The ProgramCategory: General   Mar 17th 2015  07:22PM   0

This post is on a topic I usually avoid. One most people are excruciatingly confused about, but with which I have tremendous experience and also happened to save my life.

I avoid discussing it, mainly because I'm one small voice being drowned out by millions of ranting blowhards heavily invested in their misinformation and/or outright ignorance. Unfortunately, when lies go wide, innocent people die, so I'm speaking up. Today I stumbled on an Atlantic piece spreading the same damn falsehoods to the masses, some of whom might actually benefit from the truth, as in, not lose their life over this issue, like I almost did. So, here's the thing:

Just because you have a gym membership, doesn't mean you're magically going to be fit and trim. YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK. 

Just because you're enrolled at UT, doesn't mean you're getting an education. YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK. 

Just because you go to AA meetings, doesn't mean you're "doing the program." YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK. 

The statistics being tossed around that AA has a 5-8% success rate, are meaningless, based on nebulous data and imaginary figures. If 1,000,000 people join a gym and 2 years later merely 80,000 are in shape, does that mean gyms don't work?

You cannot base hard statistics on that tiny shred of information! How many gym members went regularly? How many worked out properly? How many then applied the principles of fitness and health to their daily lives?

Where is that data? Because in any credible study of health and fitness, THOSE FIGURES ARE FACTORED IN. Not so in studies about AA. The way the media portrays AA statistics is akin to stating that if 1,000,000 freshmen register for college, and 4 years later 80,000 have a bachelor's degree, that college doesn't work. But here's the extra credit question: How many of them went to class, did their homework, studied their ass off and aced exams?

Furthermore, you can't go to a gym for a year or two, get fit and healthy, then quit and expect to stay in shape. You can't get a degree, then refuse to apply that knowledge by getting a job in that field, and expect to magically be paid a salary with benefits and 401k. And you probably won't get and stay sober with AA if you don't work the steps thoroughly and continue to practice their principles in all your affairs.

None of this was addressed in the article, not even hinted at. Why? Because the author, I strongly suspect, has no idea what the program is. Half the people in AA meetings don't really know. They don't want to because doing it right is hard work.

A researcher (ha) sticking his head in an AA meeting and counting the number of asses-in-seats is not "researching" anything. And asking AA members to self-report on whether or not they've "worked the program" is a laughable pursuit. This is your rigorous methodology? Well, here's mine. I don't go to meetings much anymore but for 7 years I went every day, sometimes twice. I've literally been to thousands of meetings and met thousands of fellow AAs. I attended (and sometimes spoke at) conferences all around the country. I worked intently with an amazing sponsor, then taught the steps myself, working intently with other alcoholics. I gave monthly speaker meetings at rehab centers. I started my own step study meeting. I lived and breathed the 12 steps for 7 years and then I took those principles and applied them to my daily life for the next 11. And I can tell within 60 seconds of listening to someone speak in a meeting (or a bullsh*t magazine article), whether or not they've worked the program. 

My opinion is that maybe 15% of AA members have actually worked the steps properly and continued to practice the principles daily. If 8% of AA members stay sober, and 15% of AA are doing the work, that means the program probably has something like a 55% success rate. Which happens to be identical to the graduation rate of college freshmen. College works. So do the steps.

Addiction is less of a physiological "disease" than a symptom of emotional isolation, childhood neglect &/or abuse, and an inability to cope with stress or process trauma. The steps address all of that. They remove the cause and improve the setting. Done right, they enable the addict to step out of his/her isolation, process past trauma, and address current and future issues as they arise.* 

That said, the steps aren't the only way to recover, and anyone who says otherwise should be punched in the face (I'm looking at you, AAs ... you are your own worst enemy). Also, they need to take the God thing down a notch, Jesus ... but whatever, the fellowship isn't perfect, but the steps are close. Not easy, but simple and perfect for many. So next time you meet someone who says "the program" doesn't work, ask them about their steps. How long (how many pages) was their 4th step? How long does their nightly 10th step take? When was the last time they made an amends and how involved was their most difficult one? How many fellow alcoholics are they personally sponsoring and being of service to? (Hint: these are essay questions, not yes or nos, and around 85% of people who "try AA" cannot answer them.) Those questions address only 4 steps of 12, and it's important to note that many of the steps are ongoing processes. Kinda like health and fitness. Something like continuing education. Remarkably similar to life in general. 

These stats in the Atlantic are a crock of shit. I haven't had a drink for 18 years and haven't wanted one for 17.5. The reason "the program" worked for me is because I worked the program

The steps take a lot of effort, but when done correctly they're very effective. Not for everyone, maybe, but plenty of us, especially those who are not-so-slowly dying of untreated alcoholism, and certainly more than 8%. Throwing around numbers like that, made-up bullshit numbers might scare off the people who need the program most. Bottom line, this article could kill them. Had I not found AA when I did, I would be dead right now. Had I heard these statistics and believed them, I might've never tried it. That's not hyperbole. I had a matter of days left to live and AA saved my life. I just can't state it any simpler than that.

A gym is a building, not a fitness regimen. A university is an institution, not an education. AA is an organization and fellowship, not "the program." The program isn't meetings, colorful tokens, or framed inspirational sayings. The program is the steps and the steps save lives. So maybe let's not irresponsibly and arrogantly disparage it with bogus stats while thousands of untreated alcoholics drop dead all around us. Just a thought, Atlantic (and by the way, you're an asshat).

*For more on the nature of addiction, I recommend the work of Gabor Maté and Bruce Alexander


Share: Twitter