Monday, January 11, 2010

Attraction not promotion

I read some good posts today (Thanks Mary Christine and Ed!) that mentioned among other things, the amount of misinformation and negativism that occurs about 12 step programs, especially AA, on the internet.

I think that the internet has a lot of resources about recovery. It is up to the discerning reader to "take what they like and leave the rest". Although much of the criticism about 12 step programs is leveled at AA and how cult-like it is, I even found quite a few sites claiming that Al-Anon was a cult.

Some of the points made are that:
1) Al-Anon is anti family--The "family disease" concept is described as blaming parents and other alcoholics in our lives for our problems. Those in Al-Anon are purported to seek perpetrators who "abused" and caused much suffering in our lives.

2) The entire family must become involved in Al-Anon--The alcoholic won't be understood unless the family attends enough meetings and submits to the program. Al-Anon uses the disease concept as a lever to keep you coming back to meetings, and to make loyal members of your family.

3) Al-Anon perpetuates that the alcoholic is sick--The family will not be able to understand the alcoholic unless they also accept the addictive disease concept and become involved in a 12-step program such as Al-Anon. After attending Al-Anon, a person will regard the alcoholic as sick which will create mistrust and emotional distance between you and the loved one.

4) Al-Anon replaces family bonds with cult ties, defining the relationships between family members in clinical and cult terms. Families often break apart on account of AA cult loyalties.

I seriously wondered after reading some of this "information" whether any of the people who wrote about the cult concept ever a) attended several Al-Anon meetings or b) listened to anything that was said. I did happen upon this interesting published Al-Anon article by an anthropologist that gave a different view point.

Because I do believe that people have a right to their own opinions (I don't have to agree with what they say), I won't attempt to dissuade anyone from their beliefs. In fact, I'm not interested in promoting Al-Anon to a person who doesn't want it. But I did want it.

When I went to my first meeting, I could tell that it was something that I desperately wanted. I got a sponsor, listened to the experiences of others, and gradually began to incorporate the Al-Anon principles as a way of life. I learned about courage, strength, validation, understanding, experience and calm serenity from Al-Anon. I stopped worrying about what the alcoholic did, got away from obsessing and nagging her, and started to focus on my own well being.

And yet, the behavioral patterns and emotional wounds still crop up which is why I continue to go to meetings and work with others. I think that this program teaches a life lesson. I have learned how alcoholism affected me, why I let it, how I can learn to not allow it to affect new relationships, and how to relearn healthy relationships with people already in my life.

Through Al-Anon, I have learned patience, kindness, support and validation for me and for my wife who is alcoholic. It has taken time for me to learn about myself and to work on my character defects. I think that open mindedness is such a great thing. Given time and willingness to be open, a new perspective on life can evolve.

My recovery includes what I glean from 12-Step recovery in Al-Anon, combined with other sources of experience, strength, and hope. What I do is for my benefit. Recovery isn't dictated to me by another. I am free to take what I can use and leave the rest. I can honor my individuality. Those who are uncomfortable with my chosen path can deal with their own discomfort, for the lesson of tolerance and judgment is one that they must discover for themselves.


  1. Amen. I am surprised to find myself in a program like Al-Anon. I don't consider myself religious, or even much of a joiner. But nothing else I have found has as much to offer. Literature, friendship, meetings, phone calls, sponsors - it's an impressive package. And the message is right on, for me.

  2. I have heard others speak of AA & claim similar "facts". When I overheard this I offered for them to come in and investigate for themselves rather than rely on what they "think" they know about the program.

    No other program allows absolute freedom of attendance or compliance. I've never seen a more open program for anything other than faith and even that can be challenged by denominations.

    AA is a corner stone in which to lean upon to gather yourself up and decide in which way will YOU travel? I chose sobriety, others choose to drink while professing not to be addicts. All are welcome.

    Good post Syd!!

  3. I always wonder what caliber of gun was being held to the head of the individuals that speak of AA/Alanon as a cult.

    No one is forcing us to be there. That is very un-cult like in my opinion.

  4. The internet is a BIG place. To each his own.
    I agree that the person talking about Al Anon as a cult probably didn't spend much time there and is probably in a lot of denial.
    As long as an individual is taking responsibility for there own emotional health and well being then there is hope for them.
    Al Anon is a great place to learn just exactly what that means. jeNN

  5. I have found nothing but choices and free will since coming to Al-Anon. Choice and 'cult' just don't seem to go together in my mind.

    Great post, Syd, as always.


  6. Thanks for your post, Syd. I want Al-Anon, too.

    I do find that there is a lot of misinformation out there about Al-Anon, even among members of AA.

    It's amazing to me how strong AA and Al-Anon are and how well they work, in spite of all that.

  7. The internet is half gold mine and half garbage can. You have to be discerning, no doubt about it.

    People who come to AlAnon because they have been told they "should" never get a sponsor or work the steps.

  8. My experience is the same as yours. I was never coerced into recovery. It was something I chose because I had the 'gift of desperation'
    it is sad that so many misinterpret what AA and 12 step programs do. But I don't think you can really understand it till you DO it. Like you can't understand how to drive a car by reading a book. You have to DO it. Only then does it make sense. When people do 'half measures' it skews perspective and makes the whole thing look lacking. but hey ho.
    But very nice post. The cult idea is waaay off track, but I have long since stop trying to explain that to those that are convinced that AA is a cult. waaay to exhausting :)

  9. Well said. The alcoholic that I loved was why I got into Alanon. The me that I have learned to love is why I stay.


  10. I read also the same two excellent articles you refer to, and share the same sentiments, feelings as you and they, except I feel also somewhat frustrated, until I leave it all in God's Hands.

    When He wants me to do something about regarding online anti-AA, I'll know it--and DO it.

    Other topic, "Bad weather and boating": SYD: It will all be over...soon. I don't recall a single day of NOT taking the boat out, except for hurricanes, but I was age 32-40 then, not winding down the last 15 minutes of the game--grin!

  11. I have many in-laws who believe that junk about Al Anon. They are in a narrow/rigid religion. Nothing I can do about it. So, I even say, "if it's a cult..then I'm a cult member! Oh well, I might die without it!"

  12. I know three lovely older women who are in Al Anon. I love these women for many different reasons. They are very active in an AlAnon group that meets beside one of my meeting places. The sweetest "most telling" thing about them is that all three of the them divorced their alcoholics two decades ago. They all found a program that was just for them, their health and well being. All three of them were physically and emotionally abused by their alcoholic fathers and husbands. They all live together in a fabulous townhouse in a very well to do part of town. They inspire so many women to be true to them selves.

  13. Nicely stated, Syd.

    Thank you.

    Blessings and aloha...

  14. I really wonder what motivates people to try to damage things that are good.

  15. I hear this kind of stuff all the time when I try to get people to go the meetings. I'm going to print this one out, Syd. Thanks.

  16. I spent thousands of dollars trying to find a solution to addiction in my family. The more expensive the advice, the greater chance that I heard that Alanon/AA/NA were solid programs. The doors are open to all. It costs nothing but time. There are meetings every hour of the day, filled with imperfect people, trying to find a way out of a hellish life. I wonder what the writers of these articles suggest as an alternative. Vitamins?

  17. Yes, I've heard it said at meetings that AA and Alanon are for people who WANT it, not for people who need it.

    I love the "idea" of being open minded, sometimes it is difficult. But I feel like Alanon has helped along the way.

  18. i've always felt that if something has been around for sooooo long, there must be some good and value in/to it. otherwise it would have died a natural death. so. if it doesn't work for you, move on. no need to bash it?!

  19. There is no freedom in cults. In Al-Anon, I am learning to free myself from guilt, resentment, and fear. Al-Anon is the opposite of a cult because it is showing me how NOT to be controlled by others and their actions. I am learning to take care of myself. I have found moments of serenity in my days that I never had before. Right now my son is on the streets drugged up looking for the next big high. I could hardly function before Al-Anon much less live and live free.

    They say ignorance is bliss? We need to add, “as long as they keep their mouths shut”.
    Thank you Syd.

  20. I am a wordy person usually. I can speak up about anything. I have found that the Al-anon meetings are always thought provoking, so much so that if I don't get to share, I am more than satisfied. There are so many ways to "work" a program, that I really wonder what these "cult" theorists are talking about!

    Sure, there probably are 12-step groups out there that are struggling to carry the message of hope, got stuck (temporarily) in dogma-land and rigidity somehow. Such groups might be, because of fear of doing it wrong, inadvertently killing the diversity of opinions that naturally occur in our groups.

    The individual who would judge our program meetings and find something missing, might also not understand that in our meetings we don't have cross talk or open disagreement. They see no conflict and think differing opinions must have been squelched.

    On the contrary, we allow each person their own point of view during the time they speak. If a newbie listens to enough people they will either get very confused, or they will understand that the group allows people to work out their own way to work the program.

    There have to be boundaries though too.

    Sometimes folks who criticize twelve step recovery don't want boundaries. And THAT is a whole nother kettle of fish.

  21. Syd,
    The way I see it, any family in this wretched world is a good thing, blood or not. Community is such a blessing, and in the end, it may be all that saves us.

    Love you.

  22. Looks like you and Garnet are on the same wave-length. I read Garnet's blog first today, and then saw this. :-)

  23. I am so grateful I didn't give up on Al-Anon...I kept attending a mtg from which I just didn't get the "warm fuzzies" I was searching for. Kept going off & on to this SAME mtg for 4.5 yrs. Finally decided to try a mtg recommended by a friend... instant "warm fuzzies".

    My point: just b/c a given mtg is not one's cup of tea doesn't mean you can't find what your looking for right around the next corner. I'm curious too if I went back to orig mtg, I might find myself in a different frame of mind & feel totally different about it now 2 yrs later - but it's the same night as "wf" group I can't stand to miss, so...

    I often wonder if the nay-sayers are looking for reasons to criticize or they just happened to find a mtg that didn't gel with where they're "at" right now & gave up.

  24. I for one am grateful that there are different opinions out there. Al-Anon works well for many people, but I think to think that that is the only program is like thinking only one religion is right. I am grateful for the many Al-Anon voices out there (including yours), but I also am glad there are other voices out there too.

  25. I think Al anon is for people in crisis. ALso I dont think alcoholism is a disease its a behavior. ALso the family members of the one who is dependent does not have a disease. Thats nuts. I needed therapy and got it. AL ANON helped me pull back from crazy family members and not fight with them.

    There is also a great program called Craft that is connected with SMART RECOVERY and non religious more science based free face to face support group.


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