Life After the 12 Steps

You know I used to be a power blogger and now I have to do this weird thing where I think for a while, sometimes a month or 2 before posting something.  Is this some sign of maturity?  A sign of truly embracing personal autonomy?  Or maybe I just don’t have as much to say to random people anymore.  Each week isn’t spent marinating in listening to other peoples random thoughts and musings for hours.  Every week I generally keep my opinions about life, love, booze, politics, TV shows, or the state of the world to myself with the exception of the spouse, selected family members, and my closest friends.  And even then I have been saying a lot more “oh really” or “I don’t know” or “I don’t feel like talking about that.”  Mainly though I just don’t say much at all.  And honestly…it’s awesome!

Read this recently on the International Cultic Studies website:

Insight into this relationship may be gained from a comparison with the sponsorship of a new recruit by an established member of Alcoholics Anonymous, the charismatic-like group founded by Bill W.[45] Alcoholics Anonymous does not promote sexual relations between its members, but its system of sponsors acts to instruct the recruit in the messages and rituals of the group and reinforces dependency upon it. The sponsor, someone who struggles against alcoholism and, with the group’s support, remains sober, instructs the recruit in its practices and beliefs. In return, the sponsor’s own commitment to sobriety and the group is confirmed by the recruit’s repeated narrative of personal degradation while under the influence of alcohol and by the redemption and hope derived from joining the group. Over time, the recruit adopts its message and becomes dependent upon the group which, for its part, is reluctant to let the recruit leave.

Message adoption.  System of sponsors.  Instructs recruit in practices and beliefs.  Repeated narrative of personal degradation.  Redemption.  Hope.  Charismatic-like group.  Becomes dependent. Reluctant to leave.

Well no wonder I feel a bit more quiet these days.  After leaving a nearly 23 year long relationship with 12 step “Recovery” which is nothing more than a modern day cult (or cults) at long last I feel free in every way a person could be.  Some days are still challenging and it feels like my mind and my lifestyle are still deprograming but every single day I feel truly grateful and not just the type of gratitude one has when they’re made to feel guilty by another group member for being “selfish, self centered, and discontent.”

At this point I haven’t decided how in depth I wish to write on this blog or in another format on my time in AA and Al-Anon.  Over half my life is a long time to champion the 12 step cause; and having clear, unspoiled, truly sober understanding of this part of my life has been needed so I don’t come off around it as resentful, sick, or, quite frankly, alcoholic.  Because when people tell the truth about why they left 12 steps or why it didn’t work for them, or why they disagree with it, a slew of pronouncements about the character of the teller befall them, usually behind their backs.  Sometimes there are public pronouncements but only if the AMA has signed off on the same prescribed “medical” theory.

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What I can say now with all clear-headedness is that after 23 years in 12 steps I never felt truly comfortable in it.  There was only a brief time of a few months, where I actually once in a while enjoyed a meeting.  It was after I got sick with chronic illness and I became bed bound for a year.  During that year meetings once a week was my only social life for a time.

Other than that meetings were generally something I endured because I thought I might die if I didn’t go to them.  That death would come if I didn’t get a sponsor, become a sponsor, work the 12 steps, and go to LOTS and LOTS of meetings.  Jails, institutions or DEATH.  If I didn’t do “A” I’d get “B”.  Talk about black and white thinking!

Being 18 years old when I first came into the program (upon reflection I realized one day how sinister that sounds…”The Program”) it seemed like a good philosophy to do some certain things so I could basically become a replica of a nice, normal, happy person.  That I could have a good life if I just did X and then shared X with everyone at the place where we often do X.  It was even good to share about X with others outside of meetings because after all everyone wants to be a replica of someone nice, happy, and normal.  Why wouldn’t a teen ascribe to such a philosophy?  Especially if already exposed to the doctrine of Self-Esteem (A.K.A the Pre and Post-Millennial’s Guide to Global Domination via New Age Oneness inspired by Mystery Babylon or the “If You Don’t Agree That All is God and You Are God Then You’ll Be Eliminated” Movement.)

It took learning about the real origins of AA and it’s predecessor The Oxford Group, along with studying AA’s own texts along with the texts of other 12 step groups, that got me questioning.  Sadly most folks have been duped into believing AA started out as a noble Christian fellowship that embraced values of autonomy, spirituality, and willful corporate poverty.  It was on closer inspection- from drug fiend Aldous Huxley’s writing for the Grapevine, to Sister Francis’ Joy Farm that the Wilson’s frequented, to the Swedenborgian apostate influence, to devotee and writer Ernest Kurtz noting “that Bill at times conflated spiritualism with spirituality, sometimes using the terms interchangeably”- that something began to seem fishy.

Having read and reread AA and Al-Anon literature I thought I knew what it really said.  But did I?

Speaking at a dinner given by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to introduce Alcoholics Anonymous to some of his friends, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick remarked:

I think that psychologically speaking there is a point of advantage in the approach that is being made in this movement that cannot be duplicated.  I suspect that if it is wisely handled-and it seems to be in wise and prudent hands-there are doors of opportunity ahead of this project that may surpass our capacities to imagine.” p. 574

Mr. Emerson as you may not know was a key player in happily attempting to destroy “fundamentalist Christianity” and Mr. J. Rockefeller (the same man that held that dinner for AA) financially helped Fosdick build a church and distribute 13,000 pamphlets of his sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

Of course that’s one tiny example of a “say whaaat?” moment where I wondered just who the influential people were in early AA and what they stood for and how much such philosophies may have made it into the AA Big Book and other texts from various 12 step societies.  After looking into this aspect for a couple years I came to realize many of the allusions made in 12 step literature were strikingly against my own moral and religious convictions.

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Then came the day I just finally stopped going.  It wasn’t an actual decision like “starting NOW I’m no longer a member.”  At some point before Christmas last year I just knew I couldn’t volunteer for the holiday phone lines because I could no longer proselytize the 12 step rhetoric to someone who may be vulnerable to what I saw as something potentially unhelpful.  Or at least something I knew I no longer believed in and was possibly dangerous for some if not all people, especially ones who may not even be alcoholic.

Then I looked into the origins of the modern day Alcoholism-as-disease movement including E. M. Jellinek’s (a man who never even graduated from college yet is referred to even now as a doctor) study of alcoholics and his theory adoption by Rockefeller funded research center(s) headed by AA luminaries.

One day I was ready of test AA’s theory about my own supposed disease.   After some thought it occurred to me that if I wanted… I could actually try a drink.  There was no invisible death threat anymore and if I did drink and become what all those years I was told I was (otherwise I wouldn’t have been in such rooms in the 1st place right?) then they were right and that was that.  So a few weeks later I told my spouse I may want to try a drink some day.  Weeks later I was ready and as we left the house for dinner I said “I’d like to try a little bit of beer.”  That night I had 2oz of a sour beer that had ginger and lime.  It was delicious and though I thought I hated the taste of beer, I knew I liked the taste of this.  So we split one more 2oz taster of beer.  And that was that.  No obsession, no drunken debauchery, and almost no fanfare.

Slowly over a period of almost 8 months I’ve worked my way up to having…a beer or glass of wine a few times a week.  Last week I had my 1st margarita ever (delicious) and a few weeks ago I actually celebrated Vodka day (thanks to a client telling me that day was Vodka day) with my 1st vodka tonic (also delicious).  Did I have a 2nd margarita or vodka tonic?  No.  Did I have a follow up beer?  No.  Is it hard to limit myself to one drink?  No.  Have I ever had more than one in a setting? Why yes.  Since March there have been 3 times I’ve had 3 drinks in one setting, always with friends and always over the course of 3-5 hours.  Do I sometimes wish most alcohol drinks had less alcohol in them so I could drink them all night? Yes.  Why?  Because some beers, wines, and mixed drinks are delicious!  But alas I’m the queen of pacing when I drink (I didn’t know this about myself until my wife pointed out I’m usually the one to finish a drink last) so I don’t drink as much as my mouth desires in terms of flavor satisfaction.  Why?  Because I don’t like feeling tipsy.  So no…I’m not an alcoholic.

When I broke the news to my therapist that I left 12 steps and drink regularly he said “I never thought you were an alcoholic in the first place.”  Though apparently he didn’t feel it was his place to “redefine my reality” it would have perhaps saved me some time to know he thought that.  Anyway he saw my leaving 12 steps behind as move in the right direction and a sign that I’m finally…being…as Shakespeare put it “to thine own self be true.”  For me though, being true to myself is secondary.

Being true to God is most important though I cannot guarantee I’m free of sin. However I am free of a set of principles based on hated of fundamentalists (black & white thinking is bad), embracing of spiritualism (The 12×12 was channeled by Bill W.), manipulation (we’ll love you until you love yourself…unless you disagree with us), and faulty science. I’m free of a movement that takes vulnerable people, especially young persons and convinces them they are diseased to the point of death and have no choice but to succumb to the principles previously mentioned.  And finally I’m free of an ever expanding cultural hoax that serves to create dependency on sponsors, recruiters, 12 step literature, and group-think.

Sometimes I wonder if my 23 years of discomfort in “recovery” was a blessing.  In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (6:12 KJV) he wrote:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

My restlessness and wrestling with 12 steps I feel now was based on my discomfort of the inherent lies and cult workings of a self-propelled movement that is a type or precursor for a type of universalist spirituality that is ultimately not of God and not good either.  But I take comfort in Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:37-39 KJV) where he said:

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our household at long last has moved on and away from any and all things 12 step related.  It’s been one of our greatest blessings.

Here is some food for thought about how cults operate.  Each of the eight points below has a part that reflects 12 step indoctrination at some level, at least in my experience.

Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform

  1. Milieu Control.  This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

  2. Mystical Manipulation.  There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes. 
  3. Demand for Purity.  The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.  The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here. 
  4. Confession.  Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group.  There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders. 
  5. Sacred Science.  The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute.  Truth is not to be found outside the group.  The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism. 
  6. Loading the Language.  The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.  This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking. 
  7. Doctrine over person.  Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. 
  8. Dispensing of existence.  The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not.  This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology.  If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the  members.  Thus, the outside world loses all credibility.  In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Brief on Broken Hearts

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When your heart is broken there isn’t much to say. Yet there can be an urge to get “it” out.  That something that aches inside, which words can never really describe, yet we attempt to do so anyway.  This old friend named Loss sits on my heart and no amount of tongue wagging will make this friendship any easier.  Images at a time like this are superior to speech so I look at the picture of my grandma at age 17 every day.  It’s working so far to have her original photograph near my bed above my dresser.  Because she is in her youth, framed by simple yet elegant silver plate, it’s easier to take her absence in the world a bit more slowly and softly.  Had I put in the same spot an 8×10 photo of her as I knew her; hair short and curled with her face softened from age, my experience of grieving her would have had sharper edges.  Instead my body and mind take in the hollow space she left more symbolically, a function that highlights her yet provides an indirect approach to grieving her.

The one thing I can’t get away from is the randomness of tears. Particularly and unbeknownst to me, any story that has anything to do with abortion just sets my eyes to water.  Though I’ve been personally pro-life for most of my life, I feel lately particularly protective and saddened for the discarded unborn.  Though I don’t logically feel a need to be political, my body seems to respond with an almost shocked bewilderment to the concept of medicalized pre-birth euthanasia.  How this ties into the loss of grandmother makes little sense to me.  She was a Catholic who followed in church belief on this issue, but it wasn’t anything we much discussed as the one time it came up, we agreed upon it.  The issue as a whole is one I thought I made relative peace with; I think it’s a horrible horrible thing but at the end of the day, if I had to vote on the matter, I would be afraid for women’s lives if it was made illegal.

Going to the coffee shop this morning I looked at the faces of children, teens, and adults. I thought to myself “what if this person was never born, or that person over there?”  The world, I realized, would be altered forever because the morning barista Amanda wasn’t there.  I wouldn’t know about her artist boyfriend and that she’s had a busy summer with family visits.  Sure another person could have stood where she stood this morning and perhaps I’d know about them too, but it is Amanda I know a bit about, and it is her face that cheers me up even when I’m tired and want a 2nd cup of coffee.  She is a life, a being, and without her here, how many people’s lives would be changed because of her absence?

This may sound like “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of reasoning and I suppose it is. My grandma’s soul and being, being off this earth plane, seems to have changed the way life itself feels.  It’s not just about missing her laugh, or the way she noticed penmanship, or the sweetness of her smile.  Her body became an empty vessel after she died and no one can say that such a thing can’t, on some sense level, be absolutely felt.  God made her exactly the way she was meant to be and He crafted not only her body and mind but her presence in this life.  It was like He carved out a beautiful living sculpture whose essence radiated out into the whole world whether others ever knew her or not.  It’s hard for me to believe He doesn’t do that with each and every life He creates (Psalm 139:13-16).

“For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always (John 12:8).” To say that a person shouldn’t be born because they will be poor, or deformed or inconvenient takes away the temporary nature of human living and the permanence such fleeting beingness has upon the world.  Abortion at the end of the day is simply an attempt at social engineering.  No one wants to see suffering or be the one to suffer.  But to me it is far more murderous (literally) to say someone is better off dead than disabled, poor, or even unwanted.  At what point to we draw the line and say that once a person outlives their perceived usefulness it’s time for them to go because they are a burden.  Do we send a young man to be euthanized if he becomes so disabled that he can’t walk?  Do we kill someone at age 85 when they go blind?  Do we murder the 6 year old who is autistic?  What about someone who is poor, blind, disabled, and autistic?  Does that person then have just one too many things stacked against their favor – so we should put them out of their misery?

What if my grandmother’s mother was raped? What if she was going to die if she gave birth to my grandma?  What if my great grandmother already had several kids and was trying to cultivate her career and had an abusive husband?  What if all those factors combined?  Yet, what if in spite of these truly dreadful circumstances my grandma was born anyway?  Her life would still be just as valuable as it was without such dire circumstances.  She would have been a blessing to the world all the same and her pre-birth circumstances wouldn’t have made her any less important to me or those that loved her.  And yes I know being born motherless or poor or disabled is a recipe for suffering.  But suffering is ultimately a condition of life.  We all must experience pain in various ways.  It is not up to the likes of you or me to decide which suffering is better or worse for someone else.  Only God knows what course of life is best for each person, not us.

To live life is to suffer many times a broken heart. This is a fallen world and no man made attempt at utopia will work, no matter how many people are euthanized before birth or after.  Every previous human person, movement or empire has failed miserably at trying to remake the world in their own philosophy.  Yet the attempts to “change the world” continue and probably always will until the day the Lord decides it’s time.  Perhaps it’s easier to see an abortion as an attempt to help make the world a “better” place rather than understand clearly and soberly that it’s really an attempt at creating a long term global or short term personal utopia that is never coming. There is no perfect life and no perfect world.  These are the facts.  Sometimes I find myself wishing, based upon my own utopian vision, that we could stop breaking our own hearts to realize that.

Missing my grandma is a painful thing.  But I’m glad I’m here for it.  And I think, though she would have hated to see me so sad, she wouldn’t have wanted me to not be here in order to avoid it.  She is worth the tears, and so am I, and so is everyone God creates.