Alcoholics Anonymous: One size does not fit all

One size does not fit all. This is a bold and truthful expression whether it’s being used in the literal or metaphorical sense. I love a good metaphor and if I can find one to help me deliver the blog goods about whatever it is I’m blogging about; I’ll beat that metaphor into the ground. Today I want to talk about why Alcoholics Anonymous, or A.A., isn’t a good fit for some people who struggle with alcohol addiction and I'm using this metaphor. I promised you some posts for alcohol awareness months and I’m keeping my promise. However, it’s important to note that I didn’t promise not to piss anyone off. This post might piss people off.

It shouldn’t, but it will.

Simply put, A.A. is terrific for some and terrible for others. Alcohol addiction isn’t a one size fits all disease either, although it is an equal opportunity a-hole. It sees no color, gender, race, religion or socio-economic status. Anyone can become an addict at any age. You know what else? Anyone can become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. All one needs to do is to have a desire to stop drinking. A.A. can’t promise you that it will work for you, but it promises to try if you want to stop drinking.

It’s just that simple! You just have to want to stop! Everyone in the program knows how hard that can be, so the beautiful simplicity of this one membership requirement is my absolute favorite thing about A.A., and that's saying a lot, because there is much to love about A.A.! You can hit your first meeting drunk, hung-over or sober – as long as you have a desire to stop drinking, you are welcome. I have a great fondness for A.A. I don’t have to think it’s the right choice for every alcoholic to appreciate the positives of the program. A.A. is, in my opinion, fucking awesome!

In the 25 years I have been personally and professional exposed to a-hole disease of alcohol addiction and the culture of alcohol addictions theory about cause, recovery and treatment, I’ve longed to find answers to help and support the people I work with, live with and love. I’ve tried to get as much information I could absorb from as many sources I could find. I’ve spoken to professionals in the field of addictions, worked in the field myself, combed through literature and research (books, professional journals and publications), spent time with and loved recovering and active addicts and their family members and friends, exhausting every last resource.

I’ll never stop! There will always be new information and I will be ready and waiting to learn what it is and how I can use it to help others. But for now, all I know for sure after all this time and experience is that when it comes to alcohol addiction and recovery, all alcohol addicts are different and that one size treatment for alcohol addiction does not fit all.

There are many paths to sobriety and I believe with my whole heart that people need to be aware of this truth! A.A. is a good way, but it’s not the only way! A.A. is one program that people who are addicted to alcohol can use to help them get and stay sober. It’s the most well known program of recovery for alcohol addiction for a very good reason; for many people, it fucking works!

However, what most people don’t know about recovery from alcohol addiction is that just as many people get and stay sober without A.A.

Why do you need to know this?

Because it’s likely that you or someone you love might need some help dealing with the horrible disease of alcohol addiction someday, and you or someone you love is going to need to know that if A.A. doesn’t work for them, it’s not as simple as an addict being “constitutionally incapable” or having “defects of character” as the language used in the program might suggest.

A.A. was created by a couple of middle-class, white, Christian males in the 1930’s – Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson. The program and its principles are based on the opinions, experiences and emotions of two flawed and unique human beings, who found a path to sobriety that worked for them. Fortunately, it worked for others too, but that certainly didn’t mean the program was infallible. It wasn’t then and in the almost 100 years since the creation of A.A., the advances in science, technology, medicine and culture have made this statement even more profoundly true and so important to acknowledge!

Brave dudes - Dr. Bob and Bill W. sharing feelings, yo!

Brave dudes - Dr. Bob and Bill W. sharing feelings, yo!

Today, we know so much more about the nature of addiction and how complex of a disease it truly is! A.A. ‘s basic premises and assumptions about the nature and treatment of alcohol addiction have not changed much since the program was created, and neither has the language used in the program literature. This can be problematic of a particular A.A group isn’t open to this truth, and unfortunately, there are many A.A. groups that adhere to what it sometimes deemed by professionals as “old school A.A.”

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob died long before science and technology gave addictions research and medicine the attention it deserved. Over time, as A.A’s “simple path” to sobriety and twelve steps and traditions, as revolutionary as they seemed at the time, now fail to integrate some of the new developments with regard to the nature of the disease of alcoholism and the treatment of this insidious, chronic, complex disease. A.A. continues to use a language, steps and traditions that demand unquestioning loyalty and adherence to the program.

A handful of the addicts I know that were A.A. "failures” don’t suffer from “simple defects of character” or a “constitutional inability to adhere to a program of rigorous honesty.” They suffer from the disease of alcoholism, a complex disease that has physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components. They are addicts whose path to sobriety doesn’t include a spiritual component, at least not by their definition.

A.A. is a great program for people who are comfortable utilizing a spiritual component as part of their recovery process. The addicts I know who struggled to embrace A.A. struggled most with what they considered to be poorly masked Christianity and reliance on a spiritual component in every step of their recovery process. The second and third steps of A.A. encourage acknowledgment of a “power greater than ourselves” and turning “our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.” This simply isn’t a comfortable option for some people.

There are plenty of long time sober addicts who didn’t, won’t and never will be able to embrace any type of anything that includes anything that resembles God or focus on their character in their recovery process. The language of A.A. has a strong spiritual and moral tone as well as a specific definition of sobriety. Although A.A. doesn’t require secular faith or a belief in a God that reflects any of those depicted in the major religions, it undeniably integrates spirituality and some specifics with regard to moral character in it’s definition of sobriety.

In A.A., the general consensus is that your recovery from alcohol addiction depends on adherence to a “simple program,” that is, in truth, not simple at all for an addict, because addiction is a complex disease. The founders of A.A. did something amazing and at the time, revolutionary! Because of their rigorous honesty and commitment to developing and growing the program and forming a strong community, millions of people have relied on A.A. to get and maintain sobriety for almost a hundred years.

There are also millions of people who tried and couldn’t embrace the program and not just because of the spiritual component either. There will be millions more who will try and fail, not because they are defective or stubborn, but because they, like those before them, are people who are meant to follow a different path to sobriety. The simple reasons why A.A. is such a terrific thing for some addicts are the same reasons it’s a terrible option for others. Because of this, A.A. will continue to be a non-option for a certain type of person suffering from alcohol addiction.

And that’s okay, because there are other options!

I just wanted to make you aware of this during alcohol awareness month, because being aware is the first step to becoming informed, and isn’t that what we all want? We want enough information to choose our own path, and the ability to do so without feeling as if we are less just because we are different. Alcohol addiction isn’t unique. There are millions of people who struggle with the disease of alcoholism, yet each person manifests this disease in a way that reflects their unique physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self.

Shouldn’t their recovery and treatment reflect this?

You already know what I think: One size does NOT fit all.

Image via archeralcoholismstudies.com

Image via archeralcoholismstudies.com

Next post - More recovery resources.

Learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous and find a meeting close to you by clicking HERE

Read I Want a Dumpster Baby - A blog by a drunk who doesn't drink by clicking HERE

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