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The War in Sobriety… Part 1.

December 2014

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.


  1. Great post! I too have read and heard all the anti-12 step stuff, have heard people spout off percentages and numbers and studies, etc. I used to rage against the machine and found myself popping resentments like mad. These days – I live and let live. If someone who has never worked a step and made 5 meetings in 2 weeks and then post a 10 minute diatribe on Youtube about how AA “doesn’t work” and is a “cult”. Good for them. Do I agree? No. Did they work the program? No. Do I have control over that? No.

    I just have to look about and see who AA has worked for and how they are happy, joyous and free. I know I am. I don’t shove program down people’s throat, but I am always available and will help anyone who is interested. I don’t use stats, but only personal experience. That’s all we can do 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this – I know you have more to say on this…so gonna check it out.


    • bgddyjim says:

      On one hand, I completely agree – that’s how we roll. On the other, throw enough shit against the side of a barn and some will stick. I’ve spent a lot of years just letting it go but sometimes I get a little fired up when dishonesty is used to malign us.

      • I understand. I still have my moments where I want to yell and scream and tell some bozos to get bent. I am sure you have read the Orange Papers. Yikes. I feel sorry for those who spend a little too much time and effort trying to debunk AA. I mean, it’s free and it’s helped millions. What’s the point of maligning it? But I am not them, so I don’t know. Anyway, thanks again for standing up on this.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Never read the Orange Papers… I’ll have to check that out when I’m in the mood to get angry for a minute. For now, I think I’m good. 😉

  2. “You’d have to be a dope to think that’s not 100% personal responsibility.”

    Hmm. Maybe I’ve been going to the wrong AA meetings, but that’s one of my bones of contention with the AA groups I’ve participated in. Any time I’d bring up the idea of me needing to be accountable for my sobriety, I got a lot of old timers head shaking at me and telling me to give it up to a higher power. I finally shut up about it (and I continued to go to meetings for quite awhile after).

    I’m definitely one who cannot drink with any sort of moderation, and whether it’s a disease, my mental state or a combination, I just know I must abstain. Shrugging and saying it’s not my fault because I’m an alcoholic never worked for me. I do whatever I have to to not pick up that first drink because no higher power ever knocked it out of my my hands for me. A higher power sure didn’t help with the withdrawal symptoms either.

    I was one of the ones who no one forced into rehab or AA, so I guess that alone probably increased my chances of success. Surrendering to treatment was probably one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

    I dunno. I don’t understand the need for people to put down AA with questionable statistics. I think it’s an extraordinary program that can help those ready to be helped.

    • bgddyjim says:

      On the surrendering to the higher power, what would you say if I said both you and the old-timers were right?

      Here’s an experiment to prove the point. Till a patch of your back yard for a garden. Throw a bunch of seeds on the dirt and turn immediately around. Walk in the house. Now, turn that garden over to God. No weeding, no tending, no water. How well will the garden do? You’ll grow some stuff but it’ll be less than someone who is accountable for their garden. No?

      On the other hand, someone who prays merely for the strength to enjoy their work, tending the garden, will enjoy the work and their returns will be the best. No?

      What you describe is one small problem with group-think meetings. The old-timers would have been wise to listen to you because they were missing the forrest for the trees. You have a role to play in there too, because you quit going, but we can save that for another time. Great, thoughtful comment. Thank you for sharing Judith.

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