The Changing Face of Alcoholics Anonymous

 Alcoholics Anonymous is changing with Technology

AA, Alcoholics Anonymous Has Transformed With Technology

B. Lenz

I love to identify Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) as the largest organization made up of people who didn’t want to join! I know I definitely didn’t want to go, each and every time I would stop drinking, but the rehab would always tell me I needed to. So as the dutiful and humbled recovering person I thought I was, I would show up to meetings after I left treatment. Although, I didn’t think it would work. I mean, it hadn’t worked that well for me in the past. I relapsed on and off for 13 years. I was looking for other recovery support, but decided to attend AA meetings in the meantime as some sort of “sobriety insurance.”

So to be clear, not everyone who goes through rehab chooses AA as a support group once they’re back “on the outside,” but many do. There is Moderation Management, Women for Sobriety, S.O.S. and other support groups one can find out of treatment, but alcoholics anonymous, AA, remains the largest, oldest, and so far, most successful of them all.

So it seems inevitable that the organization which began back in the 1940s would go through some growing pains and modernization, which it sort of has, but for the most part, it’s remained the same. Back then, nothing seemed to make any difference for those last-gaspers who usually died of alcoholism or went off to a sanitarium with a dementia commonly called wet brain. Alcoholics Anonymous was considered a revolutionary approach back then. It was the first thing that worked, but it was not without it’s share of problems.

First, alcoholics tend to be self-centered as part and parcel of the addiction. Everyone had their ideas of how things should be run. Like the proverbial “too many cooks” everyone wanted to lead and everyone thought their ideas were right. Thus, Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-traditions were born. Founder Bill Wilson, along with Dr. Bob, realized that some sort of stabilization and guidelines were needed to keep the original concept from being watered down until it morphed into something that didn’t work.

Some of those traditions include anonymity, both for the individuals and for the group as a whole, including “at the level of the press, radio and films.” To keep outside influences at bay, it was decided that AA groups should be “self-supporting through their own contributions.” The guidelines and steps were carefully crafted to address the issues and stumbling blocks common to alcoholics. It was also decided that those steps and traditions should not be altered, and in all these years, they haven’t been. The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous has been largely unchanged from the original edition, save the modernizing of some of the language and the addition or subtraction of the personal stories to reflect the changing faces of addiction. Now, people come into recovery before they are about to gasp their last breath. Reaching bottom comes earlier in the progression with the help of interventions and knowledgeable therapists and physicians. People in general have become educated about the disease of addiction, and that has come about, partially, through “press, radio and films.” And the internet.

In my first year, this time around (I haven’t relapsed for more than a decade now), I was told to check out “Welcome to the 21st Century-Recovering People of Illinois,” or I logged on a few times, but I’m a bit old school and wanted to be face-to-face with those I chose to interact with and learn from. Besides that, there were a few people who obviously liked what they had to say and went on, and on, and on… No chairperson or rolling eyes to reel in the long-winded online. I, personally, never liked being lectured to, so digesting long opinions was not for me. Even today, when I hear women talk of not having the courage to call or meet someone face-to-face, I know that they are already starting out on bad footing. We can, and do, hide and deceive behind our keyboards. To me, old-fashioned one-on-one is the only way to grow past the fear of others’ judgment. And we are fear-based people until we learn to overcome it.

But we can’t discount that the internet and social media are now how many choose to interact, and AA is finally starting to address that. I’m involved in the business end of Alcoholics Anonymous through our governing committees – steering and inter-group, which makes decisions about our area groups and stays abreast of the workings of Alcoholics Anonymous as a worldwide entity. It’s now easy to find out what AA groups are doing in Germany and New York, as well as in our own communities. We used to have to physically drive to a central service office to purchase literature, meeting schedules and other “sober paraphernalia.” The pamphlets that show up on a table at each meeting place were physically purchased and picked up at an office, somewhere, and that most likely is the case everywhere. But now that the internet has made the world a smaller place, that is changing. Recovering people can find and purchase reading material, coins and other related items online. There are meetings online. So how does that fact change the anonymity tradition?

It changes it big time. I, for one, have had my anonymity busted by my sober friends posting on facebook. My non-sober friends, if they didn’t know I was in recovery, surely do now after seeing all the AA and sobriety messages peppering my Facebook page. Sigh. Don’t like it, but I have to accept it. It doesn’t hurt me, but then again, I’m not trying to find a job, because if I was, my prospective employer wouldn’t have to look far to see that I’m an alcoholic. An alky in recovery is worth two in the bush, I suppose, but maybe a potential employer’s ignorance about the disease could negatively affect my prospects.

Then there’s the fact that, according to the traditions, closed meeting schedules should be kept privately distributed at meetings to other alcoholics, not to the world at large. It comes up at times. Even treatment centers that serve clients with mental health problems and offer addiction treatment are not to leave those schedules in their lobby where the general public has access. I personally think that may need reevaluating to grow with the times, but there is also the possibility that one poor sot in that center could be discovered at a meeting by a boss or enraged ex-spouse, which creates a problem for everyone. In our own area, we are in the process of building a website that anyone can access. The time has come. The difference here is that whomever is looking up that information is looking it up from the privacy of their computers, keeping the user anonymous. The good side of this is that the information will become more accessible than ever before – perhaps saving lives of those too embarrassed or otherwise unable to physically seek out that information.

Another way Alcoholics Anonymous, AA is changing is at the level of “press, radio and film.” We now have a sitcom, Mom, which is about an alcoholic mother, daughter, and granddaughter. The mother and grandmother both have found recovery and they both attend Alcoholics Anonymous, AA meetings. My jaw dropped when I saw the first skit showing them at a meeting. The way they shared, spoke and depicted meeting protocol was right on, but I’d never seen that on TV, and silently wondered if that was a tradition breach. The positive I saw in it was that it may have demystified what “they do at those meetings.” to anyone pondering whether they have a problem or not. Perhaps it’s human nature in general to be fearful of what we know little about., and addicts and alcoholics are fear-based people, though we don’t know it when we first start out. Pushing through fears and growing are part of the work we do in recovery, it makes life so much easier. Plus, when we escape facing life’s difficulties by retreating into a high, we don’t mature like others do. We’re not walking through life’s tough spots and learning to avoid the potholes; we’re escaping into never-never land. “I’ll deal with it later”, is how we operate. An episode of Mom even highlighted a relapse, which is often part of our process, although it doesn’t have to be.

And Mom isn’t the only depiction of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA I’ve seen on the tube. I was watching an episode of DeadlySins on the ID channel, when I heard someone on the show outing himself as a member of AA, along with others. He even bastardized one of our quotes, saying that one should “sweep your own side of the street,” meaning we should take care of our own business rather trying to manage somebody else’s. The episode was about the murder of alcoholic, Ken Carpenter. Since he’s no longer with us on this earth, he may not care that his anonymity was breached. Those talking about it didn’t seem to care about theirs, either. True, there are movies about recovery that talk of AA – Days of Wine and Roses, 28 Days, Clean and Sober, but none of those show the inside of a meeting, itself, and they are fiction. Deadly Sins is reality TV. Real people sharing what’s so.

Lastly, there’s “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking”. Anyone 60 and under has probably tried or concurrently used drugs along with their booze. It’s a part of our culture that’s unlikely to change. Many addicts choose to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because they say there is more long-term sobriety and it’s been around longer. That may or may not be true, but most of us have heard a crusty old-timer chastise a member for mentioning drug use. “This is AA! We don’t talk about drugs here!” My reply is always about sending them back to the Big Book to read “Dr., Alcoholic, Addict.’ It’s a story from the original text that’s about a physician who also used drugs to keep him functioning with his alcoholism. That usually stops the argument, alright…

So is it good AA is changing? This alcoholic thinks so, but only to a certain degree. People still discriminate, and for some, outing themselves could cause great problems. For others, the embarrassment factor could be a barrier to seeking and maintaining recovery. The same discrimination that AIDS patients faced (and perhaps still do) can happen to alcoholics and addicts, too. If it were still applicable, insurance companies would likely rather not insure someone guaranteed to have a host of costly medical bills in their future. And believe it or not, there are some who would love to have their drinking buddy back, or liked the addict better when he was using, because they could have more control over them. We must remain vigilant in protecting our members from those who would use the information to hurt us in some way or thwart our recovery attempts. Support groups must remain safe havens.

Good or bad, change is here. As long as the basic premise that AA was built around remain steadfast, it should remain a viable support option. Perhaps it will save more lives. One would only hope.

The opinions expressed in this piece are the opinions of the writer, only, and may not reflect the opinions of Intervention Services, Inc.


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