will have paroxysms wrapping their heads around these groups succeeding WITHOUT 12-Steps, and without rigorous adherence to a sacred text.

Good! Mission accomplished.

Bobby Beach is an atheist, sober almost three decades in AA. He sees himself as not at all anti-AA, but definitely and unapologetically anti-Thumper. He threatens to come back soon with tales of other groups who helped drunks through human connection and the principle of one drunk helping the next.


23 Responses

  1. Robert M. says:

    The problem remains as it did with SOS by James Christopher. Great literature but not enough secular AA meetings. Very far and few between. Frustrating. I need to see and hear others not on podcasts in person. And I am done after 35 years of denial about AA not being a religious program. It is a Christian fellowship hands down. This corona virus had put a halt to all meetings and I don’t miss them one bit. Still no connection to people. I don’t feel good anymore about attending mainstream AA. I feel like an outsider and cringe at the dogma and the Big Book bullshit and all AA literature! I showed up the other day to my first secular meeting in San Diego and I was only one there in an empty dark parking lot – because of the pandemic – and that sick feeling was in my gut.

  2. Andrew says:

    Bravo! I found your article a delight. Sobriety was and has been rough as long as I was in traditional meetings. Coming to freethinkers/atheist meetings was a breath of fresh air as was discovering this site and those like you who can so clearly elucidate the frustration of being “true to oneself”. Thanks again!

  3. Tom k says:

    Emphasize. The EXTREME, as there are always some of these on any movement. Note …they are not the NORM… TOM K 45YRS THANK YOU

  4. Jack B. says:

    Bobby Beech!!

    You and I’d be goddam-good friends if we lived anywhere close to each other. And that’d be just fine!!

    Cheers friend,
    Jack B.

  5. Richard K. says:

    I thinking about all this. AA and the Big Book. It reminds a lot about history. I learned about our founding Fathers and how stately and righteous l was lead to believe. It wasn’t until l read and researched more that l was educated. They were flawed in many ways. Does that mean they didn’t accomplish many great things? I live in the greatest country in the world.

    • Bob K says:

      I’m not seeing criticism of the founders, other than that AA is not the FIRST mutual aid group dealing with alcoholism. That’s not a jab – it’s simply history.

      Bobby Beach’s attack victims are AA Thumpers – Big Book extremists who say some ridiculous things at times in their pitching of “the one true way.” Many of us have done well in AA without a robotic following of a local “guru,” or a strict adherence to every line in the literature.

  6. Larry G. says:

    Yaaa Bobby Beach!! I too am an anti-thumper pumper upper which means I’m a pain in the rumper of many a thumper!! Fun stuff!!

    • Jack B. says:

      OH YAAAAA!!!!

      I honest to gawd don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun in AA thumper meetings than by poking a hole in one and watching the dance as all the air flaps out!!

      Shit Disturbers of the World Unite!!!

  7. Richard K. says:

    I love the read and all the comments. I am not atheist and l am a big book guy, but l also agree that to be limiting myself to just the book is not healthy. I have read many other books and articles about AA and Alcoholism and find that there is many ways for someone to achieve lasting sobriety. It even says in the book that AA has no monopoly on recovery.

  8. Dean W says:

    Good stuff Bobby! I think Bill W, at least in his mature years, would have been horrified at the fanaticism of today’s extreme thumpers. Thanks for bursting a few more of the mythological bubbles.

  9. Joe C says:

    A good little bit of history reporting, Bobby.

    Every subculture needs a villain or a (perceived) threat. It fires up the base, so to speak. Treatment lingo, fundamentals, atheists are all easy targets of “what’s wrong with AA today.” Especially if you prefer a different brand of AA than the one being celebrated over there. “AA will always have it’s traditionalists, literalists and reformers” is in so many words what Bill W said. Of course every reformer from muckers to secular AA to back to basics, thinks they embrace “the” real nature of AA-what it is or what it should be. It seems to me there is no “the” there. All these brands and bands are legit; and good on them if they each get a constituency sober that wouldn’t fair we’ll in the other band espousing the other brand.

    • Bob K says:

      Good point about the perceived threat. Making fun of fundies I can rationalize as pushback against their evangelism and extreme self-satisfaction, but there’s no denying it feels pretty good, and there’s some underlying mean-spiritedness. I do hold the opinion that AA would be better if everybody did it my way, so that merits some reflection.

  10. Mark P. says:

    It’s such a relief to be able to openly declare our atheism without fear of some kind of reaction.

    My local group is tolerant of us atheists. The oldest of the old timers there actively encourages me to declare my atheism to ensure newcomers in AA receive the message that you don’t need to believe in god or whatever to stay sober. Unfortunately that’s not the case in other meetings.

    I must say though, I’ve discovered that atheism is probably a minority sport in society in general. I see some people who come in as atheists and find some kind of higher power and it may be that’s what they want. I’ve stopped assuming people are ‘brainwashed’ into religiosity by AA. I spent the first few years in my 22 years of sobriety wrestling with this issue and it really shouldn’t be like that. I hope AA Agnostica takes off in the UK. I’m all for ‘watering down’ and drowning out the tub-thumpers who – on a bad day – really piss me off.

  11. John L. says:

    I agree with Bobby’s statement, “It does no great damage to AA that it is not the FIRST society of drunks getting sober via connecting with other drunks.” However, it’s part of AA mythology that in the first fabled meeting between Bill and Bob, they discovered that alcoholics could get and stay sober by talking to other alcoholics. In reality, the Washingtonians had done that nearly a century before them. Bill & Bob didn’t invent anything.

  12. William C. says:

    I gotta agree.

    But it seems most AAs these days have turned Recovery into a religion and refuse to read beyond the Big Book, which is holy.

    WRITING THE BIG BOOK got a bad review here recently but I recommend it to all. It exposes the fictions. BILL W AND MR WILSON is also a must read.

    • Wes L. says:

      That review was most unfortunate. The book is must read for anyone interested in the history of AA.

    • Bob K says:

      Here’s the AA Agnostica review of WRITING THE BIG BOOK:

      Writing the Big Book: The Creation of AA

      The Big Book

      I have ZERO clue why anyone would call that a “bad review.” It bordered on worshipful.

      • Bob K says:

        OOPS!! I forgot about the second bit of writing here on Schaberg’s book. Linda Kurtz didn’t much care for it.

      • William C. says:

        That link worship could have been written by General Services.

        Was referring to the message/review which stopped short of calling Bill a liar.

      • Wes says:

        Your review, Bob, was excellent, It was posted so soon after the publication of the book however, I was amazed at the speed with which you had gotten through it.

        • Bob K says:

          Thanks Wes. I had the benefit of getting a look at a pre-release pdf of the book. Fortunately, I received a hard copy BEFORE completing my review. The page numbers were different, so I was able to correct the references.

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