AA... Your New Dysfunctional Family

Many a newcomer will immediately feel comfy and cozy in the rooms of AA simply because the dynamics of the group mirror that of the newcomer's dysfunctional family of origin.

  • Don't think, don't feel.
  • If you do feel, be advised that certain feelings are not allowed.
  • We know what's best for you.
  • You don't know what's best for you, and we won't even ask your opinion.
  • The family is correct, it is your feelings which are screwed up.
  • You must honor and respect us. You must be grateful for us. We gave you life. You are not allowed to be angry at us.
  • "Ouch! It hurts!" you say -- "We're only doing this because we love you" -- they respond
  • "This doesn't make sense!" you say -- "Do it because I told you so!" -- they respond
  • We will love you only if you do "this", "that" or "the other"... we will love you conditionally
  • Don't speak the truth -- We can't handle it.
  • Be sure to always pretend that everything is allright, otherwise the family will fall apart.
Sound familiar?

If that ain't enough, here's a list of things which qualify as abuse taken from "Into the Light" a Guide for Battered Women. This pamphlet is designed to help battered women recognize the signs of abuse, since individuals who have been mistreated over an extended period will have gotten used to mistreatment and will need help recognizing it as such. (I've dropped six items from the list as they apply specifically to battered women, but let's look at the other seven...)

Have you been...

  • Threatened
  • Humiliated in public
  • Called derogatory names
  • Ignored in terms of thoughts and feelings
  • Isolated from family and friends
  • Denied affection as punishment
  • Manipulated with lies and contradictions

Typical threats heard in the rooms...
If you don't go to meetings you will drink. If you drink, your fate is jails, institutions, or death. Meeting makers make it. (Implied meaning: If you don't go to meetings, you won't make it!) Shut up and listen. Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. To threaten means to control through fear. AA uses fear to keep it's members in line.

Public humiliation...
The newcomer quickly learns that to gain approval, s/he has to humiliate the self in public. This is done though public confession and verbal self-flaggelation -- always while praising the program. This is particularly noticeable in fourth-step meetings. Newcomers will watch by example, and will learn quickly that by humbling the self (whether or not the individual had an inflated ego or not), one will gain approval, as this is seen as "getting honest". It's almost as if there is a pre-written emotional script that the members are reading from.

Derogatory names...
The ideas that the member is to adopt of oneself are... powerless, insane, diseased, defective, alcoholic (for life), sick. A local meeting here has two signs on the wall... "Keep it simple STUPID", and "Just don't drink DUMMY". I wonder how an abuse or domestic violence victim responds to such messages.

Ignored in terms of thoughts and feelings...
Only the "approved" thoughts and feelings are allowed. These would primarily be gratitude and serenity. Thoughts which are found on the emotional "black list" are written off as disease symptoms (anger, worry, doubt, rebelliousness). There is more flexibility with newcomers, since they don't yet "get it". When they question the program, the elder members will tell them to "keep coming" or "fake it till you make it", that they'll eventually "get it". Elder members who express contrary thoughts are said to be dry drunks or are seen as not working the program. Outside sources of information, no matter how helpful, are often ignored, dismissed or given a back seat... why? because "AA works -- (for those who work it)."

Isolation from friends & family...
The term used for non-AA members is: "Earth people" or "Normies" (they just 'don't understand'). The longer one attends, the more one adopts the special vocabulary and slogans, becoming obsessed with "recovery". Former interests fall by the wayside and the member's time is englufed with meetings and service work for fear of relapse. A distance develops between the AA member and other members of society. In fact, one suggestion is to stay away from "people, places and things" meaning that one is to break the ties to people from one's past if one wishes to stay sober. This has an upside, in that staying away from drinking buddies is probably a good idea, however taken to it's worse extreme, the alcoholic starts to isolate from non-AA friends just because they're non-AA friends! (remember, they just "don't understand"). Additionally, the alcoholic is also to put sobriety before family. If the family member complains over having "lost" the member to the group, they will be instructed to go to Alanon. The entire family becomes engulfed in 12 step practice. The "open mind" that AA demands, in fact starts to close. The sphere of interest narrows. It starts to close off to influences that are non-recovery based. Thus, the "open mind" that is asked of the member reveals itself to mean "open your mind to AA" and "close your mind" to everything else.

Denied affection as punishment...
The newcomer quickly learns that attesting to the Miracle of AA will bring hugs and pats on the back. Like a friend of mine once said... "As a teenager, I went to a camp for born-again Christians. Upon arrival, a kid came up to me and said 'have you made Jesus your savior?' 'Yes' I replied.. all of a sudden I had nine-hundred friends".

In this case affection is acceptance by the group (social reward). Anyone who questions the program will get the cold shoulder or be reprimanded (social punishment).

Manipulated with lies and contradictions...
HA! Let's just insert the Big Book, the steps and the Twelve and Twelve here... The absolutist language of the Big Book reduces many of its statements to lies, furthermore, the AA program is riddled with contradictions. Please see the piece Pardon us Mr. Wilson, but we noticed a few CONTRADICTIONS in your program for a thorough explanation. Some of the more obvious examples follow, just to get us started:

  • You must be rigorously honest.... Rigorous honesty has done nothing for the author except put her in the 'sicker than others' seat. AA does not want members to be rigorously honest. AA wants members to tow the Party Line and believe that they're being honest. This is called brainwashing folks. Subtly pressure people into defining their lives according to the system while repeating the same ideas over and over to them, meanwhile discouraging questions and critical thinking. Keep doing this until the repeated message becomes ingrained, then turn around and call it honesty?!? Sounds like a big lie to me.
  • If you drink, you will die... Most relapses don't end up this way! In fact the power of suggestion CAUSES many relapses to be more serious than they would have been otherwise.
  • Meeting makers make it. It is said in the rooms that anyone who ceases to be a regular attendee will die from alcoholism or end up in jails or institutions. It's not hard to find lots of people on the Internet (or even your own town) who stopped going to meetings and live happy and fulfilling lives. We, the free, have found that our "disease symptoms" (as defined by AA) were caused by our attempts to adhere to rules that didn't work for us, and that once we left the blaming/shaming, self-flagellating environment of AA, and learned to trust our instincts, our symptoms gradually disappeared.
  • Anyone who works the steps and becomes miserable is dismissed as not having worked the steps right. (see the essay: "I've Worked The Steps, Why Do I Feel Worse")
  • They say that the program is but a suggestion, however NOT taking the suggestions is a death sentence according to AA gospel. (Ever hear: "There are those too who do not recover, those who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program. There are such unfortunates.")
  • Take what you want and leave the rest. Without a doubt, not taking certain "key" parts of the program results in shunning and shaming by the group. Some of these key parts include the steps, regular attendance at meetings, having a sponsor. Ultimately, even the parts that are not taken, are taken in some capacity because they seep into the subconscious due to constant repetition. Furthermore, if one attends meetings long enough, they'll eventually hear even the most disturbing concepts expressed in a palatable fashion and even such concepts as "powerlessness" (yuck!) will start to seep in.
  • THE PROMISES are that you will be happy, joyous and free. However, to arrive at the promises, you must work the program. And to work the program, you must adopt a rather negative self-image, confine yourself to meetings every day during which you recall the horror of your drinking days, and you must continually put yourself down while praising the program. But somehow, under these conditions, you will arrive at "the promises". And if you don't, it'll be because you didn't work the program right.

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