Lately I’ve been looking back at my AA membership with regret as I think about who and how I became when I was participating in it. While I was there, I was pretty much a sheep. I regurgitated what I heard in meetings and in the Big Book over and over again, and always stated that my life was better than it had ever been in meetings. The truth is, though, that it most definitely was not. But, because I was constantly on a high due to my participation in AA (and not a healthy one), it took me years to actually see and admit this.
Part of the way that I was able to break AA worldview about how great my time in sobriety was versus how bad my time was drinking while I was drinking was to really dissect what life was like for me both before and after AA. I allowed myself to actually look for positives in my life at the time that I was drinking and negatives during sobriety. To my surprise, it turned out that I really had a very good life before coming to AA despite the fact that I was a habitual drinker, and had some really wonderful achievements. Before that, I really had assumed that my time while drinking was just terrible, no good came from it, and was incredibly hard on myself for each and every thing that I did during that time. The truth is, though, that I was putting myself down and shaming and blaming myself for my actual strengths and accomplishments. It was extremely disheartening and definitely resulted in feelings of powerlessness, self hatred, fear, anger, and overall negativity. Thus, I ended up being just like everyone else in AA.
Now some in AA might look at this and say that I can’t be an alcoholic if I see my sobriety this way. But, in my opinion, a person could have a fulfilling life and/or make great achievements in life and still have a problem with alcohol or drugs. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if most people were to objectively look for positives in their lives while they were drinking, that they would easily find some. But, members of AA have been programmed to believe that trying to find the positives in your life when you were drinking is a negative thing. Members will even say that if you do this that you are glamorizing your drinking days and worse. There is definitely an implicit idea in AA that your drinking must be worse than your sobriety. One quote that exemplifies this is “My worst day sober is better than my best day drinking.” And, because the cultural norm in AA is very much to see this polarity between drinking and sobriety, it is extremely hard for one to objectively examine his or her life.
But, when you think about this quote, and the idea that your time drinking must have been all or mostly negative, and that you couldn’t possibly have a truly bad day in sobriety, you realize that this just doesn’t make sense. Even when a person is drinking it is possible to have good days. And, it is definitely possible to have the worst day in your life even though you are sober. Sobriety is not a cure all nor does it protect a person from experiencing the worst day or time of his or her life. This black and white thinking, though, prevails in AA, and members become dependent on it in order to stay sober. I’ve found for me, though, that I don’t need this kind of thinking in order to stay sober.
I feel, though, that being able to see positives in your life before and after sobriety, as well as negatives, is far from glorifying anything and is a very healthy action to take. In fact, I see the polarity of thinking between the two is actually what glorifies drinking in AA. Also, this idea that sobriety will always be wonderful can set people up to be extremely disappointed when something difficult comes their way in sobriety. However, most of the time AA members just deal with this by denial about the extent and seriousness of hardships that occur within their sobriety by constantly ruminating on and convincing themselves how much worse their drinking was, even if this isn’t actually based in reality at all. This leads to a dependency on AA, which in my opinion is not healthy at all. I believe that is not just healthy but empowering to be able to look at your life in a realistic way rather than in a way that is shaped by something other than yourself (AA and it’s members). It helps me to really understand my strengths and the contributions that I have made in life both before, during, and after AA.
As I think about the experience of being persuaded to see my life in black and white, I feel pretty sick to my stomach. It’s hard for me to accept the fact that I was a part of this cult for so long and was as involved as I was. And, in the end my experiences in AA nearly ruined me. I also feel a lot of guilt and shame because of how I behaved in AA.
When I see or hear people from AA or 12 step groups muttering all those little saying and talking in what I call “cult speak”, it is extremely disheartening and even triggers PTSD. This is especially true when I see members putting others down using language from the program. The other day I saw a pretty extreme example of this on Quora.
I received an email from Quora earlier this week with possible topics that might interest me. One was an older question that was very short and clear and went something like this: “Why is AA ineffective and why is it a cult?”. So I decided to read the replies.
The comments started off with an older women who had been to AA for decades. She was obviously upset that someone had even asked this question in AA. In her comment, she talked about her great experiences in AA, and then talked about how it wouldn’t be fair to tell an old woman to leave AA. But, this wasn’t said by the person who asked the question.
After that, there seemed to be comment after comment by other AA members that were basically in agreement with her. They all used AA lingo, and said the same thing. And, they treated the whole thread like it was an AA meeting. They thanked each other for their comments, and also commented on how great each other’s comments were, all while putting down the original person who posted the question and anyone else who dared to disagree with them or with AA. Their comments, though, were quite robotic as they regurgitated AA phrases over and over again in order to argue for AA.
Even though the whole thing was disheartening and insulting, I realized that these people had answered the question of “Is AA a Cult” based off of their behavior alone. It was obvious that there is a group mentality to the thread, and that these people are obviously frightened by the question. Plus, as they put down anyone who’s opinions were not the same as their own in regards to AA. It was definite Groupthink. So, I think that the thread speaks for itself as to why some people consider AA to be a cult.
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