This article was shared in one of my Facebook groups. It is written by a guy who has ten years of sobriety without AA involvement. What I found to be especially helpful in this article was that he immediately said that he is no miracle, and that he has met many people like himself, and then later on that even though getting sober may make you a hero, it does not make you a good person.
I remember that I held on to the idea that I was a miracle because God had helped me to get sober for almost a decade. I really thought that getting sober from drugs and alcohol was a miracle for anyone. This idea is widespread in AA, and I am not surprised that it is there because with only 5% of attendees actually having long term sobriety, it is easy to fall into magical thinking as to why you are in that 5%. But the truth is that finding a way to not drink when you have problematic drinking is not a miracle any more than a person with diabetes learns to manage his or her blood sugar. In our society, though, overcoming problematic drug and alcohol use is made to be a huge deal, while people with other severe illnesses are not usually given the amount of attention or praise even though they are making just as many life changes as the person with problematic substance use.
This brings us to the other point of this article that in my experience is really important to point out. Not only are people who get sober, particularly in AA, seen as heroes, but there is also an implicit understanding in our society that the person must be a good person in order to get sober. Now, in AA things are said such as “If a horse thief stops drinking they are still a sober horse thief”. Thus it would seem that in AA they are arguing against this idea that you’re immediately a good person if you get sober… but, I believe that the reason why this is said in AA is simply to coerce people into “working the program”. There is still an implicit belief that is spread in all kinds of ways that a person is a good person if he or she gets sober and specifically if the person “works the steps”. But, this just isn’t true. Getting sober does not make a person a good person, and to use my example above, learning to regulate your blood sugar if you’re diabetic, or learning how to change you diet after a heart attack, also do not make you a good person. Yet, this idea in our society that drug and alcohol addiction is different than other diseases or psychological issues gets thrown around in our society, as does the idea that if you participate in AA that you will change and become a better person as well. But the truth is that working the steps or getting sober does not address the underlying issues that make a person a “good person” or “bad person”. It’s no wonder, then, that so much abuse happens in AA and that it goes unchecked; everyone wants to believe that the steps really do change people, and because of that are blind to the fact that most people in AA haven’t actually become better people or truly changed their behavior. Much of the time, their problematic or abusive behaviors just change. This, actually, is typical of all abusive people; they will change the behaviors that they have that are currently bothering them or other people, but then move on to other types of abusive behaviors. And, sometimes the person will just move to subtler yet just as damaging forms of abuse, such as psychological abuse. For example, a wife beater might come to AA and find that his need for power and control is met through being an incredibly abusive sponsor. Yet because abusive sponsorship is the norm in AA and is actually seen as beneficial to the sponsee, this man can justify that he is no longer abusive, and most people in AA will believe him even if he abuses his sponsees or others publicly or right in the middle of meetings, because this is seen as acceptable behavior in AA. So now, not only is this guy still abusive, but unlike before AA, he really thinks that he no longer is. Thus, he is in a state of denial worse than ever before, and likely his behavior is too. It’s only a matter of time before a man like this commits some type of physical crime that is more serious than ever, as he is a ticking time bomb. But, if he does start beating his wife again or worse, he can always make amends and blame his behavior on his “disease of alcoholism”, and still find support in AA.
Sadly enough, too, when a person is a victim of abuse, they are not held up to hero standards like a person who is “no longer abusive”, even if he or she still is. Abuse survivors are typically seen as toxic in AA if they talk about their abuse and trauma in realistic ways. But, if they talk about how AA helped them to overcome it, they will also be exalted to hero status. But the truth is that AA is not enough to help a person to overcome trauma. It just isn’t. This means that the person who seems so strong and stable and claims that AA fixed or helped them usually is in more denial about his or her trauma than the person who appears to falling apart of out of control.
Many people wonder how to address these problems within AA. A lot of the time, they try to reach out to people within AA to try to get through to them about the problems in there. But, people in AA tend to be pretty indoctrinated and afraid or unwilling to hear or consider other’s opinions because they are told that their life depends on AA. Because of this, I wonder if we should bring about awareness of the issue of AA in our society to people outside of the program first, who are able to critically think about such things, and then change AA from the outside in. Just a though.
Here is the article that I mentioned. Feel free to read it and to comment below!