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Why Alcoholics Anonymous Works Where All Else Fails… and Also, Why It Fails. Part One


This is going to be a controversial series of posts.  It isn’t meant to be.  This also isn’t an advertisement for AA.  Be a part of it or don’t.  It’ll roll on without you, or we’ll celebrate having you.  In the end, each and every recovering person is in this together, though.  Whatever our stripe, we need each other like we need oxygen.  Originally this was just going to be one post but I quickly realized there’s simply no way to cover that much ground in one post.  Now it’s going to be a series…  A big one.

The first thing I’m going to get out of the way for this series is the obvious reason for AA working or failing for someone… or why someone fails at AA, as the case likely is.  Many people like to drop, much like a gnarly fart in an elevator, the notion that AA has a success rate of around 3%.  There’s no truth to that other than 3% of the people who walk through the door of a meeting make it to one year.  In other words, the statement only holds truth if you’re a politician.  The important piece of the puzzle, beyond politicians (the bane of a free person’s existence), is from the fifth chapter in the Big Book of AA; “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path”.

And therein lies the rub, as I like to say.  I’ve never seen a person fail who was thoroughly following the path.  Never.  Not one!  Though, for posterity’s sake, I’m sure there were a few out there, so we say “rarely”.

The very first thing we have to do to start down the path is come to grips with whether or not we’re an alcoholic or addict – and let me be very clear, I don’t differentiate between the two.  I’m both.  I’ll smoke doobage or drink just the same.  Throw a little coke in there for good measure?… sure!  Let’s make it a party!  Anyway, we have to come to the conclusion that we are or we aren’t an addict or alcoholic; if you’re not, call that 85% of the people who don’t make it, then go out and try some controlled abuse rather than wasting your time.  Let me know how that works out for you in the comments section – and yes, I picked those two words, controlled abuse, carefully.  Good luck, and I’ll welcome you back.  If you make it back.  Many don’t.

Now, do you think this is harsh treatment?  Many will cringe at the invitation for someone to try a little controlled abuse before coming back.  But… but… but…  Look, Don Quixote, nobody could tell me anything before I made the decision that I wanted to be sober.  I had a doctor tell me I was going to die in less than ten years, at the ripe old age of 22, because I had the liver enzyme readings of a sixty-year-old chronic alcoholic.  I drank for almost a full year after that until I got busted drunken driving again and sentenced to inpatient treatment.  In treatment, it was a full two weeks, smack dab in the middle of withdrawals, before I came to.  Only then was I capable of setting aside my ego and accepting that, as recovery goes, I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground and I needed help.

Without that conclusion, I’d have been lost.  Nothing would have changed my mind – it would have been a waste of time and breath trying to convince me, because no thought is more detrimental to recovery than, “I don’t have anything to recover from“.  And that is the toughest part for those of us who have found freedom; to watch new people struggle to turn the light on.  The clean and sober life is so good when lived right, that we just wish we could jam what we’ve got in our melon, our experiences, strength and hope, into a newbie’s melon so they can see for themselves just how wonderful it is to bask in the sunlight of freedom.

Sadly, that’s not how it works.  We have to be ready for freedom first, lest we’re too blind to see it.  And that’s the first reason why addicts fail when they come into AA… and why AA fails them.  We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make it think, was ever thus.

That’ll do for part one.  Stay tuned for part two.  It’s a doozy.


  1. gr8ful_collette says:

    Good post Jim. I look forward to reading the series. I agree that no program, approach or method will help or work for someone who isn’t ready to quit.

  2. […] Three in this series is going to be fun.  Part One is (here), Part Two is (here).  I’m going to get into why AA fails for the abundant folks who […]

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