An AA Puppet No More….

Please also visit La Parola Vivace, my Blogger blog, and the companion poem to this post, The Ballad of Highway 14.

In 1981 I bottomed out alcoholism, admitted to myself and my husband I was an alcoholic, and sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous.  I also put myself in the hands of a local psychiatrist reputed to have his act together.

That doctor pulled me cold turkey off booze and benzodiazepins and threw me back out into the community where I attempted to function.  It was too much for me and I checked into a motel to try to do myself in.  Then, I left–on my own power, as a feat of my own will– and when I came home I was ordered to choose between jail, treatment, or the psychiatric unit;  I chose to be driven up to a treatment center in the mountains where my nightmare began for real.

Harmony House is a rehabbed Big Game lodge above Estes Park, with trophy heads from the savannah all over the walls, for starters.  Moreover, in the 80’s many of those staffing treatment centers were do-gooder “recovered” addicts and alcoholics who considered themselves experts, healed of all sins and wounds.  They were ill-equipped to deal with someone as far down as I was: I couldn’t sleep for the two weeks I was there and nearly died; I was sent back to the hospital in town.

In the hospital another shrink who later turned out to be a coke addict jacked me up on antidepressants to try to get me to sleep.  My tongue swelled up in my mouth and I was on the ceiling for days.  No one ever got it that I had immense difficulty feeling safe anywhere.

Fortunately, with the help of a county mental health worker, I slowed down my withdrawal and pulled myself back together and exited the clinic and its self-anointed mental health assistants against medical advice. I should have sued the shrink, but I didn’t.  Step by step, bit by bit I began to get a life again.

Because I did have faith that it might give me some insurance against relapse, I went to AA for sixteen years, sitting in meeting upon meeting hearing again and again that I had no personal power, that I needed a god to save me, that in all likelihood even if there were a god that did love me,  I would never be “recovered.”.  My own mother died never having recovered, so disempowered was she.

I had men and women with “time”– years of sobriety– stand over me and shout that I needed to just buck up and pick myself up.

I look back at this ordeal now about twenty-eight years from when it all went down and I thank the stars that I sit here fully clothed and in my right mind.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a shame and fear-based organization. While there are good, sincere people in AA, Alcoholics Anonymous is your basic cult.  A cult depends on insecure, strung out and lost people for its genesis and its survival: look at Jonestown.  I heard one man in AA say to those stumbling through the door, again and again, “I wish for you pain and desperation, and no other plan.”  Lovely.

To swallow the idea that you are bankrupt mind, body and spirit, you have to grovel and turn yourself over in the beginning, if you struggle at all with the issue of God,  to the nearest person with time in the program– who quite likely may look like he or she has his shit together but doesn’t.  No one tells you not to spill your guts, so you do, and you get bashed, talked down to, insulted, excluded from the cliques of dilettantes who congregate to gossip in the corners of the meeting rooms; if you are lucky you make a few fair weather friends who diss you later on and strand you.  Oh yes– there’s “step thirteen” wherein sexual predators tuck you under their arms and into their sheets.

I am a cradle Episcopalian, and eventually I returned to the Episcopal church, where I ran into another bunch of wack-jobs who were bar none the most cruel and screwed up people I had ever met.  I fled all of that.  I admit to spiritual belief but my beliefs are private.  I believe that religion, and its many professings and inflexibilities and dogma divide the human race when we desperately need to pull together.

I have not been sober for twenty-eight years–and continuous, uninterrupted sobriety is also not the story of most of the people who come to AA and stay.  That’s because life hurts and there are moments when someone like me reaches for the bottle.  I’ve had my fallings  down and gettings back up. It’s a twenty-four hour, day at a time deal.  There is no shame in falling down and getting drunk; this is either an illness and a disease in which one has relapses on occasion,  or it’s not.  I’m sober today, I’ve been sober awhile, I don’t do it all AA’s way, and that’s fine by me.

For a long time I was among the brain-washed in AA, parroting what I thought I should say with absolutely no idea, despite diligently working “The Twelve Steps”– the first one requiring admitting to 100 percent powerlessness over self, life and everything in it– and working with other people, of who I was.

I wrote a poem this week I titled “The Ballad of Highway Fourteen” that chronicles the darkest moments.  I was able to write this because I came through all of it and I’m still coming through; I gladly and openly take the credit for choosing life and healing over addiction and suicide.

My experience is this:  Leaving the issue of faith and what God is or isn’t aside, we all have the inner power to save ourselves and no one else and nothing else can.

I doubt that I will ever go back to an organization that bludgeoned me over the head when I tried to claim my own power–and that goes for Alcoholics Anonymous and the shaming, aloof, pretentious Episcopal Church.  Melody Beattie in Co-dependent No More pioneered the idea that AA is shame-based– and it is.  Sit in a meeting and listen to people beat the crap out of themselves for all of the things wrong with them and constantly dredge up the past.

Is this recovery?  Not for this recovered alcoholic, worthy, capable person and good–maybe even great– writer.

About jenneandrews

Jenne' R. Andrews lives and writes in Fort Collins. She is a Fellow of the National Endowment in Literature, the published author of several collections of poetry, freelance articles, and innumerable miscellaneous pieces of writing; she blogs here, at La Parola Vivace on Blogger, is hooked up to writers galore on Facebook-- focus is issues du jour, literary dilemmas, and more. She encourages quality diverse posts/responses principally from other writers and thinkers. She will post her own poetry, memoir and short fiction on this site, and within reason, as a former teacher of creative writing, literature and composition, is happy to give free feedback upon request. See her poetry at the beautiful cyberspot http://parolavivace.blogspot.com .
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11 Responses to An AA Puppet No More….

  1. Thank you for sharing your story so vividly and so honestly.

  2. Chris G. says:

    Wow. The story you never hear. A program with good concepts, but poor execution and people abusing the system…lovely. A.A. certainly has its merits, but one should always be careful in all things, especially recovery. I’m glad you had the strength to see they weren’t doing it for you, were, as you described them, your basic cult, and pulled back, found strength in yourself. Congratulations. The urges may always be there, but it should be your own strength on which you build yourself…not fear and shame.

    A powerful story. Honest. Raw. And one that makes you shake your head at yet another unfortunate set of facets of our world. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. pattimccarty says:

    You have certainly been through the wringer, Jenne. I’m sorry to hear about AA. I never knew.

    I watched a video earlier of a talk given by Brene Brown (I’d never heard of her). I tried to find it when I got home but couldn’t. This isn’t the same one but it’s close. I think you’ll appreciate it.

    For what it’s worth, I was to some degree a numb-er. The thing is, that when the feeling starts to return in an arm or leg that’s “fallen asleep” it’s quite painful. But it’s worth it. ~p

  4. Laurie says:

    This was one of your more thought-provoking posts (and your posts always provoke some thought!) I had to read it a few times. I don’t get the doctor, but then again I’ve been to a lot of doctors I never quite figured out. Doctors are people with initials after their names. That’s it, I’m afraid. Anyway, if I had to stay somewhere with animal head trophies hanging off the walls all around me while I was trying to get my head together it would be a little off-putting, to say the very least.

    I’ve been to AA, both as a supportive friend to a friend or two who asked if I would go with them, and as a young girl terribly worried about my propensity to drink myself blue in the face. I’ve read the book.

    Though I know folks for whom AA has apparently worked wonders (and their “one day at a time” deal has actually proven helpful to me in so many ways — quitting smoking, for instance, and dealing with great depression), the whole thing makes me uneasy. This was back way before Jonestown, and I didn’t know nothin’ bout no cults, but it seemed like we were all being rounded up like sheep. And the message was that if you don’t do EVERY SINGLE THING in EXACTLY the way it is prescribed, that’s all folks. Good luck.

    I’d love to join the local church where I was baptized, but you know, I hesitate to do so for the very reasons you speak of. It’s a big club with some well-intentioned people but a lot of affected assholes.

    Life…

  5. I married into an Alcoholic family. It ain’t easy. My mother-in-law, a beautiful lovely smart lady died an alcoholic, and young, she didn’t survive hip replacement surgery b/c of the mess her body was in. I have friends who have stopped drinking and turned to AA. I always support them, but it does get a bit difficult listening to their cult-like mantras. Whatever gets them to where they are, though, I say. I have just been on a cleanse for the past week and I’m crawling the walls, more so from the absense of coffee than wine! It has given me a much better understanding of what it takes to do without something.

    I, too, like one of your respondents, have been trying to reconnect to a church lately and find there are always a few people who seem to dominate.
    Why is that? I’m a free spirit, so I know it won’t be easy finding the right venue, but I’m confident I’ll find something. I have God in my spirit every day but it’s nice to be part of a larger community in faith. Anyway, I love that you say you’re a good, no maybe great writer. I said that about myself recently and it felt good!

    Great post and very brave of you to share your story…

  6. Fireblossom says:

    I’m sorry your experience with AA was so negative. Mine was different. I’ve seen the things you’re talking about, but I’ve seen much more genuine kindness. I don’t attend anymore, because at 25 years sober I don’t feel in danger, but I’m glad AA was there when I needed it, and is there for others. I know it isn’t for everyone, but it was a godsend for me.

  7. ANGELA says:

    AA IN MY OPINION IS A CULT BAINWASHING PEOPLE WITH THE DISEASE AGAINST FAMILIES…I SENT MY HUSBAND TO AA THINKING IT WOULD HELP HIM AS HE DIDNT GO TO ANY REHAB OR THERAPY TO LEARN HOW TO COPE WITH THINGS IN LIFE. HE IS VERY VERY DRY AND MENTALLY ABUSIVE SINCE HE CAME OFF HIS HIGH ITS BEEN TWO YEARS AND HE IS STILL BLAMING ME FOR OUR MARRIAGE AND NOT GETTING ALONG. NOT SEEING HE WAS A ADDICT AND HIGH EVERYDAY, NO EMOTION OR COMMUNICATION JUST NUMB. A COUPLE OF MONTHS AFTER HE WAS IN AA HE STARTED MEETING UP WITH ALL THESE SO CALLED NEW FRIENDS WHEN YOU WALK IN THE DOOR THEY HUG YOU…HAVING TO SEE ALL THESE STRAY WOMEN HUNG MY HUSBAND YET HE SHUNS ME. THIS IS DEVASTING AND HE FILED FOR DIVORCE. STATING THEY KNOW HIM BETTER THAN ME AND HE DOES NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE AROUND ME OR TALKING TO ME. THIS WAS MY BEST FRIEND WE WERE ALWAYS TOGETHER. HE WAS A FUNCTIONING ADDICT SO I DID NOT ANABLE HIM TO DO ANYTHING, HE WAS HOME EVERYDAY AFTER WORK WE PAID THE BILLS, HAD A NICE COMFORTABLE LIFE OTHER THAN HIM BEING TO HIGH TO GIVE AFFECTION OR EMOTION THAT WAS VERY HARD. NOW HE IS VERBALLY ABUSIVE AND TURNED INTO A HORRIBLE PERSON THE WAY HE TREATS ME AND MAKES FUN OF ME AND DISRESPECTS ME IN FRONT OF THIS PEOPLE THAT IS HIS SO CALLED FAMILY. I BELIEVED IN THE SUPPORT OF AA AS MY BROTHER AND A FEW FRIENDS AND FAMILY WENT AND DIDNT ACT LIKE THIS THEY MADE AMENDS WITH THERE FAMILIES WORKED ON THEMSELVES AND FAMILIES. MY HUSBAND IS IN DENIAL AND LOST IT. IM THE POISON IN HIS EYES THE PROBLEM. I DONT DRINK OR DO DRUGS AND ALL I DO IS TELL HIM I LOVE HIM AND LETS GET SOME THERAPY ETC AND GET INTO A GOD BASED CHURCH. HE SHUNS GOD AND ALL THE BELIEFS OF OUR VOWS. ITS LIKE SOMEONE TOOK OVER HIS MIND AND MADE ME THE ENEMEY. I TRIED TO TALK TO SOME OF THE PEOPLE IN AA THEY STICKUP FOR HIM. I DONT UNDERSTAND HOW HE CAN FOOL ALL THESE PEOPLE IN THE ROOMS THAT HE IS CLEAN 2 YEARS YET COMES TO THE HOUSE AND IS ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED AND MENTALLY ABUSIVE T ME. AA SUCKS IN MY OPINION!

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