Last week's post about Alcoholics Anonymous generated many thoughtful comments, both on Facebook and via email.
People noted how AA worked for them, and warned against overgeneralization of all AA programs on the basis of some particularly doctrinaire instances of it. I heard that the "Higher Power" within AA does not have to be the Christian God, and that it's immaterial to discuss whether alcoholism is a disease or not. The point is that excessive drinking causes harm to the individual and their loved ones, which is why it must be stopped.
Towards the end of that post I wrote, "If AA's approach works for any given person, they should continue walking that path." In retospect this was better placed up top, as I recognize that AA works for many people. My main purpose in the post was to share my personal happiness at learning about alternatives to AA, not to dissaude anyone else from pursuing this course.
Here's why I was happy about this. For me, the AA language about being "powerless" in the face of alcohol (step 1) feels damning. Reading within the AA literature, you'll see that this isn't necessarily so--that claiming powerlessness is the first step toward regaining power and strength. That is doubtlessly true, which is why many people are thriving in AA.
But to my own ears this word--"powerless"--is harsh, grating, and false. I've been able to manage my drinking for more than 15 years now. I am anything but powerless, and wish I had not grown up thinking otherwise when it comes to alcohol.
I became exposed to AA through Al-Anon, the support group for family members of alcoholics. This is when I was 12 and 13 years old, at a time in my life when I attended a strictly evangelical Christian church. Eventually I walked away from that evangelical tradition, perceiving it as too categorical and absolutist. I see parallels between the evangelical and AA approach, which is why AA troubles me too.
Of course, there are many liberal churches just like there are many varied flavors of AA. Maybe AA is simply a framework that allows for a maximum of diversity of expression and belief within it. All roads lead to Rome for those who are willing to do the hard work of self-improvement. For those of my friends and family who are in AA, I salute your determination and am here to support you however I can.