Churchmen and organized religions have generally been of three minds when it comes to Alcoholics Anonymous. Some groups condemn it since it does not specify a religious conversion in line with their particular creed. Others may see it as competition.
Those Churchmen who avoid tension see AA as a tool for recovery. They may even covet the dedication and loyalty AA can generate in its adherents.
Professional approaches to sobriety often are promoting a certain method based in a theoretical guess as to stopping or curing this addiction. I just read about one new approach to problem drinking which encourages resuming drinking as part of the treatment. Much of that tension is detailed below.
Fr. Ernesto has discovered one of the few insightful articles on Churches and Alcoholic Anonymous (following article). I recommend his blog to gain more understanding about addiction. With nearly 50 years experience with this fine group, I can testify as to his post’s accuracy.
AA has been the only program with a relatively low recidivism rate (relapse to usage). One of the reasons is that AA cares only about becoming and staying clean and sober. In the 12 steps it defines Higher Power only as that, a power higher than the individual. It manages to stay in existence without a detailed structure or set procedure beyond a few simple rules based on the 12 steps. Attendance at closed meetings (to anyone other than the addicted) is a staple for the AA member, at least at first. Meeting styles and procedures will vary greatly even in the same geographical area. In recent decades many who enter AA have both alcohol and drug problems. Cross addiction has become very common.
Many of those who do fail to achieve sobriety and become clean from narcotics after attending AA meetings fall into several groups. In recent decades many have had attendance mandated by court order. They even have to return signed attendance chits to the courts. The second group which usually returns to, or never stops drinking are those who have been pressured by nonjudicial sources such
as spouses, employers, loved ones, etc. Experience has shown that until a person hits his/her “bottom”, rarely is there success. Only when a person finally wants to stop the addiction more than experience the perceived benefits from the addiction, will he be able to deal with the 12 steps.
Tragically, there are individuals who seem incapable of being honest with themselves or others. They will never deal successfully with their addictions.
Blogroll has Fr Ernesto/OrthoCuban.
The same nun about whom I wrote yesterday commented to me that many priests do not know how to deal with people with addictions. In particular, she commented to me about dealing with alcoholism. She mentioned, in particular, the group Alcoholics Anonymous as being a very helpful group. Alcoholics Anonymous has always had trouble with some priests and some Protestant pastors. There is a tendency among some of them to be worried about AA because AA does not have an overtly Christian statement of faith, but has people deal with a Supreme Being. They worry that AA will lead those among them who are alcoholics into a type of “ecumenism.” So, let me quote from Bishop Alexey of Orekhovo-Zuevo:
You ask how I got acquainted with AA Community’s program. I have a spiritual child. You should have seen him earlier! He was always drunk and reeked of tobacco. Now he does not see himself without Church activities. He is a church warden and helps a lot at our monastery. He became such a person due to AA Community! Every day he read aloud to me abstracts from the book “Twenty four hours a day”. The book is intended for those who take part in AA groups and helps them on their recovery course set up for each day. The book makes people think and even helps them learn to pray. Many ideas from the book have sunk deep into my heart. Certainly they are of Christian, Gospel nature.
Enlightener Ignaty Bryanchaninov explains in his writings that a person should be like a condemned one. Surely the Programme helps the person feel himself a sinner, but a sinner who is not indulging in his earthly needs but who believes in his deliverance, his healing, and his ultimate transformation by the grace of God. He also sees others who have found the way…At the AA meetings I was struck by the people’s mercilessness towards themselves. You can rarely hear such things even at confession.
There are some key points made by Bishop Alexey. He caught on to the fact that the self-discipline expected by the AA is every bit as rigorous as some of the monastic schema. For those of you who know AA, you know that the person has to admit their complete incapacity to change unless a “Supreme Being” intercedes. But, they do not expect the Supreme Being to do all the work for them. There are various steps they must follow, including a rigorous code of confession that not only embraces confession to the group as a whole but confession to the people whom the alcoholic hurt because of their addiction. On top of that, the alcoholic must make restitution, to the extent possible, for the damages resulting from their sin.
And, just like the monastics, every member of AA has a “buddy” who not only keeps track of them, but is also available at any time of the day or night to talk to the alcoholic, when the alcoholic is going through a hard time and about to lose self-control. The buddy is himself/herself an alcoholic who has already gone through the Twelve Steps and has remained sober for a while. In other words, the buddy is every bit the equivalent of the elder in Orthodox tradition.
Thus, AA is not like the stereotypical Protestant group which stops at salvation and forgets about the need to go on to a truly changed life. Rather, many of the AA approaches are quite compatible with the Orthodox viewpoint on synergy. In passing, I am convinced that many of our Orthodox would certainly benefit from the AA attitude that unless the Lord intercedes, there is no hope of change. That is not a Protestant statement; that is an Orthodox statement. All too many Orthodox have the attitude that synergy means our doing all the work, and that we are capable of doing all the work. But, that is not what the Early Church Fathers thought. Rather, synergy is the concept of our putting in the mustard seed and trusting God to give the increase. Yes, we must sow unto salvation; but, we must never forget who it is that gives the increase. Synergy should always recognize that the main partner in working out our salvation is God and not us.
So, I can highly recommend that Orthodox parishes open their doors to AA groups meeting in their facilities.