In my last post, (CHRISTIANITY’S TENSION WITH AA – A REAL ISSUE reposted below) tensions between AA and churchmen were superficially explored. That got me thinking more about addiction, AA, and the church.
(I decided to review, give a minor update, and I continue to be surprised that this post has been continually accessed over the years. Here it is again.)
ADDICTION: Most folks have an understanding as to what addiction is. It usually in based on their own life situations and those of friends and acquaintances. In truth this kind of understanding is lacking in depth and detail. Addictions vary widely. Some have little adverse effect on one’s life. Others can be deadly. Here, I am refering to addictions which negatively effect one’s daily life, and are resistant to change. They can range from hoarders to sex to substance abuse. Abuse is always part of dangerous addiction, but non addicts often manifest abuse as part of their actions.
I have had an addictive personality most of my life. This has shown up differently at different times. Until a year ago one addiction I had was to food. It was obvious to anyone who looked at me. I was obese and used food for most any occasion. Two days before Thanksgiving 2009 I had a heart attack. This event was a sufficient call for me to take it seriously. Since then I have lost 43 pounds and changed my diet as suggested. Since I still am quite a bit overweight, I have about 35 more pounds to go. Update 2-24-2014 —- So far, I have lost 85 pounds total. Still would like to lose another 10-15 pounds. That would put me close to my weight in the Army. I now weigh what I weighed in High School.
A second addiction I have is to alcohol. My active drinking days were in high school, college, in the service, and at seminary. It was while I was in seminary and on my intern year that I finally became aware that the way I drank was not normal social drinking. I thought everyone who was honest drank like I did. They just lied about it. I did. Then reality intruded. One example: I was the only person drinking at the bar (free drinks since the Orthodox owner liked my clerical collar) who licked out his shot glass. Oddly, this simple situation shown light on my drinking problem.
Alcoholics drink for a variety of reasons. Some are binge drinkers with periods of sobriety between binges, for example. Others may drink to obtain the effects of large amounts of alcohol. I was an effect drinker. It took five quick beers to free me from reality. Then I could be comfortable. Fortunately for others, much of the time I was a happy drunk. In this state I did not have to deal with my problems, a condition I desired greatly to obtain.
In 1963 persons my age, 24 – 25, were not usually in AA. In fact, a number of AA old timers who had traveled long and difficult paths to sobriety had doubts that I could be an real alcoholic. I had not been drinking long enough. While this sometimes irritated me, I remembered (and do to this day) in vivid detail that very hot Sunday evening when I attended my first AA meeting. I was on my way to commit suicide. I had heard enough about AA in my clinical psychology classes while in seminary to wonder if it might help me. So, I stopped off before killing myself to see. I soon became convinced that the next drink I took would kill me as I could not control my drinking. Best to put off that drink until tomorrow. On one occasion I had to put off that drink for a number of five minute intervals. The urge to satisfy one’s addictions can be overwhelming at times.
AA highly promotes personal anonymity on the part of its members. I detail the above simply to illustrate the power of addiction. As with every addict, my future sobriety or weight is solely my responsibility. I either use properly or abuse the tools given me.
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS: AA is an unusual organization. It has only the loosest internal organization which is focused on service to the variety of groups who call themselves AA meetings. The printed AA materials found all over the country are from this organization. The materials are designed to be of service to both members and prospective members. One such pamphlet had twelve simple questions to answer. If one answers yes to one, one probably had a drinking problem. If one answers yes to two one had a drinking problem. Three yes answers one definitely had a serious drinking problem. I decided to answer truthfully. I said yes to eight.
The twelve steps have been the foundation of daily life for each member. One becomes a member simply by attending and identifying himself as an alcoholic. AA has never had any goal other than to promote becoming clean and sober. Many people think of themselves as problem drinkers, but can not abide the label alcoholic. For them the word conjures up an unacceptable self-image. They never are members of AA, although a number of them achieve sobriety through other means. Hopefully, their lives have become better for their sobriety.
There is such a thing as the “dry drunk”. A person may stop drinking. Unfortunately, this action either does not change a very difficult personality, or produces a person impossible to live with. Of such folks others have said that they were better people when they were drunk.
For the AA member, the object of sobriety is to allow us to deal with our problems just the way non-alcoholics can. We then start from the same position as “normal” people. No miracles, just the absence of alcoholic fog. Just beginning to live life from the same starting point as most other people. Live life one day at a time, beginning with the now.
Group meetings focus on this goal in various ways, always by addicts for addicts. Closed meetings generally focus on a topic for the day and the attender addicts can contribute. No one ever has to contribute. Open meetings which anyone can attend mostly feature a speaker who shares his story. Sometimes a non-alcoholic may speak.
Beyond the group meetings is the sponsor system. Most will find someone to become their sponsor. The sponsor is someone who has had some success in achieving sobriety. When the newer or less successful member has to deal with temptations or life problems, he is encouraged to call his sponsor to talk about it. Sponsors will respond, usually in person, at any hour. Part of staying sober is to help others stay sober. I have personally benefited both by receiving and giving such help.
CHURCH: AA has only been around since the 1930s. The church has dealt with substance abuse for its entire existence. When it took AA seriously, it thought of AA as a helpful tool for the problem drinker. The Church has always welcomed any approach which helps, and tries to support those who seek help. Sometimes pastors may covet the loyalty and brotherhood AA can produce in its members. There are churches, of course, which can also produce similar loyalties and sense of community.
There are also many individual congregations which host ordinary AA groups on a regular basis. These congregations have no editorial input as to AA policy or procedure. Problems can arise when a few evangelistic protestant groups decide that AA has a flawed program. They often choose to offer their own sobriety groups which have salvation as their primary goal. This gives them a much more restricted pool of prospects. On the other hand, they also lead many to the clean and sober life. AA applauds their efforts.
AA, NA, and others offer only a “higher power”, a power not otherwise specified except that it is greater than the individual, and is necessary for sobriety. A few church groups feel in competition with AA since AA encourages people only to an unspecified higher power.. They feel that the relationship with Jesus was the proper avenue for achieving sobriety, and also salvation. AA’s deficiency, by their theologies, was in not giving the Christian God His proper place. Since AA welcomes everyone regardless of what they may believe or not believe, and comes to AA for help, AA has chosen not to be sectarian in their definitions. Again, it has only becoming clean and sober as its goal.
Obviously, there are individuals who achieve sobriety and/or become clean without any help from AA, and often without any outside help whosoever. AA applauds them, and does not begrudge them their success. AA is concerned only for those of profess themselves as AA members.
Over the years AA has been the only group with a relatively low recidivism rate. Statistically those who return to drinking or substance abuse are much more likely to do so when in a different help program.
Those who attend because of court mandated attendance, or pressured by others, especially nowadays, make up a sizable proportion of meeting attendees. Since they are there because others have negotiated their attendance, they are highly likely to return to substance abuse unless they begin to attend for themselves. “Hit bottom” is the phrase used within AA.
There is much discussion as to whether it is possible to “raise the bottom” necessary for recovery. One popular TV show has this as its basis. I leave this debate for a future decision.