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.