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Fighting Recovery Ignorance in the Age of the Internet: Smile and Wave, Boys. Smile and Wave…

June 2017

I was recently contacted by a recovery website and asked to support their site with a free link on my page.  I actually value my recovery, my name, and my site (even if it’s an anonymous one on this blog – in the real world I don’t hide who I am) so I checked out the resource yesterday.  Whilst on vacation.  Because that’s what I do.

What I found was, let’s call it surprising.

In the modern day fight against all that is Alcoholics Anonymous, call it an unjust stigma, there happens to be a significant amount of misinformation about what it actually is and what it does.  There is one significant reason AA is attacked unfairly:  Alcoholics Anonymous is free.  You can’t sell it, you don’t need a professional to administer it, and the follow-up appointments cost a Dollar (but only if you can afford to donate one for the otherwise free cup of coffee).  If you don’t have a spare buck, we just ask that a member keeps coming back until such a time they do.  Other than that, each individual member decides if they are a member.  We are entirely non-discriminatory and accept everyone, regardless of… well anything.  If you’re a human being, we have a meeting for you.  If you’re an alien or some other form of animal, well it’s an honest program so keep coming back until such a time as you can be honest or you grow tired of people pointing out that honesty is the best policy.

With the background out of the way, I suggested that a few items would have to be changed if I were to support their page with a link on mine.  For instance, it is suggested on their site that AA only has a 5-8% success rate.  Let me be very clear about this, because I even hear this stat regurgitated in meetings frequently, if you believe that the success rate is 5-8% you’re either lying or ignorant.  The success rate is between 85 and 90% for those who actually follow the program.  For those who simply show up to have their court paper signed so they can affect a lighter sentence or ruling, yes the numbers are dismal, but we don’t, can’t and won’t force recovery on anyone.  Each person decides their own level of commitment.  Let’s look at this another way…  By those standards, anyone who shows up at a symposium for a new medical procedure is, by rights, now a doctor.  How successful is the medical profession going to be?  How about this, anyone who sits through one trial should be considered a lawyer, full license and all.  How would that work out?  Well, you can’t count anyone who walks into an AA meeting as recovering just the same.  The deciding factor is that you actually have to thoroughly work the program to be counted as a success or failure.  The Big Book says, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”  Put bluntly, I’ve never seen a person fail….  Not one.  I’ve seen thousands fail who have never fully put their feet under the table though.

This supposed “resource” gets worse from there, suggesting that AA is a religious program.  The argument could be made that parts of it are “spiritual”, but almost ten percent of the actual “instruction manual” portion of the book is devoted to those who are agnostic about religion (the first 164 pages are the “instruction manual” – what it is and how to work the program, the Chapter We Agnostics is 14 pages long, or “almost ten percent”).  When someone suggests that AA is a religious program simply respond with a question:  “Oh really?  What denomination?”  AA is an entirely non-denominational, non-religious program with a spiritual basis.  While members can sometimes become confused, claiming “Christianity” as the basis for the program (it is true, AA was formed on Christian values) the aforementioned Chapter to agnostics lays the suggestion that it’s a religious program to waste.  Let’s not forget, nearly 90% of the population believes in some form of a Higher Power, but the program is for any human with an alcoholic problem.

There are a few more minor problems that I suggested correcting on the website before I would offer my support, but I’m an immovable object on the two mentioned above…  Humorously, I received an email yesterday at around 9:30 am from the “Outreach Specialist” that stated the supposed resource would rather continue peddling ignorance by not correcting their site.

Thus, no link.  My friends, know your reality.  It’s a crazy place out there.  Otherwise, “Smile and wave, boys.  Smile and wave”.  Or alternately, “let the whirling dervishes whirl”.


  1. Enlightening stuff Jim, thanks! This is not a world I know anything about and I enjoy your take on it.

  2. saoirsek says:

    Love this. Personally, I’m a fan and an agnostic. Surprise..its still working for me. Its very timely that you e written this as recently I’ve been noticing the amount of anti Sa feeling about. WHY? Its amazing, once you follow the program to the best of you ability,get meetings, when possible, do a bit of service it works. I really mean it. I have a found a gentle way but may I add, tried to stay honest and its working( 7 years adaat) Thanks Jim,great post. *that was meant to read anti AA above* Can’t seem to correct it😊

  3. bgddyjim says:

    Why thank you. Evidence based… it ain’t just a river in Egypt.

  4. James L says:

    Insightful post – I have heard the ‘AA is a Christian’ program passed around a lot to advise people against going – it is good to hear the actual facts on it.

    • bgddyjim says:

      My pleasure! AA, if anything, is alcoholic based. Using a 164 page How To book and a little want to, we’ve been fixing drunks since ’39.

  5. Anon says:

    I don’t quite see the problem with the religious part, as long as it’s not too pushy. I’ve been having conversations with my fiancée about this lately surrounding our wedding – she’s catholic and I’m atheist. Totally atheist. I’m still 90% Christian though, as the only commandment I can’t personally follow is the one about believing in god… A little tolerance and a focus on shared values is all it needs.

  6. Paul S says:

    Great post, Jim. I totally agree. A TON of places throw out the 5-8% success rate in the midst of either selling their program or just kicking AA down for whatever reasons they seem to justify their ignorance. Like you, those who actually follow the program, with full honesty and gusto, seem to prosper. Those who relapse continually or disappear are those who balk at the program. I would see it every time one of my sponsees hits the 4th step and all of a sudden aren’t interested in the program any more. Anyways, great job here. I love the line about “what denomination?” – I have to use that!

  7. tracyabad says:

    Thank you for re-framing that stat! It always upset me to see those numbers thrown about because I knew in my gut what you just supported with facts- if you do it, it works.

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