“We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.”
The Twelve Steps are the core of the Alcoholics Anonymous “spiritual program.” They are held as “spiritually inspired” so they are beyond question. It is normal, however, for the newcomer to ask how or why they work. The answer is, being “spiritually inspired,” they are above human logic and understanding but it is logical to work them because they have been “proven” to really work. The newcomer is surrounded by the proof; the other cult members.
Sooner or later the newcomer feels a need to work the Steps. He comes to understand, since it is so often pointed out, how much benefit comes from working them. Whenever he approaches an elder with a problem, he is likely to be reminded that he hasn’t worked the Steps with the implication that this is the root of his problem.
The presumed benefits of working a spiritual program are formalized as “The Promises.” Taken from the Big Book, they often take a central position in meetings either as a sacred reading or as a topic of general discussion, “How have the Promises been fulfilled in your life?”
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? …They will always materialize if we work for them.”159
Against these Promises is the certainty of “jails, institutions, and death.” The newcomer wants to work the Steps.
Bill Wilson on the importance of the Steps
Co-founder Bill Wilson, author of the Big Book and the most celebrated recovery in AA, after ten or fifteen years of working the Steps, undertook to write the definitive manual on how to work them. In this manual, called “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” Wilson describes the value of the Steps,
“A.A.’s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”160
Bill Wilson's suicidal depression
Eight years after he was “changed” by Ebby from the Oxford Group and five years after he originally penned the Twelve Steps, Bill Wilson was somewhat less than “happily and usefully whole.” From AA’s own literature,
“[H]e was plunged into an abyss of such bleakness and negativity as to make him suicidal.”161
This depression lasted for eleven years during which time he wrote the book to help others become “happily and usefully whole.”
AA member Marty Mann, who was busy “educating America about alcoholism” with her National Council on Alcoholism, described Wilson during this period,
“It was awful. There were long periods of time when he couldn’t get out of bed. He just stayed in bed, and Lois would see that he ate.”162
From his personal secretary,
“He would come down to the office many times and sit across from me and just put his head in his hands and really not be able to communicate…,”163
and an AA general manager,
“There were some times when these horrible depressions would go on and on, for days and days.”164
Apparently, no official account of Wilson’s depression was given until the 1984 publication of “Pass It On.” No one seemed to have found it ironic that a man suffering severe chronic depression was claiming to have the secret to becoming “usefully and happily whole.”
An indoctrinated cult member, Bill Wilson was incapable of questioning the doctrine even though his personal experience was the opposite of that promised. An examination of the Twelve Steps shows why the thoroughly indoctrinated member is incapable of questioning the doctrine even when belief causes great harm.
There is much within the Twelve Steps which leads to severe emotional problems including suicidal depression. Depression is characterized by feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. It is also based in the suppression of one’s emotions, most particularly anger. Rather than being a prescription for becoming “happily and usefully whole,” the Twelve Steps are a prescription for helplessness, self alienation and depression. They result in the problem drinker becoming more addicted to furthering cult goals than he ever was to alcohol.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable.
This Step, for the AA sponsor or treatment center therapist, is what Bill Wilson referred to as “tilling the black soil of hopelessness.”165 It is made up of two distinct parts; an admission of “powerlessness” and an admission of “unmanageability.” The unmanageable part is where the “baby,” “pigeon” or “patient” is to list, often in writing, how unmanageable his life is as evidence of his alcoholism. This includes anything a person has done contradictory to his own values or society’s rules. It usually goes no further back than the “first drink.” The “baby” must figure out how everything that is not right with his life, its “unmanageability,” is directly tied to alcohol and alcoholism.
The pigeon has the problem of resolving guilt over his past actions. He can either admit that alcohol is responsible for everything and gain status and warm regard or insist that he is responsible and “be in denial” and lose status and regard.
Part of the admission of alcoholism may be preparing a list of one’s history of alcohol and drug consumption including quantity and frequency. The goal of this exercise is to convince the newcomer to accept that he is under the influence of a disease, not his own influence. At the same time he is pressured to give a “public” admission, “I am powerless.” This admission can take various forms. In a treatment center it may be “getting honest” in a “group therapy” session. Outside of the treatment centers, it may be as simple as getting on one’s knees and admitting one’s powerlessness and unmanageablility to God and the groupers present.
Exactly how this is done is unimportant. The important point is that confession is made. The core of this admission is that alcoholism is a disease with a life of its own. Devil Drink, “the rapacious creditor, bleeds us of all self sufficiency and all will to resist.” The “alcoholic” is totally at the mercy of Devil Drink. The admission of powerlessness is an admission that one is faced with death and nothing within oneself, nor any “human power,” can help.
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12 & 12) suggests that those who doubt their powerlessness should be told to go ahead and drink. This is, of course, without encouraging them to get help for underlying problems or even acknowledging that they may exist. The intent is to “plant the seed” that the target for indoctrination will indeed be powerless (learn helplessness), as happened with Bill Wilson after being “treated” by Dr. Silkworth. The 12 & 12 suggests this is a highly effective method.
“It was then discovered that when one alcoholic had planted in the mind of another the true nature of his malady, that person could never be the same again. Following every spree, he would say to himself, ‘Maybe those A.A.’s were right…’”166
In a treatment center, it is not possible to suggest someone drink. However, there are other ways to convince the indoctrinees that they are incapable of moderating or quitting without AA. One of these is the “scientific” lecture. Medical “authorities” give lectures on “the disease.” Using unnamed scientific studies, the lecturer presents, in the presumed context of a non AA lecture, “the medical facts,” just as was done by Dr. Silkworth. These lectures include the “scientific certainties” of genetic defects, brain differences, loss of control, denial and inevitable progression.
Those who come to believe AA’s “One drink, one drunk,” can’t moderate their drinking. Once a newcomer learns he is “powerless over alcohol,” he is suffering from a form of learned helplessness. He “knows,” just like the inner city school children who “couldn’t” learn to read, that any effort is “wasted.” He automatically, subconsciously, can’t even try.
No one can reasonably argue that someone who drinks self destructively shouldn’t be helped to see the damage he does to himself so he’ll stop. This is not quite what AA does. They convince a prospect for membership that a force outside his control is killing him and that without AA he’ll die.
“Under the lash of alcoholism, we are driven to A.A., and there we discover the fatal nature of our situation. Then and only then, do we become as open minded to conviction and as willing to listen as the dying can be.”167
At the end of working Step One, the new grouper has made a “public statement” of “powerlessness” and “unmanageability.” He has confessed that he has no resources to stop the “inevitable progression” of alcoholism.
If the first Step has been worked properly, Devil Drink, alias alcoholism, begins taking its place as the primary driving force in the life of the new cult member. Before, the newcomer may have wondered why he drank the way he did. Now he “knows” he has a disease. While fear of death from drinking is now the primary motivating factor in the newcomer’s life, he may feel relieved at this point. He is no longer responsible, at least for the moment, for anything he has done in his past. It is not his fault, he has a disease. Devil Drink made him do it.
If the sponsor and other groupers have properly “till[ed] the black soil of hopelessness,” the new grouper is now “open minded” and ready for Step Two.
Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step Two, to the uninitiated, appears to be mostly about finding faith in God. While there may be some truth in this, working this Step is more a matter of defining God in AA’s image. However, that is actually only half of the Step and, without first working the other half, one is not ready to “come to believe” the AA doctrine to be presented.
“Restoration to sanity” implies that the newcomer is insane. While his insanity may be clear to the elder groupers who have worked the Steps, the “baby” must be helped to understand the full depths of his insanity. This takes help from his sponsor and the other groupers or the treatment center “therapist” because “Some will be willing to term themselves ‘problem drinkers,’ but cannot endure the suggestion that they are in fact mentally ill.”168 In other words, even if someone admits that he drinks too much, decides to stop and go for treatment, he still needs to understand that he is “mentally ill.” By AA definition, an alcoholic is insane. “[N]o alcoholic… can claim ‘soundness of mind’ for himself.”169 From the Big Book, “the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.”170 Of course, it is reasonable to argue that drinking to self destructive excess and the outrageous behavior that may accompany it is insane behavior. This Step, however, goes much further.
Little did the pigeon imagine when he first acknowledged “I am an alcoholic” that he was acknowledging his insanity. He may have had his own definition of an alcoholic but he now learns that to be an alcoholic is to be insane. All of the other groupers admit to their insanity. Those with more Time, of course, are much less insane than the newcomer. Their acknowledgment of their own insanity when they were new makes it easier for the pigeon to see and accept his insanity.
By accepting his “insanity,” the pigeon, already under the threat of death, becomes totally dependent on the elder groupers. Any difference in thought and opinion from the elders or the sacred text is now merely a sign of his insanity. The elders often, usually “lovingly” but sometimes not so lovingly, remind him he is insane. He can no longer trust his own thoughts and perceptions; he has the disease, he is sick, he is an alcoholic, he is insane.
Believing he is insane and will die without AA, the newcomer is confronted with the “fact” that he is “doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis.”171
He is now ready to begin putting faith in a “Power greater than” himself. This Power is most often referred to in AA as “Higher Power” or “HP.”
The job now for the AA sponsor or treatment center therapist is to secure the position of AA either as God or the only viable source of interpretation of God’s Will.
AA literature and members frequently boast of the Program as being “spiritual, not religious.” This is partly because they discarded the Bible. The core of their argument, however, is that no beliefs are required for membership. This is true, sort of. However, in order to bother with attending, one must believe AA has something to offer. It is also necessary to confess to having the disease to attend many meetings or to fully participate in other than a newcomer’s meeting. To fit in with AA’s social system, to gain status and avoid being patronized, shunned, ridiculed or taking the “sicker than others seat,” one must begin accepting the doctrine. The core of the teachings is that one must work the Steps in order to survive the machinations of Devil Drink. In order to work Step Two, one must choose a Higher Power.
For someone who believes in God, this would seem to be a rather perfunctory “God is my HP.” For the atheist or agnostic, it appears to present a difficult problem but AA has the simplest of solutions. You don’t need to believe in God. You can make AA your “higher power.”
“You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your ‘higher power.’ Here’s a very large group of people who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them.”172
For the believer in God who has his own religion or denomination, things are a bit touchier. AA must elevate itself above the recruit’s religion without leaving itself open to accusations of doing so. The 12 & 12 attacks the pigeon himself on the basis of “quality of faith.” In typical AA “humble” fashion, the words “we,” “us” and “alcoholics” are used in all accusations.
“…has to do with the quality of faith rather than its quantity. This has been our blind spot. We supposed we had humility when really we hadn’t. …The fact was we really hadn’t cleaned house so that the grace of God could enter us and expel the obsession. In no deep or meaningful sense had we ever taken stock of ourselves, made amends to those we had harmed, or freely given to any other human being without any demand for reward. We had not even prayed rightly.”173
These and other discounts of the newcomer’s religious practice are immediately followed by attacks on the person’s soundness of mind in the customary indirect “we,” “us” and “alcoholics” fashion.
“Few indeed are the practicing alcoholics who have any idea how irrational they are, or seeing their irrationality can bear to face it. … [N]o alcoholic … can claim ‘soundness of mind’ for himself.”174
This is the way the pigeon will be dealt with from this point forward. Before he has a chance to think things through and present, even to himself, a reasonable argument against what he is told, he will be reminded that, as one of “us,” an alcoholic, he is irrational, mentally ill, evilly motivated, suffering from “alcoholic thinking” and insane.
From the Second Step onward, he will be told how to relate to his “Higher Power.” His religion may offer eternal reward, but if he doesn’t follow “direction,” AA’s word for Oxford Group’s Guidance, Devil Drink will send him to that reward sooner than he cares to go.
In order to understand the Program and its relationship to religion, it is helpful to go back to AA’s roots in the Oxford Group. Oxford Group’s goal was to convert the entire world to God control and establish the ideal government, a “God control led Fascist dictatorship.”175 Members were to attend churches, but not to worship God or as a path toward closeness with Him. They didn’t need it. They had Guidance, a direct link to God, and they had their own meetings. Their purpose was the “humble” goal of reforming the churches. They didn’t attend various denominations out of a belief in their creed. They were there to help the lost sheep, to guide them to the Oxford Group.
AA’s relation to other religions is descended from this. Early AA recommended church attendance. Quite often, individual AA members and groups still do. Bill Wilson’s views, published in “Pass It On,” were more or less that, in spite of all the terrible things religions have done, religions are good in that there is a great deal of spirituality in religion. Of course, AA is the only “purely spiritual” organization. AA was very careful in their early literature to say nothing which would be overtly contradictory to any particular Christian denomination. They even made a point of defending organized religion (but only in the context of an attack on atheists and agnostics). They never attack religion, only the practitioner. In the lengthy quote above, the newcomer is attacked for his “quality of faith.” When the pigeon accepts that he does indeed have shortcomings in this area, he isn’t told to return to his church to “set himself right with God.” He is told to continue with the Steps in order to “fit himself into God’s plan.”
The “observations” about alcoholics, better stated as attacks against the pigeon, ostensibly deal with themes consistent with almost all religions. They are, however, actually peculiar in that they are charges, in AA’s own language and terms, that the newcomer hasn't worked all the Steps. For instance, “we supposed we had humility when we really hadn't” points out the need to work Step Seven which specifically addresses “humility” in an AA context. The accusation of never having “really cleaned house” is a call to work Step Four and Step Five, taking a “fearless moral inventory” and “admitting defects of character.” “Never made amends” means one needs to work Step Eight and Step Nine. Regardless of how the pigeon takes it, the accusation of never having “freely given to another human being” has absolutely nothing to do with Christian, or any other kind, of charity. It has to do with working Step Twelve, which is “carrying the message.” The message, of course, has nothing to do with any religious or spiritual convictions the pigeon may have separate from AA. It is Oxford Group's call to practice the Five Cs; to convert others to Oxford Group. It is nothing more or less than a call to carry AA’s message, to indoctrinate others into AA.
The accusation of not having prayed properly is perhaps the most insidious of all. By discounting and, most importantly, getting the pigeon to discount, his private communication with God, AA becomes the intermediary, interpreter and authority in just what God has to say.
The nature and depth of this change to “God control” becomes clearer with an understanding of the ensuing Steps.
Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
Whatever “Higher Power” one has selected, in this Step, the indoctrinee is to begin acting and thinking on the basis of the desire of this Higher Power and begin depending on it for all things rather than his own insane thoughts and desires. Any objection to any part of this Step will bring a loving reminder of the Step Two admission of insanity and Step One admission of unmanageability.
According to the 12 & 12’s discussion of this Step, affirmative action is necessary to “cut away the self will which has always blocked the entry of God … or Higher Power.”176 The reason one’s “Higher Power” need not be “God” becomes clear,
“Isn’t it true that in all matters touching upon alcohol, each of them has decided to turn his or her life over to the care, protection, and guidance of Alcoholics Anonymous? … Now if this is not turning one’s will and life over to a newfound Providence, then what is it?”177
There is no distinction made between Alcoholics Anonymous and God in AA theology. Since their literature, particularly the Big Book, and the Twelve Steps are “spiritually inspired,” and the existence of the organization itself is a direct act of God, turning one’s “will and life” over to Alcoholics Anonymous is the same as turning it over to God.
After stating that turning one’s will and life over to the care of AA is turning it over to Providence, the new grouper is customarily attacked. To argue against turning everything over to “Something or Somebody else” is,
“[T]he process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development.”178
The trouble with “this kind of thinking,” thinking perhaps that God gave us our will and our lives as a precious gift, is, according to the 12 & 12, that it “takes no real account of the facts.”179 The Orwellian “facts” are,
“The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. Therefore dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit.”180
AA, like all mind control cults, seeks to control the inner world of intellectual experience. This control isn’t limited to loaded language. One is taught that he doesn’t have a right to think his own thoughts. His thinking should be “on a higher plane.”
“How persistently we claim the right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think…”181
Not only does the AA member not have a right to his own thoughts, this restriction extends to emotional life as will be detailed in Step Four. AA members are taught to disrupt their own thinking with thought stopping techniques. The most popular way in AA is ostensibly through prayer, “Thy will, not mine, be done.”*1 This phrase or an entire prayer is to be said “In all times of emotional disturbance…”182
Among the times a newcomer is likely to suffer “emotional disturbance” is any time a thought overtly contradictory to AA doctrine comes to mind. This is when the thought stopping technique has its most powerful and negative effect. In AA, it is sincerely believed that AA comes from God, and that critical thoughts about AA are evilly (“disease”) motivated. The “disease” is to be suppressed in oneself, and this means suppressing “alcoholic thinking.” The AA member quickly learns to “stop” all negative thoughts about AA. While there is some permission to think thoughts critical of certain members, particularly those with less Time, and even to think critically of some meetings, without the capacity to think negative thoughts about the AA doctrine itself, it comes to be rationalized and seen as perfect. One doesn’t see a flaw in the doctrine and adapt the doctrine. One thinks (alcoholically, of course) one sees a flaw in the doctrine, and works to “understand” where the flaw is in oneself.
This is closely tied to “honesty” in AA. The doctrine, being “spiritually inspired” is perfect. If one’s life experience doesn’t fit the doctrine, it isn’t the doctrine that is wrong, the person isn’t really honest. A great deal of “progress” in “getting honest” and “spiritual growth” has occurred in the first three Steps. In Step One, the pigeon has “gotten honest” in admitting the Power of alcohol and his own Powerlessness in the face of it. In Step Two, the pigeon has “gotten honest” in acknowledging that AA is a Power capable of defeating Devil Drink and acknowledging that he is insane and cannot trust his own thoughts. In Step Three, he must “get honest” on the need to turn his “will and life” over to AA/God. Out of “honesty” he begins to work for the “willingness” to discard the self which he learned in Step Two is insane. He is to work to make his own thoughts go away.
The consummation of this Step may be the recitation of the “Third Step Prayer.” In this prayer, the grouper prays, “Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.”183
The following two Steps, four and five, can be considered together.
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Great expectations are built up for working these Steps in AA literature and in the meetings. Groupers bear witness to their life changing effects. They speak of new found Serenity or a new awareness of their Higher Power. The Big Book promises “we are delighted. …We can be alone at perfect ease and peace. Our fears fall from us.”184 The 12 & 12 promises “a healing tranquility”185 and holds out the promise of becoming “conscious of God as they never were before”186 upon the completion of Step Five.
Step Four, the “moral inventory,” is much more than a written confession of sins or “defects of character.” In preparation for writing out the inventory, evil is redefined according to the AA “world view.” In the writing, one redefines oneself, and one’s past, in the AA image. The stress is on evil or sin, usually referred to as “defects of character.” It is a complete switch from the “outsider doctrine”*2 of alcoholism being a medical disease to being a “spiritual malady.” In Step One, the alcoholic’s problem is “external” in the sense of “not attributable to self.” The alcoholic has a “disease.” His problems are due to the power of alcohol/Devil Drink. However, by the Fourth Step, the stress is now on alcoholism as a “spiritual disease.” Although rarely bluntly stated, it is believed to be caused by moral failings. Whereas in Step One the blame is on “the disease,” by Step Four, the “baby” knows, “…our troubles are basically of our own making.”187
The Big Book discussion of the Fourth Step begins, “being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us…”188
Principle among the “manifestations of self” is normal human emotion.
Anger, usually referred to as resentment, is considered the “number one offender.”
“But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.”189
One of the recommended ways to not be angry is to use thought stopping techniques. When one becomes aware of anger, one is to say to oneself, “God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”190
AA members have two motivations for not allowing themselves to experience anger. One is that it is “unspiritual;” it is a sin.191 *3 The other, demonstrated in the above quotation from the Big Book, is that the grouper fears he will die if he allows himself to experience his anger. While fear is the primary motivation for the grouper to suppress awareness of his anger, he unlikely, with the accumulation of Time, to feel afraid or even be aware that it is such a major motivator of his behavior.
In Step Four, he also learns he must suppress awareness of the “evil and corroding thread” of fear. Although, beginning with Step One, his primary motivation in life is fear, the grouper doesn’t maintain awareness of it. Being aware of what is going on within himself would be “dangerous,” “evil,” “unspiritual” and “useless.” The areas of emotional life which are to be disowned, for one to become unaware of, also includes a broad range of emotions termed “self pity” including sadness, loneliness and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
Self confidence is also considered a liability.
“Some of us once had great self confidence, but it didn’t fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse.”192
There are many direct correlations between AA’s scorn for normal human emotion and thought and the attitudes expressed in the addictive family system. In the addictive family system, the child’s awareness and perceptions are discounted. In AA, the member’s awareness is called “alcohlic thinking.” The child is taught that the experience of various emotions is wrong. AA teaches the same. The child in the addictive family system is caught in the bind of figuring out how he is wrong. In AA, the grouper is in the same bind. The doctrine and the elders are never wrong; something is wrong with the grouper. AA extends this “wrongness” and “badness” of the alcoholic. Any time the alcoholic is upset about anything it is a sure sign that something is wrong with him*4
“Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame?”193
With the various “manifestations of self” fully defined, the grouper is ready to write out a thorough confession of his sins from the perspective of “alcoholic” or “bad child.” Much more than a confession of sin, it is also a redefinition of the self and the adoption of a “repentant sinner” role. In writing one’s “moral inventory,” all important events in one’s life are looked at and written from the “I am a sinner” perspective.
Many versions of Step Four exist from the original Big Book version to its expansion in the 12 & 12 to various “recovery house” versions to those unique to individual AA sponsors. They are all to be written and all are unanimous in that the “manifestations of self,” whatever they are called, are to be identified. Each version opens doors to the possibility of guilt in various areas the author thinks likely to be overlooked by the indoctrinee.
This is an extremely emotional period for the new grouper. Not only is he bringing up painful incidents going all the way back to childhood that “proved” him “bad,” but he is to accept in his adult consciousness that he is, indeed, “bad.” Every incident which provoked fear, anger, sadness, hurt or loneliness is looked at from the perspective that, in some way or another, he alone was wrong. He is a sinner. He is guilty. It is easy, in terms of AA doctrine, for him to see how defective he is. Even if he displayed little or no “bad behavior,” he certainly had emotional responses. If one of the major events in his life was the death of his parents, he certainly sinned and sinned greatly. Since the normal response of children who lose parents is to feel sad, lonely, hurt, helpless, angry and afraid, it is obvious to the grouper that he was guilty of self pity, resentment, fear and “alcoholic sensitivity.” The grouper is to understand that allowing these emotions to exist is the “real” problem. This points to one of the main purposes of Step Four, the institution of emotional control. The indoctrinee is to work to understand that allowing the existence of “self” was the cause of all ill effects. For example, the member who lost his parents as a child rationalizes, from the AA perspective, and comes to believe that his childhood experience of “self pity, resentment, fear and alcoholic sensitivity” was the cause of problems. In carefully defining prior emotional experience as bad, any current emotional awareness is also seen as bad. The grouper has new reasons to work to suppress it.
As the indoctrinee works on Step Four, he very likely can’t help letting off a lot of steam from pent up emotions. As he writes of past traumatic experiences, he may share some of the pain with his sponsor, with fellow groupers or at meetings. This is accepted, even encouraged, during the “honeymoon” period.*5 Later displays of emotion will be seen as a sign of not “working the Program” since the Program is supposed to make “bad” feelings go away.
As the time for the Step Five confession approaches, he is likely to find he has certain secrets that he would prefer to “take to the grave.” However, he knows that it is essential that he reveal these in order to avoid a return to the bottle and death. Fear of exposure adds to his emotional turmoil. he may consider only telling God. However, the 12 & 12 is very clear on the necessity of making confession with “another human being.” One of the “reasons” is that “being alone with God doesn’t seem as embarrassing as facing up to another person.”194 Another is that being honest with God alone is “largely theoretical.”195
While the Big Book is very careful to suggest that “Those of us belonging to a religious denomination which requires confession must, and of course, will want to go to the properly appointed authority…,”196 the later 12 & 12 stresses the need for “someone who is experienced, who not only has stayed dry but has been able to surmount other serious difficulties. Difficulties, perhaps, like our own.”197
Another difference between the discussion of Step Five in the older (1939) Big Book and the newer (1952) 12 & 12 is the reintroduction of the word “guidance” from the Oxford Group, but now without the capital “G.” The word is missing altogether from the Big Book version of this Step, which was written at a time when AA was attempting to hide its association.
The resurrected word “guidance” explains the need to confess to another.
“[P]eople of very high spiritual development almost always insist on checking. … the guidance they feel they have received from God. Surely, then, a novice ought not lay himself open to the chance of making foolish, perhaps tragic, blunders in this fashion.”198
While admitting that checking guidance*6 may not be infallible, the literature makes clear that it is better than one’s own prayer and meditation.
“[I]t is likely to be far more specific than any direct guidance we may receive while we are still so inexperienced in establishing contact with a Power greater than ourselves.”199
Notice that those who “check guidance” are those who have more experience in “establishing contact with a Power greater.” It is another way of saying those with Time.
While working Step Four, there is usually a tremendous amount of emotional release, although the subjective experience may be that the more some feelings are expressed, the more other feelings mysteriously appear. “A Conviction of the hideousness of his own personal guilt,” combined with increasing fear as the time for confession approaches, creates an emotional peaking of both guilt and fear. Combined with this great guilt and fear is an expectancy of “Serenity” just around the corner.
If the confession has been thoroughly prepared and “nothing is held back,” the grouper may well have his expectations fulfilled. If so, AA has proved the Power of the Steps in bringing about Serenity. However, if he doesn’t have some sort of peak experience, it is his own fault. Perhaps he wasn’t honest and thorough even if he thinks he was. Any time the grouper claims the Promises aren’t being fulfilled in his life, he is opening himself up to group censure and risking loss of status. If the Program isn’t working, as the popular slogan “Some are sicker than others” suggests, the grouper is one of the sicker ones.
If he genuinely believes he was “honest and thorough,” for him to insist that he was but isn’t receiving the “payoff,” would be a symptom that he is one of the “unfortunates.” As the opening of Chapter Five of the Big Book suggests, he may be “incapable of being honest” with himself. “Unfortunates” seem to “have been born that way.” The wise grouper soon learns the wisdom of pretending. One of the more popular slogans is “Stick with the winners.” If he doesn’t “act as if” (pretend) he is “happily and usefully whole” and the “honeymoon period” is over, the other groupers may decide he isn’t a winner and, to protect their own precious “Serenity,” may decline to associate with him. At the very least, they will show scorn and contempt or be extremely patronizing.
Even if the grouper has a peak experience, which most do, it is unlikely to last for more than a few hours or days. He has let off a great deal of emotional pressure, taken away the fear of confession and alleviated guilt. But he now has his self defined as “defective” or “sinful” to a degree that is rarely learned even in the addictive family system. Where in childhood the alcoholic learns parts of his self are “bad” in a “haphazard” or “random” manner, in AA the definition of the self as bad and useless is extremely thorough.
A partial list of “bad” parts of the self, those which are “defects of character,” includes anger, sadness, loneliness, fear, being “too happy,” feeling self confident and being sensitive. Other manifestations of self include self knowledge, having hopes and dreams (ambitions), one’s own thoughts, one’s own will and the instincts.
Not only is most of the self defined as bad, but in a very bizarre, limited way, tiny parts of the self are defined as good or useful. Gratitude is good as well as are humiliation and apparently, at least sometimes, embarrassment.200 The will can be good. It is good when used to work the Steps.
Working Steps Four and Five is not the end of guilt. With so much of the self defined as evil, the grouper will have much to feel guilty over without even counting overtly bad behavior. But he is still only beginning. Just recognizing all his defects takes Time.
As the grouper becomes more skilled at identifying more of himself as sinful or “defective” and learns to suppress awareness of the existence of these “bad/alcoholic/sinful” parts of himself, the subjective experience of an awareness of God is likely to increase. When “sharing” at a meeting, he may be surprised to find himself saying “spiritual” things he doesn’t recognize as coming from himself. It is “God” speaking through him. Of course, he is merely repeating AA beliefs he has heard from other groupers, read in AA literature or knows “instinctively” because the dysfunctional beliefs responsible for his problem drinking are, to a large degree, held in common by other alcoholics. He has the subjective experience of God speaking through him because he is becoming less aware of his internal experience as he “turns over” his defects of character to God (uses thought stopping techniques).
As the grouper learns that certain thoughts are coming from his “Higher Power,” he also learns that other thoughts and most emotions, those inconsistent with AA’s definition of “good,” are from the evil self which must be done away with. This “not AA” force, the self, is referred to as “my disease,” “my alcoholic” or “John Barleycorn.”
As the vital flow of information from the subconscious to the conscious becomes more restricted, Devil Drink assumes a mystical, magical, supernatural nature. Fear of the awesome power of Devil Drink, which is actually fear of oneself, intensifies dependence on Guidance from one’s Higher Power. This Guidance is merely AA doctrine and the AA elders combined, perhaps, with the newly resurrected “abusive parent defined God.”
Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
The Big Book version of how to work Step Six is extremely simple. One need only ask oneself if he is “willing” to have his “defects” removed. For defects he finds he would rather keep, he is to pray for the willingness to give them up.
Probably as a result of 13 years of practical AA experience, the 12 & 12’s expanded discussion of this Step begins by cautioning the grouper not to expect much in the way of defect removal, “with most of them we shall have to be content with patient improvement.”201 Much of the discussion of this Step is about “lesser” sins, and about how everyone, if truly honest, can find many of them in themselves. After pointing out that most people don’t steal, murder, rape, and be extremely lazy out of “self interest, pure and simple,”202 lesser degrees of these sins are pointed out. For instance, a lesser degree of stealing is letting “greed masquerade as ambition.” For murder, which is caused by anger, a lesser degree would be “self righteous anger.” For rape, it would be “imaginary sex excursions.” A milder version of being lazy is to work hard in order to retire.203 Evidently Sun City, Arizona is Sin City. The intent of the comparison is to create guilt in the indoctrinee who has been working hard to retire or who has retired.
The goal of this Step is to further widen the definition of sin, to increase guilt, increase the need to purge that guilt and increase the feeling of a need to change. Most important of all, however, is the direction of this change. The grouper is to “become entirely willing to aim towards perfection.”204
A popular AA slogan; “Progress, not perfection” and an acknowledgment in Chapter Five of the Big Book that “We are not saints. … We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection” would seem to be contradictory to “aiming towards perfection.” However, Chapter Five and the slogan merely acknowledge that their ideal of perfection can’t be reached. In AA, as in all mind control cults, an ahuman model of perfection is held out which is impossible to reach. The member is to always work to “progress.” He is never done with the battle of suppressing his self. To achieve this “progress,” the grouper is to “abandon limited objectives,” meaning his own, “and move towards God’s will for us,”205 meaning AA objectives. The grouper, as with most non hypnotic AA “suggestions,” is cautioned, “Delay is dangerous, and rebellion may be fatal.”206
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
The Big Book version of how to work Step Seven calls only for a simple prayer. The central theme of this prayer and this Step is, “I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows”207
The 12 & 12’s expanded discussion stresses “humility” as “a necessary aid to our survival.”208 Against the threat of death without it, the newcomer is promised that, with humility, he has a good chance of “becoming truly happy,”209 in the future.*7 The major component of humility is “a desire to seek and to do God’s will.”210 God’s will, of course, is encompassed within the Steps. The path to humility is modeled by the elders’ own journey. “But now the words, 'Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works’ began to carry bright promise and meaning.”211 This total discounting of each and every human being’s innate value and God given potential for growth and change is why AA members are so insistent that AA is responsible for, not only everything good in their lives, but also for life itself.
The supposition in this Step is that, if one is humble enough, God will remove “one’s manifestations of self” It never occurs to the grouper that perhaps God created us as feeling, thinking beings for a reason. It does no occur to him that perhaps the AA elders don’t have a special consciousness of God’s will. If such thoughts surface, they are quickly dispelled. They would have long since been pointed out as the work of the “cunning, baffling, and powerful” one, the disease.
“Humility” is gradually acquired in AA. Each Step makes its own contribution. In Step One, the grouper admits he is “powerless” and is incompetent to manage his own life. He then admits he is insane, thoroughly discounts his own communication with God and comes to see himself as incompetent and evil and accepts that he can’t change himself. In Step Seven, “humility,” the discounting, holding in contempt and the disowning of the self, is held up as an essential end in and of itself.
Before AA, the grouper drowned out selected parts of his self, his thoughts, emotions, awareness and potential, with alcohol. In AA, he intensifies his oppressive self hatred with thought stopping techniques, adopting the “repentant sinner” role and telling others how sick he is. He ferrets out every aspect of self, redefining that which is “good” as coming from AA and that which is “bad” as being truly his.
Guilt arising from the existence of self leads the grouper into an orgy of “humble” confession. In this purging of guilt over being hopelessly defective, the grouper is no longer a lonely, wretched sinner. He is a wretched sinner with company. Everyone in a meeting suffers from pretty much identical defects even if some don’t know it yet. By sharing his struggles, by confessing his “shortcomings,” his “resentment,” “self pity,” “willfulness,” “alcoholic thinking” and “powerlessness,” he momentarily purges the guilt of existence and feels as one with the group, the great moral crusade, with God.
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
These Steps, like the others, mimic the spiritual principles of the world’s great religions. However, in AA “making amends,” elsewhere known as “atoning for one’s sins,” is also perverted. The major motivation for making amends in AA is not regret, but fear of drinking and dying. Also important is the promise of being “catapulted into the fourth dimension of existence” for “painstakingly” working the Steps.
This distorts the purpose behind acts of atonement. When a grouper makes amends, he isn’t necessarily sorry. Of course, any act he does regret will make the list of Step Eight and amends will be made in Step Nine. However, he also is likely to “make amends” he wouldn’t make if he valued his better judgment. In AA, if one’s better judgment does not agree with the elders, it is merely “one’s disease speaking.” It is willfulness and self-centeredness.
This Step is often carried to ridiculous extremes. For example, one woman shared at a meeting that her sponsor had told her she must make amends in a situation where she had serious misgivings.
While alone in a ladies room, she was confronted by a man standing in front of her masturbating. Shocked and frightened, she screamed at him to get out. He didn’t blink. She screamed at him again. He still neither stopped nor left. Probably more out of panic than anything else, she hit him. Her sponsor told her that while what the man had done may have been wrong, it was her responsibility to “keep her own side of the street clean.” She needed to make amends to him. Her “sobriety” was at stake.
While this example may seem extreme*8, this woman’s plight is not unusual in AA. It is entirely consistent with AA’s view of the “alcoholic” as “bad child,” sinner or hopeless defective. Doubtless her sponsor saw, and she herself worried, that not wanting to make amends was a dangerous “manifestation of self.” She was humiliated by the exhibitionist. If she actually carried out “making amends” she would have felt humiliated again. In AA, “humiliation = humility.” It is a good emotion.
The final three Steps, Ten, Eleven and Twelve, can be called the “maintenance” Steps. Their purpose is to maintain the cult hold.
Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
This Step is a call to continue the work of Steps Four through Nine in a regular, though perhaps less formal, manner. The inventory may be written or not and may be done daily, weekly or monthly. The important point is for the grouper to continue to ferret out instances where the self rears its ugly head. Any such finding is to be immediately followed by confession.
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
In Step Eleven, the grouper is to work for “conscious contact.” Rather than being an entirely new concept, it is more a continuation of Steps One, Two and Three. The call to pray “only for knowledge of God’s will for us” means that one is not to pray “selfish” prayers. Essential to cult purposes, the answers that really come from God or one’s Higher Power are consistent with AA doctrine, or at least with one’s immediate elders.
When meditating,*9 one is to find a “good” thought to meditate upon. “We rest quietly with the thoughts of someone who knows, so that we may experience and learn.”212 This “good thought” may be given by one’s sponsor. The general intent of this meditation is to “learn God’s Will.” However, whatever thoughts are used as a guide in meditation become firmly planted in the subconscious as unquestioned truth. Perhaps not by coincidence, this Step about searching for “conscious contact” and “praying for knowledge of God’s Will” is immediately followed by a Step which answers those prayers. Step Twelve, from AA’s point of view, is the ultimate expression of God’s Will.
Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
“Carrying the message” is the modern day version of Oxford Group’s Fifth C, Continuance. It has a much broader meaning than directly practicing conversion. The particular tasks of “carrying the message” are divided, although not by a sharp line, between the newcomers and the elders.
The newcomer is encouraged to “make a commitment” to help with the meetings by making coffee, setting up or cleaning up afterward. For the newcomer, this is helping to “carry the message” since “rescuing the alcoholic who still suffers” is every group’s “primary purpose.” Doing the menial chores frees the elders to make their own efforts to carry the message. For an elder to get a newcomer to make such a commitment is also “carrying the message.” This is usually done by telling him it will help keep him from drinking. The newcomer, although perhaps just emptying ashtrays, feels part of the great crusade to rescue the alcoholic who still suffers.
Newcomers are also expected to “take chips” and say a few words about how it wouldn’t have been possible to acquire 30, 60 or 90 days of abstinence without AA. They are encouraged to share their trials and tribulations as a result of their disease. Confessions of shortcomings or difficulties are sympathetically heard and any credit given to AA is warmly applauded.
The reticent newcomer will be told how essential sharing is to “recovery.” If the newcomer still won’t budge, he may be given the suggestion that he could be dooming someone newer than himself for being so selfish. Rare is the individual who spends more than a few weeks going to meetings who doesn’t get caught up in the orgy of confession and praise, pouring out his heart and soul to the congregation in sincere penance for his shortcomings and expressing deep gratitude to AA for salvation. In the eyes of those who are brand new, the “Fifth Step” sharing of the newer groupers is in stark contrast to the “Twelfth Step” sharing of the elders. The newcomer really is helping to carry the message. He is telling and showing how sick he is. People with Time, on the other hand, have already overcome the worst imaginable problems and no longer suffer from unpleasant emotions. The message is clear. Time in AA makes one “well.”
The accumulation of Time changes the presentation given at the podium. As the “honeymoon period” wears off, the grouper finds that sharing anything other than how AA has made him “happy, joyous and free,” or at the very least how AA is helping him progress, is received very coolly by the elder groupers.
As a person accumulates Time and works the Steps, he learns it is selfish to share about his problems. There are newcomers to be saved from certain jails, institutions and death. If his life isn’t all he wants it to be, it is his fault. He obviously isn’t working his Program well enough. Any “bad” feelings or thoughts are the work of Devil Drink. “My mind is telling me things are bad. Better to let God speak through me.” It is wise and spiritual to “act as if.” No point dooming others who have come for help.
There are many rewards for “carrying the message.” Telling about how much the Program has helped is indirectly and “humbly” pointing out one’s progress toward sanity and spiritual growth. There is also status in being a sponsor. But other reasons for “carrying the message” have more to do with avoiding punishment.
The most important driving force in AA is the fear of Devil Drink. AA considers its very existence and the survival of all members to Bill Wilson’s revelation that an alcoholic needs another alcoholic (to save) in order to stay sober (saved). However, “giving that which was so freely given” is often used as a method of ignoring problems. The Big Book advises that “if sex is a problem, throw yourself all the more into helping others.” Sponsors often advise their “babies,” when they are having problems of any sort, to “help those less fortunate.” In other words, the problems which were “dealt with” by drinking are now ignored by working to convince others that AA is the solution to their problems.
Another driving force behind the obsession to convert others was expressed by Oxford Group as “to keep the conversion experience real.” It is typical of all totalitarian groups. The cult member is in a bind. No matter how well he was indoctrinated, he is always “in danger” of becoming aware of inconsistencies and having his whole world, a world based on the perfection of the doctrine, fall apart. He gets reassurance of the validity of the doctrine by convincing others. This is aptly called “the psychology of the pawn.”
It is difficult to categorize people who have been indoctrinated into AA. One thing that can be said about them, and that they will agree with, is that they do not drink moderately. While members are very vocal about having found “a solution to the alcohol problem,” only a very small percentage of “true” alcoholics in AA, probably less than 5 percent, manage to not die from “their disease.”*10 Most members go through seemingly random length periods of abstinence and then, without having any real clue as to why, set off on a suicidal drinking binge or even attempt suicide.*11 Many members “go in and out” for years and eventually give up on quitting drinking because they know that “AA is the last house on the block,” meaning that if AA doesn’t work there is nothing left to try.
Drinking by members is used to point out the dangers of “halfway measures” and as proof of how well the program works. The frequent suicides are passed off as “the alcohol got ’em” and serve as warnings to members to be humble, obedient, selfless and take direction from the elders who are further along the Spiritual Path.
In spite of the differences in those who have worked the Steps, there are many common characteristics…