AA Is a Cult & Other Myths of Recovery
12 AA Myths that WILL Keep You Drunk
Last night I heard an AA member actually use the "c" word. He said when he first came into AA he refused to drink the Koolaid because...
"AA is a cult. "
I had just read those exact words -- along with "We know AA won't work because she's an atheist" -- in a comment on one of my recovery hubs just hours before.
It made me wonder. How many people out there believe AA is a cult? How many continue to suffer because they hold onto these (and/or other) misconceptions about the program that has saved millions of alcoholics' lives around the world?
This hub addresses some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding AA and its 12-Step program of recovery from alcoholism. (Bonus: 12-Step recovery also works for other addictions including drugs/narcotics, gambling, sex, overeating, internet, etc. The 12-Step concept even works for those who live with alcoholics/addicts).
Why 12? Why not 10?
I picked 12 myths because there are 12 Steps in AA. AA is, after all, a 12-step program. In fact, AA is the granddaddy of 12-step programs. Since this hub is about AA myths, I wanted to pick a number associated with AA.Hence 12.
This is not to say there are only 12 myths surrounding AA. Please feel free to add your own suggestions. Who knows. We could end up with "AA Mythbusters II, III, IV, etc." Heck, this could become a regular "AA Mythbusters" series!!
The 12 Myths of AA
1.It's not for atheists
2. God = religion
3. Too many rules
4. I'm not like them
5. I can handle this myself
6. It's only for dumpster-diving old men
7. They meet in nasty smoky church basements
8. They won't let me have sex!
9. I'll be exposed as a drunk
10. I just want to learn to drink normally
11. I'll never have fun again
12. It's a cult and nothing more
Myth #1 There are no atheists in AA
Categorically false. There is a saying "In a foxhole there are no atheists." It means that it's hard to deny God when your life is that literally on the line.
If addiction to alcohol -- in liquid or any of its other mind-altering forms -- is kicking your butt, maybe it's time to revisit the staunch no-God policy.
I have a secret for you. You can still be an atheist and be in AA!
Many (too many) people use "I don't believe in God" as an excuse to reject the helping hand of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many sober people in AA still classify themselves as atheists in the classic sense. And yet they are sober. How can this be so? Read on.
Sorting it out in your fuzzy brain
Myth #2 You talk about God; you must be a religion
First part = true. AA does talk about God. A lot. We talk about a "loving God" and we talk about "a God of our understanding."
Second part = false. In a religion, everyone prays/pays homage to the same God/god. Not so in AA. We don't have a Jesus, Yahweh, Mohammed, Buddha or any one deity or icon. We have only the idea (or promise) of God.
Wanna hear something really, really cool? You actually get to choose your own God. For many -- and not just the avowed atheists among us -- that right there is extremely freeing!
AA: check it out for yourself
Myth #3 AA has too many rules
I understand. No alcoholic likes to be told what he can and cannot do. We react by doing the opposite! Authority is a dirty word to alkies. F-the rules.
I get it. I feel the exact same way!
But if you hate to be dictated to, AA is actually a great place for you! AA actually does not have any "rules." Instead, we have "suggestions." There is a big difference. It may seem subtle, but once you get inside you'll realize no one here can boss you around, tell you you're doing it "wrong" or kick you out!
Please don't base your opinion of AA on bad experiences with organized religion. Christianity has The 10 Commandments. AA has The 12 Steps. Both are guides for living. You can "work" the steps (and it is highly advisable, if you don't want to end up getting drunk again). But you can't "break" them. Major, major difference.
You can turn your back on AA and go out and relapse. But AA will still welcome you back with open, sober arms. There are no sinners here. There are no bad people or failures. We're just a bunch of drunks (sometimes aka a Group of Drunks or GOD) trying to help each other stay alive through another day.
Myth #4 AA people aren't like me
On the outside, maybe not. But inside, they are just like you. Every single one of them struggled to stop drinking or "stay stopped," just like you. Every single one of them has suffered from feelings of self-importance and self-loathing (often at the same time). They've had great times drinking, but then the magic wore off and was replaced by obsession, which led to desperation and hopelessness.
The list of similarities between drunks is long. It's a lot longer and more powerful than surface differences. If you close your eyes and listen to another alcoholic sharing his/her story, you will eventually recognize yourself.If you read through the stories in the back of the "Big Book" I can almost guarantee you'll find phrases, pages, or even whole stories that you could have written about yourself.
And when you recognize your tribe and feel that indescribable feeling of salvation (coming home) you'll know you're in the right place. We do understand. Only too well!
Myth #5 AA is for weak people and losers
How many times have I heard people wrongly equate sobriety with willpower. It's easy to deny you have a drinking problem. Or to know you have a problem but insist on handling it yourself (because you're strong and capable and that's the way you handle everything in life). This may be possible for some people. Chances are they are not alcoholic. They actually can put the bottle down and never look back.
If you are a "real" alcoholic, you will eventually hit the wall in your life. In AA we call it a hitting your "bottom." You will try everything in your power to stop drinking and realize -- to your horror -- that you cannot. Or you may go on the wagon for extended periods , but be miserable and crazy as a loon. You're "handling" your drinking problem, but the price is your sanity. You're not weak and you're not a loser. You're suffering from untreated alcoholism.
Would you expect to treat yourself from any other progressive, fatal illness? Cancer, perhaps? It's the rare specimen indeed who is able to pull off that miracle. And if you can manage to stop using alcohol to treat the horrible thoughts and feelings that come part and parcel of alcoholism, then hooray for you. But if you stop putting alcohol in and the horrors continue (because if you are an alcoholic you are hard-wired for horrors), then what?
Either way, you need help. AA will help you, even if you don't (at first) want us to.
Myth #6 AA is only for old men
I have two thoughts on this. First, I would have thought the 21st Century and shows like "Dr. Drew" and "Intervention" plus the tabloids and (I daresay) personal experience -- because we all have at least one drunk in our lives -- would have dispelled this myth.
You cannot judge an alcoholic by their exterior. The majority of AAs come in while still functioning -- at some level. Some of us have abused alcohol for decades while managing not to lose our jobs or families ....yet.
There are as many women in AA as men these days (at least the meetings I attend).
More and more, young kids are going off to college and smacking their heads much quicker. There is an active and growing group of YPAA (Young People in AA).
But part of this fear is valid. Homelessness (and other forms of hopelessness) come with the alkie territory. That lovely woman next to you with 25 years' sobriety once lived in her car -- After CPS took her kids away. That new guy with the the wild eyes? He just got out of prison. He used to be a prominent ____________________(judge, pharmacist, banker, musician, athlete, president, etc.).
The truth about alcoholism is it is an equal-opportunity destroyer. AA, on the other hand, is an equal-opportunity healer. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking .
Myth #7 AA meets in dark, smoky church basements
That's an outdated image more than a myth. Yes, ashtrays were once as ubiquitous in AA meetings as coffee pots and candy bowls. But these days it's rare indeed to find public buildings that permit smoking within several feet of the entrance, let alone inside!
Smoking is still part of the AA culture -- for some. Many AAs hang onto this crutch until they get enough sobriety under their belt to quit tobacco, too. As such, you will definitely see AA members huddled on the sidewalk taking their puffs before and after the meeting.
But the meetings themselves are smoke-free. If a meeting does allow smoking it will be designated on the meeting schedule (which you can pick up at any AA meeting or from the local AA central office). You'll also find a variety of meeting locales, times and formats.
If you have a thing about church basements, choose a meeting that meets upstairs!!
AA and You -- How Many Are True?
How many of these AA myths have you heard before?
Myth #8 AA won't let me have a sex life
Ha ha ha ha ha. Like anyone has ever stopped you from having sex!!
Seriously. This chastity "rule" is a valid concern for newcomers. But honestly, it's not a rule. And it also has a really valid premise.
It's suggested that you focus on your own recovery and not get involved romantically right away. This is because your sobriety is so new it's easy to backslide into old familiar (read: destructive) habits. When you add the trauma/drama of another newly sober person, the odds of relapse double. An
As a newcomer, you'll want to hang with people who can show you the ropes and stay away from swingers -- they'll mess with your heart, which will mess with your sobriety, which can quickly lead to a relapse.
But that's just the first tender months -- not forever! Put aside what you may have heard. There is no chastity requirement. AAs are not celibate. (If they are, that's entirely their own business.) Many sober couples meet and marry in recovery. It's a beautiful thing.
Myth #9 If I see someone I know I'll be outed
Another understandable fear. You've braved your first AA meeting. But there in the front row is Mary from Accounting. "OMG! Of all people. Mary! I know she hates me. Now she knows I'm in AA and now everybody at work is going to know I'm an alcoholic loser."
But wasn't Mary the one who found you passed out in the stall at the company Christmas party? Didn't Mary pour you discreetly into a cab? DIdn't Mary offer you an Alka Seltzer that day you came in late with "the flu?"
Newsflash: Mary's known you're alcoholic for years! She's recognized all the signs. Because she's one, too. She's secretly thrilled to see you finally make it into AA.
As to blowing your cover at work, it won't happen through Mary. She's learned through AA that "anonymous" means just that. She's got your back (and no,she's not going to stab it).
"In the rooms of AA, who you see here, what you hear here, what is said here, let it stay here."
Do you believe the myths?
Which of these AA myths do you personally believe to be true?
Myth #10 AA can teach me to drink normally
Close, but no cigar on this one. This is every alcoholic's dream, to be able to drink like normal people. Alas, we are alcoholics.
Our bodies do not process alcoholic normally. Our brains do not think about alcohol normally.
I've heard more than one woman confide, "I thought AA would finally teach me to drink like a lady." And many an alcoholic husband who declares, "Yeah, I figure I'll put in my year, get my wife off my back. By that time I should be dried out so I can go back out and drink like I want to."
The truth is, AA cannot teach us to drink normally. That is physiologically impossible for us. But it does teach us to live and act normally. And over time, we do become ladies. And we do make our wives and families happier when we're not drunk all the time.
In recovery we find a new normal for ourselves that doesn't revolve around booze. That, too, is a beautiful thing.
A new guide for your life
Myth #11 I will never, ever have fun again
Another classic fear. This one's pretty universal. But think about it. Drinking has dominated your social life forever, it seems. It's hard to imagine doing any of the things you enjoy without the associated beer, cocktail, glass of wine, nightcap, etc.
But on closer examination, how much fun are you really having right now? For most AAs, as our drinking progresses, previously enjoyed activities fall by the wayside. As obsessive drinking runs roughshod over our lives, fun slows to a crawl. We're left with the illusion of fun, overshadowed by the reality of alcoholic drinking.
I can tell you this. You had fun as a child, before you picked up. You will have fun as a sober adult, after you put down. It's like returning to a simpler, happier time. Anything you used to do drinking you can and will do sober -- and a whole lot more.
What is a cult, anyway?
From Wikipedia: "The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices. The word was first used in the early 17th century denoting homage paid to a divinity and derived from the French culte or Latin cultus, ‘worship’, from cult-, ‘inhabited, cultivated, worshipped,’ from the verb colere, 'care, cultivation'.[citation]
Myth #12 AA is a cult
To the uninitated (sorry, couldn't resist a little cult pun), AA's practices may seem bizarre. But consider the truly, truly bizarre situation of the alcoholic. To feel remotely "normal" s/he must self-medicate his disease of alcoholism by ingesting alcohol even when s/he doesn't want to. The alcoholic has lost the choice of free will when it comes to drinking.
AA's whole purpose is to help the alcoholic regain that choice. You are a slave to alcohol. AA doesn't want to enslave you to anything. We want to set you free!
I suspect, though, people who see AA as a cult are afraid they're going to get sucked in and "lose themselves" (see above for the irony of this argument). They come into the rooms of AA clinging desperately to their uniqueness, to their pride, and to the pipe dream that somehow they can show everyone up and do this on their own with sheer willpower. They likely view the other AA members as sheep blindly following the herd.
I will accept the premise that AA's practices and principles are bizarre. For the active drinker, they are abnormal, indeed.
But there all similarity to "cults" ends.
We do not believe in saviors. We do not believe in prophets.
We do work communally, but the main work of AA is performed solo, then shared with your sponsor and (only if you want to) with the rests of the fellowship at group level.
But what of mind control, you ask? There is most definitely mind control going on! But it's an inside job. Inside meaning inside your own head!
If you're expecting Dr. Bob and Bill W. (the founders of AA) to command you to make animal (or virgin) sacrifices or scrawl "PIG" in blood on mirrors -- or any of the negative associations we carry around about cult leaders and followers -- you're going to be either pleasantly surprised or sorely disappointed.
And one more thing. It's notoriously difficult to extricate oneself from a 'real" cult. They don't let you go without a fight == and several deprogramming sessions.
In AA you are always free to go. And you are always welcomed back. No one holds you here against your will. But I'll tell you this. After a period of sobriety, whether it's 3 months, 3 years or 23 years, you can walk out the doors of AA and do whatever you want.
Eventually -- and usually sooner, not later -- your alcoholic mind will trick you into taking that first drink. And once that happens, you will be right back into uncontrollable drinking and bonehead behaviors within a week.
Not to worry, though. You are always, always welcome at AA. We just hope you cut through the myths and accept the help we're offering. It's a lot easier to come in and work your steps and stay.
If you aren't ready for recovery AA will "gladly refund your misery at the door."
We wish you all the best. We hope you make it back safely to sobriety.
Not everyone does.