AA’s Publicity Problem Part 1: AA is the greek life of recovery
Updated: Jan 19
Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, my own experience, and not as a representative for Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program or fellowship.
AA is the Greek Life of recovery. It gives a lot of people purpose and belonging. By joining, people get opportunities to network, socialize regularly, and do service in their communities. It becomes an integral part of people’s identities and seems like a positive influence for many. A lot of similarities to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Other similarities include:
Mentorship. Littles and bigs, sponsees and sponsors. Moms, Dads, Grandsponsors. Sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it’s weird.
A cultural and linguistic context born from white, Christian, American culture.
A tendency to become insular and obsessed, so that some people socialize almost exclusively within this single community for the rest of their lives.
Patriarchy so ingrained most women don’t see it.
With that, a tendancy to protect predatory men and victim shame women when they point it out. (If you have not experienced or witnessed this, then congratulations, and please believe the rest of us when we say we have.)
Also along with that, the hierarchy of masculine traits over feminine. (Hard work, being in control of feelings, self-effacement as humility.)
Normalized addictive behaviors. (In 12-step world, substances are regularly replaced with disordered eating, obsessive exercising, workaholism, and perfectionism in general.)
Binary. “We are a fellowship of men and women...” and...? No one else?
Heteronormative. “To wives...”
Ableist. One sentence about getting professional help for things besides your substance abuse.
Hazing. Again, if you haven’t witnessed this, congratulations, you’ve found a healthy enclave. Appreciate it, grow it, spread it. Stop being shocked it's happening to other people.
I have just listed things that have to do with both the program and the fellowship of AA. I hear fellow members protest criticism by pointing out many of our flaws have to do with the fellowship, not the program.
Here’s the thing. People cannot experience the program without experiencing the fellowship. Telling people they are separate does nothing to change or improve the experience they have.
To the reasonable people in AA who truly live by the principles and traditions, please hear me when I say...we cannot hear you over the assholes. We cannot hear you over the bros and the woogirls.
If you don’t like the bad reputation the program has, please spend your time trying stem the output of misinformation instead of blaming outsiders for receiving it. And for the love of god just believe people when they say whatever experience they’ve had.
Which brings me to Part 2 of this piece...