I think I may try to make this into a little bit of a series because this is proving to be far too big an issue to cover all at once. So we’ll call this part 1.
As is well-known to anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time, I’ve been sober for a minute or two. There are specific things I’ve come to accept in order to maintain an entirely abstinent lifestyle. I have bought into the idea that I am power over alcohol and that, with consumption, my life is entirely unmanageable. I have also accepted that my life, without alcohol, is spectacular. Without the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’d have been lost in the weeds.
Recently, I began researching the lawsuit filed by the parents of a woman who met a man in AA, decided to carry on a relationship with the man, allowed him to move in, stayed with him while he continually relapsed and, in a drunken rage, the man killed the woman. Strangled her. The lawsuit against AA in itself, was dropped but there is still a civil suit against the man’s sponsors to deal with.
Now, this will not be a defense of AA, even though the Twelve Steps did save my life. We maintain (or try to at least) a level of anonymity and entirely stay out of press, radio and films lest problems of money and prestige divert us from our primary purpose: To help other alcoholics recover from a disease of the mind, body and spirit.
For more than two decades I’ve simply done my part to be a productive member of society and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety and called that good. While I was concentrating on those two vastly more important things, a dissenting opinion of alcoholism seems to have gained traction. For the longest time, I simply accepted that my body processes alcohol differently than most. That once that first drop passed my lips, a change occurred that touched off a physical craving too strong to be broken until such a time as the alcohol was completely out of my system. To keep this to a sound bite, it wasn’t the caboose that did me in, it was the engine. Once I could avoid the engine, the real problems that came with the caboose, ceased.
According to some out there, we have it all wrong though. They say it isn’t a disease, that being an alcoholic is a choice. I have no opinion on the validity of the argument either way (nor do I care – I’m happy with who I am and with maintaining a sober life). However, one paper I read recently purports to debunk what good AA has done for a rather hopeless group of people. Humorously enough, he uses far flimsier evidence to claim that twelve step groups are a failure. In one example he uses the fact that a very slim minority (19%) ever make it to one month of sobriety. Far fewer (3.7%) make it to a year and only 2.5% make it to 5 years. Let me tell you folks, at 22 years, I am indeed the rare bird.
There’s a problem with this line of thought though, that AA is a failure because its membership has a tough time sticking around… Who gets “sent” to AA? Anyone who has gotten in any trouble pertaining to alcohol – and by that I mean people are sent by their parents (I was one, early on), their spouses and the court system. Back in the early 30’s when AA was just starting up, they enjoyed a 50% success rate and an additional 25% after a few relapses… Up to 75% made it past that first year back then. So what could possibly have changed? Fewer of the masses who are sent to a treatment facility or who are sentenced to AA (by one form or another) are actually ready to quit. To sober up when one is in trouble is easy…until that trouble subsides. Unless one is thoroughly out of ideas or options, why bother? Back in the 30’s there was no treatment for alcoholism. It killed you, you entered an asylum or you stayed a functional drunk. Then came Alcoholics Anonymous, a way to not only sober up a horse thief, but to fix the nature of the alcoholic so that the “horse thief” part was cleaned up as well. In other words, if you sober up a horse thief, you still have a horse thief.
Not only that, AA didn’t require any expensive treatment, it didn’t require pills, it didn’t require extensive stays in the hospital. Indeed, it was free (well, at many meetings you’re asked to leave a dollar if you’ve got one to help with rent and the excessive coffee costs, but getting one’s life back for a few bucks a week is probably worth it, no?). Humorously enough, in the paper linked above, the author makes the following statement:
In contrast, programs that teach personal responsibility and choice are far more successful than programs that teach the disease theory. While conventional treatment methods result in a 3 percent success rate after five years, programs that do not teach the disease concept, and instead teach choice, have success rates of more than 60% percent after five and even 10 years (Baldwin Research Institute 2003).
Now, pardon me for saying, but look up the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. You’d have to be a dope to think that’s not 100% personal responsibility. Sounds to me like somebody is trying to sell something. And let’s not forget, whatever programs he’s looking at with that 60% success rate, they may very well have an excellent record for recovery (and more power to them, whatever works) but I guarantee you they’re not pulling from the same pool.
With all of that said I have no care which way a person chooses to sober up, there are a half-dozen manners in which one can kick booze. If it works and one goes from a drunk to being a productive member of society, I could not possibly care less how they choose to do it. Unlike certain people.