How It Really Works
When we first enter Alcoholics Anonymous we are encouraged to be teachable which also dangerously exposes us to be vulnerable; vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation: sexual (13th step anyone?), financial (I’ll pay you right back.), and of course, religious. (“…That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism…”)
I was so teachable that I convinced myself to return to a belief in a God that I had abandoned many years before. I did everything that was asked of me: I prayed everyday; I got a sponsor and did the 12 Suggested Steps; I even read the Daily Meditation! Mind you I was no altar boy. Rather I was desperate…teachable…and vulnerable.
During my life I have on many occasions revealed certain intimacies to friends. Raised a Roman Catholic I went to confession, and I also talked to several psychologists over the years. However, with a sober mind I have since reasoned and accepted that I am indeed a non-believer.
And I have also come to realize that when Dr. Bob and Bill W. first met on May 11, 1935 they happened upon an age-old dynamic of human interaction. That is, people feel better when they can talk to someone about their problems. We have been doing this for millennia: from confiding to our best friend, to confession in church, and yes, even in doing a 5th step.
Honest and sincere sharing of personal difficulties between like minded people is often a cathartic experience. However since the mechanics of this phenomenon remain mysterious humankind has unfortunately more often than not imbued these personal contacts with some sort of divine intervention.
In doing so many believers claim that getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous is somehow a “miracle.” Ergo, sobriety is achieved only through closeness with a “Higher Power” or a “God as we understood Him.” I would argue, instead that there is a collective “power” in meetings and exchanging personal stories with fellow alcoholics.
How and why this human experience occurs is not clearly understood. I do know that we are social creatures and we suffer when deprived of this person-to-person collaboration. For example, solitary confinement in prison is now considered “cruel and unusual punishment.” We flourish with others. We flounder alone.
Dr. Bob and Bill W. also recognized that their special ingredient was having an alcoholic speak directly with another alcoholic, just one drunk talking to and with another drunk. They also came to understand some other benefits of personal communication.
For example: In Alcoholics Anonymous it is often said that people are only as sick as their secrets. When Alcoholics Anonymous members share they learn that they are not alone; that others have experienced similar things and can offer a different perspective. And others are sometimes better able to spot signs delusion and denial.
When Alcoholics Anonymous members do not share they can lose their way in recovery; become trapped in faulty thinking and self-deception; and become isolated which often leads to relapse. (For an extended list go to: https://alcoholrehab.com/addiction-recovery/the-talking-cure-in-recovery/).
I might also mention two items to keep in mind:
1. There are a fair number of disturbed members in Alcoholics Anonymous. Be very careful to whom you open up to.
2. Alcoholics Anonymous is not a privileged gathering. Unlike talks with clergy, or lawyers, or psychiatrists anything said in an AA meeting, or with your BFF, or your sponsor can be used against you in the criminal justice system.
Just because the Big Book declares that a belief in a “Higher Power” or a “God as we understood Him” is necessary for sobriety doesn’t make it so. Unfortunately there are many believers in Alcoholics Anonymous who would rather deny nonbelievers the benefits of the fellowship than accept that there are those whose belief in a “Higher Power” or a “God as we understood Him” is not a requirement for their sobriety.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded at a critical time in America, Prohibition had recently ended. Although the common myth that alcohol consumption declined with the repeal of the 21st Amendment excessive drinking was back at its devastating levels by mid-1935. The most recent attempt at “curing the alcoholic,” the white, Christianity-based Oxford movement had just faded so it was easy to understand the progression of an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous into the truly religious one it has become. That Alcoholics Anonymous claims to be “not religious but spiritual,” (a distinction without a difference) is belied by its adherence and proselytizing of a “Higher Power” or a “God as we understood Him.”
“A problem shared is a problem halved.” Why does the unburdening of our deepest secrets often “free” us from their grip? Why do we relate so profoundly to stories? We still don’t know.
On the one hand, science has moved forward since 1935 when, for example penicillin had just been discovered. In fact, it’s not even referred to as “alcoholism” anymore, but “Alcohol Use Disorder.” On the other hand, we still do not know definitively how and why Alcoholics Anonymous works. There are no randomized, double blind, peer-reviewed studies on the efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But what is important is that you continue to sincerely share with fellow alcoholics. All those crypto-Christian steps and other rituals don’t affect things one way or another. You can even believe god is involved, whether it’s the placebo effect or Pascal’s Wager you will still benefit from a sympathetic ear and voice.
Successful members of Alcoholics Anonymous who regularly participate in meetings also change their behavior, the most profound outcome being abstinence from alcohol, one day at a time. The overriding result is that Alcoholics Anonymous has enabled tens of thousands of problem drinkers to experience sobriety on a scale never before seen.
So the combination of open sharing and daily abstinence are the two crucial and I would argue only requirements for a long and meaningful sobriety. There’s no need for all the “…May you find Him now!” Simply, “Don’t drink and go to meetings”
That’s How It Really Works!
© Vic Losick MMXVIII All Rights Reserved